C O M M E N T Indonesian Tragedy Reminds the World: the Fight Against Terrorism Has Only Just Begun

If the situation in the international anti-terrorist coalition were normal, then the explosions in the Indonesian resort of Bali would have become a subject of serious discussion among the alliance members who worked out a plan to introduce order in Afghanistan a year ago. However, does the coalition still exist or the American intentions to wage a total war against Iraq have left it in tatters? And what should the countries facing the choice of whether or not to help the US do? They have to choose between assisting the US war against Iraq, which will be launched for more than dubious reasons, or concentrating on the entirely real terrorist threat that directly confronts them.

Australia is now in precisely this dilemma. It was believed in recent weeks that Australia supported the US plans with the same enthusiasm as Great Britain. The list of enthusiastic states then ended. Others, like Bahrain and Kuwait, were talking about any participation in the operation with extreme reluctance and had no plans for any significant role. However, Canberra is now faced with a big question: can you fight an Islamic country in the distant Middle East, when the threat of Islamic extremism has appeared on your own doorstep?

More Australians than any other foreigners were killed in the blasts at the Bali discos, which is, on one hand, a coincidence, and on the other, nothing of the sort. It is understood that the terrorists were dealing a blow against the Indonesian government, its tourist industry and the white people drawn to the country by it. But there are more Australian tourists in Indonesia and the southeast of Asia than from any country by virtue of its geographical proximity.

Of course, Australia is not the USA. However, the increased terrorist activity in the region should start alarm bells ringing in Australia, and not simply because it is a US ally. Relations between Jakarta and Canberra have never been especially warm and they deteriorated sharply in 1999 when the latter supported East Timor's secession from Indonesia. So Australians are, in theory, good, popular targets for local terrorists. We should not forget that many Indonesian immigrants live on the fifth continent, among which terrorists could operate with some ease if they so desired. If Canberra continues to back Bush's war in Iraq then there won't be much to talk about. Bush is far away, but Australia and its people are close at hand.

Who is the prime suspect in the Bali terrorist attack? It is possible that local Islamic extremists such as Laskar Jihad or the Laskar Mojaheddin are responsible. However, the most popular version at the moment is to blame the Jamaa Islamiya umbrella group, which operated across the region - in Indonesia, Singapore and in the Philippines. It is called "an umbrella group" because it as distinct from other purely local Islamic organisations, it was Jamaa Islamiya was set up in 1999 as a central regional structure of an international terrorist network, at the centre of which lay al-Qaeda.

Its task was to co-ordinate the regional proponents of a jihad, organising centralised supplies and money flows. The recently captured American al-Qaeda member Omar al-Faruq, who answered for the organisation in the southeast Asian region, has given detailed information about this gang and its head Abu Bakar Bashir. It was precisely his evidence on the anniversary of the September 11th events, a little more than month ago, that led to a number of American embassies in the region being closed after it emerged that terrorists were planning attacks with explosive-laden trucks. The explosives were never found and it is possible that they found their way to Bali.

The problems facing Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri are the same ones confronting his Pakistani counterpart Pervez Musharraf. It would be a dangerous strategy to come down hard on local Islamic advocates in the state, where the influence of Islamic parties has recently increased. In isolation, without any international support it would be virtually a hopeless task. The stakes would be high: in the best case scenario, it would lead to the overthrow of the president and in the worst case, it could bring about chaos and violence in several cities in the country, as has been witnessed in recent years.

It is obvious that southeast Asia has to be "cured" of local terrorist organisations. War will not help there; the matter in hand concerns long and difficult work involving international efforts and money. Central Asia and Pakistan is also in need of "treatment" (the latter country's recent parliamentary elections showed how strong the influence of local jihad advocates has become). Indeed, the situation in Afghanistan, where the war against terrorism began, does not provide any cause for optimism. Nor can the recent terrorist attack against US soldiers in Kuwait or the blowing up of the Limbourg tanker on the coast of Yemen be forgotten. Even the richest and strongest countries are faced with very serious problems.

Of course, a year ago it could have been possible to avoid touching Afghanistan and bin Laden; it could have been possible to wait until the Taliban's friends seized power in Tajikistan or Pakistan or another dozen skyscrapers had been blown up in the USA. However, the war is underway. It's impossible to give up at the first hurdle or leave a state in isolation to fight the alarming hornet's nest. Nevertheless, the problems facing the US economy - namely the price of oil and control over the Middle East - should not be resolved by force.

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