Subject: AFR: Don't Arm Indonesia's 'Thugs In Uniforms'

Australian Financial Review June 12, 2002


Don't Arm 'thugs In Uniforms'

By Dewi Anggraeni and Syafi'i Anwar [Dewi Anggraeni is Australian Correspondent For Tempo Magazine And Syafi'i Anwar is The Former editor of Ummat weekly.]

Beware of moves to give the Indonesian military more power, warn Dewi Anggraeni and Syafi'i Anwar.

There is something unnerving about Singapore senior minister Lee Kwan Yew's call last week that the world (read the United States) should rely on the Indonesian military to keep the nation from disintegrating because of Muslim militancy.

His conclusion cannot go unchallenged, especially because the US is showing increasing single-mindedness in its "war against terrorism", enlisting bodies left, right and centre to assist it.

There are militant Muslims in Indonesia; the Laskar Jihad is one of the more internationally known. The memberships of these groups are relatively small, though adept at making their voices heard and their presence felt.

And it is true that they could cause considerable damage to the fabric of Indonesia's emerging civil society.

The question is, how big is this threat and is the army the answer?

Lee, it seems, was concerned by the recent report of Vice-President Hamzah Haz's visits to Laskar Jihad's leader, Jafar Umat Talib, in detention, and Jamaah Islamiyah's Abu Bakar Basyir in Central Java.

Hamzah's actions have been widely criticised, inside as well as outside Islamic circles in Indonesia.

His actions smacked of political motives as well as interference in the legal process. For a Muslim leader, being regarded as politically motivated is tantamount to having his moral authority degraded.

That some leaders feel the need to seek the support of Muslim fundamentalists is of concern; it does not indicate that Indonesia is becoming an Islamic state.

The 1999 election results made it clear that most Indonesian Muslims did not support Islamic parties. The 20 Islamic parties managed to secure only 37.1 per cent of the total votes. Of the 20 Islamic parties, only four (PPP, PKB, PAN and PBB) met the required minimum of parliamentary seats.

In the meantime, President Megawati Soekarnoputri's PDI-P and the old ruling party, Golkar, both seen as "secular nationalist" parties, amassed 33.76 per cent and 22.46 per cent respectively. There are doubts that the Islamic parties will be able to gain more votes in the 2004 general election.

The majority of Indonesian Muslims, including their political leaders, are moderates who do not support any kind of Islamic radicalism. The leaders of the two main Islamic organisations, NU and Muhammadiyah, KH Hasyim Muzadi and Syafii Maarif, have strongly criticised the actions of the radical groups, denouncing them as contrary to the spirit of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance.

US re-engagement with the military would be welcome, provided it was not linked with the fervour of the "war on terrorism" because in Indonesia, combating terrorism should be seen in the context of the country's history.

During President Soeharto's rule, the military were known to take advantage often of the issue of Islamic radicalism, by alleging that those opposed to policies imposed by the authorities in some regions were propagating radical Islam.

There was even evidence of instances where some agents provocateurs infiltrated nominated groups to promote radicalism, just to be caught later and reveal their identities as military intelligence officers. The objectives of such operations, it appeared, were to create political instability and a semblance of political legitimacy only the military was able to uphold national security and integrity.

It is worth noting, however, that some military officers openly admit to having close relationships with militant Islamic groups. These sorts of friendships do not necessarily mean that the military officers were in league with the radical Islamic groups. The popular opinion is that they may keep them up their sleeves in case they need to mobilise supporters in the streets, the most common manner of political campaigning in Indonesia.

Reformists in Indonesia are working very hard building a civil society and developing a democratic system, where militaristic coercion on the general population is a thing of the past. Where is the pride of a military force regarded by the people as thugs in official uniforms?

A move, on the part of the US, to re-engage with the military, would be most useful if it could help the Indonesian army rebuild its original raison d'e ACI tre, of being a true and professional defence force defending the nation, not being a tool of the political elite, or itself part of the political elite.

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