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Indonesia Index


Bodyguards of the Sultan of Yogyakarta, ca. 1902
Courtesy Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

To fully understand the role of the armed forces in contemporary Indonesian society, one must understand the absolute priority the government and the military leadership has placed, from the beginning of the New Order, on the importance of internal security to the achievement of national stability. The New Order government, whose military leaders played an important role in 1965 in crushing what is officially described as a communist coup attempt when they were young officers in their first years of military service, has always believed that threats to internal stability were the greatest threats to national security. Having experienced two attempted coups, supposedly communist-inspired, a number of regional separatist struggles, and instability created by radical religious movements, the government had little tolerance for public disorder.

The effort to forge a united and coherent nation that could accommodate the natural diversity of peoples in the Indonesian archipelago has always been a central theme in the country's history. The Suharto government, in firm control and without serious challenge since the late 1960s, had achieved this goal, giving the country an unprecedented degree of political stability. In light of the nation's early experiences with regional rebellions and with attempted communist-labelled coups in 1948 and 1965, however, the leadership historically remained alert to real or potential subversive threats. It has held that unresolved social issues and intemperate criticism of official policies could be used by subversives to create unrest or even social anarchy, while also disrupting the course of national development, to which Suharto's regime is committed. The government has therefore maintained surveillance and sometimes control over the activities and programs of a wide range of groups and institutions. The largest of these groups included those who were suspected of communist sympathies, jailed in the aftermath of the 1965 attempted coup, and later released during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Another such group, the authors of the Petition of Fifty, included fifty retired generals, politicans, academicians, students, and others who in 1980 advocated, among other things, that Suharto step down, and who encouraged a more effective and prominent role for the House of People's Representatives (DPR) in the national policy-making arena (see Legislative Bodies , ch. 4).

The government has contended, moreover, that political activity should properly be expressed in a harmonious and consensual manner through a government-structured framework that in the early 1990s included two traditional political parties and a state-supported third non-party political organization, a federation of functional groups called Golkar (see Glossary). The government has been acutely sensitive to any signs of political opposition to its policies. What constituted acceptable criticism or dissent was not always clear, however, and some government critics, including the press, students, ex-military officers, and even some opposition party members of the DPR crossed the line, apparently without intending to do so. The press, political commentators, and social reformers continued to seek the "acceptable" level for criticizing the government and its leadership. In general, the government seemed to label as subversive anything not supportive of the national ideology, the Pancasila (see Glossary; see Pancasila: The State Ideology , ch. 4). Nevertheless, by the late 1980s a call for more openness in government and society as a whole began to be seen as acceptable political activity, and keterbukaan (openness) had become the acceptable term to describe an increased level of political commentary and criticism across the spectrum of national politics.

The Suharto government consistently identified the potential for insurgency and subversion by numerous groups as the most dangerous threats to national security. Most often mentioned in this context were the remnants of the outlawed Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), against which repeated calls for national vigilance were issued (see Political Parties , ch. 4). Law enforcement officials have claimed that former PKI members were sometimes behind apparently ordinary crimes and that the communist ideology presented a special danger to young people who had not lived through the national distress of the 1960s. The government monitored closely the more than 30,000 prisoners taken after the 1965 coup attempt and released in the late 1970s, maintaining that they might be used to resurrect communism in the nation. The mission of monitoring ex-PKI members fell to both the police and the military (see The Coup and Its Aftermath , ch. 1).

Insurgency, however, appeared to present no serious threat to the national security in the early 1990s. The PKI had not mounted any major operations for almost twenty years and, according to security officials, only a few PKI members were still active. Other very small, armed insurgent movements caused considerable concern in the early 1990s, however. The government as a matter of policy referred to an instance of such activity as a Security Disturbance Movement (GPK). Two of these movements, the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor (Fretilin--see Glossary) in Timor Timur Province and the Free Papua Movement (OPM) in Irian Jaya Province, had been reduced to minimal strengths by 1992 and were confined to fairly isolated geographic regions. They had very little in common with any other groups and were unlikely ever to take united action. Nevertheless, political agitation by these groups and their sympathizers continued sporadically.

Groups advocating the establishment of an Islamic state, either over the whole national territory or over discrete areas, claimed to be behind certain violent incidents in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The government took firm action against these movements, taking the position that their goals were contrary to the principles of the Pancasila, which were intended to act as the basis for unifying the nation's various ethnic and religious groups. By the early 1990s, the Islamic separatist groups that had seriously threatened the national unity in the early independence period, such as the Darul Islam movement, were defunct (see Independence: The First Phases, 1950-65 , ch. 1).

Separatists who sought to establish an independent Islamic state in the Special Region of Aceh in northern Sumatra and combined their religious and nationalist appeal with exploitation of social and economic pressures and discontent, continued to cause unrest in portions of the region. Many Acehnese perceived themselves as disadvantaged in Aceh's major industrial development projects because income flowed out of the region to the center, and outsiders--especially from Java--were perceived as receiving better employment opportunities and the economic benefits of industrialization than did the resident Acehnese. A criminal element involved in cannabis cultivation and trafficking and other illicit activities was also involved in the unrest. The government treated the drug trafficking as a third GPK to minimize the nationalist appeal of one of the independence movement's better-known advocates, Hasan di Tiro. However, the occasionally heavy-handed military response was blamed for adding to the problem; the army and police were accused of indiscriminate violence by both domestic and international human rights activists.

The government attributed various acts of terrorism committed during the period from 1975 to 1983 to the Komando Jihad (Holy War Command), which it said was composed of terrorists seeking to establish a new state based on Islamic principles. The group was held responsible for the bombings of churches and theaters in 1976 and 1977, for attacks on police stations in 1980 and 1981, and for the 1981 hijacking to Bangkok of a Garuda Indonesian Airways domestic flight. In the Garuda case, members of an Indonesian antiterrorist squad freed all hostages and killed the hijackers in a successful special forces operation at Bangkok's Don Muang Airport. Some Indonesian Muslim leaders contended that several disparate groups were responsible for these acts and that the name Komando Jihad was coined by national security authorities and implied a considerable exaggeration of the strength and unity of forces on the Islamic extreme right. However, the past role of radical Islam in destabilizing activities led to intense government scrutiny of any religious movement that gave indications of moving beyond accepted religious tenets.

In 1992, senior armed forces leaders believed that Indonesia's most serious security threat came not from subversion or armed insurgency, but from domestic unrest brought on by social changes inherent in the rapid development of the national economy. These changes, including improved educational opportunities, rising levels of expectations, industrialization, unemployment, and crowded cities, were blamed for provoking public unrest in the form of urban crime, student and political activism, and labor strikes. The government considered that all such activity posed a potential threat to national security because it could destabilize the nation or could endanger the progress of foreign investment and national development. Governmental concern reached a peak in the early 1980s, when an alarming rise in violent crime in Jakarta prompted the notorious undercover "Petrus" (penembakan mysterius--mysterious shootings) campaign in which known criminals were killed by handpicked army execution squads and their bodies dumped in public places as warnings.

Lack of reliable data made it difficult to determine the extent of crime or labor unrest in the nation, but demonstrations by students and others, especially in conjunction with elections held in the period from 1977 to 1978 and in 1982, sometimes necessitated the deployment of military units to restore order and led to numerous arrests. Similar deployments became a conventional means of preventive action for major political events. However, the 1992 general election campaign was quiet and without major incidents despite the atmosphere of increased political openness (see Elections , ch. 4).

Violent disputes between ethnic groups have subsided since several serious incidents in the 1970s and early 1980s. Those outbursts against Indonesians of Chinese descent occurred in Semarang, Yogyakarta, and Ujungpandang. The nation's ethnic Chinese minority, estimated at 4 million or more in the early 1990s, has evoked popular resentment since the colonial era when Chinese individuals served as intermediaries between the Dutch elite and the majority of the population (see Ethnic Minorities , ch. 2). In the modern period, resentment has continued over Chinese Indonesian wealth and domination of the economy, including the role Chinese individuals as intermediaries for foreign investors and as advisers and silent partners for senior armed forces personnel and civilian government leaders active in business.

The government has long believed that China played a major part in encouraging and providing both ideological guidance and financial and logistics support for the 1965 attempted coup by the PKI. For many years, the government refused to normalize relations with China, frozen in 1967, in part because of fears that Chinese Indonesians might provide a conduit for China to again spread communist ideology (see Relations with East Asia , ch. 4). Normalization of diplomatic and economic relations and the reopening of embassies in Beijing and Jakarta in 1990 reflected reduced political and internal ethnic tensions as well as the political and economic realities of the time. However, government efforts to promote non-Chinese enterprises were not completely effective in reducing anti-Chinese sentiments in the general population. Moreover, even though anti-Chinese riots had not recurred in over a decade, Suharto's call in 1990 for increased assistance to non-Chinese Indonesians (pribumi-- see Glossary) business efforts resulted in some transfer of Chinese capital to the non-Chinese business sector, and served to remind Chinese Indonesian business leaders that they had an implied obligation to assist the government in its economic reform efforts (see The Politics of Economic Reform , ch. 3).

Many of the thousands of refugees, or "boat people," who fled Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos since the mid-1970s were ethnic Chinese. Citing one of the five tenets of the national ideology, Pancasila, (just and civilized humanitarianism), Indonesia has maintained one of the largest Indochina refugee processing centers in Asia and accepted more than 100,000 refugees in the 1975-91 period, including those "pushed off" from regional neighbors, pending their resettlement in third countries. Refugees and asylum-seekers were housed in a well-maintained camp under United Nations (UN) auspices on Galang Island in the Riau Archipelago near Singapore. As of the early 1990s, none had been accepted for permanent settlement in Indonesia.

In its concern for maintaining public order, the government paid great attention to providing acceptable channels for political participation and expression and to controlling public assemblies and speeches. In exerting its influence over the national press, the government encouraged self-censorship, closed down newspapers and magazines it considered offensive, and set restrictions on news coverage of some events. Such activity became less frequent as the government began to tolerate a greater degree of press freedom and criticism (see The Media , ch. 4). The new keterbukaan of the early 1990s allowed the press to print articles critical of government policies and, notably, about the business activities of prominent business personalities close to the president, including his own family, to an extent not possible as recently as the mid-1980s. Travel within the nation was open and travel restrictions on movement to and within East Timor were lifted in 1988. In 1992, exit visas requirements were simplified and liberalized, but the government admitted the existence of a "blacklist" of several thousand persons who were not permitted to leave the country for one reason or another. The 1992 law also allowed the government to refuse to readmit Indonesian citizens living abroad for a variety of acts deemed contrary to the national interest.

Data as of November 1992

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