Jakarta-Papua dialogue: Between a rock and a hard place
It has been four months since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono convened the second meeting with Papuan church leaders in the Presidential Palace. During the meeting the President gave an order to Vice President Boediono to follow-up the meeting with technical preparations for negotiations. Yet, we have not seen much follow-up.
In parallel to the meeting, two events occurred. The Unit for Acceleration of Development in Papua and West Papua (UP4B) was inaugurated and led by Lt. Gen. (ret.) Bambang Darmono with promises to speed up delayed development programs under the Special Autonomy package. One of its promises is to promote “constructive communication” between Jakarta and Papua.
The second event was the appointment of Dr. Farid Hussain as the President’s special envoy for peace negotiations with Papua. Farid’s first challenge has been to convince various elements of the government that dialogue is a good idea to end the protracted conflict in Papua before he can begin to engage with different factions of the Papuan leadership. In other words, the idea of dialogue has gone nowhere.
What can we see from the Papuan side? Following the February meeting, the church leaders went back to their work and have been busy with their day-to-day jobs.
This situation reminds us of the aftermath of the so-called national dialogue between then President BJ Habibie and 100 Papua representatives in February 1999.
Welcomed home as heroes, these leaders had to juggle between disseminating the result of the meeting to fellow Papuans and enjoying the small win, while at the same time confronting intimidation from the state security services.
History looks to repeat itself this time around.
Apart from the continuing spate of violence in Papua, which has killed both civilians and security personnel, we have witnessed many things take place in national politics recently.
The fuel subsidy policy remains a thorny issue. An increase in religious violence has met with little effort from the Yudhoyono administration to address it. This is not to mention the controversy around the President’s decision to grant clemency to Schapelle Corby, a convicted Australian drug smuggler.
In such a whirlwind of political saga, the government’s position on Papua-related issues remains reactive and elusive rather than creative and assertive.
For instance, when some MPs from Pacific countries convened a meeting in Canberra last February to declare the creation of Inter Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP), Jakarta panicked. It demanded an explanation from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta as if it were a decision by the Australian government.
When it comes to the idea of Jakarta-Papua dialogue, Jakarta remains divided: An unusual condition for any government. However, among this division at least five positions can be identified.
One argument says “the dialogue is all about Papua not between Jakarta and Papua”. This argument dismisses a bipartisan model that considers Papuans an equal party for Jakarta. As an approach it contradicts the other position, which clearly refers to Aceh’s bipartisan model, which involved international mediation.
Another voice asserts, “Anything but NKRI [Unitary State of Indonesia]” imagining the broadest concession that Indonesia can give, but territorial integrity remains a non-negotiable condition.
Many bureaucrats simply embrace the position of “wait and see”, while some others actively engage in activities to integrate outspoken Papuans into the narrative of the state.
On the Papuan side, the situation is also marked by a plurality of approaches: A natural condition for any community. Here, six positions can be identified. The first argument says, “Dialogue no, referendum yes”. This argument suggests that dialogue with the government is a submission and is hence unacceptable.
Another voice pursues the recognition of Papuan independence premised on the position that Papua gained political independence in 1961 from the Netherlands.
A further argument persistently seeks opportunities to engage with the Indonesian government to hold dialogue.
A similar (yet distinct) approach only wants to deal with the highest level of Indonesian leadership. Just like the government side, so the Papuan side is in a position of “wait and see”, which represents the views of many ordinary Papuans.
Finally, some Papuans have chosen to disengage with anything related to Indonesian representations as they do not have faith in any of them.
How can we reconcile these differences? That is what the whole idea of dialogue is all about. It is meant to address differences in order to achieve compromise. Dialogue certainly will not generate peace and deliver justice overnight but it will certainly create what the British thinker Mary Kaldor terms “an island of civility”.
Such islands are where violence ends and civility begins. It may start with a small violence-free zone as agreed upon by two warring parties that will be expanded to cover more territorial, social and political space.
This is the renewed call of Catholic priest Neles Tebay, who led the Papua Peace Network to speak with the Yudhoyono government recently.
The NGO clearly does not want to repeat 1999, where the idea of dialogue went nowhere. They are determined to create an island of civility in Papua under the framework of the Papua Land of Peace.
Violence must cease so that Papuans can live with dignity. It is time for the government to translate the promising signals of a peaceful solution for Papua into reality.
The writer, a Franciscan friar, is the former director of the Office for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Jayapura, Papua and currently is a PhD scholar at the Regulatory Institutions Network, the Australian National University, Canberra.
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