Tue, 04 Jan 2000

Gus Dur's consistency 'being tested in TNI investigation'

YOGYAKARTA (JP): While civilians are trying to bring the military to accountability, some speculate that President Abdurrahman Wahid is trying to protect it, given his unclear stance. The Jakarta Post interviewed political researcher Riswandha Imawan from Gadjah Mada University last week. The following are excerpts from the interview:

Question: Several of the military's top brass may be tried in a human rights court or even in an international tribunal. President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) seems to back the generals while demands continue to put an end to the Indonesian Military's (TNI) social and political role, saying it is the source of alleged atrocities. What do you think?

Answer: For the time being, Gus Dur will let TNI be involved in politics, for he is still facing a problem of political consolidation. He will protect the generals from being tried, particularly in international tribunals. Gus Dur greatly needs TNI's support to cope with the threat of disintegration coming from Aceh, Irian Jaya and so on, apart from facing the negative excesses of reform -- "consolidated anarchy" instead of democracy. But if Gus Dur succeeds in preserving Aceh, he will immediately play his other cards to send the military back to the barracks. There is no guarantee at all that Gus Dur will continue to back the military.

The approach toward TNI so far has been inevitable for Gus Dur's government because he has begun to realize the weakness of his largely accommodative stance which is beginning to have a negative effect on his Cabinet.

In the beginning, Gus Dur was often quite cynical toward the military. He expressed anger at former minister of information Gen. Yunus Yosfiah, saying that a general did not understand the affairs of the common people. That was an extraordinary statement, showing his overall view toward the military.

Gus Dur also made a controversial decision in the withdrawal of all nonlocal troops, including the special forces from Aceh. He expected that politicians would back his stance against the military. But it was clear that they did not give their entire support and instead played behind his back.

Examples included the confusion over the resignation of former minister Hamzah Haz, and the ensuing statements from Amien Rais (suggesting a maneuver against the Muslim-oriented 'axis force'), which showed lack of loyalty of the ministers and their sponsors toward the President (Gus Dur had stated he had formed the Cabinet with others who acted as "guarantors" of the new ministers including Amien). This has threatened Gus Dur's position.

That's why Gus Dur acts as if he is supporting the military ... That he dared to say no to the option of Aceh's independence meant he must have had the support of the military, assuming they were ready for repressive measures against the freedom movement there.

Q: So, the President will no longer protect the generals from demands of justice against rights abuses once the disintegration threats and chaos are solved?

A: That's what I see, that he would back the military only to avoid the worst possibility of repressive action toward demands for a referendum in Aceh, and the potential of calls for independence elsewhere like in Irian Jaya. Once the problems are solved, Gus Dur could still ask the military to return to their barracks. But if he is not careful he could also be trapped into an authoritarian rule once he has larger support from the military.

Q: Do you think Abdurrahman's recent visit and lobbies to foreign governments could reduce his dependence on TNI in handling threats of disintegration?

A: I think so. But remember that we cannot trust the international community just like that. Don't believe that those governments recognize Aceh as an Indonesian territory, because once a referendum is conducted with an option for independence and if the independence side wins and becomes open (to foreign countries), even neighboring countries could acknowledge Aceh. Their interest lies in the Malacca Straits.

We should learn from East Timor. It was the American government that gave the Indonesian government a green light to enter East Timor, but it was also America that edged Indonesia out. International politics is based on interest, not ideology. It is this fact which has led Gus Dur's government to keep the military under its wing, at least in these difficult times.

Q: Do you think Abdurrahman holds an important card over the military?

A: Obviously. This was reflected from the statement of Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab, that the maneuvers to open trade links with Israel were part of efforts to save the generals from an international tribunal. His statement was clearly an effort to draw sympathy from the generals, that the planned ties with Israel were not only for the sake of trade. Gus Dur's efforts to link up with China can be seen in the same light; China has veto rights on the United Nation's Security Council. Gus Dur has also stated he is against the generals being tried at an international tribunal, and has urged that they be tried in this country.

Q: What do you think of the allegation of human rights abuses?

A: Frankly, all military operations throughout the world violate human rights. For instance, in the way soldiers arrest people without notice or arrest warrants. What needs to be agreed on in a national tribunal is the identification of rights abuses which can be tolerated by social norms, and the rest should be left to the court ... What has to be tried in court are the cruel actions of the military, such as the slow killings involving torture like the peeling of the scalp.

Regarding the inquiry on human rights, the government must also prevent soldiers from being in an absurd position -- meaning they would be dismissed for resisting their superior's commands while they could face punishment for abusing human rights as they had followed orders. In fact no soldier acts without their superior's command, so the ones to be tried should be those who gave the orders, up to the highest level.

Q: How do you view Abdurrahman's stance toward the rights abuses?

A: I think Gus Dur displays a double standard. His siding with the people's interest and their demands is being severely tested with his consistency to bring the generals to court. I think a safe way out for Gus Dur is to request Marzuki Darusman, both in his capacity as Attorney General and chairman of the National Commission for Human Rights, to list all rights abuses which cannot be tolerated, because, as I have said, there are no military operations which do not abuse rights. After that we would be able to set a time frame, in this case after the Aug. 30 ballot in East Timor, and the actions which cannot be tolerated. Then the perpetrators would be sought out and the person involved brought to court.

So we wouldn't be involving too many military officers and would avoid rocking the boat in relation to TNI. What is happening now could produce a domino effect, all involved officers could go on trial; all members would be in one boat and this could motivate a conspiracy among soldiers, which could bring negative ramifications upon Gus Dur's government.

Meanwhile, Gus Dur and the National Commission on Human Rights have said they would uphold the law indiscriminately ... So the best way for Gus Dur to act would be to instruct Marzuki Darusman and the commission to determine the criteria for intolerable abuses. So, take the perpetrators to court, but they would have to be the ones directly involved and those who gave direct orders.

In the current situation, I agree that the military could lose its patience if it is constantly pushed into a corner. We could see... a real entrance of the military into politics.

Q: Many believe the President has a strong commitment to promoting a civil society...

A: That's right. Despite his confusing maneuvers, I think Gus Dur consistently bases all his steps on the premise that it is now time for people to be given a larger space to determine their own fate. I'm not defending Gus Dur, but this is what I understand, that he has always been consistent in promoting a civil society.

Gus Dur must also be aware that civil society has two conflicting characteristics ... it is both independent and sectarian. Look at how terrorism among people is spreading. To uphold the law, law enforcement, as one of the determinants of the success of reform, needs a neutral state institution -- the police and the military.

So Gus Dur clearly still needs TNI for now, for the police are still far from adequate. He has to be extra cautious while he faces the threat of public impatience with economic recovery. All these are, in fact, connected; political consolidation must be completed to pave the way for smooth economic recovery.

Q: How long would you say is needed for Abdurrahman to complete this delicate process, mainly political consolidation regarding TNI?

A: It's difficult to say. But given his five-year term, the process should be resolved by mid-2000, after which he must concentrate on economic recovery. Failure to take concrete action on the economy would risk the life of his Cabinet. But I would also like to remind people that however difficult the problems now being faced are, there is the inheritance of the former regime. While we are learning about democracy, we should appreciate the person now in charge and let him complete his tasks to the end of his term. (Asip Agus Hasani)