Watch Out for More Surprises in Indonesia
Watch Out for More Surprises in Indonesia
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 4 minutes

Watch Out for More Surprises in Indonesia

Every year Indonesia manages to defy conventional wisdom. Who foresaw the 1999 decision to allow a referendum on East Timor? The 2002 Bali bombings? The 2005 Aceh peace agreement? In this huge country with a flourishing democracy and a multitude of problems, the question is what surprises 2007 has in store.

Aceh may be the most interesting place to watch. We could see one of the most interesting experiments in local governance begin to unfold under Irwandi Yusuf, the former rebel and political prisoner elected governor last December. Or we could see security forces try to undermine GAM's political strength as all eyes move toward parliamentary elections in 2009. Or we could see the emergence of more splits in GAM as it struggles with moving from armed opposition to governing. Best bet: a little of all three, with Irwandi on balance doing better as governor than his predecessors but constrained by the institutions around him from dramatic innovations.

Don't expect major breakthroughs on Papua, at least in terms of relations with Jakarta. In many ways, the fates of Papua and Aceh have become intertwined, and an Indonesian president who expends political capital on Aceh has less to spend on Papua. GAM's electoral success in Aceh may strengthen the determination of Jakarta-based politicians to ensure that Papuan nationalists never get the chance to have their own political party. Likewise, the Yudhoyono government's willingness to allow international involvement in a peace settlement in Aceh almost guarantees that it will take a harder line on foreigners, including NGOs, in Papua.

Since none of the problems that led to violence in Papua in 2006 have been resolved, it is safe to predict more of the same: pro-independence demonstrations; heavy-handed police retaliation; dysfunctional court proceedings; ethnic clashes; and struggles over resources. But experiments in governance are taking place there, too, and the real shocker - not impossible - would be good news: visible benefits from a plan pushed by the popular new governor to get funds directly to every village in Papua.

In terms of terrorism, the biggest surprise for 2007 would be no attack at all. It is safer to assume that some form of violence will take place, even if no major bombing occurred in 2006. That attack is as likely to involve an unknown group as it is Noordin Mohammed Top, the fugitive mastermind of the last three major terrorist bombings.

Understanding that overall, terrorist groups and their support networks continue to weaken, we should look for more efforts along the lines of the would-be suicide bombing of an A&W restaurant, an American fast-food chain, in Jakarta last October 9. Poorly planned and executed, that attack caused no casualties except to the bomber himself, and only minimal damage to the restaurant. But it was an indication that the ideology of do-it-yourself jihadism had reached a wider audience. That ideology, taught in manuals found among the possessions of the men who planned the second Bali bombings, stresses the need to go it alone to wage war on the enemies of Islam if circumstances make it too difficult or dangerous to work within a larger organisation. Such exhortations are available on websites, CDs, and printed materials, all of which have a wide readership. The A&W bomber, not a member of any known jihadist organisation, was a rank amateur, but others exposed to the same material could produce more lethal results.

We should also anticipate methods other than bombing. Targeted assassinations have been common in Poso, Central Sulawesi, the site of intense communal conflict in 2000-2001 and of sporadic violence since. The shooting last October of a well-known Protestant minister, Pastor Kongkoli, probably by a JI-affiliated group, was only the most recent example. If the interpretation of the Poso conflict, in the eyes of local jihadists, changes from Muslims v local Christians to Muslims v the police, we could see an effort to export the methodology of targeted killings to Java.

A surprise devoutly to be wished for but unlikely to happen would be abolition of the death penalty. Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra could face execution - and instant martyrdom in the eyes of their followers - in 2007. Their deaths would only further the way in which capital punishment has become part of a horrible political calculus in Indonesia. Three Christians were executed in late 2006 for the killing of Muslims in Poso. To prove justice is blind, Indonesian officials could proceed with the executions of the Bali bombers. And if those take place, the executions of Australians convicted for drug trafficking could be next, just to show that the government can stand up to outside pressure. Rather than play with lives, or be perceived as so doing, the government should cease using the death penalty altogether. The best we can hope for may be that 2007 will see efforts by NGOs to bring a test case against capital punishment before the Constitutional Court.

We could see former president Soeharto die during 2007, with a toss-up as to whether the bigger reaction will be nostalgia for perceived prosperity of the past or greater determination to probe into his authoritarian excesses. We should look for more battles over the role of the state in legislating morality, and little meaningful progress in military or judicial reform. We might begin to see political fallout from the disastrous mudflow in East Java, and we should expect a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle in February or March.

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