Opinion

Civilian leaders in Aceh
undermine peace process


Kirsten E. Schulze, Professor, International History, London School of Economics

Aceh has once again become the subject of debate, first with the announcement of syariah law as part of the special autonomy package and then with Governor Abdullah Puteh's proposal for the re-establishment of Kodam Iskandar Muda military command. The latter has given rise to speculation that Aceh may again come under military control.

Popular perception is that the Indonesian Military (TNI) has been manipulating the situation in order to regain its political role and to impose a military solution.

The fact that the Security Recovery Operation is the only part of the Presidential Instruction (Inpres) 4 which has actually been implemented, the extension of the Inpres 4 with Inpres 7/2001 (on six comprehensive steps to settle the Aceh problem) and now the efforts to re-establish the Kodam, all seem to be pointing in that direction.

Having just recently returned from Aceh, there is no doubt that the Security Recovery Operation is the only game in town. But the question is not why the security forces are conducting an operation but why the civilian leadership has not moved on the other five non-security aspects of the comprehensive strategy over the last 10 months.

The extension of Inpres 4 with Inpres 7 to provide additional time for exactly that purpose, makes this question only more pertinent. It also points to the fact that the current situation in Aceh is less a case of ""military conspiracy"" than civilian incompetence.

The most often cited reason by the civilian authorities is that the situation is not yet conducive for implementing the political, economic, legal, social and cultural aspects. This answer in itself is quite revealing. On the one hand it shows a lack of understanding of the comprehensive strategy. On the other hand it displays a misperception of the meaning of ""conducive.""

With respect to the first, the key to the success of this strategy, a strategy quite similar to those pursued in other separatist and regional conflicts, is that security and non-security aspects need to be implemented in tandem, preferably parallel. The restoration of security has to be accompanied by social, economic and political development in order to consolidate those security gains.

Security alone cannot resolve this conflict as it does not address the underlying causes of the violence. What the restoration of security does is to create the space to allow for the politicians to deal with the economic, political, and social causes.

With respect to the second, conducive does not meant 100 perent secure; it means sufficiently stable. It does not rule out the risk of losing development projects to renewed violence but it considers this a risk worth taking. Economic development, if implemented properly so that it reaches all aspects of society, can go a long way toward reducing popular grievances and with it conflict.

Real improvement in the every life of the average Acehnese will slowly help to heal those wounds of the past related to inequality and neglect. It will also provide the majority of the people with what they long for -- a normal life, economic security, opportunities for prosperity, and a real future for their children.

Similarly real political dialog is absolutely crucial. The negotiations with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), however, have been virtually non-existent since July last year. This lack of political avenue, in turn, has left GAM with little more than violence to express its dissatisfaction. It has also deprived the people of the opportunity to contribute to shaping the future of Aceh through an all-inclusive political process.

This had already been agreed in Geneva, but again has remained unimplemented. Instead, political elites in Aceh and Jakarta legislated a special autonomy package, the details of which have yet to be fully worked out, and which has elicited little more than apathy from the non-elite population never mind a sense of ownership.

Sadly, the space created by the increased overall security has been wasted on politicians who do not seem to be able to grasp their responsibilities. Governor Abdullah Puteh is a case in point but certainly not the only one. Indeed, this seems to be quite a widespread malaise. Despite the fact that the districts of Aceh Besar, Aceh Tenggara, Central Aceh, and Aceh Singkel have been secured and the districts of West Barat, South Aceh, and North Aceh are stable no movement has been made on the political, economic, legal, social and cultural aspects of the comprehensive plan.

Why has real economic development not begun in any of these districts? Why is the infrastructure not being improved? Why are employment opportunities not being created? Why are there no negotiations? Why has the political process not been broadened to become all-inclusive? Why have the internally displaced persons not been rehabilitated? Why are the schools, which have been burnt since last summer, not being rebuilt? And the irony of the latter is particularly bitter since Governor Puteh had so emphasized his commitment to education in his election campaign.

Instead of tackling these important issues head on and grasping every opportunity to implement the non-security aspects of the comprehensive strategy, there has been a tendency to look towards ""alternative mechanisms"" of conflict resolution. Governor Puteh's statements over the past two weeks illustrate this quite clearly.

First syariah law was hailed as new mechanism for conflict resolution and then it was the re-establishment of Kodam Iskandar Muda. Syariah law in itself is not a mechanism of conflict resolution and neither is the Kodam. While one can make many sensible operational arguments for the need of a Kodam in Aceh, which must, however, be weighed carefully against the perceptions of the Acehnese population, the fact remains that there is no military solution for this conflict. And that is exactly the reason why a comprehensive strategy was devised.

Unfortunately, this point seems to have been lost on the civilian leadership, which has yet to implement this strategy's non-security aspects. Thus it is not the military -- despite continuing human rights violations -- which is undermining the conflict resolution process in Aceh, but it is the civilian leadership which is undermining the comprehensive strategy.

The current situation in Aceh is clearly a case of civilian incompetence -- a case of a good comprehensive strategy, badly implemented.

The author is co-writing a book on conflicts in Indonesia.

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