Tue, 21 Nov 2000

Aceh: Peaceful solution or force

By Desra Percaya

JAKARTA (JP): Decades of ideological confrontation between the East and the West have brought about transformation in our concept of conflict, the main aspect being a change of dimension from international (inter-state) conflict to internal conflict.

The latter is increasingly dominating the landscape of conflict. Its sources are basically rooted in the denial of fundamental human needs for security, a distinctive identity, the recognition of that identity by others, and effective and legitimate participation in social, economic, and political systems.

This type of conflict is found mainly in states with multi- ethnic characteristics. Consequently, the impact of this is much worse in developing countries as they are still in the process of nation-building.

Instead of achieving a strong and solid nation, there are many examples of states that have become dominated by authoritarian regimes hiding under the umbrella of ideological competition in international politics.

Once this global rivalry disappears, the strategic importance then significantly decreases, and domestic cleavages gradually challenge the concept of state and easily erupt into violent domestic conflicts. Indonesia is undoubtedly no exception to this description.

There is no question that the prevailing conflicts in Indonesia are complex and multi-dimensional. They are usually classified as either horizontal or vertical conflicts.

The first generally relates to conflicts among Indonesians arising from differences in the population, while the latter usually has the dominant feature of the presence of a strong "opposition" to the central government.

However, the scale of antagonism is much greater when vertical conflict is injected with the sentiments of horizontal differences. This has been the case in Aceh.

Indeed, the transformation process from an authoritarian regime towards a more democratic one has limited the ability of the government in redressing this particular conflict. Further factors contributing to the worsening situation have been the collapse of the Indonesian economy and political bickering among elite leaders.

Generally, the tension in Aceh has been attributed to state injustices, the security approach and violations of human rights that have gone on for decades.

This culminated in the Acehnese demand for independence from Indonesia. They formed armed groups with the declared objective of creating a new state by using force. They exploited racial and ethnic sentiments, causing a massive impact as a great number of Acehnese found the motion an irresistible offer.

Unfortunately, the offer is made at the expense of others.

One of the most obvious but less highlighted examples of this strategy, has been the widespread hatred instigated by Hasan di Tiro's faction in an attempt to deliberately portray Jakarta as "Javanese colonialism".

This has resulted in a huge movement of people, or innocent internally displaced persons with distinct race and culture, mostly Javanese migrants. They are now fleeing Aceh because of unbearable intimidation and inhuman treatment.

Are we turning a blind eye to the phenomenon of "mini ethnic cleansing" in Aceh? Should the insurgent movement be allowed to succeed in achieving its political objective of separating from Indonesia at the expense of racial superiority?

If Aceh becomes an independent state, are the insurgents prepared to bear the negative and far-reaching consequences of the possible flow of innocent Acehnese being forced to return to the province? No one dares to imagine such a possibility occurring, but all of us must learn from the experience in the former Yugoslavia.

As can be seen, the danger of separatism looms large in Indonesia, with devastating consequences! What, then, are the options?

Following the scapegoat theory, a government might easily provoke a conflict with other countries so as to divert the attention of the population and to prevent the state from being torn apart.

According to Georg Simmel (1964), war with the outside is sometimes the last chance for a state riddled with internal conflict to overcome these antagonisms, the alternative being to break up indefinitely.

With current capabilities, particularly in economic and military fields, and the situation in international politics, this option can be ruled out, although efforts to portray the presence of an external enemy are occasionally aired.

Instead, President Abdurrahman Wahid has chosen to garner strong international support for the maintenance of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the unitary state of Indonesia.

His visits abroad have already secured support from many countries, and they also act as a reminder to the separatist movement seeking separation, especially when violence and racial hatred are involved.

At least, international support is a starting point for the government to find a comprehensive and lasting solution to the various conflicts, and it is up to it to make maximum use of this support.

However, one should not take it for granted that such support will always be there, since the concept is rather dynamic and could easily change depending on many factors, particularly the actions adopted by the Indonesian government to redress the issue.

While the government's policy in finding solutions is being closely watched, citizens and non-governmental organizations in many countries have a part to play, because pressure from constituencies might change the position of their respective governments.

While it may come as a surprise to many, the dialog and humanitarian approach to resolving conflicts, such as in the signing of the Humanitarian Pause, has been applauded and welcomed by many countries, as well as the people of Aceh.

However, although the use of force is no longer a popular option, it can never be ruled out entirely as states are entitled to defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty.

As an alternative, it must be considered seriously, cautiously and diligently, especially when dialog reaches an impasse, all other possible ways have been explored, demands are just too unrealistic, and none of the parties are willing to compromise.

Once again, the use of force by the government must be seen only as a last resort and it must be implemented with strict, clear and transparent rules of engagement, respect for human rights, and minimum consequences for innocent civilians.

In the final analysis, peaceful settlement is, by any standard, less costly than the use of force. Unfortunately, however, the nature of human beings tends to be less patient and appreciative of the lengthy process of negotiation.

The writer works at the International Organizations Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.