T.N.I. Uses Bali Bombing to Reassert Political Role

Members of a navy unit throw their hats in the air after a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Indonesian military. (Photo: Dewira / AFP-Getty Images)

Attending a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the Indonesian military (T.N.I.) on Oct. 5, just days after the deadly bombing in Bali, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono instructed the T.N.I. to “take part in effectively curbing, preventing and acting against terrorism.”

Despite the fact that defense and intelligence analysts have repeatedly blamed poor coordination between intelligence units and unpopular government policies for the string of terrorist attacks over the last three years, the T.N.I. immediately seized on the statement to justify reactivating its regional territorial command network. This was led by Yudhoyono himself when he was an active three-star general, and under the Suharto dictatorship it allowed the T.N.I. to play a political role at all levels of society, leading to rampant human rights abuses.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ceremony, T.N.I. chief General Endriartono Sutarto said: “The government has given us [the T.N.I.] a clear order to participate in the war against terrorism. First, we will raise the public awareness about the condition of people’s neighborhoods. Second, we will also activate the territorial command up to the village level, and third, of course, we will share intelligence information with other institutions, especially the police.”

Sensitive to public concerns over the move, defense minister Juwono Sudarsono told the public that the T.N.I. would have no powers of arrest. This was later contradicted by Ansja’ad Mbai from the office of the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, who told the Jakarta Post that the T.N.I. could arrest suspected terrorists before handing them over to the police. “If we want the whole country to be protected from any kind of terror threats, then we must empower all elements of this nation to take part in the war on terror. Even regional military commanders should be authorized to arrest terror suspects,” he said following an Oct. 11 meeting on security affairs.


Assigned down to the village level, non-commissioned officers called Babinsa were once the vanguard of the T.N.I.’s territorial command, or Koter, living in local communities and monitoring and reporting “suspicious” residents to the intelligence authorities.

This began to be curtailed following Suharto’s overthrow in 1998. After the T.N.I. was separated from the police in 2003, many of the roles of military intelligence and community policing were given to police, while the Babinsa’s duties were confined to collecting strategic intelligence data.

The military has constantly resisted calls for Koter to be dismantled. As well as entrenching the T.N.I.’s political power, Koter also provides huge business opportunities — protection rackets, gambling, prostitution, monopolies on commodity distribution and bribes from business.

T.N.I.’s Political Role

Yet critics, including top politicians and rights groups, say reactivating Koter could pave the way for the T.N.I. to reassert its repressive role. According to People’s Consultative Assembly speaker Hidayat Nurwahid, the move is inappropriate and the function of the police and National Intelligence Agency (B.I.N.) should be maximized first. He added that he feared it would create conflict between military and police officers in the field.

Ikrar Nusabhakti, a researcher at the National Institute of Science, said it could pave the way for the T.N.I. to reenter politics or legitimize rights abuses. “During the New Order [Suharto] regime, the military — read: the Army — maintained these (territorial) roles mostly for political purposes, and their mindset is yet to change as of today”, Nusabhakti told the Oct. 6 Jakarta Post.

In a press release issued on Oct. 11, the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (Y.L.B.H.I.) said that under the New Order, “the presence of the T.N.I. from the national level (T.N.I. headquarters), Kodam, Korem, Kodim, Koramil and even Babinsa became a tool to control and limit political space. It is this social and political function of Koter that is of concern, that it will return Indonesia to the era of authoritarianism under the New Order.” Y.L.B.H.I. noted that Jakarta military commander Major General Agustadi Sasongko Purnomo has already announced that 1680 Babinsa will be reactivated throughout the city.

In a joint statement issued on Oct. 13, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, Y.L.B.H.I. and the Human Rights Working Group warned it would be a “blow to people’s freedom.” Describing the plan as a “major blow to democracy,” Usman Hamid from Kontras said at a joint press conference that “the plan views civilians as part of the terror threat, while in fact it could be the security officers who are the threat [to the people].”

According to an Oct. 12 report, the T.N.I. is already targeting traditional Islamic boarding schools or pesantrens. Nurwahid told Detik that he had information that Babinsa had been visiting pesantrens to ask about the out-of-school activities of the schools’ Islamic scholars. At a press conference in Jakarta on Oct. 17, House of Representatives speaker Agung Laksono said: “No longer [can] they go along with determining which pesantrens or schools must be closed down. Don’t imitate the measures that were used by the New Order.”

Public Resistance

Media reports and recent surveys indicate widespread public opposition to the plan. A survey by the Indonesian Research Institute released on Oct. 4 found that a clear majority believe Koter should be abolished. Of 1137 people from 33 provinces, 55 percent to 58 percent of respondents disapproved of Koter at district, regional and provincial levels. The survey also found that 82.2 percent of those interviewed agreed that the military’s main role was to defend the state from external threats.

In an op-ed piece in the Oct. 8 Jakarta Post titled “Military fight against terrorism could be the terror itself,” the paper warned that as well as being a breach of the reform spirit, the move could herald the return of “secret abductions, detention without trial, torture and the extra-judicial killings of those who are deemed militants or a threat to the state.”

“Still fresh in the nation’s memory are the abductions of at least 12 men, mostly activists in a military operation in 1997. An investigation only recently declared these men had died in the hands of their abductors, but no one has yet been brought to trial for their deaths,” said the paper.

An Oct. 10 Jakarta Post editorial speculated that the president wants to use the Bali bombings as cover to test the public’s reaction to the revival of the T.N.I.’s role in domestic security and public order. “Going by media reports,” it said, “there is indeed a great deal of public resistance to the idea of the military renewing its political role, although many people acknowledge the T.N.I. could play an important role in the war against terror. But, after the abuses of power and rights violations during the Suharto era, people remain wary of giving the military too much power.

“We must use every available means to eradicate terrorism, but at the same time we have to stick to our democratic principles. True, the internal security acts in Singapore and Malaysia are effective in the short term, but at what cost to civil society? The T.N.I. can play a key role in the war against terror without returning to it the powers it enjoyed under Suharto. But will the T.N.I. accept this?”

Tougher Anti-Terror Laws

The government was also quick to take advantage of the bombings to gain support to enact tough anti-terror laws.

Speaking at an event by the Islamic Student Association’s Corps of Alumni on Oct. 15, Vice President Jusuf Kalla didn’t mince words: “Like it or not the government must take measures which are tough and resolute, no different from what was done during the New Order era.”

National Police chief General Sutanto said Indonesia urgently needed tougher legislation, pointing to the Internal Security Acts in Malaysia and Singapore, as well as tough anti-terror laws in the United States and other countries that “give room to the police to move quickly and effectively” against the terrorists. “For us, in order to arrest a suspect … we have to submit [evidence] to the court first,” he told Agence France Presse on Oct. 15. “This needs time … It is not fast enough.” On the same day, Sudarsono told the Jakarta Post that the government was considering enacting “emergency legislation” to deal with terrorism.

Support also came from former National Intelligence Agency (B.I.N.) director A. M. Hendropriyono, who lamented the failure to pass a law that would have allowed B.I.N. to detain suspects for limited periods. He said operatives needed the ability to “discretely take aside” members of radical organizations in an attempt to entice them into providing information from inside terrorist cells. Receiving intelligence in this manner, B.I.N. could better anticipate terrorist acts before they took place.

A recent report by a fact-finding team investigating last year’s murder of renowned human-rights activist Munir found evidence linking B.I.N. to his death and strongly recommended that Hendropriyono be questioned by police in relation to the case.

Originally published Oct. 26.