Jakarta – In a country where memories of military excesses remain strong, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's call on the Indonesian military (TNI) to take an active role in the war against terror following the Oct 1 Bali bombings has raised heckles from some quarters. Critics fear that such a move would pave the way for TNI's renewed political involvement or worse, even invite state-sponsored terrorism.
Mr Yudhoyono, in a speech to mark TNI's 60th anniversary on Oct 5, said that repeated terror acts had tarnished Indonesia’s international image. The retired army general added: "I ask the TNI to take part effectively in curbing, preventing and acting against terrorism."
To TNI chief Gen Endriartono Sutarto, the President's remarks mean that the military can now revive its territorial function, which in the past had been strongly criticised for allowing the military to dabble in politics and engage in human rights abuses.
The territorial function covers the regional level, handled by the Regional Military Command, to the village level, handled by non-commissioned officers assigned to villages and subdistricts.
"The government has given us (TNI) a clear order to participate in the war against terrorism. First, we will raise the public awareness about the condition of people's neighbourhoods. Second, we will also activate the territorial command up to the village level, and third, of course, we will share intelligence information with other institutions, especially the police," Gen Endriartono said.
Following the collapse of Mr Suharto's New Order regime in the late 1990s, the National Police has been given the task of handling internal security affairs. TNI has been left to tackle foreign threats, although it is also allowed to assist the police to deal with domestic security threats.
The plan to reactivate TNI's territorial function drew immediate criticisms. Mr Ikrar Nusabhakti, a researcher at the National Institute of Science, said: "During the New Order regime, the military – read: the Army - maintained these (territorial) roles mostly for political purposes, and their mindset is yet to change."
Former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, said: "Reviving the territorial command is the wrong medicine for the disease we are dealing with. The move is only a tool to revive militarism."
In a commentary in the The Jakarta Post, journalist Dwi Atmanta wrote: "Allowing the military to restore its major role in security affairs will not only be a breach of the reform spirit. More worrying is the return of secret abductions, detention without trial, torture and the extra-judicial killings of those who are deemed militants or a threat to the state."
However, a top anti-terror official, Insp-Gen Ansja'ad Mbai, said only the military has the expertise and infrastructure to infiltrate communities where terrorist groups have developed their networks.
"This is what we call a community-based intelligence system, and it allows the military's intelligence officers even to infiltrate the hardliners in a bid to destroy their networks from the inside. Terrorist acts are extraordinary crimes that require extraordinary measures," said Insp-Gen (retired) Ansja'ad, head of the anti-terror desk at the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.
*TNI ordered to fight terror (The Jakarta Post, Oct 7)
* Military fight against terrorism could be the terror itself (The Jakarta Post, Oct 8)
* Anti-terror chief supports TNI plan to curb terrorism (The Jakarta Post, Oct 8)