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Bali terrorist attack causes shock-waves in the pacific

Bali terrorist attack
Bali terrorist attack causes shock-waves in the pacific!
by Jean Duval
Our South East Asian correspondent

This article deals with the background and the consequences of the recent Bali blast. In a future article the author will deal with the economic situation in Indonesia, developments in the class struggle and the perspectives for the left.

Some commentators are already presenting the recent bomb blast in Bali as the Indonesian, or even an Australian, version of the September 11 attack on the WTC in New York. The terrible carnage created by the bomb blast this weekend in a packed night club in the tourist resort of Kuta in Bali is rapidly provoking a political tidal wave in the whole of the region. It will have far reaching ramifications for Indonesia, Australia and the whole of South East Asia.

At the time of writing some 188 people have been reported killed in the explosion of a car. A further 300 have been injured and hundreds of other tourists are still unaccounted for after another smaller explosion. Most of the victims are tourists from Britain, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Singapore and also from Indonesia itself. The biggest group among the victims however is composed of Australians, which have led many to think that Australia was specifically targeted by this attack. An Australian paper has stated that: "it was an attack guaranteed to take the heaviest toll of Australian lives". Another paper goes further and concludes that: "likely the attack will result in the greatest single peacetime loss of Australian lives overseas."

Dark clouds are hanging now over Bali, the tourist island known for its peace and tranquillity. During the most unstable moments of the post-Suharto turmoil in Indonesia, Bali was still recommended by foreign embassies, unlike other parts of the archipelago as a safe haven for tourists. Now this has come to a brutal end.

The fact that Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world has provoked an immediate international knee jerk reaction against local Islamic fundamentalist groups supposedly linked to the al-Qaeda network of Osama Bin Laden. Marxists condemn the senseless killing of ordinary people. But the immediate condemnation of this attack by the US president Georges Bush and by Jack Straw, the Foreign Affairs Minister of the UK smacks of sheer hypocrisy. They are trying to use this human disaster to justify their so-called "international war against terrorism".

The finger is being pointed in the direction of an obscure group called Jamaah Islamyah (JI) with links to Abu Sayaf in the Philippines and Osama Bin Laden. This group has been accused by the US embassy and the Malaysian government of being host to the Taliban on the run and al-Qaeda operatives looking for a new home. More importantly the US government has accused Indonesia of being the new breeding ground for radical Islamic groups.

The leader of the JI is Abu Bakar Bashir who runs an Islamic boarding school in Central Java. He also heads the pan-islamist Mujahideen Council of Indonesia. Some of his lieutenants are wanted by the Indonesian police for their role in a series of bombings in Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000 and also by the Malaysian police for alleged links to terrorist groups. Despite this doubtful reputation, the leader of JI was invited to dinner a few weeks ago by Hamza H, the Indonesian Vice President and leader of the reactionary United Development Party (PPP), an old satellite party of the Suharto regime with links to the military.

In spite of this, reports over the last year, especially from US officials, that claim JI was operating as the local branch of al-Qaeda, have been received with a lot of scepticism inside Indonesia and also by independent experts. So far no serious proof has been found to substantiate these accusations. Even now with this recent attack it cannot be definitely concluded that al-Qaeda is behind it. It is not even certain that the fundamentalists are responsible.

The BBC World security correspondent wrote on Sunday morning (October 13) that the pattern of this attack does not carry the marks of al-Qaeda. He quotes an anonymous source which indicates it could be a violent Indonesian nationalist group banking on revenge on Australia for the loss of East Timor.

However, it would also be wrong to immediately think this attack is a payback action against Australia for its support for the war against Iraq. Ordinary people in Indonesian can think of many other potential suspects for the atrocities in Bali: elements within the army, Suharto nostalgics, the US and Australian services, Israel, etc. etc.

The deluge of US, UK, Australian and other propaganda which is again abusing the sincere feelings of indignation and disgust of ordinary people, has the aim of uniting the majority of the population behind the new imperialist adventures in Iraq and elsewhere. The Australian bourgeois press leaves no doubt about this:

"This is a wake-up call to Australia, to our region, and to the entire civilised world to unite more strongly than ever to defeat terrorism. The Bali bombings expose the lie that the act of war on September 11, 2001, was simply an attack on Americans and American values. Bali proves that all freedom-loving peoples are at risk from terrorism, at home and abroad. We cannot let national rivalries, domestic political differences or cynical anti-Americanism divide us. The Bali bombings should serve as a lesson to the waverers who have let their distaste for George W. Bush or knee-jerk isolationism blind them to the realities of terrorism." the Australian October 14, 2002.

The Howard government has also already announced (on Monday October 14) that it will strengthen its anti-terrorist legislation as well as its security apparatus as a consequence of this attack.

It is possible that this attack had a mainly domestic aim of destabilise the Megawati government. In the last 4 years Indonesia has been the violent theatre of many paramilitary groups of an Islamic character. Their activities blur the distinction between criminal gangs and militias. Many of those groups, like Laskar Jihad mix politics with criminal activities, such as extortion and racketeering. They were used in the past in the massacre of communists in 1965/66 and as anti-independence paramilitaries in East Timor. Very often their activities represent an alliance of convenience between criminals and segments of the political oligarchy and the high ranking military. Other groups like the Islamic Defenders Front (or FPI) was established in 1998 with the help of high ranking officers. This group led some noisy anti-American protests after September 11 and have involved in the sweeping of Jakarta night spots as part of the lucrative business of running protection rackets.

In Yogyakarta in Central Java, a group called Gerakan Pemuda Ka'bah is playing the same role. This group has been denounced by pro-democracy groups as a creation of the local military commander and the United Development Party (PPP). In quite a few cases radical Islamic groups have been trained by the military and encouraged by them to engage in terrorist activity. Laskar Jihad fighters have played such a role in the communal conflicts in the Moluccas, central Sulawes and in West Papua. In the case of the Moluccas, Laskar Jihad was able to bring in combatants from the main island of Java without any government opposition, despite the fact that President Abdurrahman Wahid and other officials had appealed to the security forces to stop them. The rise of these groups can clearly be linked to the collapse of the Suharto regime and the attempts by different factions within the civilian and military oligarchy to create instability to further their own goals.

It has been reported that 1200 pro-independence leaders and activists in different part of Indonesia, pro-democracy advocates and other social activists have been blacklisted by both groups, Laskar Jihad and Jemaah Islamyah, and have become legitimate targets.

Furthermore terror in Indonesia has its origins in the repressive strategies of the Suharto state since 1965/66 and all the governments that have followed since his overthrow. It started with the bloodbath in which one million communists were killed. Later there were the Tanjung Priok killings, the Lampung massacre, and the abduction and assassination of student activists in 1998. The Indonesia army was also responsible for the slaughter of a quarter of the population of East Timor from 1976 until its recent "independence" and it was also instrumental in the creation, arming and the protection of the pro-integration militias in 1999.

It is sheer hypocrisy for the National Chief of Police to declare that the bomb blast in Bali 'is the worst act of terror in Indonesia's history."

This year alone already 2000 civilians and members of GAM, the Aceh guerrilla movement have been killed in attacks by the army in Northern Sumatra. The daily death toll for this year exceeds that of 2001. In West Papua, the intimidation, harassment, arbitrary arrests, torture and killing of independence activists by the army is a daily occurrence.

In an earlier article we explained the effects of September 11 on the international position of Indonesia. South East Asia has been largely seen as the second front of the war against terror. The deployment of 660 US soldiers in the Philippines in a counter-insurgency operation in the South of the archipelago was the start of this new front. Washington wants Indonesia to play a central role in the new security set up of US imperialism in the region, as it is located in a strategic position, both geographically and economically. Since September 11 the US has started to resume its ties with the Indonesian military which were cut three years ago in "protest" against human rights abuses. Already US$50 million have been disbursed and more will come. The plans are to resume also the Inter-regional Military Education and Training as well as the involvement of Indonesian officers in a counter-insurgency fellowship program provided by the US.

The participation of the Indonesian military (TNI) in this programme was resisted by human rights groups in the USA and by some members of the Congress. There is no doubt that this resistance will be pushed aside now as a result of the Bali blast. The sound of US army boots on Indonesian soil is not the most likely perspective in the short term. The "war on terrorism" has also given the army the possibility of strengthening its political weight despite its formal and early retreat from parliament. Without exaggeration, it can be said that the army's political clout has never been stronger since the fall of Suharto. The so-called "territorial structure" of local commands, vital for exerting effective political and military control from top to bottom in Indonesian society, have not been dismantled. Quite the contrary. New ones have been created, especially in the area of unrest in Aceh in Northern Sumatra. In this area the army is waging low intensity warfare against the local guerrillas, which is costing the lives of thousands of civilians every year. With its new-found authority the army is now threatening an all out war against the Acehenese independence movement.

The Centre for Strategic and International Relations based in Jakarta is absolutely right when it says: "It is no exaggeration to say that the current antiterrorist campaign makes the TNI the victor."

In the short term the US will insist on the Indonesian government passing antiterrorist legislation. This will strengthen the repressive arm of the state. Those proposals are widely seen as a danger to democratic rights and a threat to civil liberties. This has already been the case in many Asian countries where "anti-terrorism" has been used to justify the curtailment of democratic rights and to increase repression against the left.

In the immediate aftermath of the blast in Bali the Indonesian Coordinating Minister for Security Affairs announced that they would increase the security at vital energy projects around mines, gas and oil industries. As most of these are situated in Aceh and West Papua this is a clear message from the military that they will use the terrorist pretext to upgrade their violent activity in these areas. The "protection" of these projects also represents a lucrative source of income for the army commanders.

Megawati who so far has been dragging her feet in taking action against the local Islamic groups (at the demand of the US, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia) will come under irresistible pressure in the coming days. The fact that she did not take any action against these groups, (independently of whether they are linked to al-Qaeda or not) was mainly due to domestic reasons.

Anti-American feelings have been mounting over the last few years in Indonesia, especially in regard to the role played by the International Monetary Fund in imposing a severe austerity programme and the privatisation of the main assets of the Indonesian economy. Those anti US feelings are not only widespread amongst radical fundamentalist groups but also among large layers of the population and also within her own party. She is being seen more and more as having become the puppet of the US and the IMF. Within the oligarchy there is also opposition to the privatisation programme, which is seen as a sell-out to foreign companies.

The US based think tank, Strategic Forecast, warned recently of the risks of political backfiring if the US were to insist too much and too openly on the Indonesian government taking stern action against fundamentalist groups. The US embassy has already faced an amateurish grenade attack by some individuals in Jakarta. In Central Java Islamic groups have made a speciality of attacking US tourists in the hotels of Solo.

Many bourgeois observers have criticised Megawati for her laissez-faire running of the coalition government made up of antagonistic parties. The same accusation was directed against her predecessor Gus Dur, who had to cope with the criticism of his "erratic leadership". In both cases personal flaws have been invoked to explain the lack of direction, the profound sense of paralysis in government policy. But again we must insist that personal characteristics play a secondary role in explaining this phenomenon. The lack of strength and direction derives from the profound divisions among the bourgeois as they busily scramble for privileges, and access to influence and rich assets. But it is also rooted in the crisis within the main branches of the state apparatus (executive, legislative and judiciary) who are stricken with gangrenous corruption and inefficiency and who lack the slightest legitimacy in the eyes of the mass of the population, from the urban poor, to the peasants and the middle class professionals.

The Úlan of so-called 'reformasi' has been exhausted. Ask anyone in the streets of Jakarta what he thinks of the new 'reform period' and he will most likely tell you 'this is pure rubbish'. The judiciary is headed by a notoriously corrupt Attorney General. Parliament is chaired by Akbar Tanjung, leader of Golkar and condemned to three years' imprisonment for embezzling state funds. Since the fall of Suharto there has not been one prosecution or jailing of a high ranking politician or military for the acts of state terror that were carried out under his regime. Suharto himself has not even been charged with violation of human rights. There is a general feeling of impunity among the state apparatus. Would this state not correspond to the description of a 'rogue state'?

There is growing criticism of Megawati on the part of ordinary people for her 'regal' indifference to the suffering of the poor. This was highlighted recently by the lack of any measures on the part of her administration to help 100,000 migrant workers expelled by the 'friendly' Malaysian neighbour and left stranded on the outer islands to die of hunger. The incessant price hikes of petrol, transport costs (up to 300% in a few years), telephone charges and school fees has further contributed to the unpopularity of the government and the era of 'reformasi' in general.

Daily life for ordinary Indonesians has worsened since 'reformasi'. Jakarta, the capital, has been described during recent debates by young Indonesians on Indymedia as the 'least liveable city in the world', even as a 'hub of hell' with its increased poverty, permanent traffic congestion and terrible pollution levels.

This recent bomb blast and the Australian and US pressure on Megawati's administration will dramatically exacerbate the already existing tensions in Indonesia. The survival of the weak equilibrium of the government is at stake. A regional newspaper reported today that the only "stability under the blood of the carnage in Bali was the instability" of Indonesia. The "arc of instability", a concept coined by Australian security planners to describe the new political environment in the pacific is rapidly becoming a reality.

October 15, 2002

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