Jakarta 'on right track' in fight against terror

Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen (L) and Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan give a joint interview on regional efforts to fight ISIS, on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting in Singapore January 25, 2016.
PHOTO: Reuters

Indonesia is on the right track to tackle the terrorism threat with a decisive strategy combining both "hard and soft" measures to thwart any attacks, said its security czar.

Aside from sharpening the firepower of its security forces and tapping its religious leaders to prevent self-radicalisation, the country is also working with its neighbours in this region to pre-empt any terrorists, said Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

The co-operation goes beyond sharing information to cutting off financial support for the terrorists' activities as well, said Mr Luhut, revealing that the authorities found that terrorist-related networks in Syria and Australia were supporting Indonesia-based militant groups by providing funds of up to US$700,000 (S$1 million).

Noting that attacks and campaigns of militant groups in this region have become more coordinated, Mr Luhut said: "Sole reliance on a hard approach to fight ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is hardly effective... We need the soft approach, intelligence co-operation and cross-border co-operation to minimise the threat."

His speech yesterday to about 70 security and defence officials came in the wake of the Jan 14 blasts in Jakarta that left eight dead, including the four attackers. ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated attacks.

Mr Luhut was speaking at the fourth Fullerton Forum: The Shangri-La Dialogue Sherpa Meeting, aimed at laying the groundwork for top defence officials and military brass attending the Shangri-La Dialogue in June. He is the first foreign dignitary to deliver the keynote address at the annual meeting.

Explaining Indonesia's hardline stance against terrorists, Mr Luhut said the extremist movement aims to disrupt everyday life, destabilise a country and demoralise its population. But it has not worked in Indonesia because the government is clear it does not negotiate with any terrorist and would retaliate immediately in the event of an attack.

Following the blasts, in which two terrorists blew themselves up, the other two were gunned down by Indonesian crack units.

"For us, we want to bring stability to the people of Indonesia," said Mr Luhut. The former commander of the Indonesian Army's Special Forces' (Kopassus) anti-terror squad cautioned that the terrorists cannot be underestimated as they are "irrational".

To pre-empt attacks and dismantle the militant cells, Mr Luhut said the government is working with its religious leaders to make people understand that "ISIS is not Islam", and promote religious tolerance.

Indonesia, with 230 million Muslims, has the world's biggest Muslim population.

During his 30-minute speech, Mr Luhut also outlined other counter- terrorism measures like putting extremist ideologues in separate prisons to curtail their influence on other inmates and revoking the citizenship of Indonesians who leave the country to join ISIS.

At the same time, Indonesia has to ensure its economy promotes wealth equality. "We cannot just fix security, establish good intelligence co-operation, without the distribution of wealth."

Beyond their own efforts, countries in the region must also work together, because no country can "declare (that) they are immune from this kind of threat", Mr Luhut told reporters. After the Jakarta blasts, Indonesia immediately contacted and alerted its neighbours, including Singapore, Malaysia and Australia, to share information.

Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who was also present, said: "Since ISIS has become coordinated, we need to also become coordinated. No country will be able to minimise this risk alone."

He added: "The more we co-operate and collaborate, the stronger we become. This is a fight that may last many decades and we need many, many partners in this."


This article was first published on January 26, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.