April 3, 2002 | Commentary on Asia
The answer: Indonesia. And its foot-dragging cooperation in the
war on terrorism is angering U.S. officials.
There's plenty to be mad about. Examples include the fact that
Malaysian and Singaporean diplomats have provided Indonesian
officials with evidence suggesting that the terrorist group Jemaah
Islamiah operates cells in Indonesia -- yet authorities there
haven't arrested any of the group's suspected members.
Then there's the fact that Indonesia's vice president was
photographed several months ago embracing a known terrorist leader.
And the fact that an Indonesian cleric known to have founded a
terrorism group with connections to al Qaeda was released after
questioning, despite being wanted in Malaysia for terrorist
Indonesia has built a reputation as a refuge for terrorists
fleeing U.S. wrath. With its 14,000 islands, its weak, corrupt
central government, and its status as the most populous Muslim
country on earth, it likely would be a destination for terrorists
under any circumstances. But President Megawati Suhartoputri hasn't
done much to make Indonesia less attractive to those trying to
regroup for future attacks on Western "infidels."
Supporters of Megawati say she's in a bind. She depends on a
coalition of Muslim political parties (some quite radical) for the
political support she needs to govern, they say. Those parties and
her large Muslim population -- 85 percent of the country's 210
million people -- won't accept her helping the U.S. crackdown on
Islamic terrorists, the argument goes.
Megawati needs to check her political math. She'll endure far
more problems from the coalition of Muslim parties because she's a
woman in what they perceive as a man's job than she will by
cooperating in the war on terror, experts say. The overwhelming
majority of the Muslims in Indonesia practice a traditional,
moderate brand of the religion and want nothing to do with
Her political opponents may want to make Megawati worry about
looking like an American puppet, but the notion she must tap dance
around terrorists to appease the partners in her governing
coalition is simply wrong. And the issue is critical. With its
unsecure borders and ungoverned islands, Indonesia, or at least
parts of it, could come to provide for terrorists there what
Afghanistan provided for al Qaeda: a safe place in which to amass
arms, plan attacks on the West, and recruit and train
It's not that the Megawati government has done nothing.
Indonesia's security service recently snatched a suspected
terrorist and delivered him to a U.S.-chartered plane that flew him
to Egypt to stand trial for terrorist activities.
But others, including Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, remain
at large. The United States and Singapore refer to Hambali, 37, as
Southeast Asia "operations director" for al Qaeda and insist he
directed a plan to blow up Western missions, including the U.S.
Embassy, as well as several U.S. Navy ships in Singapore.
Americans also want Indonesia to hunt down Jaffar Umar Thalib,
the Muslim cleric photographed embracing Vice President Hamzah Haz.
Jaffar commands Laskar Jihad, a Muslin paramilitary group known for
its fanaticism and brutality.
Jaffar, who considers the United States "the biggest enemy of
the Islamic people" and accuses America of inciting Christians and
Jews to join together to eliminate Islam, wants Indonesia governed
by clerics who hew to the hard line practiced by the Taliban in
Afghanistan. Yet he's allowed to operate with impunity.
President Bush has said that other nations have two choices in the war on terrorism: They're with us or they're against us. It's not asking too much of President Megawati that she make clear which side she's on.
Dana Dillon is a senior policy analyst in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.
Distributed nationally on the Scripps Howard wire