Jakarta. Possible violent jihadist activity by Indonesian extremists in Iraq would not have a significant impact on Indonesia or hurt the country’s security interests, analysts said in the wake of the seizure of key cities in the violence-wracked Middle East country.
“The militant attacks in Iraq will not have any influence on Islamist fundamentalist groups in Indonesia,” Hikmahanto Juwana, an international relations expert at the University of Indonesia, told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday.
“Even though we are the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, there is only a slight possibility that the activities [of militants] in Iraq will spread here,” he added.
“But, that doesn’t mean we can be complacent. The government needs to keep a close watch on the war in Iraq and Syria to prevent any unwanted repercussions here that could harm Indonesian interests.”
Militant Islamist groups, notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), have been fighting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and the Iraqi government for years. Iraq fighters made significant territorial gains this week and were headed for Baghdad on Thursday.
At the end of January a number of Indonesians joined thousands of foreign fighters who crossed into Syria to help extremist groups, which for years have been trying to create an Islamist state, the New York Times has reported. Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, based in Jakarta, was quoted as saying that the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, based on information from the Syrian government, estimated that at least 50 Indonesians had traveled to Syria via Turkey to take up arms since 2012.
Hikmahanto said the issue of Indonesians supporting Muslim extremists in the Syrian civil war was beyond the government’s control.
“We don’t know what kind of involvement they have in the war, what their goal is to join such movements… It is their free will and the Indonesian government cannot prohibit its citizens from going there,” Hikmahanto said.
Fachry Ali, a political researcher from the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), echoed the same sentiment, saying there were no known connections between Muslim extremists in Iraq and Islamist groups in Indonesia.
Rizal Sukma, the executive director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a foreign policy adviser to presidential hopeful Joko Widodo, said the danger of the Indonesian militants returning and taking up arms here was low, given the country’s secular Constitution.
“Indonesia is not a Muslim state. It’s a democracy that happens to have a Muslim-majority population,” he said on Wednesday. “Indonesia’s foreign policy will never be based on co-religionist solidarity.”