Fiddling with Iraq, as fundamentalists creep into the backyard

by Bruce Haigh (Sydney Morning herald, April 29 2003)


Regional stability is risked, not helped, by complicity with a treacherous Indonesian military, writes Bruce Haigh.

Setting aside the humanitarian and political crisis created in Iraq through the US-led invasion, the Australian contribution has achieved little in terms of our own national security. Australian involvement may well have heightened our security risks.

Funds that should have been used to enhance Australia's capacity to deploy and operate within the region have been squandered on the dubious premise of fighting international terrorism and cementing the US-Australia alliance.

Successive Australian governments, including the Howard Government, have chosen to ignore the analysis of the intelligence community relating to the role and activities of the Indonesian military (TNI) and the threat they represent to regional stability.

The record of the TNI in backing fundamentalist Islamic groups in the archipelago is on the public record. It has been linked to Islamic extremists involved in bombings in Jakarta. It has been involved in the training and arming of more than 1000 Islamic radicals who were taken to Maluku to carry out acts of terrorism against local Christians in 1999-2000.

The TNI formed and backed the militia in East Timor before independence. It is training and supporting members of the Islamic Laskar Jihad in the province of Papua who have been deployed against Papuan dissidents. Members of the Kopassus special forces were involved in the murder of Freeport mine employees in 2002. The TNI has helped crush dissent in Aceh, Kalimantan and northern Sulawesi. Dissidents in all Indonesian provinces have been tortured and executed.

The primary role of the TNI is to hold the Indonesian archipelago, a former Dutch colony, together. Also on the TNI agenda is to regain the political and economic power it enjoyed under Soeharto.To help maintain control over the archipelago the TNI relies on a vast network of informers. It is therefore unlikely that it did not know that a bombing in Bali was being planned, particularly given its links to fundamentalist groups.

Failure of the TNI to know would represent a threat to its control of the archipelago and constitute an erosion of its power. If this is so, it must be very worrying to the TNI. There is no indication that it has such concerns.

The TNI might have allowed the bombings in Bali to go ahead for its own political purposes. Or it might have cleared a space for the bombing to take place. On the other hand, it might have been actively involved. All with the aim of helping to further the political agenda of the TNI. None of the foregoing precludes an involvement between fundamentalist Islamic groups in Indonesia and al-Qaeda.

The TNI remains upset with the Australian Government over intervention in East Timor. Intervention came as a shock to it and the Javanese elite. It was an abrupt and unexpected change in Australian policy after years of appeasement, which saw the aspirations, and suffering of the East Timorese swept under the carpet.

It was also upset with John Howard over his assertion in 1999 that Australia was the US deputy sheriff in the region and with his statement in late 2002 that he was prepared to use a pre-emptive strike against terrorists and their supporters in the region.

Recently the Defence Minister, Robert Hill, has sought to reactivate the relationship with Kopassus as part of the war against terrorism. Elements of Kopassus have been trained by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in anti-terrorism measures to assist in protecting Australian assets in Indonesia. The problem with this relationship is that Kopassus might be called upon to deal with a situation that they themselves have created.

The ADF is ill-prepared to deal with further TNI-backed pressure on East Timor or TNI actions aimed to undermine PNG. It does not have the forces to simultaneously reinforce the Australian garrison in East Timor, deploy to PNG should a collapse in law and order require it and maintain an involvement in the Middle East including Iraq. Nor would it have the capacity if engaged elsewhere to prevent bloodshed in Papua should the TNI step up military repression against Papuan dissidents.

That the Indonesian and the Australian Federal Police have not publicly established a link between the TNI and the Bali bombings is hardly surprising. The Indonesian police operate within a framework of the TNI. The AFP has established a questionable relationship with the Indonesian police centred on people smuggling and underlined by the sinking of SIEV X.

Howard was fulsome in pointing out the evils of the Iraqi regime. However, he is at best disingenuous by not also warning of the evils perpetrated by the TNI. Or is it that he is compromised over people smuggling and cannot for the time being speak out?Bruce Haigh, a retired diplomat, is an author and commentator on the Middle East and South-East Asia.

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