In Indonesia, President Megawati Sukarnoputri is under pressure to crack down on terrorism, while apparently well aware her nation risks a return to a darker past as she contemplates unleashing the feared internal security forces. In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard faces intense political pressure after revealing US intelligence warnings of a possible terrorist strike in Bali went unheeded. Just five days after the Bali bombing, a bleak new period of tension and instability may be engulfing the Asia-Pacific region. Terrorists often seek to sew uncertainty and confusion through their deadly acts, but they cannot be allowed to win even a small or a short-term victory. With this in mind, both President Megawati and Prime Minister Howard must act with considerable delicacy, caution and skill. Whether either is up to the task is debatable. To their critics they are the most unlikely political leaders; there is Ms Megawati's aloofness and sense of destiny that pushes her towards the regal; and there is Mr Howard's scout-master charisma. But they will have to rise to the challenge. The horror of the weekend blasts in Bali is enough to bear without any rash acts playing into the hands of terrorists. Of the two, President Megawati faces the bigger challenges. Her nation's democracy is young and weak. The paradigm shift required after the downfall of president Suharto in 1998 after 32 years in power - he left office the world's longest-serving dictator - has been almost as great as the changes required by former communist states. Her administration will need both to act swiftly and proceed cautiously to meet US-led demands for a crackdown through the imposition of tough new internal security measures. These must not be allowed to strengthen the institution of Indonesia's military, a violent and a political force during the Suharto era. Given Western concern about the military's excesses, the situation is laced with considerable irony. The Indonesian military is not the power it was, but its actions remain difficult to predict. Suspicions were quick to arise this week that somehow, some elements of the armed forces could have been involved in the terrorist strike on Kuta, either because of corruption or a darker plot to force Megawati's hand. Any return to the repressive tactics of the Suharto era could fuel the sort of violent protest that of late has often scarred the Indonesian landscape. Such discord would threaten Ms Megawati's leadership. It could also stoke - rather than curb - the very resentment exploited by Islamic extremists. The risk to regional instability would be far less should serious credibility problems imperil Mr Howard. But such problems would be just as unwelcome. What the region needs right now is leadership - not leaders in trouble.