21 March 2019
Jemaah Islamiyah: An uncertain future
By Peter Chalk
The reappearance of JI has major relevance for Australia given that Indonesia is a large and important strategic partner; any threats to Jakarta’s internal stability must therefore occupy a central place in Canberra’s foreign, defence and security calculations.
This is especially true at a time when Australia is seeking to court a closer relationship with Indonesia in response to Beijing’s increased assertiveness in the region and its uncompromising stance on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. At the same time, Australia has been directly caught in the cross-hairs of JI’s past violent activities, with the 2002 bombings in Bali remaining the largest loss of life to a terrorist attack in the nation’s history.
Australia could do several things to help Indonesia in dealing with the re-emergent JI threat:
- First, the scope of support that Canberra is currently providing for Jakarta’s evolving strategy of countering violent extremism could be further expanded, particularly by better leveraging civil society organisations in program design and implementation.
- Second, advice could be rendered on how best to ensure that kinetic counterterrorist responses don’t boost the JI missive that Jakarta’s secular order is inherently biased against the country’s Muslim interests.
- Third, assistance could be provided to support reform of the national penal system, which in many respects continues to act as an important incubator for terrorist indoctrination and recruitment.
- Fourth, best practices for restricting online vectors for disseminating extremist propaganda could be shared. Assisting with the development of the nascent Bandan Siber dan Sandi Negara (National Cyber and Encryption Agency) would be useful in this regard.
- Finally, Australia could serve as an intermediary between Jakarta and Manila for determining whether there are any concrete indications that JI is seeking to reconsolidate its logistical presence in Mindanao. One potential mechanism that could be leveraged to promote this dialogue is the existing trilateral commission supporting Malaysia–Philippines–Indonesia (MALPHINDO) naval patrols in the Sulu and Celebes seas.