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Islam and Politics ( 23 Sept 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Counterterrorism Fatigue in Indonesia



By Noor Huda Ismail

September 23 2014

With the inauguration of president-elect Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and vice president-elect Jusuf Kalla approaching, Indonesian civil society activists have been demanding accountability for and even the reallocation of the state counterterrorism (CT) budget worth Rp 300 billion (US$25.64 million) for social programs such as the construction of schools and hospitals and improvements to the public transportation system in Jakarta.

Against this backdrop, therefore, it is very important for the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) to further increase its collaboration capacity so as to regain the public’s trust and support.

It may sound cliché, but according to the management theory, doing so constitutes a basic requirement if we are to achieve more with less or limited resources.

As former Australian CT ambassador Mike Smith puts it, the need for interagency collaboration is much more evident in the context of current CT efforts as threats have spread, creating challenges for any agency involved in the fight against terror.

Collaboration matters, as in the case of the pooling of small pieces of information from different areas to detect and defuse attacks before they strike.

Unfortunately, lack of interagency cooperation is not a unique to Indonesia.

In the US, where huge resources have been invested, President Barack Obama’s review of the Abdul Mutallab case in 2009 concluded that there was information in the US system that could identify threats, but it was not sufficiently shared. “The dots are not connected”, the report said.

In Australia, at least 60 Australians fighting for al-Nusra Font and the Islamic State (IS) movement in Syria and Iraq were identified, with 15 of them killed.

The authorities have cancelled about 50 passports for fear the applicants will travel to join either or both groups.

The figure should be looked at in the context that Australia is home to only about half a million Muslims, higher in percentage than Indonesia, which has a long history of Islamism. The elephant in the room indicates a lack of cooperation between agencies in Australia since the first Bali bombing in 2002.

Therefore, the role of “dot connector” in CT initiative is very important and this is exactly what the BNPT lacks.

The Vice President’s Office has tried to fill this gap but overlapping programs remain unanticipated.

For example, according to Maj. Gen. Agus Surya Bakti, one of the deputies at the BNPT, in his book Emergency Terrorism: Prevention Policy, Protection and Deradicalisation, the agency developed a bold program to help convicted terrorists integrate with the community under three steps: rehabilitation, re-education and re-socialization. Agus insists ex-convicts tend to return to their old communities if there is no systematic program of social intervention.

On the ground, however, collaboration between the agency and the Social Affairs Ministry is absent.

The ministry initiated its own program called social rehabilitation for ex-convicts, including terrorists.

Such initiative cannot be manifested in a “hit and run” type of program. It requires persistence and commitment.

Any program to deal with convicted terrorists needs to adopt the “triple T” technique, which stands for target (right choice of the program recipients), testing (evaluation of the effectiveness of the program) and track (persistent monitoring of the results of the program).

The BNPT understands the need to prevent the spread of radical ideas among young people, particularly at risk groups, which is why the agency has launched a massive campaign to fight radical narrative in which it will host a series of talk shows featuring repented jihadists such as Nasir Abbas, a former Afghan veteran from Malaysia who is now actively campaigning for a non-violent approach in Indonesia.

“In such peaceful dialogs it also very important to engage former terrorist leaders and influential radical activists, who until today are still respected by convicted terrorists who remain in jail,” BNPT head Insp. Gen. (ret) Ansyaad Mbai, says in his book The New Dynamic of Terror Networks in Indonesia.

The events are usually held on campuses and have attracted hundreds. However, regardless of the BNPT’s initiatives, the dialogs beg to question: What is the role of the Youth and Sports Ministry or Religious Affairs Ministry here? The ministries share a concern for issues centring on the youth and religion. Why is there is there so little appetite for the BNPT to collaborate with the two ministries?

Likewise, why the two ministries so reluctant to initiate dialog on such a sensitive issue?

Given the fact that 10 percent of about 400 convicted terrorists have returned to terrorism after their release from prison, the agency planned to build a maximum security prison in Sentul, West Java called the Centre for Deradicalisation, with a capacity to house 144 high-risk inmates. 

However, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who will leave office soon, halted the plan because the building was located near education and training grounds for security forces. 

The BNPT should have carefully planned the program before spending huge funds for the allegedly unaudited facility. Is it not important to ensure that everybody, from the political elite down to the grass roots march to the beat of the same drum?

All agencies and individual officers involved in the fight against terror need to understand the purpose of program and their role in a broad plan to achieve their goals. Their success is not determined by how many times they fall but how many times they get up and move forward.

The BNPT understands the need to prevent the spread of radical ideas among young people, particularly at risk groups.

 Noor Huda Ismail is founder of the Institute of International Peace Building and is pursuing PhD in politics and international relations at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia