By: Warren Doull

The recent massacre in Paniai, Papua has moved Indonesia further away from a ‘Papua Solution.’ Five protesters were killed when a combined force of Indonesian police and military opened fire on unarmed demonstrators on Dec. 8. 

There are fears that the Jokowi government is emulating the same approach to the military that his party chief, former president Megawati, adopted in 2001-2004. In any case, Jokowi faces a series of dangerous scenarios, with a military that in the past was not above murdering its detractors.

The Megawati approach involves treating military hardliners like spoiled children because they can create huge problems if a civilian president tries to assert authority over them. But giving the military a free reign also has its share of problems.

First, to wipe this latest massacre from the national consciousness will require further dehumanizing of Papuans by the national media. Also, to wipe this latest massacre from the international agenda will require further lies by security forces about rogue elements and commitment to human rights. And these efforts will do nothing to alleviate conflict in Papua.

Giving a free reign to the military will almost certainly lead to heightened conflict in Papua. This heightened conflict may actually be what military hardliners desire, as Papua offers commanders opportunities for private fund-raising and fast-tracked promotion. New Defense Minister Ryacudu plans to add a second territorial command unit in Papua, a step which will further alienate Papuans. Heightened conflict may be good for the military but it is not good for Indonesia.

The new Jokowi government needs to walk a tightrope between the whimsical approaches by former presidents Habibie and Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) that led the military to undermine them from 1999 to 2001, and the “free reign” approach by Megawati that exacerbated problems in Aceh and Papua from 2001 to 2004.

Habibie’s presidency was undermined by the military’s attempts to intimidate voters ahead of the East Timor referendum in 1999, and by the military’s subsequent campaign of arson, murder and looting carried out in front of the world’s media. This military backlash occurred even though Habibie had gained agreement from key generals like Wiranto and Feisal Tanjung in the days before he offered a referendum. Jokowi will need to remember that a yes from the military doesn’t always mean a yes.

Indonesia’s second president, Gus Dur, was impeached by Indonesia’s parliament in 2001. This crisis grew from Gus Dur’s increasingly divisive leadership style and from the World Bank’s decision, after he ignored their policy advice, to delay and downsize loans that could have reinvigorated Indonesia’s ailing economy. 

However, the crisis also grew from the military’s efforts to undermine their new president. Their anger was fed by Wahid’s decisions to apologize for Indonesian atrocities in East Timor, dismiss the powerful General Wiranto from his cabinet, allow Papuans to change the name of their province from Irian Jaya to “Papua Barat” (West Papua), and to promote reformist General Agus Wirahadikusuma to head the military’s elite Strategic Reserves, the KOSTRAD. Wirahadikusuma angered hardliners by advocating a withdrawal of the military from politics and by quickly finding a KOSTRAD-controlled account where Rp189 billion (then equivalent to US$22 million) had gone missing.

The military took numerous steps to undermine the democratically elected Gus Dur. When the President dismissed General Wiranto from his Cabinet, a Wiranto ally, Lieutenant General Djaja Suparman  publicly complained that “this step could hurt the heart of the [military]and provoke them to “do something” about it”. Subsequently, in May 2000, boatloads of Laskar jihad forces totaling some 3,000 fighters were allowed to sail from Surabaya to Ambon against Gus Dur’s express orders. Upon reaching Ambon, they were apparently armed by the local military command so they could escalate the conflict. 

By August 2000, the military had successfully ousted Agus Wirahadikusuma from the senior military position that Gus Dur had given him just four months earlier. By mid- 2001, Vice President Megawati had all but abandoned Gus Dur and was moving closer to military hard-liners. With Gus Dur’s impeachment looming, the reform movement lost momentum. On July 3 2001, a key reformist, newly appointed High Court Judge Baharuddin Lopa, died in mysterious circumstances while overseas. Then a few weeks after Gus Dur was impeached, the 49-year old Wirahadikusuma died in his home in equally mysterious circumstances. The military did not deem his death suspicious enough to warrant an autopsy. 

Out of fear or gratitude, Megawati appointed hardliners  Endriartono Sutarto and Ryamizard Ryacandu to lead the military, hardliner Hendropriyono to lead Indonesia’s intelligence services and numerous other retired generals to Cabinet positions. If the constellation of Megawati, Ryacandu and Hendropriyono in late 2001 sounds familiar, it’s because this same constellation now plays an integral role as advisers to President Jokowi.

Given the way she came to power in 2001, Megawati was in no position to assert authority over the military, even if she had wanted to. She did maintain a moderately pro-reform general from the Gus Dur cabinet, Susilo Bambang Yudoyono, but the key role of Defence Minister went to a civilian politician, Matori Abdul Djali, who did not even have power within his own political party, PKS. She did also sign off on a Special Autonomy package for Aceh and Papua in August 2001, but this package had already been designed and passed through parliament during Gus Dur’s presidency.

The rise of Ryacandu and Hendropriyono brought an end to military reform and an end to meaningful dialogue in Papua and Aceh. In November 2001, Papuan independence statesman Theys Eluays was assassinated. The seven Kopassus (special forces) soldiers later convicted of strangling the unarmed 64-year old politician to death were praised as national heroes by Ryacudu. 

In February 2002, military hardliners established a new Territorial Military Command in Aceh. Between April 2001 and mid-2002, the number of police in Aceh was reduced by about 8,000, but the number of military personnel was increased by about 9,000.Though peace talks were conducted throughout 2002, the conflict raged unabated in Aceh. In August 2002, when cabinet member Yudoyono announced that dialogue was continuing, Army Chief of Staff Ryacudu retorted, “Dialogue for a thousand years hasn’t brought results” and “Fundamentally, there is no dialogue.” 

In May 2003, the military were given a presidential decree to impose martial law in Aceh, including vetting the movement of journalists. Unfortunately, as the civilian body count in Aceh went up, so too did Acehnese support for the independence movement. Does this sound like Papua during the Jokowi Presidency?

Approaching the end of Megawati’s presidency, her intelligence agency had grown tired of pro-democracy activists. The best known pro-democracy activist of the period, Munir, was assassinated in September 2004. Hendropriyono admitted in 2014 that his agency had carried out the murder, though neither Hendropriyono nor his deputy were ever charged. Megawati’s Defense Minister at the time, the civilian Matori Abdul Djali, may have been able to shed some light on the Munir assassination or other hardliner tactics in the Magawati era, but Matori himself was murdered in 2007. 

President Jokowi can also learn lessons from the Aceh peace breakthrough of 2005. it was a civilian team, led by Yusuf Kalla, who ultimately negotiated peace. Kalla back then was Yudhoyono’s, just as he is vice president to Jokowi today. Indonesia’s military may have helped pressure Aceh’s independence movement to accept autonomy rather than independence. 

However, peace was only achieved after SBY, as president removed hardliner General Ryacudu from his influential position as Army Chief of Staff (the 2nd most powerful position in the military). 

Jokowi is no doubt aware that Muslim hardliners could undermine his presidency, especially if they are animated by Jokowi’s political rival, Prabowo. They could wage anything from a public vilification campaign to violent disturbances. With sufficient financial and military backing, they could even create another “Ambon-style” conflict. 

Given what happened to former presidents Habibie and Gus Dur, Jokowi needs allies in the military. His presidency may indeed need Hendropriyono, who proved capable of keeping a lid on religious-based terrorism in the post-9/11 era. And it may also need Ryacudu, whose links within the military can help detect any factional plotting at an early stage.  Jokowi certainly needs the support of Hendropriyono’s and Ryacudu’s ally Megawati, whose PDIP party is the main basis of Jokowi’s support in parliament.

Jokowi has enough of a battle ahead dealing with an uncooperative parliament. The last thing he’ll want is to also face an uncooperative military. But if Ryacudu’s generals in Papua cannot prevent their troops from killing unarmed civilians, Jokowi may consider asserting more pressure for military discipline, or to allow freer access to foreign journalists so their presence acts as pressure for military discipline.

Following the massacre of civilians in Paniai District, respected peace activist Pastor Neles Tebay requested a civilian-controlled investigation. He explained that Papuans had lost faith in the neutrality of police and military, especially in investigations where their own people were the suspects. 

This request really applies to the whole peace process. Ultimately, it will be a civilian team, possibly led by Kalla, that makes the compromises necessary to achieve peace.  There are many models available. Look at the relationship of Washington DC to Puerto Rico and American Samoa, the relationship of Kuala Lumpur to Sabah and Sarawak, the relationship of Beijing to Hong Kong or the relationship of Port Moresby to Bougainville Island. If these countries could find a compromise, and if Jakarta could find a compromise with the Acehnese, surely Jakarta can also find a compromise with the Papuans.

The author, a pseudonym, has lived and worked extensively in Indonesia and Timor Leste, including for the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor in 2002.