Jan 04, 2016

    Indonesia's weapon against ISIS: intelligence

    THE number of coalitions fighting against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) increases over time. The coalition headed by the United States has garnered the support of more than 60 countries.

    Russia's intervention has received blessings from Syria, and the Islamic anti-terrorism coalition conceived by the Saudis this month has received wide support from Muslim nations. Yet, none of these coalitions features Indonesia.

    Indonesia has emphasised combating home-grown terrorist groups more. Thus, concerns are automatically heightened for Indonesians who support ISIS and who are known to have travelled into its territories and returned. Those returnees are easily stigmatised as potential terror threats.

    Not all who have joined ISIS were successful. Many reportedly return bearing no intention of inflicting harm upon fellow citizens.

    However, the screams of persecution still ring loud for anyone known to sympathise with or to have joined ISIS. This limits Indonesia's ability to understand and to learn about what made them come back, after failing to join the terror group.

    In November last year, the National Intelligence Agency announced that around 100 Indonesians suspected to have joined ISIS had returned home. National Police chief Badrodin Haiti said some 60 to 70 people had been identified.

    So far, the National Police and the National Counter-terrorism Board have sought to prevent further recruitment of Indonesian nationals to ISIS by establishing surveillance networks nationwide. The government has also banned any endorsement of or support for IS, and enlisted local Muslim authorities to denounce the group. However, in terms of the international stage, Indonesia must do more to monitor and contain the spread of ISIS.


    With coalitions worldwide fighting against ISIS through military means, Indonesia has done well to resist jumping on the bandwagon.

    The government's latest move of opting out of the Saudi-led military coalition shows that Indonesia will not resort to defeating ISIS through military means.

    Instead, intelligence sharing, such as the decision by Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo to cooperate with Turkey this year, has put Indonesia on the right track.

    However, it's not enough for Indonesia to deploy its agents in Turkey. Although it's the most common entry point for would-be members, similar steps should also be taken with Egypt, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, as they serve as alternative entry points into ISIS territory.

    Undermining all these entry points would gradually erode the terror group's supply of manpower. Indonesia could also play a role in bridging the intelligence gap between the Middle East and Asia.

    In addition, by understanding and learning from failed ISIS members who have returned home, Indonesia could share information with other countries to help them to take similar measures.

    To be fearful is not an option.

    Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, and that is the country's trump card. Indonesians should not be dragged down under the religious schism between the opposing political views of Sunni and Shi'ites.

    Indonesians have done a tremendous job defusing threats of terrorism within their country thanks to a combination of strong democratic governance, a stable political environment and positive economic growth, all of which have helped lift millions out of poverty.

    Such results and the formula for achieving them must be shared by Indonesia with states in conflict with ISIS, such as Syria and Iraq, to inform their foreign policy on the terror group. This would prevent any prospect of similar events emerging in the future within the larger Middle East region.


    Still, as Indonesia positions itself outwards, it should not forget to look inwards. Despite the country's success in achieving stability, Indonesians must remind themselves that, as a pluralistic nation, Indonesia still has issues concerning religious harmony.

    Even though Indonesia has addressed the issue of ISIS defectors, shared its intelligence and avoided military intervention, should it fail to address the problem at home, the whole structure will fall apart.

    This is the role that Indonesia should play through its foreign policy on ISIS. It should avoid spending a colossal amount on bombarding the terror group, as that may not bode well with the majority of its population.

    Indonesia should establish its own coalition that openly shares information on ISIS, eliminates the stigma on returnees and advocates for a non-violent approach.

    Lest we forget, Sun Tzu said: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles." In short, if Indonesians can identify ISIS' weaknesses and their own weaknesses, then the former will surely triumph over the latter.