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Jakarta Post

Civil-military relations in countering terrorism in Indonesia

  • Andrin Raj


Kuala Lumpur   /   Tue, June 23, 2020   /   10:29 am
Civil-military relations in countering terrorism in Indonesia Police officers stand guard in front of a student facility building in Riau University in Pekanbaru, Riau province on June 2, 2018. Students and alumni often spend the night in such buildings. (Antara/Rony Muharrman)

Following the fall of the Soeharto regime, Indonesia has been besieged with sectarian and separatist turmoil, including terrorism. The Bali bombing in 2002 brought a serious realization that the country is under the threat of attacks by Islamist terrorist groups.

Although the administration tried to protect the country’s democratic institutions, they were not always successful in mitigating communal conflicts that at times flared up into societal-wide communal violence.

The Soeharto regime did prevent nonstate actors from conducting terroristic attacks and communal violence and kept the country safe, although atrocities committed by the regime were widespread. Soeharto’s use of the military was condemned and criticized by the international community and non-government organizations.

Indonesia is a fairly new state compared with the West, which took hundreds of years to develop its humanitarian laws. Atrocities, abuses and random killings of its own people were committed within its own states till the late 20th century.

Hence the learning curve needs to be established for Indonesia to prepare itself in the coming future for its national security policies to develop. Indonesia must be given a fair chance to improve and make the changes at its own pace regardless of what western interpretations dictate.

In response to a terrorist threat, Indonesia employed the full spectrum of counterterrorism measures, ranging from judicial prosecution to military-based special operations to conciliatory-based religious persuasion.

The civilian-led approach, that is coordinated through the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), is to focus on the joint efforts of the police, the judiciary and other government bodies in countering terrorism. With the police tasked with leading the defensively oriented antiterrorism effort in arresting and prosecuting through the court system, in accordance with the country’s Constitution and processes and regulations, hundreds of Islamist militants have been arrested and most successfully prosecuted.

Indonesia’s primary stand in countering terrorism was based on an offensive approach. Detachment 88 (Densus 88), an elite police unit, was established in 2002 after the 2002 Bali bombings as a counterterrorist unit to track and apprehend suspected terrorist operatives. The Densus 88 grew to an exemplary and commended unit within Southeast Asia.

The BNPT played various roles in counterterrorism such as engaging counterterrorism strategies in diplomatic engagement within Southeast Asia, working with its western counterparts, which allowed the BNPT to have wide expertise and knowledge engaging civil society and religious centers. This was to assist in countering the narratives and threats, the “soft approach“ measure.

Today, Indonesia’s programs consist of two types of measures. While the “hard” consist of intelligence, judicial, law enforcement and military components, the “soft” measure is primarily conciliatory, as it seeks to address and resolve the underlying primarily theological and causes of violent extremism. The BNPT also engages with the international community in complying with various antiterrorism treaties and conventions.

The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam clearly defines the humanitarian laws under Islam in dealing with terrorism. The Cairo Declaration opens with contributing to the efforts of mankind to assert human rights, to protect man from exploitation and persecution and to affirm his freedom and right to a dignified life in accordance with sharia.

Articles of the declaration, such as articles 2a and 2d, 7b, 16, 19d, 22a, 24 and 25, when compared to the Human Rights and the 1950 European Convention, show that the Cairo Declaration’s provisions, subject to sharia, are parallel to the European Conventions’ provisions.

Islamist terrorist groups also use similar values when spreading the threat via their interpretations and application of Islam, and the belief they are on a mission from Allah to fight to the death to stop westernization and the eradication of Islam from the ummah (society). However, this deserves an appropriate analysis and discussion, particularly in the context of human rights.

Terrorism is on the rise in the Southeast Asia region and in response resources are needed to neutralize a militia trained in combat warfare, so the military will be a good asset at the joint operations level. Indonesia has all its laws appropriately governed to address all forms of abuse or threats from any of its institutions and as such should move forward in its approach of a military-police cooperation.

Civil unrest, which has taken place in some cities over the past years in Indonesia, may call for some critical thinking, reflection and revaluation as to how many of Indonesia’s law enforcement officers are currently trained in both urban and jungle warfare. Understanding counterinsurgencies and incorporating training into the guardian mindset of police training could assist in preparing law enforcement officers in the 21st century for terrorist threats and attacks.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) is able to provide a new approach to warfare in countering terrorism and insurgency due to its ability from the years of experiences in combat. Rather than conventional warfare, it is therefore asymmetric struggles or nonconventional, low intensity, protracted conflict the Indonesian armed forces will face.

A presidential decree is under preparation to have the TNI assist law enforcement agencies tasked with protecting the law and arresting criminals. This approach is far-sighted and commendable as the future of Indonesia’s security is at stake from nonstate actors. The relocation of the capital city to Kalimantan is also a concern if law enforcement and security agencies are not prepared for active, seamless inter-agency cooperation.

With a threat from insurgency, an organized movement is aimed at overthrowing of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. In a simple explanation, an insurgency is an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power or other political authority while increasing insurgent control.

Although, the TNI has been able to protect its sovereignty since 1945 Indonesia has yet to find a solution to countering security threats from Islamist terrorism. Strategy of cooperation and forming a joint taskforce of the law enforcement and security agencies, working closely with the community will be fundamental.

The current recommendations for joint cooperation between the TNI and police could focus on incorporating more empathetic policing tactics such as, trying to avoid physical control and encouraging de-escalation, and serving as opposed to conquering. The guardians of the republic must be always gentle with its citizens but fierce against its enemies, to paraphrase Plato.

The Indonesian protectors with a joint operational force will play a greater role in the outcomes of future policing and military actions and this can lead the way from a culture of warriors to a culture of guardians.



The writer is director for the Nordic Counter Terrorism Network based in Helsinki, and the Southeast Asia regional director for the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals-Centre for Security Studies, Kuala Lumpur. The views expressed are his own.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.