Agus Widjojo: Battling terrorism is police business

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  • TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Even at times like these-when the public calls for the revision of the anti-terrorism law to expand the army`s role in the fight against terrorism-Agus Widjojo remains nonchalant. The Indonesian Military's (TNI) job, he says, is to safeguard national security. "Meanwhile, the jurisdiction over terrorism matters lies with the police," Agus said during a special interview with Tempo in his office last Monday.

    The retired army lieutenant general said that the army and the police observe different doctrines. In the field, soldiers hold the principle of 'kill or be killed', whereas police officers have the duty to arrest criminals and process them according to the law. "So, they cannot be combined for a given operation," Agus, 70, explained.

    Now Agus can breathe a sigh of relief as the House of Representatives (DPR) finally passed the anti-terrorism law last Friday. Under the revised law, the army's role will be subject to the issuance of a presidential decree. The law also allows the National Police to detain anyone suspected of being involved in a terror network even before he or she commits any crime. The former army territorial chief of staff believes that such a wider authority will leave little room for terrorists.

    Agus also touched upon the stagnant reform initiatives within the armed forces offices, the concept of which was prepared at the onset of the reformasi era. He told Tempo's Reza Maulana and Angelina Anjar that the army was once again being tempted to play a role outside its defense function. "The civil authority depends too much on the TNI," noted this son of the revolutionary hero Maj. Gen. (dec) Sutoyo Siswomiharjo.

    What is the reason behind your rejection of having the armed forces' role in countering terrorism expanded through the terrorism law?

    I look at it from the governance and constitution perspectives. The TNI and the police have different constitutional mandates. But we are still fixated on the old thinking when the police were part of the TNI. During the dwifungsi (dual function) era, the TNI wielded power that transcended the limits of its professional authority, which is national defense. The TNI law allows the President to order the TNI to conduct non-combat military operations, among others counter-terrorism activities. If the regulation is there, then we play by it.

    Terrorists affiliated with ISIS (Islamic States of Iraq and Syria) are not considered a disruption to national security?

    How was the national defense disrupted? ISIS never attacked Indonesia with its military power. They are a network and they operate locally. So, even though terrorism is a national threat, it lies within the domain of the police. Everything about terrorism is regulated in the Criminal Code.

    Did the DPR involve the National Defense Institute (Lemhannas) in the terrorism law revision deliberations?

    Yes. We were invited and I conveyed my points of view to Commission I.

    Were you concerned that the TNI would be pulled back into politics through the revision?

    It is not that there was concern about the TNI returning to dwifungsi, or playing a role outside the national defense duty, but about the governance and the constitution, as I just said. If the laws are broken, then we are not implementing good governance practices.

    So what is your reaction when the revision was endorsed?

    I felt like I was swimming against the current amidst the public frenzy calling for the TNI's involvement in the war on terror. But, then, news emerged that certain government parties were against it. It means I wasn't wrong, was I? So, I became optimistic. When the law was passed, I felt it was on track. It gives the police what they need, which is greater authority to detain those suspected of having ties to terror networks even though they haven't yet committed any crime. So, it does not aim at the TNI's involvement.

    But there is a clause regarding the TNI's role.

    The clause will place the TNI in line with its primary duties according to the presidential decree. All we have to do is to make sure that the decree does not deviate from the armed forces law and good governance in accordance with the principles of democracy.

    Do you agree with the phrase "with the motive to cause political, ideological or security disruption" in the definition of terrorism in the said law?

    Whatever the definition is, I agree with it. That will not change who will handle it (terrorism). In case of violations, the punishment will be heavier and it will be the court, not the TNI, that hands out sentences.

    Doesn't that phrase open the door for the TNI to directly involve itself in counter-terrorism operations?

    There is no law that says the TNI should be automatically engaged in every national security operation.

    What kind of terror acts will necessitate TNI's involvement?

    It is up to the President's discretion. The President has the prerogative. Imagine that there is an armed terrorist in front of Lemhannas. It is legitimate for the President to deploy a special forces platoon. In democracy, it is not about whether an action is right or wrong.

    Read the full article in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine