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Indonesia's vicious circle renewed

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Just two weeks ago, observers were congratulating Indonesia for a presidential election that was seen to consolidate that country’s process of democratisation.

Following almost five years of gradually improving economic performance, an anti-corruption campaign, gradual reform of the armed forces and general peace and stability, it seemed like Indonesia had left behind its all too troubled past.

Now, following Friday’s suicide bombings in Jakarta and a spate of shootings in West Papua leaving dead four Australians among the total, and claims of political intrigue, Indonesia again appears to be on the edge of political turmoil.
   
On the surface, the bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton Hotels in Jakarta and the shooting near the Freeport mine in West Papua appear easily explained. The Islamist terrorist organisation Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI) has been widely blamed for the Jakarta attack, and Indonesian authorities were quick to blame the Freeport shootings on the separatist Free Papua Organisation (OPM).

Following a series of bombings between 2002 and 2005, JI was seriously weakened by a counter-terrorist crack-down. Many of the organisation’s militants were jailed or killed and an ideological and strategic dispute tore at the unity of the organisation.

A majority of JI members decided that the bombing campaign had been counter-productive, mostly killing Muslim Indonesians and alienating local support. However, a minority faction, including JI master bomb-maker Noordin Mohamad Top, military leader Zulkarnaen, bomb-maker Dulmatin and recruiter Umar Patek, remained committed to the bombing campaign.

This faction is known as Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad (Jihad Base Organisation) and can now be said to constitute a new terrorist organisation. The Tanzim group believes that bombings remain an effective method of chasing Westerners out of Indonesia, as well as forcing devout Muslims to choose sides in what they see as a war over Islamic ideology.

 
A third, unexploded bomb found in one of the two bombed hotels, the J.W. Marriott, replicated bombs used in previous attacks coordinated by Noordin Top, as well as bombs found in a recent raid on his Central Java hideout. Despite the bombings reflecting JI/Tanzim methods, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono claimed the attacks were in response to his recent re-election. In this, perhaps Yudhoyono was reminded of efforts in 2001 to destabilise the then already inconsistent presidency of Abdurrahman Wahid, for whom Yudhoyono was a senior minister.

  
Yudhoyono’s comment drew quick criticism from defeated presidential hopeful Megawati Sukarnoputri’s running mate, son-in-law of late dictator Suharto, retired General Prabowo Subianto.

Prabowo was drummed out of the army following charges of murder, torture and abduction of pro-democracy activists in 1998. As commander of Indonesia’s special forces (Kopassus), Prabowo earned a reputation not only for brutality but was also known to have links with militant Islamist organisations. Similarly, Prabowo retains strong links to the army in West Papua. 

The little evidence – a few bullet casings - that has been gathered from the Freeport attack which killed Australian Drew Grant has shown the attackers used military issue rifles, firing from two positions. Earlier claims that the Free Papua Organisation was responsible are now in tatters, with even Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono saying he did not believe the OPM was responsible.

Disturbingly, three people were killed in quick succession in separate incidents near the Freeport mine, with 12 more wounded, including five police officers. These attacks follow the army being removed from security duty near the mine.

Being removed from security duty, the army has lost access to an important source of unofficial income, about which local commanders are angry. This then points to a confrontation between sections of the army and President Yudhoyono over continuing military reform. 

Yudhoyono’s claim that the Jakarta bombings were intended to destabilise the post-election environment add a further degree of uncertainty to Indonesia’s political climate. The link between army intelligence and Islamist extremists dates back to the 1970s and JI’s forerunner organisation, Komando Jihad. Yudhoyono and his intelligence advisers are familiar with this connection.

It will, however, be some time before it is proven who orchestrated the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings, and who was behind the recent shootings of 15 people near West Papua’s Freeport mine. Like many past disturbances in Indonesia, it may be these attacks reflect multiple or overlapping agendas.

What is not in doubt, however, is that Indonesia’s recent record of peace and stability has been seriously damaged. Beyond the short term impact on tourism, this will also have the longer term effect of raising questions over Indonesia as a safe place for foreign investment.
Indonesia needs this foreign investment to move into net positive economic growth, to be able to address the structural issues that underlie the country’s propensity to slide into such chaos.

In this, the West Papua shootings and the Jakarta bombings have re-booted Indonesia’s vicious circle, re-affirming Foreign Policy magazine’s ‘Failed State Index’ listing of Indonesia as being ‘in danger’.

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