I had the pleasure of attending a seminar on Counter Insurgency and Counter Terrorism once, a long time ago. I had the pleasure of watching a (heated) debate between a Major in the conventional forces and a Captain of one of the Special Forces Groups.
The Major contended insurgents and terrorists understood violence and that any response to attacks that is less than the level they were willing to commit will only foster a perception of weakness. He argued that the more efforts should be made to find, fix, and destroy the enemy.
The Captain countered, “Kill them, Sir? How do you kill them if the very people you seek to kill is that teenager you just had chai with? Find them? You’ve found them already when you shook the hands of that village elder. How many will you destroy?”
The Captain then explained that the key of winning a COIN fight is to take away indigenous support towards the insurgents. Alienate the terrorists to the rest of the indigenous population and you can start making headway.
This is something that our government and armed forces, having fought through countless insurgencies, should know very well. Instead, almost no efforts are made to do this. The government seems to turn a blind eye towards religious extremism, and enforces it to some extent.
There are parallels of what’s happening here in Indonesia to events in history. One is the Weimar Republic. At the end of the 1920s, the Nazi movement was growing in Germany. At that time, a lot of people seem to ‘turn a blind eye’ towards the rampant anti-Semitism expressed by the Nazis. Most ‘moderate’ Germans would tell you that they don’t support the Nazis or violence against the Jewry. And yet, they did nothing. Several years later, Hitler’s power-base was consolidated and most of these ‘moderates’ turned out to be Nazis anyway. Most Germany, actually, supported the Nazis.
Another parallel is Pakistan, where the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) seeks to use extremist elements in order to become the dominant force in the region. As we’ve seen several times, that plan resulted in major terror attacks in Pakistani cities, a major insurgency in Waziristan, and deep involvement in Afghanistan.
So, where are we heading? Our government openly consorts with terrorist elements like the FPI, encourages (or at least turns a blind eye towards) intolerance and Islamic extremism, elect ministers who espouses Wahabbist agendas, and is curiously quiet about the injustices committed by the majority religion. Will we, then, head the same way Germany went? Or worse, will we become Southeast Asia’s Pakistan? The signs point there, unfortunately.