By Andreas Harsono/Jakarta
Why the pursuit of enemies of the West strengthens the traditional hold on power of East Asia’s largest army?
The restoration by the US of full military ties with Indonesia, in the common interest of combating global terrorism, has been used by Jakarta’s generals to further their own domestic political interests as well as to hunt down Islamic extremists.
They divided Papua into two different provinces to weaken rising Papuan nationalism, even though the move was against Papua’s special autonomy law. The central government managed to persuade Indonesia’s Supreme Court to rule in favor of the division.
Jakarta also negotiated with Acheh nationalists to sign a peace agreement in Helsinki, a move widely applauded although Jakarta later betrayed the agreement by passing a contradictory Aceh bill. Furthermore, the Indonesian military has dragged its feet in handing over its business empire to the government.
This continued manipulation of power by the military, and the elected executive’s failure to reform it since the end of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, follows one of six scenarios put forward for Indonesia’s future in a report by the Rand Corporation, a US think-tank, which is closely linked with the Pentagon. The report, published in 2002 as The Military and Democracy in Indonesia: Challenges, Politics, and Power, was written by two American military strategists, Angel Rabasa and John Haseman.
Rabasa is a senior policy analyst at Rand Corporation. Haseman is a retired colonel and former US defense attaché in Jakarta from 1978 to 1994. He once declared that Indonesia’s military “was, is, and will remain the most powerful and important political institution in Indonesia.” According to Haseman, the Indonesian military has three priorities: to maintain power, to protect its business empire and to maintain internal control of senior assignments.
Rabasa and Haseman argued that the US should engage the Indonesian military and restore the American military training and education program for Indonesian officers. These programs were initially cut off after Indonesian soldiers killed more than 200 protesters in Dili in November 1991. They were totally scrapped after Indonesian army-backed militias ransacked East Timor after it voted for independence in 1999.
The report also delved into what the authors called Indonesia’s six post-9/11 “scenarios.” The first, and best, scenario is a “consolidated democracy.” This would mean developing a secular state to improve its economic performance and to satisfy demands for autonomy, especially on the outer islands. But this scenario is the most difficult and the most unlikely.
Indonesia is a relatively young entity. Dutch colonialists were the first to unite this vast archipelago comprising more than 17,000 islands and stretching over six time zones. Its 220 million people speak more than 500 different languages and 88 percent of them are Muslim. It has a Christian majority in eastern areas.
Since the 1950s, Aceh in northern Sumatra has struggled to secede from Indonesia. Papua set up its own Free Papua Organization in 1965. Four million people have been killed in Indonesia over the last six decades as a result of “rebellion” in the pursuit of separatism.
Haseman said the Indonesian military’s concept of “reform” does not include any enthusiasm for accountability for past transgressions and can be expected to resist it.
The second scenario is defined as “muddling through,” in which Indonesia continues on a democratic path but fails to make progress on economic, political and military reform. “This scenario reflects the current situation in Indonesia,” say Haseman and Rabasa. “A weak Indonesian government would continue to find it difficult to take meaningful action against terrorists and radical Islam groups.”
New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman calls Indonesia a messy state. Indonesia is too big to fail, but too messy to work. It has rampant corruption. Neither the military, the parliament, the executive, nor the remnants of the Suharto order, have the strength to assert their will. Terrorists love such conditions. “That’s why in messy states, you never quite know when arms are sold, people murdered or payoffs demanded, or whether this is by design of those ostensibly in charge or because no one is in charge,” writes Friedman.
The third scenario is a return to authoritarian rule. Messiness would generate a fragile economy and a breakdown in order. It would later promote the idea that a strong ruler was needed. Some media and politicians are already talking about “the good old times” under Suharto. But a return to authoritarian rule must have the backing of the military, as in Pakistan and Burma.
“An authoritarian government might be better able to take more forceful action against terrorist and radical networks,” Rabasa and Haseman write. But it will have legal and policy restrictions on the US’s interaction with Indonesia. It would therefore hamper meaningful cooperation on counterterrorism efforts.
The fourth scenario is radical Islamic influence or control. This is partially happening today where more than 30 Indonesian regencies have produced Shariah-based laws, including the diktat that women must wear headdresses. The Rand report says that under this scenario it is not realistic to expect Western engagement with the Indonesian military.
The fifth scenario is a radical decentralization. A much weaker Jakarta might accept wide-ranging autonomy initiatives that replicate the Acehnese and Papuan special privileges. For this to happen, Jakarta might finally only control defense, foreign affairs, fiscal policy and the core legal system. Such an Indonesian state is likely to be unstable as centrifugal pressures force it apart.
A loose federation would make it harder to achieve counterterrorism objectives. The Jakarta government might be powerless to control terrorist activities in the provinces. Some areas of Indonesia could end up like the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan on the Afghan border, where the Taliban moves freely.
The sixth and last scenario is Indonesia’s disintegration. Weak government and chaotic conditions would make the central government less relevant, and rich provinces would challenge their subordinate political and economic relationship with Jakarta.
Only months after the Rand report was published, two night clubs were blown up in Bali, killing 202 people and crippling Bali’s tourism industry. The victims were mostly young foreign tourists. Many Balinese working in the Kuta beach area were also killed. Hundreds more suffered horrific burns and other injuries.
The suspected culprit was Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida satellite group in Southeast Asia, led by Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Basyir. In his hometown Solo, several hours after the bombings, Basyir blamed the US and Israel for the attacks.
The vice president at that time, Hamzah Haz, who initially denied any terrorist activity in Indonesia and even visited some radical Islamist groups, suddenly found himself in a corner. The then president, Megawati Sukarnoputri, however, remained aloof. She ordered her chief security minister, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to hunt down the bombers.
Dozens of militants were arrested. In 2003, a Bali court found some of them, alumni of the Afghan jihad campaign, guilty of planning and organizing the bombing. Three Islamists were sentenced to death. Several others were given jail terms. They claimed that they disliked “infidels” polluting Indonesia’s Islamic community. Basyir was additionally found guilty of producing fake identities.
Other bombings took place in Bali and Jakarta, including one outside the Australian embassy. The US had no option but to reinstate its military ties with Indonesia. Both the State and Defense departments in Washington petitioned to reinstate two agreements—the International Military and Education Training arrangement, known as IMET, and the Foreign Military Finance pact—as a demonstration of Washington’s gratitude for Indonesian assistance in the global war on terrorism.
The Bush administration and Republican allies in Congress said the previous policy of punishing Indonesia for human rights violations had not paid dividends; the hoped-for reform of the Indonesian military and security apparatus had not taken place.
In 2004, Yudhoyono ran for presidential office against his former boss, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Yudhoyono, a retired three-star general educated in the US, won Indonesia’s first direct presidential election and immediately lobbied Washington to fully restore military ties with his country.
In February 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared that the Indonesian military had reformed itself sufficiently to merit the resumption of IMET status; in November, the restrictions on FMF and defense exports were lifted.
In Minahasa, northern Sulawesi, a small group of politicians declared a Free Minahasa Movement in September 2006, saying the Christian minorities in Indonesia, including Minahasa, were continually being discriminated against.
It is too early to predict which of the six scenarios laid out by Rabasa and Haseman—if any—will develop in Indonesia. The first and sixth scenarios are improbable in the short future. A combination of a messy state peppered with growing Islamist influence and sporadic decentralization drives is perhaps more likely.
The world is changing after September 11, 2001, and it is still not clear in which direction Indonesia is going.
Andreas Harsono is head of the Pantau media organization in Jakarta, and is writing a book, From Sabang to Merauke: Debunking the Myth of Indonesian Nationalism.