ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 6, No. 1
Spring 2000

We Can't Stop Here

Atrocity Investigations in East Timor

East Timor in Transition: A View from the Ground

ETAN Steering Committee Explores New Territory

Chapter Updates

IFET Launches New Project

Exploring an Indonesia Action Network

Back Issues


ETAN Home Page


Gus Dur and the Military Monster

by John Roosa
  Gus Dur
  Gus Dur
Since becoming President in late October, Abdurrahman Wahid, known as Gus Dur, has made impressive progress in the Herculean task of cleaning the fetid stables of Suharto's totalitarian state. His method has rarely been straightforward, but his ultimate goal has been clear: the reduction of the military's political power. He has removed recalcitrant generals, eliminated the military's mysterious supra-legal institution Bakorstanus (whose one publicly known function was to run ideological screening tests on all government employees), encouraged investigations into past human rights violations, apologized to the victims of the military's bloody anti-communist campaign of 1965-66 (apologized too for the complicity of his own Muslim organization in the massacres), and pursued non-military resolutions to the fighting in Aceh, West Papua, and Ambon. The former opponents of Suharto's militarized sultanate have been so enamored of his reforms that one leftist party, the PRD, felt compelled to headline an issue of its magazine: "Gus Dur is not God."
Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, left, shakes hands with East Timorese leader "Xanana" Gusmão during their meeting at the presidential office in Jakarta April 28, 2000. At center is Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab. (AP Photo/Muchtar Zakaria)
The limitations of Gus Dur's powers in the face of the military's many-headed Hydra are nowhere more apparent than in Indonesia's policy towards East Timor. During his three-hour visit to Dili on February 28, Gus Dur hugged Xanana Gusmão, laid a wreath in honor of the victims of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre, apologized for the scorched earth campaign of last year, and signed an accord for improving relations between the two countries. Only days later, the Indonesian military sent its East Timorese militia across the border to kill more civilians and burn down more buildings. The militias have made cross-border raids almost every day since early March. Despite public disavowals, both the militias and the military are certainly responsible. Gus Dur has denounced these raids but has been so far powerless to stop them. The military, through its militia Cerberuses, are still holding East Timorese hostage in camps in West Timor, months after insistent demands for their release from Gus Dur, the UN, and dozens of international political figures.

The Indonesian military runs a parallel government. By itself, that fact might not present an insuperable problem for Gus Dur and the reformists. The generals are so corrupt and opportunistic that they have been easily pitted against one another in the scramble for the top appointments. (Former Defense Minister Wiranto is a prime example of the individualist position-seeker; after being sacked by Gus Dur for his "suspected" role in the East Timor war crimes, he went on a public relations campaign to defend himself, but not the rest of the suspects or the military as an institution.) The more serious problem is that this parallel government has a bureaucracy of labyrinthine complexity and impenetrability. It has too much institutional depth and inertia to be seriously affected by a busy reshuffling of the generals at the top.

The military continues with many of its Suharto-era practices. After a brief lull for the first three months of Gus Dur's presidency, it has resumed counterinsurgency operations in Aceh, which have killed thousands of civilians since 1989. Now the targets are human rights activists who spoke up during Gus Dur's first three months in office. These Acehnese activists were proposing a cease-fire between guerrillas of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the military. They were hoping to create a vibrant civilian sector for addressing Aceh's problems and figuring out amongst themselves future plans. (Not all Acehnese agree with GAM's goal, a sultanate; perhaps not even many of the rank and file within GAM agree.) The military's return to the old policy of brutal counterinsurgency has ruined the hopes of Gus Dur and the Acehnese for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in the near term.

There remain, deep in the bowels of the military, institutions largely untouched by recent reforms: the intelligence agencies (such as BIA) and the covert operations unit, Kopassus, which are responsible for many past and present human rights violations. The committee of the National Human Rights Commission investigating the military's crimes in East Timor discovered a second layer of the military structure in East Timor that few people even knew existed. Apart from the "territorial structure," which the army maintains in all provinces of Indonesia, there was a separate chain of command under Kopassus called Rajawali (Eagle). All the commanding officers and intelligence officers were from Kopassus, but the thousands of troops were drawn from regular infantry units. The covert operation to finance and arm the militias in East Timor appears to have been directed by this secretive Rajawali structure. There are undoubtedly many aspects of Kopassus' operations that remain unknown even to the president.

 The military's basic esprit de corps remains "protect your own." For all the personal rivalries and scrambling for posts, military officers form a perfect Masonic conspiracy vis-à-vis the public. No officer has yet testified against another officer in a human rights investigation. There are presently official investigations into four massacres: East Timor (1999), Aceh (1989-present), Tanjung Priok (1984), and headquarters of the PDI (an oppostition political party led by Megawati Sukarnoputri) in Jakarta (1996). There are also investigations into the 1994 killing of the female labor activist Marsinah and Kopassus kidnapping and torture of activists in 1997-98. In each case, the civilian investigators have faced walls of silence and denial. The main suspects for one massacre in Aceh have simply disappeared.

Civilian control over the armed forces remains a distant, almost unreachable ideal. Gus Dur is perhaps the best mortal Indonesia has to wage battle with a military committed to an entrenched system of unaccountability. But the task of driving the military beast out of the domestic, political and economic system and into the barracks cannot be the work of a solitary superhero. It has been and will be the task of many people, banding together into a fierce force for peace.