Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Urgent, an exit strategy for Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam

Kirsten E. Schulze Senior Lecturer International History London School of Economics

The military operation against the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has entered the fourth month of what increasingly looks like an indeterminate period. Politicians have ruled out returning to negotiations in the near future. Indonesian Military (TNI) commanders on the ground and in Jakarta have stated that a year or more may be required to achieve their aims.

These military, and above all, political goals, however, remain unclear in many ways. Beyond the immediate security objectives of dismantling GAM's shadow government, reducing the movement's military capacity, and cutting its finance, logistics and communications lines, there does not seem to be a long-term strategic game plan. So not surprisingly there has been little talk of an exit strategy.

Why, one may ask, is there a need for an exit strategy? After all TNI has already registered a number of successes such as securing the urban areas and breaking down GAM into smaller units. The simple answer is because no military operation, irrespective of success and professionalism, is sustainable in the long-term without a political end-goal.

For one, there is the issue of decreasing returns. Once an insurgent movement has been broken down into smaller groups and pushed into the jungle, they are more difficult to hunt down and tend to have the operational advantage.

Alongside decreasing returns are rising costs, the actual financial expenditure as well as the human and ultimately political cost. The salaries and special allowances for an estimated 43,000-45,000 troops are only a small part compared to the financial sting from the logistics support chain, which includes high cost items such as aircraft and ship resupplies.

The human costs are even greater as they are borne by the civilian population. Not only are they on the receiving end of violence by GAM but they are also the main victims of erosion of discipline by TNI and the police.

This undermines the operation by losing the hearts and minds of exactly those people the state purports to defend. Above all, an exit strategy is needed because it is not possible to resolve the insurgency in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) by force alone. The conflict is a political one and thus any military operation is by definition limited in scope, remit and length. It can only ever be a means to a political end not an end in itself.

So if the military operation is only a means to an end, what is that end? Here there are broadly three politico-military strategies for which the current military operation could be instrumental.

The first is to return to the negotiating table in the hope of reaching an agreement with GAM. If this is the political goal then the military aim is to reduce GAM's capacity on the ground to such an extent that the leadership will be more open to compromise and ultimately sign up to autonomy.

TNI seems to prefer a variation on this option, namely using its operation as a means to compel GAM to renounce separatism and to accept what had been previously on offer by Indonesia -- an autonomy agreement -- but without further negotiations.

The possibility of getting GAM to sign up to autonomy either through negotiations or force is, of course, predicated upon GAM's ideological and psychological ability to conclude an agreement that falls short of independence. According to most estimates this is unlikely to happen.

However, even if GAM did conclude such a deal, it would never be more than the product of the movement's lack of choices, in particular, the absence of a credible military option. In that sense the decision to enter a political agreement could be purely tactical. It may only postpone further armed confrontation. Yet it may also transform the struggle into a purely political one fought through the ballot box.

The second option is a variation upon the first in the sense that negotiations are central. These negotiations, however, are not bilaterally with GAM and the aim is not an agreement with the separatists. Instead, the dialog is with the people of NAD and the aim is to reach consensus in NAD, amongst the Acehnese, on the governance of NAD. In such a dialog there is, of course, no reason for not including GAM as part of the Acehnese people provided it plays by democratic rules for which at least a credible ceasefire is necessary.

In support of this option the aim of the military operation beyond reducing GAM's capacity on the ground is to increase the people's options and to create the space for open dialog with and among the Acehnese.

Yet this option, too, has drawbacks. GAM may not be interested in pursuing a dialog in which it is only one among many players. It may not agree to a ceasefire or to an internal negotiation process in NAD rather than overseas.

The movement may even resort to violence in an attempt to sabotage this kind of dialog. But that does not mean this option is not worth pursuing. In fact, it could be argued that the broadening of the negotiations is a way to marginalize GAM.

The third option assumes that negotiations of any type are either not desirable or possible. In that case, the political goal is to stabilize NAD as an integral part of the Republic of Indonesia. This means a narrowly defined and carefully executed security operation to reduce GAM's military capacity and to create the space for a broad policy of development -- roads, education, public health, and sanitation as well as providing opportunities for a better future such as scholarships, micro credit, and vocational training.

Key to the success of this strategy is to win the hearts and minds of the people of NAD -- not GAM and not the Acehnese political elite.

On the difficult side, this option requires the strength to ignore GAM provocations on the ground and statements by the leadership in exile. Equally, if not more important, is an absolute commitment to cleaner and more effective government in NAD.

These options show clearly that there is no easy answer for managing the conflict in NAD but that it is, nevertheless, possible. For a successful outcome a clear political goal, a definition of acceptable level of violence, and an exit strategy are needed.

Another crucial factor is socio-economic development. However, the choice of strategy -- and they are not mutually exclusive -- will to a large degree depend upon the assessment of whether GAM is capable of compromise as well as the inherent "price" of each of the strategies.

The writer is currently a visiting fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.