TOPICS > Politics

Violence in Indonesia

February 8, 2000 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: For more on the situation in Indonesia we get three views: Dorodjatun Kuntjoro-Jakti is Indonesia’s ambassador to Washington; Paul Wolfowitz was U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia during the Reagan administration; and Jeffrey Winters is Associate Professor of Political Economy at Northwestern University, specializing in Southeast Asia. Ambassador, welcome. We just heard, Ambassador Holbrooke say that there is a profound struggle going on in Indonesia between the forces of democracy and the forces that look backward. Do you agree with that?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI, Ambassador, Indonesia: Reforms are continuing in Indonesia, and this is happening in all front and I believe that in such situation, we will have, of course, forces, pro as well as anti reformists moving up to the surface because now we have so many parties in Indonesia, not to mention hundreds of NGOs, and I believe that in this kind of situation, everybody would like very much to have their opinions known.

GWEN IFILL: NGO — you mean non-governmental organizations.

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: Non-governmental organizations, you’re right. And we have 300 newspapers now. I believe that what is mentioned by Ambassador Holbrooke is really one of the issues that we are facing now.

GWEN IFILL: General Wiranto, is he on the side of reform — what is his status now in this government?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: During the transition, including in the era of President Habibie, which was less than one year, we saw that he took initiative to have the military introduce reforms. One of these steps which is familiar to all of us in Indonesia was the separation of the police force, for example, from the military. Also we have so many steps undertaken by him at that time to introduce more awareness among the military officers about issues of human rights, for example. So I believe that he actually started many of the reforms and he is still carrying a lot of this.

GWEN IFILL: But is his time up?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: Well, considering the pressure in the public for more faster, I would say, reforms in the military, I think you will see more pressures in the coming weeks.

GWEN IFILL: Paul Wolfowitz, the forces of democracy versus the forces that look backward, as Ambassador Holbrooke put it, is that the valid choice?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, first let me emphasize something else Ambassador Holbrooke said, which is what is taking place there is of historic importance and it can’t be emphasized enough. I think his is the fourth largest country in the world. It’s on the road to becoming a real democracy. That will make it — apart from Turkey — the only democracy in the Muslim world. It will become the largest democracy in East Asia. I think if it is successful, it can have dramatic positive effect on the Muslim world, on China. If it’s unsuccessful and the country starts to unravel, it could destabilize all of East Asia. So the stakes here are huge. Obviously, they are most serious for the Indonesian people, themselves, but I think sometimes Americans act as though this is a far away place, that makes no difference to us; it’s very, very important to the United States.

GWEN IFILL: And you are saying that it’s not as bleak as it looks?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think it’s not as bleak as it looks. If you put Indonesia on a map of Europe, it would stretch from London to Moscow. It’s a huge country. The fact that Maluku is as terrible as those scenes show, ignores the fact that Jakarta, which is a metropolitan area of 25 million, bigger than most countries in the world, is largely at peace. And it’s a very complicated, ambiguous picture. You asked is Wiranto a reformer or anti-reform — I think the truth is he is history, whichever he was.

He did some very important things back after those horrible riots in May of 1998 which most people tend to think were caused by Suharto’s rather vicious son-in-law. Wiranto is the man who moved the son-in-law out of any position of authority and got the army under control. Wiranto was the general who commanded the army during the first elections in Indonesian history, I think — in June – where the army genuinely played a neutral role. He may have done bad things in East Timor or failed to stop bad things in East Timor, but that’s what makes it so tricky is this president — without any question — is a reformer. The old president without any question was fighting reform every step of the way. I mean Suharto was. Wiranto, we don’t know. And I think he should be given a fair trial on these charges in East Timor.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Winters, what is your take on all this?

JEFFREY WINTERS, Northwestern University: Well, I agree that the level of change in Indonesia is absolutely dramatic. And for all the difficulties that we daily read about in the headlines, the fact is that a dictatorship of several decades where there were plans in place for continuing the dynasty was stopped, it was done with a relatively small amount of violence really. And the outcome was a transition to democracy but a very fragile one which involved compromises where President Wahid’s administration had to incorporate two elements that he has now been systematically trying to work out of his coalition.

Those two elements are a Muslim coalition that backed his presidency and he has been systematically cutting them out of key positions to try to consolidate his own control over his cabinet and administration, and second, the compromises that he made with the military to get into position, and he has also been very systematically and I think rapidly moving to try to strengthen civilian control over the military, but doing so in a climate, an economic climate, in particular, which is extremely difficult. Indonesia is the only country in Asia which has not been able to pull out of, in a significant way, pull out of the Asia crisis which began at the end of 1997. So he is, I think we’re not going to really see much coherent policy on the economic side or maybe even on the regional crisis side until President Wahid is able to really consolidate his control and sort of undo, I think, the military/Muslim coalition that brought him to power.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Ambassador your response to that?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: We need the support of all sides in Indonesia. So aside from President Wahid has to build up his support, please remember this is for the first time since the ’50s we have a collective leadership in place and we have also a coalition cabinet which membership come from seven parties including of course the military. So it’s not going to be easy for him. But I believe that the middle ground is there. In the last election from 140 some parties, a team was set up by those parties to select which one that can go to the national election. And about seven parties survive through natural selection process. So despite the problem that we have seen in the mass media, I believe that the middle ground is being built now in Indonesia.

GWEN IFILL: As President Wahid has traveled in Europe on this economic mission for the last few weeks, there has been rumblings at home of an imminent coup. How real is that?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: The Indonesian military is an institution. It has a well-established tradition and one of historical background which should not be forgotten for everyone, by everyone who tried to see the Indonesian military — originally it was set up by the people themselves. At the beginning of the revolution in 1945 until ’47, we had hundreds of militias at that time organized by the people. And it was from this hodgepodge of militias we then created the military. So by tradition the military is very close to the people.

GWEN IFILL: What does that mean?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: Psychologically it’s going to be very difficult -

GWEN IFILL: A coup or no coup?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: We never have this kind of attempt by the military in the 50-year history of the republic. I don’t think at this moment a lot of the organization in the military moving toward professionalism that you will have this.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think President Wahid is actually showing his confidence that there isn’t going to be a coup. He hasn’t hurried home to try to put one down. I think it’s partly what the Ambassador said. It’s also what – partly what Jeffrey Winters said, which is he has cleared out some of the potentially most troublesome generals. But I would say one other thing. I don’t think his agenda is simply to eliminate people that he compromised with. That is part of the agenda. But I think the fundamental agenda is reconciliation and pulling people together. And it’s worth remembering in South Africa, which, of course, was the most evincing case you could imagine, President Mandela set an example of this in this Truth and Reconciliation Commission to try to clear up -

GWEN IFILL: But there has been no agreement to do something similar in Indonesia yet.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, I think you can see a lot of movement in that direction, even in some of the things that the president has said about the Wiranto case.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Winters, you wanted to say something?

JEFFREY WINTERS: Yes, I think the key thing on the question of the coup is that it’s very unlikely that you are going to have the military as an institution move against this government, which by the way has as its head the two most popular people in the entire country and a move against those two people – President Wahid and his vice president, Megawati — would I think unleash both domestically and abroad an isolation of the Indonesian military. The danger is a group of people within the military, as is so often the case with a coup, a group of desperate people who decide they have no better choice than to try to move against a system, which is in a creeping way moving against them. I would add also that it is extremely important at a moment like this that the U.S. foreign policy be one of not reengaging with the Indonesian military until such time as the civilians have a much firmer hand on the levers of control there.

GWEN IFILL: Excuse me, I just wanted to slide in there. As we just saw, President Wahid is frail. He is near blind. He survived two strokes. Does he look vulnerable to people especially when he tries to fire his top general and the top general won’t be fired?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I think the top general is going to go. I think everybody sees the handwriting on the wall. It’s simply a question of when — and I think it’s also worth pointing out in Indonesia — unlike a lot of western cultures — a lot of things are done indirectly and by negotiation. You know, when the military got out of line a month ago and a military spokesman made some interviews that suggested it didn’t matter what the President thought, they were going to do what they wanted to anyway, Wahid fired that spokesman. I don’t think there’s any question he has the authority.

GWEN IFILL: The President’s condition?

DORODJATUN KUNTJORO-JAKTI: Well, I accompany him for his medical checkup at Salt Lake City last November, and the conclusion of the checkup was that medically he is excellent, and he has actually as I see it stabilized many of the problems and what we are seeing now is a possibility of him again going up for another checkup and this is okay.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Winters, how does a country as diverse — as unwieldy almost as the government of Indonesia — go about restoring the rule of law?

JEFFREY WINTERS: Well, I think first of all, they’ve got to start by moving away from just talking about the rule of law, which they’ve done a lot of, and actually do more implementing. That is, they’ve got to strengthen their courts. They’ve got to upgrade the position of judges. They’ve already made a major move by freeing up the press and so there is a constant pressure and very open healthy debate going on in the society pressuring in the direction of rule of law, but I think we’re already seeing terrific moves in that direction. I mean, that this human rights commission has done such a good job and as even forestalled the role of an international tribunal shows that they have done a serious investigation, that they have brought charges against what are very powerful figures domestically and it’s very encouraging. And all of this sends signals to the people that those who were previously above the law are going to be treated according to the law. That is the way that rule of law gets put in place, case by case, not just statements but by following through. And there are signs that that follow-through is happening.

GWEN IFILL: Jeffrey Winters, Paul Wolfowitz and Ambassador Kuntjoro-Jakti, thank you very much for joining us.