Last week marked the second anniversary of the terrorist bombings that killed hundreds of tourists and Indonesians in the vacation paradise of Bali. That tragedy was a wakeup call to Southeast Asia about the dangers lurking within the region, a call to which governments have only slowly responded.
Unfortunately, the terrorists have not been inactive: They continue to threaten the region, its peace and its prosperity. While progress to eradicate the menace has been made, it has become clear that individual governments cannot do so alone. It is a job for cooperative, coordinated action among all concerned nations, including Japan, with vital interests in Southeast Asia.
On Oct. 12, 2002, a series of explosions devastated two nightclubs on Bali, one of Asia’s most popular vacation spots. The blasts claimed 202 victims and wounded hundreds more. The attack was blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group indigenous to Southeast Asia that aims to establish a fundamentalist Islamic government from Indochina to northwestern Australia.
The government of Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri was slow to acknowledge the threat. Caution was understandable since Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation. The number of extremists amounted to a mere sliver of the population, and the president and other officials were loath to jeopardize their political support by antagonizing many, if not most, voters with an aggressive campaign against extremists that might mistreat ordinary people.
For a while, they denied the existence of a homegrown Islamic terrorist threat and blamed foreigners, sometimes, in fantastic conspiracy theories — even accusing Western powers of attempting to undermine the government. Law-enforcement work confirmed that the threat was real and homegrown. Investigation of the Bali bombings uncovered a network of indigenous terrorists that enjoyed foreign support.
Today, more than 30 of the Bali bombers have been prosecuted, and three are on death row. But plainly the threat has not been contained. Subsequent attacks have demonstrated that JI is still capable of deadly action: A little more than a year ago, an attack by a suicide bomber at the J.W. Marriott hotel in the capital Jakarta claimed 12 lives. Last month, nine people were killed when another suicide bomber attacked the Australian Embassy in Jakarta.
Indonesia cannot be accused of complacency. National security officials have swallowed their pride and reached out to foreign colleagues for help and assistance. This cooperation has been instrumental in the success of the Bali and other investigations.
While the overwhelming majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens opposed to terrorism, most Indonesians now concede that there are some who must be considered threats to the state and treated as such. The period of denial is over. Perhaps the most significant sign of this change was in the election last month of former security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president. Unlike his predecessor, Mr. Yudhoyono is determined to go after the terrorists, but he cannot succeed alone.
Investigations into JI’s activities have confirmed that the organization has spread throughout Southeast Asia, that it has linked up with like-minded groups in the region, and that its movement is aided by porous borders and by weak law enforcement and security forces.
Terrorism is like a virus: It attacks the weakest link in a chain of defenses, and continually adapts to change to maintain its virulence. Only shared concern, shared intelligence and coordinated action throughout Southeast Asia can succeed against this threat. While law enforcement, intelligence and security forces will take the lead in fighting terrorist groups, the only way to eventually defeat terrorism is through a long-term strategy. That means eliminating the causes of terrorism: attacking corruption, ensuring that each citizen’s voice is heard, providing economic opportunities and educating people. Each is needed to reduce desperation, give people a choice and lessen the allure of terrorism.
In all of these endeavors, the nations of Southeast Asia need help. Countries outside the region have much to contribute. Japan, with billions of dollars invested in the region, extensive economic interests and long-standing political ties, has a vital stake in the outcome of the struggle against terror. Tokyo can assist with money, economic and political knowhow, as well as direction in organizing police and coast guard forces needed to patrol waters and help seal borders. Continued and concerted efforts will honor the memories of the victims of Bali.
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