Mon, 15 May 2000

TNI's territorial function ample snag to reform

JAKARTA (JP): Despite the military's withdrawal from politics, the Army could still pose a very substantial obstacle to reform due to its territorial organization which remains intact, a noted Indonesianist said.

Harold Crouch, an Australian observer of Indonesia, said despite the reform movement that culminated in the downfall of former president Soeharto in May 1998, the Army still retains a formidable political presence through its territorial organization.

"This territorial structure has given the Army a considerable capacity to intervene in local politics under the guise of maintaining stability," he said in his presentation paper on Sunday at the end of a three-day seminar on democratic transition in Asia.

He said that in the past, Soeharto used the military's territorial network to manipulate civilian organizations and repress potential opposition.

"As long as this capacity remains intact, the civilian government will continue to be vulnerable to military pressures," he said.

Crouch, also an executive of the Sydney-based Center for Asia- Pacific Studies, acknowledged that it would not be easy to dismantle the regional military commands, military districts and the presence of soldiers in villages and remote areas because they were still seen as vital in maintaining order in disturbed regions.

"Also, territorial appointments are popular among many officers who regard them as providing opportunities for material advancement," he said.

He said the National Police is still too small to take over the Army's law-and-order functions and there was no guarantee that the police would be less corrupt and more respectful of human rights than the Army.

Crouch also said the military has abused ethnic, religious and intergroup (SARA) conflicts to justify its sociopolitical role as necessary in order to maintain social order and national unity.

"Certain elements within the military have been widely believed to stir up social violence deliberately in order to justify the military's political role and even prepare the ground for a restoration of military power," he said.

On the other hand, he said, many generals continue to firmly believe that civilian politicians are unable to deal effectively with separatist movements and public dissent.

He said Indonesia must resolve its SARA conflicts and create a professional police force to maintain its internal law, while the professional military focuses on guarding against foreign threats.

He said that with Abdurrahman Wahid's democratic election as president, there are strong expectations to control the military to maintain civilian supremacy.

Crouch noted that the government would have difficulty in establishing its authority unless it could begin the process of economic recovery, cope with periodic bouts of ethnic and religious tension and deal with growing regional demands while its international reputation will depend on how it handles an independent East Timor.

"If the economy remains stagnant it seems inevitable that social tensions will rise again and the nation will be threatened by social breakdown and SARA tensions that have surfaced during the last few years," he said.

Crouch predicted that in the next two or three years, Indonesia would be facing a real test if the civilian government fails to establish its authority.

"It is hoped that the fate of civilian rule in Pakistan will serve as a warning to the new Indonesian government," he remarked.

He suggested that Pakistani people seemed to have welcomed their military's recent coup which relieved them of a corrupt civilian regime.

"There is no reason to assume democracy in Indonesia must follow the Pakistani path but it's better to learn from mistakes of others than to suffer from the same mistakes oneself," he said.

Later on the sidelines of the seminar, Crouch conceded that so far there has been great progress shown by the military.

"I would never have imagined that certain words like civilian supremacy would be mentioned by military leaders. Army chief Gen. Tyasno Sudarto even said that TNI should return to the barracks," he told journalists.


Indonesian Military (TNI) Chief of Territorial Affairs Lt. Gen. Agus Widjojo in his presentation also noted that the military's gradual repositioning out of the daily political spectrum but was raised objection to the term "back to barracks".

He said the use of such terminology "could be perceived as having a strong correlation to the condition of making the issue political with its ramifications of putting the military out of the national political decision making process at all costs, disregarding the situation at hand...seen through the national interest."

He pointed out that TNI's contribution to the empowerment of the nation is through gradual withdrawal from day-to-day political affairs.

However, Agus added that TNI will "always be ready to assist the police and civil authority in non-military activities in accordance with authorities laid down by related regulations and laws."

Turning his attention to the much reproached involvement of TNI in various businesses, Agus stressed that it must first be clearly defined the wide spectrum which includes extra-structural cooperatives in various units to "personal business interests of retired, some privileged serving, officers."

He explained that these enterprises date all the way back to the 1950s as a means for a commander to improve soldiers' welfare.

"Until now the return on the capital of these enterprises are commonly used for improvements to soldiers' housing, educational scholarships and medical," Agus said.

He asserted that TNI is ready to respond "to the necessary adjustments required" for these businesses.

"Privatization would be one alternative if TNI is not authorized to run business enterprise cooperatives," Agus remarked while adding that people should clearly define initiative taken by TNI and individual officers.(jun/rms)