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Homeland Security

Analysis: A Different Tack on Terror

Council on Foreign Relations

June 25, 2008
Author: Jayshree Bajoria

Post-9/11, counterterrorism strategy across the globe has drawn much criticism from human rights groups and civil libertarians for relying too heavily on military action. Experts are now pointing to countries in Southeast Asia for effective alternative models which treat terrorist suspects better and keep public support on the government's side. At a recent regional security conference in Singapore, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said: "The governments out here take it very seriously and, in my opinion, seem to be doing a very good job individually and working together to deal with that terrorist threat" (NYT).

Southeast Asia is often referred to as the second front on global "war on terror." Terrorist organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines claim links with al-Qaeda. JI seeks to establish a pan-Islamic state across much of the region. According to a 2007 Congressional Research Service Report (PDF), JI formed close working relationships with other militant Islamic groups in the region and has cells in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand as well as in Australia and Pakistan. "[C]rackdowns by various governments in the region… are believed to have severely weakened the organization," it notes. But counterterrorism specialists warn that challenges remain in terms of better regional cooperation between the countries and potential regeneration of JI and other terrorist networks.

Experts say Indonesia and the Philippines have used soft counterterrorism methods to fight terror. While the Philippines approach is a more militarized one, in Indonesia terrorist suspects are treated well and encouraged to defect or to share information. Joshua Kurlantzick, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes in TIME that Indonesian security forces once reviled for their brutal treatment of suspects have adopted a new approach.

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Copyright 2008 by the Council on Foreign Relations. This material is republished on GlobalSecurity.org with specific permission from the cfr.org. Reprint and republication queries for this article should be directed to cfr.org.

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