Subject: From Canberra to Jakarta: Reforming the Military [a JP op-ed by Kontras]

The Jakarta Post

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


From Canberra to Jakarta: Reforming the Military

Usman Hamid and Eko Waluyo, Jakarta, Sydney

The three-day visit of Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono to Sydney to attend the East Asian ministerial dialogue forum, "The Way Forward on Asian Economic and Political Security", on March 26-28, 2008, is echoing regional response to security threats in the Strait of Malacca.

During the visit, Juwono said the concerned countries should provide technical assistance to ensure and maintain security in the waters, which they use as trade lanes.

Even though the reform process has taken place through the abolition of the military's political seats in the parliament, as well as the holding of a direct presidential election and the settling down of Aceh conflicts, the military still needs to change its doctrine from old mind-set: internal security, rather than dealing with external threats.

The following examines the bilateral cooperation on security between Indonesia and Australia, highlighting the two countries' perspectives on human rights and how Australia can play a significant role in implementing the law on national defense and the law on the TNI -- which is considered a guideline for Indonesian security forces to improve their professionalism and uphold democratic values.

The Bali bombing case has created an opportunity to renew security cooperation between Jakarta and Canberra, especially after the military ties were severed following a series of violent acts blamed on the TNI before, during and after the 1999 Timor Leste ballot.

In 2005, a conservative coalition government in Canberra accommodated the Indonesian Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) in joint counterterrorism training with SAS (Special Air Services), and SAS soldiers are geared up to undertake anti-guerrilla warfare training in Indonesian jungles. Kevin Rudd (now Australian prime minister) was in charge as the opposition foreign affairs spokesman and stood against the Australian government's decision to resume ties with Kopassus.

The previous Australian government allocated AUS$20 million for Indonesia to improve capacity in combating transnational crimes and terrorism. The anti-terrorism campaign has been made a top priority on Howard's political agenda, which seemed to have been divined to grab voters.

The federal election in Australia late last year has paved the way for Kevin Rudd to take over the leadership of the Labor administration. He makes political promises to promote changes in both domestic and international affairs, including the hike of Australian aid channeled to developing countries and commitment to eradicate poverty in the region.

There are several steps the newly elected Labor government needs to consider.

First, to evaluate Howard's policy aimed at renewing security cooperation with Jakarta, particularly in allowing Kopassus to take direct participation in the counterterrorism joint exercises. There has never been an easy way for Kopassus to prove its commitment to reform, particularly when it comes to human rights issues. Their participation in the counterterrorism program could disregard the values of ongoing joint programs between the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and the Indonesian Police (Polri) to terrorist threats.

Second, Canberra's ability to improve performance of the Polri should go deeper to the root of this issue. According to a UN report, a series of human rights abuses in Papua province are blamed to the Indonesian Police (read: the Police's paramilitary forces, Brimob) and not the TNI. The separation of the Polri from the TNI, however, has done little to curb endemic corruption within the Police institution.

Therefore cooperation between the two countries' police institutions should be expanded as the issue is not merely about combating terrorism. Indeed, it should be able to empower the Indonesian Police Commission so it will be more independent and promote transparency, which is needed to improve Polri's performance.

Third, the Australian government should give attention to prolonged conflicts in Poso -- an area stamped as homegrown terrorism. Australia should promote programs aimed at eradicating poverty in Poso and establishing peacebuilding measures there.

Fourth, military training that Canberra has offered should focus on the issue of budget management and giving assistance to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to continue with his policy to abolish military business by 2009. The continuing human rights abuses allegedly have links to military involvement in both legal and illegal business activities.

The still existing military's sociopolitical role is a Cold War legacy, which is blamed for the killing of political dissenters and civilians and the disappearance of pro-democracy activists during the Soeharto era.

By contrast, the settlement of Aceh conflicts through peaceful processes has not only created a democratic space in the province, but also an opportunity to address human rights abuses through the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission as well as the ad hoc human rights tribunal. Similar progress is also seen in West Papua province, with the establishment of a court and truth commission there.

The Australian government needs to support the truth and reconciliation process in Indonesia as this will also be a road to scrap the military's old-fashioned culture of impunity and dual-function and replace it with transparency, accountability and civilian supremacy, not least for the generals.

Usman Hamid is executive director of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras). Eko Waluyo is the Coordinator of Indonesian Solidarity in Sydney.

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