The Jakarta Post
More than the loud alarm, which could be false, about the resurrection of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) from its grave, or the political ambition of a general whose retirement is looming, or even the hidden rivalry between all the President’s men, the clear and present danger is the lack of communication that has unfolded following a war of words involving top officials responsible for national defense.
The public was divided when Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo admitted to having issued an order for soldiers across the country to attend public screenings of the old movie Pengkhianatan G30S/PKI (Treachery of G30S/PKI). The instruction came on the heels of the siege by “anticommunist” groups of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI) office, which was hosting a discussion on the mass killings and persecution that marked a communist purge back in 1965-1966.
While the movie about the aborted coup attempt on Sept. 30, 1965, which during the Soeharto era was mandatory for schoolchildren, barely triggered a debate within the government, Gatot’s disclosure of the allegedly illegal import of firearms by a non-military institution has revealed the rift. On different occasions, Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto and Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu have rebuffed Gatot’s allegation, saying the firearms were local products and their procurement for the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the National Police had followed the correct procedures.
Both Wiranto and Ryamizard, who are retired Army generals themselves, might try to play down the apparent cracks by saying that Gatot was not fully informed about the arms shopping. Or in Ryamizard’s euphemism, quoting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the controversy constitutes “a lack of communication.”
Instead of underestimating the polemic in public, we think the uproar over the procurement of firearms should give cause for concern. Not only is the open argument unnecessary, but it also raises questions about their teamwork.
The public may now cast doubts over the nation’s safety as top officials mandated to protect the country from insurgency and foreign threats fail to communicate, let alone cooperate, with each other. If they cannot show unity themselves, how can we be confident in their ability to devise policies and take action to maintain national integrity?
Solid partnership matters, especially between the defense minister as the policymaker responsible for the military budget, and the TNI chief who oversees about 500,000 personnel in the three armed forces. National defense requires close cooperation, including information sharing, among them given the myriad forms of challenges and threats facing the country today.
As the TNI supreme commander, President Jokowi summoned Wiranto and Gatot on Wednesday. Jokowi’s intervention, if any, will not work if his generals put their personal ambitions ahead of national interests.