Mon, 26 May 2003

Is future of RI really at stake as Hassan says?

Damien Kingsbury, Head, Philosophical, Political and International Studies, Deakin University

In trying to justify the actions of the Indonesian Military (TNI) in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh, Indonesia's foreign minister Hassan Wirayuda says that nothing less than the future of the state is at stake. Wirayuda may be right, but not in the way that he thinks.

The behavior of the TNI in Aceh has, by all accounts, been appalling since it started its most recent campaign. The reports published here and elsewhere are disturbing enough.

Further worrying is the flood of private reports coming from non-government organizations which details more horrific events, including an escalating rate of murder, in detailed cases by locking civilians in their homes and burning them, the destruction of villages, and rape. This looks not so much as a military campaign against a rebel force, but of an invading feudal Army intent on destroying an enemy people.

The TNI now clamping down on the media's reporting of the situation is a further sign that it wishes to conduct this campaign unhindered by poor publicity. There is no thought, however, that poor publicity derives from poor behavior.

The clearly stated aim of the TNI is to "exterminate" the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). However, based on the TNI's previous form in Aceh, this operation will not be quick, and may not be successful. The TNI is not especially well equipped and often poorly trained, the terrain is difficult, and GAM are very experienced guerrilla fighters with a long history of surviving seemingly tight situations.

Beyond the immediate military outcome, there is also the likelihood that rather than bring Aceh back into the Indonesian nationalist fold, the TNI is in the process of creating a new generation of GAM, as it has done before. In this respect, a military solution may be no solution at all.

Hassan Wirayuda, and other Indonesian leaders, are fearful that if Aceh does manage to achieve independence then Indonesia will fall apart. But the only other substantial claim to independence in Indonesian is West Papua, and it is quite possible that Indonesian could survive without these two provinces.

It would be poorer, certainly, but it would still be viable, and much less violent. Yet without external recognition, and some form of diplomatic intervention, independence for Aceh is all but impossible. And this seems unlikely. To that end, a compromise solution must be found.

Aceh has already experienced "special autonomy", from 1962, to address claims similar to those now being pressed, and most Acehnese believe that failed because it was subverted by Jakarta, not least through ravaging the province's economy.

Added to longstanding human rights atrocities by the TNI, there is a profound sense of distrust of Jakarta and its intentions.

As a consequence, a new "special autonomy" that was proclaimed last year is not regarded as either substantial or sincere. Negotiations therefore have to be reopened, and a new offer needs to be put on the table. This would involve Aceh being offered the chance to vote for a far more extended form of autonomy, external to Indonesia in nearly all but name.

With agreement for the disbursement of a nominal percentage of revenue, Aceh could otherwise be self-governing in effectively all areas but for foreign affairs, monetary and defense. Under such an arrangement, the TNI would have to leave Aceh entirely, which it would be loathe to do because of its lucrative business interests there, and the blow to its sense of "prestige".

Such a move would also challenge the TNI's self-defined "territorial structure", by which it is located throughout the archipelago.

Because of the parallel role the National Police have played alongside the TNI in Aceh, not least through the paramilitary Mobile Brigades (Brimbob), "Hunter" battalions, and the BKO (under operational control) units in which elite soldiers are technically accredited as police, they too would have to end their presence in Aceh. A local police would then have to be raised, under a local administration.

Such a settlement would take a huge amount of good will on both sides, a high degree of honesty and transparency, and international monitoring for several years at least. The TNI would certainly reject such a settlement, but it could have some support among civilian politicians in Jakarta who know the war in Aceh is not very popular. Such a solution could also attract the backing of third countries, such as Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Netherlands, the U.S., and even Australia.

Indeed, GAM has said, privately, that it would have accepted such an offer until a couple of years ago, although that option vanished when the military campaign escalated in early 2001. With the latest events, however, it would take a superhuman effort to get back to this point of negotiation.

Wirayuda is right; the future of Indonesia is at stake. But what is at stake is less the geographic shape of Indonesia, than what sort of state Indonesia wants to, or can, be.

The writer is also the author of Power Politics and the Indonesian Military, RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.