Originally Published 2003-12-12 12:30:06 Published on Dec 12, 2003
As I was driven into the heart of Jakarta from its international airport, I could hardly believe I was in the capital of a Muslim country, with the world's largest Muslim population. I noticed very few external signs of the Islamic character of the country in the form of mosques, calls to prayers over powerful loudspeakers, quotations from the Holy Koran written on the walls, men with beard and a white cap and women with their heads covered .
Jihadi Terrorism in Indonesia
As I was driven into the heart of Jakarta from its international airport, I could hardly believe I was in the capital of a Muslim country, with the world#146;s largest Muslim population. I noticed very few external signs of the Islamic character of the country in the form of mosques, calls to prayers over powerful loudspeakers, quotations from the Holy Koran written on the walls, men with beard and a white cap and women with their heads covered . One finds more of them in Chennai and other cities of India than in Jakarta.

The Islam of Jakarta is hardly discernible. Barring pockets of poverty (there are many of them, particularly in the outskirts), one finds signs of modernity and relative prosperity, as contrasted with India#146;s poverty, everywhere--in the way men and women dress and interact with each other, in their fun-loving nature, in their love for automobiles, in their well-stocked shopping malls etc.

It still has a Hindu flavour. Tolerant and without complexes   and hostility  in its interactions with other religions. It is Islam with a smile, Islam in Indonesian colours, which is not ashamed of retaining the pre-Islamic cultural influences of Hinduism and Buddhism . Islam was brought to Indonesia not by foreign conquerors, but by foreign traders, who saw no difficulty in adapting Islam to the local cultural milieu, which was largely Hindu and Buddhist in Java.

The earliest religious and cultural influences   were  from India. According to historians, the Hindus first arrived  in the Bali island as early as 2500 BC and spread to East Java around 100 BC. The Hindu Majapahit empire ruled Eastern Java and Bali from  1293 to 1520 AD, when it collapsed before Muslim assaults. Most of the Hindu remnants from Eastern Java migrated to Bali to escape conversion to Islam. Since then, Bali has maintained its predominantly Hindu character.The Hindus of Bali have preserved Hinduism in its pristine form, but they have little interest in the land in which their religion was born. Like the Hindus of Nepal whose affinity to India is limited despite their being Hindus, that of the Balinese Hindus to their co-religionists in India is limited and distant.

Indonesia has a total population of about 225 million, of whom the Muslims constitute  87 per cent, the Protestants six per cent, the  Catholics three per cent , the  Buddhists two per cent and the Hindus a little over one per cent.The remaining are animists.

The Hindu and Buddhist population has remained stable ever since Indonesia became independent in 1945. It goes to the credit of the Indonesian rulers and Muslim society that no attempt has been made to drive out the Hindus and Buddhists or forcibly convert them to Islam. Bali continues to be a Hindu majority island, with Hindus holding important positions in its civilian and police administration. The head of the police of Bali, who investigated the Bali bombing of October last year, is a Balinese Hindu. While there has been frequent anti-Christian violence in some parts of the country, there has rarely been any anti-Hindu or anti-Buddhist incident.

Since a large number of the ethnic Chinese population is Christian, it is difficult to say to what extent the violence was motivated by religious reasons (their being Christians) and to what extent by economic reasons (jealousy over their economic prosperity).

Compare this with Pakistan, where the Hindus, who constituted over 10 per cent of its population at the time of its independence in 1947, have since been reduced to about two per cent, the rest of them having been either massacred, driven out or forcibly converted to Islam.

It is into this oasis of Islam with benign features that malign influences, domestic as well as external in origin, have moved in and are threatening to make this country, close to India#146;s heart, an area of concern to the region and the world. The political landscape in Indonesia is marked by three different categories of Islamic elements, which have been contending among themselves  for increasing influence over the hearts and minds of the people:  

  • First,the mainstream Islamic parties such as the Nahdlatul Ulema (NU) and Muhammadiyah, which claim a following of 40 and 35 million members respectively. In their policies, they still reflect the soft and benign face of Indonesian Islam.
  • Second, parties, which are largely Islam or Muslim based, but do not project themselves as religious parties. Examples: Partai Persatuan Pembangunan--PPP, which means the United Development  Party, Partai Bulan Bintang--PBB, which means the Star and Crescent Party, Partai Keadilan --- PK, which means the Justice Party, Partai Kebangkitan  Bangsa--PKB, which means the Nation Awakening Party, and Partai Amanat Nasional ---PAN, which means the National Mandate Party. They too reflect the benign features of Indonesian Islam.
  • Third, the hardline and jihadi organisations such as the Front Komunikasi Ahlu-Sunnah Wal-Jamaah (FKASWJ) and its militant wing Lashkar Jihad, the Front Pembela Islam (the Islamic Defence Front), the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (the Indonesian Council of Jihad Fighters),the Hizb al-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) and the Jemaah al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin Indonesia (JAMI). They advocate rule according to the Shaaria and pan-Islamism, with its emphasis on extra-territorial loyalty to Islam and not to their nation-State, recognition of only the religious frontiers of the Ummah and not national frontiers and the right and the obligation of the Muslims to wage a jihad in any country where Islam is perceived to be in danger.

The hardline Islamic organisations, except the Hizb al-Tahrir, are the offspring of the Dar ul-Islam (DI)/Tentera Islam Indonesia (TII), which mean the Islamic State/the Army of Islam in Indonesia of the President Sloekarno period of the  1950s and the subsequent Negara Islam Indonesia---NII, which means the Islamic State of Indonesia and the Komando Jihad of the Soeharto period. As these groups were crushed or faded out, their surviving dregs gave birth to the new groups mentioned above. The Hizb al-Tahrir came to Indonesia from the Lebanon in 1972.

The emergence of these new jihadi organisations has been marked by an increase in the influence of the pan-Islamic ideas from the Arab countries and Pakistan on Indonesian Islam. The leaders of the new jihadi organisations are of Arab---particularly Yemeni---origin. The leader of the FPI is Habib Rizq Shihab; that of the Lashkar Jihad Ja#146;far Umar Thalib; that of the MMI Abu Bakar Baasyir, presently in jail;  and that of the JAMI Habib Husen al-Habsyi.

The increasing Arb and Pakistani influence has been reflected in the increasing anti-Christian and anti-Jewish stands of these organisations and in the focus on the creation of an Islamic Caliphate in the South-East Asian region.

Amongst the other malign external influences, one could cite the following: 

  • The use of Islam as a covert weapon by the USA#146;s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the 1960s and the 1970s to counter the Chinese influence in Indonesia and to crush the pro-Chinese Indonesian Communit Party---just as it had used Islam as a covert weapon against the Soviet troops and the pro-Soviet communist ideology in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Just as its short-sighted use of Islam in Afghanistan laid the foundation for the subsequent rise of the Osama bin Laden-led Al Qaeda and International Islamic Front (IIF), its equally short-sighted use of the hardline Islamic elements in Indonesia against the Indonesian Communit Party and the Chinese influence facilitated the rise of jihadi terrorism not only in Indonesia, but also in the rest of the region. This is an aspect, which is rarely highlighted in the analyses of the writers of the region and Al Qaeda watchers, who reflect the US perspective.
  • The encouragement by the US of the Islamic fundamentalists of the region, including Indonesia, to go to Pakistan for being trained in Pakistani madrasas and training camps before being used in the jihad against the pro-Soviet  Afghan troops . Pakistan#146;s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which acted as the surrogate of the CIA, entrusted the responsibility for the training of the jihadi volunteers from southern Philippines to the Harkat-ul-Ansar (HUA), subsequently re-named as the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), and those from Indonesia to the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET). Most of this training in the camps of the HUM and the LET was done after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1989 and before the fall of then Afghan President Najibullah in April,1992.
  • The use of the Pakistani branch of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) by the ISI for the recruitment of jihadi volunteers from Indonesia and other countries of the region for being educated in the madrasas of Pakistan and trained in the jihadi camps of the HUM and the LET. After Lt.Gen. (now retd) Javed Nasir, the leader of the TJ, became the DG of the ISI during Nawaz Sharif#146;s first tenure as the Prime Minister (1990-93), he took a  personal interest in sending TJ teams to South-East Asia for recruitment.
  • Even after the end of the Afghan war in April,1992, the TJ, the HUM and the LET continued to maintain contact with the jihadi elements in Indonesia and the southern Philippines and train them. In the middle 1990s, the HUM started sending its volunteers to the southern Philippines not only to run training camps in the Filippino territory for the jihadi volunteers of the region, but also for participating in the jihad against the Filippino security forces.
  • The increasing availability of the oil money from the Arab countries for the Arabisation of Indonesian Islam in the 1970s and thereafter.
  • The exodus of many poor Indonesians to the Gulf in the 1970s and the 1980s in search of jobs. During their stay there, the jihadi organisations of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia contacted and brain-washed them and recruited many volunteers from amongst them for being trained in jihad.

The Pakistani Islamic organisations fall into two categories:  

  • Those which advocate assistance to the Muslims in non-Muslim countries who have been waging a jihad against their governments for independence, but not to those in Muslim countries, who have been waging a jihad for rule according to the Shaaria and in support of pan-Islamic objectives because they look upon such assistance as amounting to interference in the internal affairs of other Islamic countries. In this category would come the six organisations, which form part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), which is in power in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and shares power with other parties in a coalition in Balochistan. They provide assistance to the jihadi organisations of southern Philippines, Myanmar, Jammu & Kashmir in India, Xinjiang in China and Chechnya in Russia, but not to those in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Those who advocate assistance to all Muslims waging a jihad, either for independence or for rule according to the Shaaria or in support of pan-Islamic objectives, whether they be in Muslim or non-Muslim countries. In this category would fall the HUM, the LET, the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, all of which are members of bin Laden#146;s IIF, and the TJ. Of these, the TJ is active all over South-East Asia, while the HUM focusses on southern Philippines and the LET on Indonesia. The interest of the LET in assisting the Indonesian jihadi organisations also arises from the fact that one of its objectives is to rid Islam of what it regards as the distorting influence of Hinduism.

Where does the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) fit in? Is it an independent organisation with its own structure or is it merely an ideology or a concept to which other organisations subscribe or is it a united front of the various jihadi organisations of the region similar to the IIF on the intra-regional scale? The name Jemaah Islamiyah, like the names Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI) of Pakistan and the Al Gama Al Islamiyah of Egypt mean the same thing---the community or group of Islam. It designates a specific, independent organisation in Pakistan and Egypt, with its own structure. Similarly, the evidence available till now indicates that the JI also is a specific, independent organisation with its own structure and not just a concept or an ideology as stated by some analysts.

The JEI of Pakistan projects itself as a national organisation with no organisational presence outside. Despite this, the JEI of J&K in India and the JEI of Bangladesh, which project themselves as independent organisations, are viewed as mere appendages of the JEI of Pakistan. The JI, on the other hand, seems to be a regional organisation with its cadres drawn from the countries of the region, but with its leadership and motivation largely in the hands of Abu Bakar Baasyir, who is viewed as its spiritual mentor, and other Indonesians.

However, there is no evidence so far of any direct organisational linkage with Al Qaeda or of any command and control exercised by Al Qaeda or bin Laden over its plans and their execution. It has linkages with the LET of Pakistan, which is a member of the IIF and co-ordinates its activities due to the incapacity of bin Laden, but the name of JI itself has not figured as one of the members of the IIF in any report on the activities of the IIF so far.

The intelligence and counter-terrorism agencies of Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have scored many tactical successes since the beginning of 2002 in identifying the key dramatis personae of the JI and their modus operandi and in arresting some of them, including those involved in the Bali bombing. However, there is no evidence so far to indicate any weakening of the motivation of the organisation, its leadership and cadres, who are still at large. Nor is there any evidence to indicate any drying-up of fresh recruitment to the organisation. The continuing threat from the JI to the peace and security of the region is, therefore, rated as still high.

The countries of the region, and particularly Indonesia, should evolve a counter-terrorism policy suited to their national needs and circumstances and should avoid an uncritical adoption of the MacCounterterrorism methods of the Americans with the  emphasis on the large-scale use of purely military methods, including the Air Force and heavy weapons. Any impression that their counter-terrorism policies are influenced, if not dictated, by American methods and interests would prove counter-productive and add to the feelings of alienation and swell the ranks of new recruits. (14-12-03)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail:
[email protected]

(The writer was in Jakarta from December 5 to 9,2003, to attend the General Conference of the Council On Security Co-operation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP) )

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