Wed, 05 Jan 2000

Decisive action needed for Maluku

By David Keller

JAKARTA (JP): Unfortunately, there exist few "easy" options for President Abdurrahman Wahid to swiftly bring a halt to the intercommunal violence in Maluku, where religious belief is the outward scapegoat defining the lines of division.

Conflict resolution for the short-term can be found by investigating the contentious issues of centralism and the Indonesian Military (TNI) and relations between TNI and the media. For the long-term, the underlying psychology embedded in Indonesian society is a problem hindering conflict resolution.

There is hesitation in Jakarta, because if conflict resolution attempts for Maluku fail, possibly meaning exceeding the "acceptable" number of deaths between warring parties and the TNI, then negative public opinion from Maluku and elsewhere will associate the TNI with continued violence.

Furthermore, the problems will be seen as just another event of unwanted power radiating from the center. This would surely fuel separatist thought in a province.

This reasoning is especially needed since the TNI is now in control of security in Maluku, brought in after countless failed truces within the province. Regrettably, past results of TNI activities infer that the TNI capacity to restore order is unknown. Abdurrahman Wahid confessed that, "We don't know what the effect of this military intervention will have. We will only find out later whether their arrival is welcomed or not," (The Jakarta Post, Dec. 30, 1999).

This is an honest remark filled with ambiguity and is an abysmal confession for any military of the world to receive from its head of state. However, as Abdurrahman is President and supreme commander of the TNI, he is accountable for TNI actions. In a sense, the TNI holds the balance of power regarding the reputation of the government.

Despite positive public opinion regarding the government thus far, if the TNI cannot fulfill the desires for peace, then the government will be under increasing pressure from Maluku, Indonesia and the globalized world, unfortunate for advocates of noninterference and the unitary state concept.

Indeed, strong advocates for the continuance of the unitary state concept in the midst of death and destruction and accruing poor welfare in Maluku, must be rather bemused at present.

To remain optimistic, the TNI must be very diplomatic with its actions in Maluku, careful to balance "impartiality" with "partiality". The difficulty then, is when to be impartial so as not to incite violence and when to be partial when decisive decisions must be made, especially when tracking down and apprehending inciters of violence.

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult if the decision- making authority, the TNI, may have various predispositions regarding what kind of conflict resolutions to implement, especially since the TNI is as diverse in attitude -- unusual for a military due its cultural makeup -- as Maluku itself.

As a result, impartiality and partiality fuse together during moments in the field that need decisive actions. To counter this, first-rate TNI officership is needed on the ground, and this is crucial especially in conflicts where ethnicity and religion have predetermined the rules of engagement for the pacifying force.

A major player, the TNI must accept in association with its operations in the field the mass media. With a new government sustaining credibility thus far, the TNI now has to supplement the momentum and resurrect itself as a professional TNI.

Since the media has been the means through which the TNI has rightly lost credibility, the media is also the best means through which to restore credibility, and Maluku is the platform.

Restoration of peace measures which include curfews, prohibiting gatherings of groups of people and possible martial law, need media coverage as they are measures with severe consequences if violated. The open media has the role and the right to convey everything from the field and it will be the public watchers who will justly attribute credit to the TNI or the other according to information in relation to the adversity.

Therefore, the media must be fully accepted as the medium to convey the hopefully impending message of social restoration and decisive TNI leadership, most importantly to the people of Maluku and secondly to Indonesia and the wider world.

Restoration of peace as the short-term goal does not, however, solve the psychological damage that must be in the minds of many of the two million who inhabit Maluku. As a result, Maluku may enter the realm of cyclical conflict repeated every few years, as often occurs with African nations.

Noted Muslim scholar Nurcholish Majid provided a perspective with the comment that Indonesia is a society based on low trust resulting from the past regimes. Since trust is the basis of any relationship, this certainly warrants further investigation in application to restoring intercommunal trust in Maluku.

Furthermore, the fear of interference, which is linked to the fear of malu (losing face), are cultural factors in transition as collectivism makes way for individualism as a process of globalization. The culture of criticism that has emerged, needed for the changes that have occurred in Indonesia, has created a vacuum of intersocietal hostility in prematurely constituted communities where traditionalism is at its greatest.

As a result, communities like those in Maluku revert back to religious common ground when contentious issues such as disparities in welfare result. For the short-term, however, focus must be on restoring peace in Maluku.

Media disclosure of good TNI peace restoration practices will result in accrued credibility for the government, and the TNI will not be disgraced as happened with East Timor. As Shakespeare stated: "All's well that ends well," meaning, do a good job in Maluku, or at least try to with minimal human and institutional damage, then previous failures can be forgotten, or at least disassociated from the present system. The ball is in the court of the TNI, at stake, the government.

The writer is a graduate in Australia-Asia relations, currently working at the Center for Social and Cultural Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI)