- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2003

Indonesian Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced last week that the government would extend martial law for at least six months in Aceh, a province terrorized by separatist violence. This has led to complaints from human-rights groups concerned with alleged abuses at the hands of soldiers in rebelling villages. For the same reason, two weeks ago, a handful of U.S. senators blocked President Bush’s plan to provide aid to help professionalize Indonesian troops. Isolating the Indonesian military is a strategic mistake for the United States. America needs to build its relationship with Jakarta.

There are few governments in the world that can assist Washington more in the war on terror than Jakarta. On Oct. 30, for example, Indonesian police barely missed capturing Jemaah Islamiya bomb experts Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Mohammad, both of whom have had assets frozen by the United States for their links to al Qaeda. In their haste to abandon their hideout ahead of the police dragnet that is getting tighter by the day, the two terrorists left behind bombs, bomb-making equipment, identification and other documentation relating to their work.

It is important for policy-makers in Washington not to forget that the two most deadly terrorist attacks since September 11 were perpetrated on Indonesian soil. Many Indonesians have been killed by Islamic terrorists. Local officials have arrested dozens of Jemaah Islamiya members and other terrorist suspects in the past year. Interrogation of these prisoners provided the leads for the raid two weeks ago, as well as evidence used for the convictions (in Indonesia) of terrorist leaders such as Jemaah Islamiya mastermind Abu Bakar Bashir in September. Intelligence cooperation with Jakarta has led to numerous other arrests in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.

There are inevitable complications in working with Jakarta. Not only is Indonesia the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but its more than 17,000 islands serve as a center for recruiting and training jihadists. In combating radical Islam, officials have to be cautious to avoid a major public backlash. The military, which is overwhelmingly secular, is the most significant barrier preventing the nation from becoming an Islamic state.

During the holy month of Ramadan, there was popular resistance to soldiers passing out mug shots of terrorists in mosques. That the military risks offending Muslim leaders by investigating mosques reveals Jakarta’s seriousness in the war on terror. In Indonesia, the intelligence services are run by the military. Even civilian intelligence agencies are dominated by military officers and retired soldiers. Jakarta has made significant progress in cracking down on al Qaeda operations in Southeast Asia. Isolating the Indonesian armed forces puts this invaluable cooperation at risk.

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