Subject: Indon Observer: TNI is national and international disgrace

Indonesian Observers 6th October 1999

Perspective

TNI: Down for the count, but not entirely out

By Taufik Darusman

JAKARTA — The Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) yesterday marked its 54th anniversary, with many of its senior officers wondering what there was to celebrate except for the passage of yet another year of existence.

By all measures, everything takes on surreal proportions with the TNI nowadays except for the live ammo spewed from their troops’ M-16s whenever trouble brews, and testing their troops’ low threshold for discreet action.

If recent polls on the TNI are to be taken at face value, it may be in dire need of an image facelift. It would be an undertaking even the world’s best PR firms would consider a nightmare.

Take, for example, this week’s readers poll in Kompas, which showed 80% dis believing "what is good for the people is good for the TNI", while 62% find the TNI’s image "bad" and 72% see the TNI "on the side of powerholders" instead of the people.

If that does not suffice to drive TNI commanders to do a soul-searching exercise, consider also this week’s readers poll by Tempo showing 70% against their socio-political role, 66% against their retaining seats at the House and 61% wishing the military would "return to barracks".

The TNI is also perceived to be behind the Aceh problem (57%), the shooting of Trisakti University students (69%), the May 1998 riots (52%), the bloody Semanggi incident (60%) and the East Timor crisis (42%).

Meanwhile, only 58% of the readers see the military as defenders of the people, which may have prompted the majority of them to reject military personnel as president (65%), vice-president (58%), ministers (51%), provincial governors and regents (both 61%) and directors in state firms (64%).

[Only 34%, however, objected to seeing military personnel in charge of sports organizations, a position that requires the management prowess and the financial savvy of people with close links to the government and corporations.]

Last month two major scandals hit the TNI simultaneously when a member of the special forces Kopassus was arrested in a drug bust in a seedy part of Jakarta, and three generals were probed in an alleged Rp410 billion (US$55 million) fraud at the military and police insurance company.

If the military is domestically in public disgrace, things do not exactly look better on the international front. US President Bill Clinton is on record of accusing the TNI of being behind the violence in post-ballot East Timor. The remark was underscored by the UNCHR last week when it adopted a resolution to probe rights violations in the island (allegedly committed by the military, ‘roguish’ or otherwise).

In a move to drive home the point even further, US Defense Secretary William Cohen came to Jakarta last week and point-blankly told TNI Commander/Defense Minister General Wiranto to forget about future cooperation unless he gets his act together and deal with the perpetrators of the East Timor violence.

In fairness to the TNI, Cohen’s warning suggests a hollow ring to it. For no such strong words were aired — publicly, at least — when pre-Habibie government senior military officers personally supervised the abductions of student activists and did little (if not plan) to quell the three-day Jakarta mayhem in May 1998.

Moreover, senior military officers who allegedly planned and executed the devastation of East Timor learned the tricks from their US counterparts. In short, the US military establishment had offered training and equipped the TNI with the software to deal with problems it now accuses of causing in East Timor.

While the TNI takes great pains to come to terms with present realities, they do so at their own pace. Sure, they have halved the number of representatives in the House by 50% to 38, albeit under strong public pressure. Two months ago Wiranto, in a laudable move, told officers in the civil service they could keep their jobs only if they leave the military service.

But so low is the TNI’s public standing that when it sponsored the state security bill that earned an endorsement from human rights body Komnas HAM, students strongly rejected it.

"With regret, I have to say that in my 40 years as a soldier, I have never seen the armed forces being treated like this," retired three-star army general Bambang Triantoro told AFP this week.

Triantoro, it has to be noted, is only one of the many senior military officials who oversaw a long period during which the TNI enjoyed unchecked power but now lament the raw deal they get. Not that the public feel maltreatment of the military is unwarranted. Thanks to the current unprecedented freedom of expression, the public now have a better understanding on how the military operated all this while. Just about every major aspect (and its derivatives) of this country has the TNI brand stamped on it.

As the TNI, in the words of senior officer-intellectual Bambang Yudhoyono, "repositions" itself amidst strong calls for them to scale down their non-military activities, many wonder whether they are intrinsically capable of doing so after 30 years of undisputed rule. In the process they might just discover that their real enemies are within, not without, themselves.


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