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Critics on warpath against US military aid to Jakarta

25 July 2002

As US officials lobby Congress to approve a US$16 million package of military aid for Indonesia, they are stressing the need to support political stability in the world's largest Muslim nation while downplaying Jakarta's role in the global war against terrorism.

"Whether democracy succeeds or fails in Indonesia won't be a function of our reaction to the events of September 11," Matthew Daley, the deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a recent speech. "In dealing with Indonesia on counter-terrorism, if the focus is September 11, you're missing 90 percent of the story."

The George W Bush administration is seeking $8 million to train the Indonesian police in internal counter-terrorism tactics and another $8 million for a "peacekeeping headquarters" for the Indonesian military, known as TNI.

Jakarta "has to confront the threat of sectarian violence", Daley said. "We want to provide unequivocal support for the territorial integrity of Indonesia," he said at a forum on Indonesia sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and the US-Indonesia Society.

The change in rhetoric represents a shift from the Bush administration's initial response to September 11, when it pressed Jakarta and other allies to join the war against the al-Qaeda network responsible for the hijack attacks on New York City and Washington.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri was the first leader of a Muslim country to visit President Bush after the attacks and the two leaders used their meeting to restart high-level contacts between the Pentagon and the TNI. Bush also lifted a US ban on the sale of non-lethal commercial arms to Jakarta.

In the weeks after September 11, US officials warned that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network had infiltrated Indonesia, posing serious danger. "I think they are more dangerous to Indonesia than they are to the United States," Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense who once served as the US ambassador in Jakarta, told an Indonesian magazine last November.

US military aid and training for Indonesia was suspended in September 1999 in the aftermath of the rampage in East Timor by militia forces backed by the TNI. Later that year, Congress adopted the Leahy amendment linking the resumption of military aid to the prosecution of military personnel involved in the atrocities.

Since Megawati's visit to Washington, US-Indonesian military ties have grown closer. In April, US and Indonesian officials held talks on security issues, followed in May by a visit to Jakarta by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who said that a quick resumption of military ties between Washington and Jakarta would bolster the war against terrorism.

"I think it is unfortunate that the United States does not today have military-to-military relationships with Indonesia," he told reporters.

But many in Congress continue to believe that Indonesia has not fulfilled its promises to reform the military. And on the issue of East Timor, the State Department itself is unsatisfied with Indonesia's attempt to prosecute generals responsible for the 1999 violence. "I cannot tell you that we're encouraged by the progress to date," said Daley.

One factor in the US decision to stress Indonesian issues over global terrorism is the potential backlash from Indonesian Muslims toward US policy in the Middle East, particularly Washington's "uncompromising support for Israel", said Meidyatama Suryodiningrat, the managing editor of the Jakarta Post.

"The perception remains that Muslims are being victimized" by US policy, Suryodiningrat said. He noted that radical Islamic parties will contend for power in the 2004 national elections in Indonesia. If the economic situation doesn't improve, more young Indonesians could be "attracted to radical ideologies", he said. "There is a potential for radical Islamic movements to become popular."

Suryodiningrat said a resumption of US military ties could lead to reforms within the TNI. "But if it's focused narrowly on terrorism, it will do more harm than good," he said.

The aid the Bush administration is seeking will better prepare the TNI to deal with domestic disturbances and civil unrest, argued Daley. "We're trying to expand the margins of what we can do with the TNI." The United States should be "realistic" and recognize that Indonesia must resort to using its military rather than police to deal with internal problems - a situation "not unfamiliar" to US leaders, he said.

The $16 million would allow Indonesian forces to be "trained in ways to deal with problems without recourse to discriminate violence in units under command and control", he added.

"If approved by Congress, the money won't go to tactical units themselves to buy bayonets, stun guns, electronic prods and that kind of thing, but for command and control, mobilization and training. This doesn't amount by any stretch of the imagination to a broad resumption of a long-term military relationship. That requires more progress" in military reform, Daley said.

But Sidney Jones, the Jakarta representative of the International Crisis Group, said it is far too early to resume direct military aid to the TNI. The $16 million package requested by the Bush administration "sends a very wrong signal about the Indonesian TNI involvement with internal security", she said. The Leahy amendment, Jones said, "is our only source of pressure on the Indonesian government".

A recent International Crisis Group paper on Indonesia states: "Better military training will not alter the fact that there is a fundamental lack of political will on the part of Indonesian national civilian and military authorities to exert control over private armies, punish abusive soldiers, end military corruption or proceed with long-promised reforms."

Tim Shorrock, Washington
Published by Asia Times © 2002 Asia Times Online Co Ltd.

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