Subject: Tempo/Interview: Wiranto: "Old Soldiers Never Die"

Tempo Magazine October 9 - 15, 2000


Wiranto: "Old Soldiers Never Die"

At certain stages of his life, General (ret) Wiranto was akin to a meteor, his career skyrocketing into the heavens. Then he fell from orbit and was forgotten. But Wiranto, 53, who reached the pinnacle of his military career as chief of the Indonesian Military (TNI) and minister of defense and security affairs, is a figure that cannot just be swept aside. Even a tough opponent needs to work extremely hard if he wants to wipe Wiranto from the circle of power.

Seven months after President Abdurrahman Wahid dismissed him as coordinating minister for political affairs and security, the four-star general's name still carries some weight. Any time there is an important change in TNI management, observers, military experts and the mass media are busy finding out whether there is a 'Wirantonization' or 'de-Wirantonization aspect to the change. Many of his followers still dream he will hold a baton and lead the country's 500,000 soldiers. The Golkar Party even proposed him for the post of vice president in the 1999 general election.

Wiranto did not manage to enter the vice presidential palace, but he became part of the 'palace' when President Abdurrahman appointed him coordinating minister although he fired him some six months later. An alumnus of the National Military Academy's Class of 1968, Wiranto began his career in Manado, North Sulawesi, as the commander of Platoon 1, Company C and the 713rd Battalion. It was there he met Rugaiya, from Gorontalon, whom he later married. Together, they had three children. He participated twice in operations in East Timor, in 1978 and 1981.

He became former president Suharto's adjutant (1989-1993), and then ascended to a number of strategic posts in just four years: chief of staff and later commander of the Jakarta Military Command and Army chief of staff in June 1997. It took just two decades for him to reach the loftiest positions in the military.

In February 1988, he was appointed minister of defense and security affairs and chief of TNI. Many believed he easily garnered the number one position in TNI due to his closeness to Suharto when he was his adjutant. "Pak Harto used to have 28 adjutants, and only two of those became military commanders. But it's really difficult if you have to evaluate your own achievements," he said.

Even after Suharto stepped down, Wiranto was still on the map. He held important positions during the Habibie and Abdurrahman administrations. But his star began to wane. Last February, the Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Violations (KPP HAM) in East Timor recommended his name be put on the list of suspects to be investigated by the Attorney General's Office over their alleged involvement in rights violations in East Timor. President Abdurrahman, who was in Switzerland when the announcement was made, fired Wiranto in March 2000. He resigned from all his positions, three years before he reached pensionable age. "I will seek a new frontier, since old soldiers never die," he said.

In an interview lasting more than two hours last week, Wiranto answered almost all questions from TEMPO reporters Setiyardi and Hermien Y. Kleden, who were accompanied by photographer Rully Kesuma. He looked fresh in casual navy-blue attire suitable for weekends. The retired general was relaxed and at ease, yet cautious at times. Following is an excerpt.

What have you been doing since you resigned as coordinating minister for political affairs and security?

I have had much more time to be with my family and friends. Over the past few years, I haven't had much time to be with them. And I have more time to spend on my hobbies of reading and writing.

There are rumors you are writing an autobiography?

It's not an autobiography. It's a kind of summary of collective analysis, including my opinion on some critical matters that we have passed since reformation took place. I have rewritten some comments and issues, and then compared them to my experience. Hopefully, people can evaluate my writing critically and objectively. What else have you been doing?

A week after I resigned from my ministerial position and active service, I really enjoyed my spare time. I went to Waroeng Kemang (a café in South Jakarta) with my friends and family. I sang with a band. It was very amusing. Singing is another of my hobbies.

Many who have held the reins of power have a hard time letting go, leading to what some call a 'post-power syndrome'. Have you experienced this?

If you focus too much on your position, you will experience post-power syndrome. For me, a position is a medium for carrying out a certain mission. I never made use of my position for personal interests. Therefore, I have not experienced the syndrome. A military man never stops fighting; his military spirit never dies. Old soldiers never die. And your military spirit is still alive?

If my military spirit died, I would be up in the mountains now and wouldn't care about the current situation. But I care about what's happening. I will find a new field to struggle on. I might become a businessman, writer or even a singer!

What about joining a political party?

I may enter any field. As of today, though, I'm unable to choose a political party.

Don't you want to get back into the elite circle of power?

Up to the last moment, there was always conflict between dedication and people's interests; it also happened when I withdrew my vice presidential nomination. I had a good chance of becoming vice president. But then I saw that some elements of our society were ready to take some anarchic action. I saw that there was potential for anarchy in Solo, Bali, Surabaya and Jakarta.

What difference did it make? Although you didn't become vice president, unrest did take place in certain areas.

Let's not cry over spilt milk. Now we have to make a collective decision to better our nation's rotten solidarity. It is especially true of our political party figures. Let's put partial interests behind us. If there is a will, then it is not yet too late.

How did you feel when President Abdurrahman Wahid dismissed you as coordinating minister for political affairs and security?

As a human being, I was disappointed and very sad. If I had not been disappointed, I would have lost my inner self. But as I understood the situation then, I attempted to straighten and improve it. I wanted to make use of my capacity to put the situation back on the right track. It was not easy. Some groups of society were enjoying our worsening situation.

Although you do not hold a formal position, you are still influential.

It is not easy to wipe that influence out in our present political culture. My name is always mentioned in various important events. The presence of computer technology makes it easy for people to communicate through e-mail. My name is in the news every day, but there is some rubbish news that does not deserve a response.

You have been accused of being involved in bombings, militias and counterfeit money?

I have dedicated myself to the military for 32 years, and I have found no defect in myself. This is very important to me. There are allegations you were involved in the bombing of the Jakarta Stock

Exchange (JSX) building. What is your response?

I heard the accusations. But I'm telling you, they are all baseless. I have a son who works at the JSX. Why would I put him at risk?

Is it true TNI is capable of rocking Jakarta with bombs such as those found at the JSX building?

Talking about capability, I can assure you that many parties have such capability. With the advancement in technology and sales of explosives to industries, it is easy for anyone to make a bomb. Our military, in fact, is left far behind. Big companies with a lot of money have the ability to make bombs.

Didn't the RDX-type bomb that blasted the JSX building have a specific indicator leading to military involvement?

I'm not aware of the details. In general, our military has TNT, not RDX explosives. Regarding the blast at the Attorney General's Office, evidence was found that the explosive material came from the Army's arsenal in Saradan, East Java.

No comment. If I speak, my comment will worsen the situation and we will engage in an endless public debate through the mass media. Even our youngsters can easily learn to make bombs. Let's forget it; this kind of issue consumes too much energy.

Why so?

People here take issues as facts; they even believe that issues are part of the processes of the courts. In the meantime, I certainly cannot ask people to create positive issues about me.

There are allegations you are involved in counterfeit money. What is your reaction?

Those are serious accusations. In court, Ismail Putra (a TNI officer and a suspect in a forged money case) stated that General Tyasno Sudato (now Army Chief of Staff) ordered him to make forged money. Now ask 'the real Tyasno' if I have ever ordered him to do such a thing. I once ordered the arrest of people who forged money. But at a critical point, the operation failed. I also ordered head of the Council for the Enforcement of Security and Law (DPKSH), Arie J. Kumaat (now head of State Intelligence Coordinating Board), to arrest counterfeit moneymakers. He managed to deal with them. Unfortunately though, he eventually lost track of them.

Some East Timor militia groups in Atambua, West Timor, told TEMPO they received funds from you amounting to Rp200 million via a foundation. Is that true?

I do not have a foundation that can collect money. And I do not have that much money. I receive a monthly pension of only Rp 970,000.

As a retired four-star general, surely you receive more than that?

I do have some other allowances. But I cannot donate hundreds of millions [of rupiah] every month?

Are you aware that some militias claim to have received donations in the form of forged money?

There was no intelligence operation ordering the production of forged money for operations in East Timor.

TNI has been accused of backing up East Timor militias. What do you know of this?

That is indeed an interesting issue. There are a lot of accusations stating that we are supporting the militias. We are also accused of not caring about human rights and letting violence take place. It is unfair and very saddening.

Why is it unfair?

The implementation of the referendum in East Timor was an extraordinary successful act for Indonesia. Amid political conflicts, we managed to conduct polling at 700 stations with only three months' preparation. It all went peacefully, without any incidents. There were 4,000 foreigners staying in East Timor for three months and no one died.

Hundreds of civilians died and 200,000 people were ousted from their homeland after the 1999 self-determination referendum. TNI was officially in East Timor to keep the peace. How does TNI account for this?

The violence that took some victims occurred after the referendum was carried out with vulgar fraud. But the violence did not take place in the whole of East Timor; it happened only in four out of 13 sub-districts. And TNI was immediately was accused of being responsible for the violence. Now we have lost a territory and thousands of soldiers. More importantly, we have lost our honor. Well, let's acquiesce to all that. But then we are required to punish our own nation.

What was your reaction to the result KPP HAM's investigation into atrocities in East Timor?

I was involved in the formation of the commission. I was hoping then that we would see objectively what was really going in East Timor so that we could establish positive arguments to counter international accusations. I believe that TNI and the [National] Police have done their best. You cannot generalize an act of an individual soldier into an act of TNI as a whole.

As the chief of TNI, shouldn't you have taken responsibility for your men?

Well, I had 500,000 soldiers. Morally speaking, I had to be responsible for what they did. But legally speaking is another matter. Mind you, 500,000 soldiers! There must have been one who did something wrong every day, be it stealing something or raping someone. Was I supposed to be responsible for that every day? In military system, we have what is called a 'one step up and one step down' line of responsibility. I think the same thing is true in civilian life -- if a village chief does something wrong, you certainly don't expect the president to be responsible, do you? Let's be logical.

But the command of East Timor rested with you, didn't it?

They say that soldiers were allegedly involved in burning down houses and abusing human rights in East Timor. Some were involved in shooting in Suai and other places. Now, was I supposed to bear responsibility for that? If that is the logic, then we must also ask the attorney general to account for repeat offenders!

We interviewed locals who witnessed TNI officers burning down their homes. Would you call this as a 'mere' act of a military individual?

The post referendum violence was unavoidable. Even the UN said so. The American military attaché in Indonesia described what was happening in East Timor as a continuation of conflicts between two groups that had been in existence since Portuguese colonial rule. Father Manuel of East Timor once told the Portugal News Agency that after the referendum result was announced, the pro-Indonesia locals believed that they had lost their future and started to set fire to their own homes and helped their neighbors to set fire to theirs.

So you maintain, therefore, that TNI is free of guilt?

Institutionally, TNI is innocent. There were some individuals who committed unlawful acts and they have been punished. In military culture, we do not know of pity or favoritism. Whoever does something wrong must be punished.

If TNI is innocent, why have Major General Adam Damiri and other senior officers been named suspects in human right abuse cases in East Timor?

I know they are innocent. They were my best men, appointed to carry out a difficult mission there. Instead of being awarded, they are names suspects. It makes me very sad.

Why are you certain of their innocence?

As I said the violence was unavoidable. The violence was bound to take place no matter who was stationed there.

Are you saying the commission's evidence is incorrect?

We are a sovereign nation. We should not just listen to Australia and the National Council for East Timor Resistance (CNRT). When it started its work, the commission obtained initial data from Australia and CNRT. They should not have done that. Would you say the commission's findings are politically motivated?

No comment! We should never surrender to international pressure.

By the way, what do you think of the frequent replacement of high-level management in TNI these days?

Every commander needs time for consolidation and orientation; the time he needs depends on the size of his unit. If he is only in the orientation period and then is replaced, then it will not be useful. In the military, we do not depend on the commander but on his command. The command must be in line with the organization's mission. So the replacement of management is not just for promotion, but, more importantly, it has to be concerned with the organization's interest.

Do you have an ideal concept for TNI?

That needs a complicated and long discussion.

What about a mutually dependent civilian-military relationship?

The military is often said to be a dominant part of a civilian society. I don't think that's true. We adopted a civilian society in the era of Bung Karno (Indonesia's first president) and General Sudirman.

What would be the role of the military in a civilian society, as you see it?

The military must remain part of a civilian society. The government should be in the hands of civilians. The military must uphold the rules passed by a civilian society. The military should have its position acknowledged, have a clear mission and enjoy support to implement their mission. More importantly, the civilians should not interfere with military rulings on operational and management affairs.

For instance?

The promotion and replacement of a chief of a district military command, for example, are purely the military's business. If civilians interfere with such things, it will ruin the system and disorientation will occur.

About your career: Is it true that your closeness to former president Suharto paved the way to the top position in TNI?

That is not an easy question. You had better ask people who are close to me -- my classmates and friends whom I worked with in East Timor.

Some generals say that you easily held onto the top position in TNI, since you were very close to Suharto.

As I mentioned earlier, Pak Harto had 28 adjutants. Two of those became chiefs of TNI: Pak Try Sutrisno and myself. One became Navy chief of staff: Tantyo Kuswanto. Another became chief of the police: Dibyo Widodo. Now would you say that it was due to our closeness to him? I wouldn't. Somehow I find it difficult to talk about my own achievements.

Do you still see Suharto?

Of course I do. I visit him, Gus Dur (President Abdurrahman) and Mbak Mega (the Vice President).

What do you talk about when you visit the ex-president?

He cannot talk about politics. I talk about turtledoves. I said recently, " I have managed to care for 8 turtledoves since I resigned from my post." He said, " I have 18 turtledoves." Sometimes we talk about fishing.

Do you still practice tirakat (doing something ascetic in order to fulfill a wish or commemorate an event)?

That is a [part of] Javanese culture I cannot escape from. As long as it is not against my religion, I will keep practicing it. I still fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but I don't practice kungkum (submerging oneself in the water).

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