ISSN #1088-8136

Vol. 7, No. 1
Winter 2001


Victories in Washington and the Road Ahead

Indonesian Military- Resisting Reform

About East Timor and ETAN

Magno on Next Phase

ETAN Notes

Human Right Network

New Congress


Remembering Jafar

Briere Photos

Struggle for Justice

Estafeta Winter 2001

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The Indonesian Military: Resisting Reform

by John Roosa

One has to marvel at the spunk of the Indonesian military (TNI). Despite a U.S. and European Union cut off on arms sales, training, and aid, a United Nations threat of an international tribunal for war crimes in East Timor, and universal condemnation for the killings of three UN workers in West Timor, the TNI has remained defiant. It has neither ended militia activity in West Timor, nor allowed for the safe repatriation of refugees, nor stopped its infiltrations into East Timor (which have resulted in the killing of two peacekeepers). This is a remarkably daring defiance when the country is bankrupt - the total foreign debt is equal to the country's annual GNP - and is wholly dependent on loans from the very governments criticizing its crimes in Timor.

Much of the TNI's confidence derives from its belief that donor governments are unwilling to attach human rights conditions to loans and aid, and from the assumption that any officials contemplating such conditions will back off if faced with the threat of an "ultra-nationalist backlash." The military's bargaining chip is "stability" in Indonesia. Whenever it faces international pressure, the military threatens to ruin Indonesia's foreign relations, wreck the democratization process, and promote the rise of Muslim fundamentalism. In effect, the generals are holding the entire country hostage. They are playing on the fears of the donor governments that the break-up of the fourth largest country in the world will erode stability in southeast Asia and ultimately frustrate economic growth in all of Asia.

The military began an anti-American campaign after Secretary of Defense William Cohen visited Jakarta on September 18 and warned that the failure to disband the militias in West Timor would "jeopardize continued economic assistance." Cohen's statement was exaggerated by the pro-military press, it seems intentionally, into a threat of a near-total embargo such as those imposed on Iraq and Cuba. This misinterpretation quickly became common wisdom and provoked militantly nationalist reactions from many politicians and commentators.

In late September and October, demonstrations were held almost daily in front of the U.S. embassy. Young teenagers from the slums were paid a very high daily wage of $2.50 to burn U.S. flags and shout themselves hoarse. Some among the noisy gaggle of pro-military legislators demanded that the U.S. ambassador be declared persona non grata. A group of Jakarta toughs faithful to the military's bidding over the past two years that parades as a Muslim organization (FPI), announced it would sweep the city, telling all U.S. citizens to leave the country. Although the action was called off, an affiliated group in the central Javanese city of Solo did carry out such a sweep. Meanwhile, a bomb scare prompted the embassy to close for over a week. To add to the sense of crisis in bilateral relations, the military arrested a U.S. citizen in West Papua and charged him with espionage.

Accompanying these scare tactics were a series of bluffs. Mahfud M.D., the civilian defense minister who proudly serves as a ventriloquist's dummy for the military, announced in late October that Indonesia would forge a defense pact with China, India, and Japan to exclude the U.S. from Asia. This was a pathetically empty threat: China and India are rivals and Japan would hardly have any interest in prioritizing Indonesia over the U.S. Not unlike the Suharto family calling the IMF "neo-colonial" when its privileges were threatened two years ago, the military is now absurdly resorting to the rhetoric of former president Sukarno to defend principles exactly contrary to his.

The TNI's vow to purchase weapons from sources other than the U.S. is also nonsense. The Indonesian air force doesn't have the money to purchase a whole new fleet of planes to replace its F-16s and C-30s. It very much needs the spare parts for these planes and wants the present military embargo to be removed.

It may seem irrational for the Indonesian military to be orchestrating an anti-U.S. campaign when it needs U.S. spare parts and wants U.S. training and legitimacy. But the strategy is carefully calculated to pressure the U.S. into returning to its former longstanding tolerance for the TNI's many human rights abuses.

To avoid completely alienating itself from donor governments of the Consultative Group on Indonesia (CGI) meeting in mid-October, the Indonesian military appeared to compromise. Its carried out cosmetic changes meant to convince governments that desperately wanted a pretext, no matter how flimsy, to avoid tying aid to human rights progress. The inconsequential disarmament of militia members in West Timor beginning in late September failed to acknowledge that the militias have been lording over refugees with fists, sticks, and knives. The arrest of militia leader Eurico Guetteres was likewise a pre-CGI charade; the charge was minor and will likely be dropped after a decent interval.

The U.S. and the World Bank threatened that aid might be jeopardized if Jakarta failed to curtail the militias, but when the CGI met in Tokyo it remained true to tradition and refused to attach any human rights conditions to the $5.3 billion in loans promised Indonesia. The military's gamble succeeded; the generals correctly predicted that the donor governments would not challenge Indonesia no matter how many UN workers they killed or how many UN resolutions they defied.

The TNI remains committed to prolonging militia operations in West Timor. The man directly responsible for the militias over the past year, Gen. Kiki Syanakri, commander of the ninth military region based in Bali and a former Kopassus officer with long experience in the East Timor occupation, served as the martial law administrator during and after the scorched earth operation. To reward his fine work in Timor, he has recently been promoted to serve as the army's deputy chief of staff.

In certain respects, the Indonesian military is in crisis. It is facing numerous human rights investigations, deep public hostility and distrust (as revealed in opinion polls), guerrilla insurgencies in Aceh and West Papua, and civil war in the Moluccas (partly of its own making). There are frequent brawls between units over their drug, gambling, and prostitution rackets. There are demands for its vast business empires to be audited.

In other respects, the military is flourishing and stands poised to dominate the government for the foreseeable future. President Wahid has been unable to gain control over the military and has given up trying. The political parties in the legislature, most of whom are focused on sabotaging Wahid, have embraced the military and refused to impose reforms upon it. They voted to grant the military continued representation in the legislature until 2009 - five more years than the military itself was requesting. If, as is likely, Wahid is forced out of office by ill health or the machinations of rival parties, vice-president Megawati will assume the presidency. Given her and her party's entirely uncritical stance on the military, the generals have been unable to conceal their joyful anticipation of such an eventuality.

For all of its crises, the military remains the most powerful institution in the government. It is well prepared to emerge from this post-Suharto wave of reform with its domestic power intact. The military is also prepared to continue sabotaging East Timor - and international donor governments have proven themselves willing to allow it.

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