The Second Front: Fighting Terrorism in Southeast Asia
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Four experts met to discuss the fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia and the perceptions of U.S. actions in the region. According to the panel, Americans sometimes fail to recognize the difference between domestic insurgents (whose ambitions are primarily local) and internationally linked terrorists. However, the speakers generally agreed that the distinction is a fluid one: international networks often seek to co-opt local groups, which in turn are eager for supplies and training.
For example, Carolina Hernandez mentioned many direct and indirect links between Osama bin Ladin's associates and Philippine rebels. She also pointed out that 85 percent of Filipinos approve of the presence of US troops, who are training and supporting the Philippine military. Not surprisingly, the Muslim population is much less enthusiastic about American involvement. Angel Rabasa took the discussion to Indonesia. While the Bali bombing has galvanized Indonesia to take terrorism more seriously, the government remains weak—allowing extremists to wield political influence disproportionate to their numbers. While anti-U.S. demonstrations have dropped sharply since Saddam's defeat, protest could flare up again if the Americans bungle Iraq's democratic transition. Sheldon Simon struck an optimistic note by underlining the slow but steady increase in cooperation among members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, ASEAN's foot-dragging on certain issues—such as the suppression of terrorist financing—continues to hinder U.S. goals. Larry Niksch served as commentator. He maintained that linkages between various groups are advancing steadily. He also warned that U.S. anti-terrorist goals will be hindered by continued economic sluggishness in Indonesia, which provokes Islamization and resistance to the Megawati government.
Drafted by Amy McCreedy, Asia Program Associate, 202/691-4013
Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director