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Jakarta Post

Are Indonesian soldiers professional enough?

  • Nani Afrida

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 5, 2015   /  02:09 pm
Are Indonesian soldiers professional enough? Parade of loyalty: Indonesian Military (TNI) troops march in parade, with artillery weaponry in the background, during the force’s 67th anniversary ceremony at Halim Perdanakusuma airbase in East Jakarta, on Oct. 5, 2012. The military is celebrating its 70th anniversary today.(JP/Jerry Adiguna) (TNI) troops march in parade, with artillery weaponry in the background, during the force’s 67th anniversary ceremony at Halim Perdanakusuma airbase in East Jakarta, on Oct. 5, 2012. The military is celebrating its 70th anniversary today.(JP/Jerry Adiguna)

Parade of loyalty: Indonesian Military (TNI) troops march in parade, with artillery weaponry in the background, during the force'€™s 67th anniversary ceremony at Halim Perdanakusuma airbase in East Jakarta, on Oct. 5, 2012. The military is celebrating its 70th anniversary today.(JP/Jerry Adiguna)

Seventeen years have passed since the country'€™s second president, Soeharto '€” the longest serving Indonesian president '€” stepped down from power, yet calls for militias-turned-officers of the Indonesian Military (TNI) to be transformed into professional soldiers that are completely free from active political and business involvement are mounting. Questions such as, '€œAre Indonesian soldiers professional enough?'€ are frequently asked among professional and military observers.

TNI chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo recently acknowledged that people have long demanded that the TNI be professional, with major improvements expected from TNI doctrines, as well as upgraded troop skills and modernized weaponry systems. To begin with, the general said, measures to improve the professionalism of the TNI would involve four major aspects.

First, military professionalism will be developed through skills training and force development programs, which is expected to be gradually achieved by end of 2024, when the TNI'€™s strategic planning is set to be completed.

Second, military professionalism will be developed on par with national policy on human resource development.

Third, military professionalism will be built upon cooperation of the three forces: Air Force, Army and Navy, and in accordance with the doctrine of total people'€™s defense (Sishankamrata).

Fourth, military professionalism should be developed along with solidarity as they are key factors in the success of the implementation of the TNI'€™s role as the main defense force of the country.

All those theories and concepts look good on paper, yet the reality on the field is far from that.

Media reports from November 2014 until September 2015 pointed out issues surrounding professionalism faced by the TNI. The 10-month period went by with a series of conflicts between the police and military personnel over illegal business practices.

Among the serious incidents was one that occurred in Batam, in November 2014, when a dozen soldiers from an Army'€™s infantry unit rampaged through the police'€™s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters. One soldier died in the incident, while a street vendor was injured. The attack followed a clash between Brimob personnel and soldiers following an attempted police raid on a suspected illegal fuel-storage facility in Batam in September 2014. Four soldiers sustained gunshot wounds in the incident.

Gen. Moeldoko, Gatot'€™s predecessor, admitted that the fighting between personnel from the two institutions was influenced by economic issues, while suggesting the improvement of personnel welfare, including provision of housing facilities, as a measure aimed at preventing similar incidents in the future.

Moeldoko'€™s statement has won praise from those in the security and defense circles. Military observer Al Araf was of the opinion that improving the welfare of military personnel was key to preventing soldiers from seeking side jobs to earn more money.

'€œAs long as soldiers moonlight, they will never be professional,'€ he said.

Apart from the intra-institution clashes, the general public is also concerned about civilian authorities '€œinviting'€ military personnel to help secure their assets and provide security for them, particularly on issues or policies that are controversial and prone to unrest or security disturbance. It has become a trend for these civilian authorities or ministries to sign memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with military units on these matters.

Military personnel'€™s involvement in non-military duties is clearly a deviation from the concept of military reforms outlined in 1999.

The TNI headquarters, however, has argued that the institution'€™s involvement in the programs outlined in those MOUs is only meant to provide security assistance and that they are also part of the synergy program encouraged by President Joko '€œJokowi'€ Widodo.

'€œAll institutions in Indonesia should cooperate to accelerate development programs in Indonesia,'€ Moeldoko quoted the President as saying.

Article 7 of TNI Law No. 34/2004 on military operation other than war stipulates that TNI could provide any assistance to the government, but only after a political decision is made by the government.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) believes that TNI has misunderstood the President'€˜s order.

'€œTNI has misinterpreted the word '€˜synergy'€™ conveyed by the President. The President must give a clear order to ensure that TNI'€™s support for the development programs are within its constitutional roles,'€ Kontras researcher Puri Kencana Putri said in a recent interview.

She said the President should be aware that the TNI had a unique command structure that was different from business units or political institutions.

'€œAllowing these MOUs to be applicable is like setting up a time bomb as it would mean letting the TNI enter the civilian domain again [as in the past],'€ she argued.

Another aspect of military reform that has long been under public scrutiny is the controversial military tribunal for all crimes committed by military personnel.

'€œEveryone, including TNI personnel, is equal before the law. A military tribunal should only be for war crimes. And military professionalism can be achieved, by among others, having military personnel suspected of committing crimes stand trial in civilian courts like any other criminal,'€ Al Araf said.

Aside from criticism over its lack of professionalism, TNI is apparently still struggling with its outdated weaponry system. It experienced a great loss when a Hercules military transport aircraft crashed in Medan, North Sumatra, in June 2015 and killed all people on board. Earlier in April 2015, an F-16 jet fighter belonging to the Air Force burst into flames before takeoff at an event held to honor President Jokowi.

The government aims to develop a well-respected TNI that is equipped with a modern weaponry system. The government expects to meet the minimum essential force (MEF) by 2024. The plan involves spending Rp 100 trillion (US$6.8 billion) on new weapons and transfer of technology.

Previously, Jokowi said that he had set a target to improve the capacity of the TNI and defense industry not only to meet the country'€™s MEF targets but also to transform it into a force to be reckoned with in the region.

Jokowi'€™s four main priorities for the country'€™s defense policy are: carrying out efforts to develop the military to become a well-respected force, to reach self-sufficiency in defense equipment, to meet the country'€™s defensive needs and to make defense policy part of a comprehensive approach to security.

However, Jokowi'€™s plan might fail as well because his government is set to cut the defense budget by 6.3 percent or Rp 7 trillion to Rp 95.8 trillion in 2016. The government cut the budget mostly for weapon systems.

The cut will be a challenge for the military as it had planned to procure several items, including a squadron of Russian-made Sukhoi jet fighters, Boeing and Chinook helicopters, patrol boats and submarines. The funds would also finance the maintenance of new weapons.

The lower budget allocation for the sector could affect the welfare of soldiers.

Mufti Makarim, a military expert from the Institute for Defense and Peace Studies (IDPS), said the decision to decrease the defense budget was a tough choice faced by President Jokowi, who planned to focus more on infrastructure development to accelerate economic growth.

'€œThe President must have carried out a thorough assessment before cutting the military budget,'€ Mufti said, adding that a consequence of the budget cut was a slowdown in the pace of the transformation of the TNI to becoming a modern and professional military.

Puri from Kontras said it was difficult for TNI to transform into a professional institution because President Jokowi '€” as the supreme commander of the military '€” did not know how to take the lead in bringing the military under civilian supremacy in a democracy.

Al Araf concurs with Puri.

'€œThere will be two likely scenarios. One is that military transformation will come to a halt, and second, the role of the military in Indonesia will be just like during the New Order era,'€ he said.

So, will the Indonesian soldiers be professional enough?

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