Thu, 06 Jan 2000

A tough challenge ahead

To most observers in Jakarta, the replacement on Tuesday of the chief of the National Police, Gen. Roesmanhadi, by Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo, does no doubt seem somewhat unexpected.

True, talk of such a pending replacement has been in the air in the capital for some time. After all, the chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI), Gen. Wiranto, was replaced. His place was taken by Navy Admiral Widodo only weeks after President Abdurrahman Wahid was installed in October. And last month, Gen. Tyasno Sudarto was named the new chief of the Indonesian Army, replacing Gen. Subagyo Hadisiswoyo.

Thus, it would only be logical to expect that high-level mutations would follow some time soon in the country's National Police force. This was all the more to be expected since the National Police is, at least officially, no longer a part of the Indonesian Military and has become -- again, officially -- an independent force even though it remains, for the time being, subordinated to the Ministry of Defense.

What makes Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo's appointment on Tuesday unexpected is, essentially, two things: one is the timing of the change and the second is the fact that the officer promoted to replace the outgoing police chief was not one of those whom observers had for some time favored as Roesmanhadi's replacement. One flaw -- if it can be called that -- in President Abdurrahman's choice of Rusdihardjo is that his appointment does not allow for a rejuvenation in the National Police force, its new chief being a year older than his predecessor.

Obviously, though, the President must have had valid reasons for making his choice. One crucial fact that must be kept in mind in all of this, for example, is that after decades of subordination to the military, the Indonesian National Police is now finding itself standing at a crossroads, seemingly uncertain of how to adapt itself to the new situation. In essence, it is finding itself in the bewildering condition of having to reform itself from being a part of the country's military tool of warfare and repression to a civilian institution for maintaining security and order in a civilian community.

That President Abdurrahman was thinking of this is evidenced by his remarks during the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday. Asking the new chief of police to concentrate on maintaining security and public order, Abdurrahman said the police force must abandon its reliance on military-like intelligence operations. "The police must handle cases on the basis of investigation results -- not on intelligence activities," the President said.

Indonesians who were victims of military "intelligence activities" in the past cannot fail to detect the ominous significance of the President's words. Rightly or wrongly, the Indonesian Military, police included, have in the past often been accused of purposefully creating situations to warrant the extralegal suppression of "subversive activities" by suspected dissident groups, by killings or forced disappearances if necessary.

Since Soeharto's downfall in 1997, a new era of democratic reform has dawned, but the challenges that confront the National Police are far from diminished. Rather, they appear to have increased in certain sectors of life. The crime rate in major cities has risen. From a transit point in the international narcotics trade, Indonesia has quietly turned into a producer. Communal strife and unrest are threatening to break up the country.

These are the challenges that await Indonesia's new chief of police. It is fortunate, under such circumstances, that at least on the basis of his impressive credentials -- which include international schooling in conspiracy investigation, antiterrorism and antidrug tactics -- Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo seems thoroughly equipped to meet these challenges. Indonesians will owe him their greatest gratitude if he can prove to be able to live up to those expectations.