Monday, October 16, 2017

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Suharto: A Declassified Documentar Obit from the N...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Suharto: A Declassified Documentar Obit from the N...: Suharto: A Declassified Documentary Obit National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 242   ...

Suharto: A Declassified Documentar Obit from the National Security Archives

Suharto: A Declassified
Documentary Obit
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 242


Washington, DC, January 28, 2008 - As Indonesia buries the ex-dictator Suharto, who died Sunday at the age of 86, the National Security Archive today posted a selection of declassified U.S. documents detailing his record of repression and corruption, and the long-standing U.S. support for his regime.
The documents include transcripts of meetings with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, as well as Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Vice-President Walter Mondale, then Vice-President George H. W. Bush, and former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke.
Additional documents detail U.S. perceptions of Suharto from the earliest years of his violent rule, including the 1969 annexation of West Papua, the 1975 invasion of East Timor, and the so-called “Mysterious Killings” of 1983-1984.
“In death Suharto has escaped justice both in Indonesia and East Timor,” said Brad Simpson, who directs the Archive's Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project. “But these declassified documents, detailing the long record of U.S. support for one of the twentieth century’s most brutal and corrupt men, will contribute to our understanding both of Suharto’s rule and of the U.S. support which helped make it possible."
Most of the documents posted today have been declassified as a result of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed by the Archive, in addition to documents unearthed in the National Archives (NARA) and Presidential libraries.
In the coming weeks the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project will be posting additional documents concerning the events leading up to Suharto’s downfall in May 1998.
Read the Documents
Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
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Initial Report on Suharto
This National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the CIA at the end of 1968 offers a positive portrait of Suharto and the New Order regime he had assembled following his ouster of Sukarno in March 1966 and consolidation of control in the intervening months. Just 18 months after the bloody massacres involving the murder of between 500,000 and one million alleged supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party, the NIE states that “the Suharto government provides Indonesia with a relatively moderate leadership.” The estimate reports, “There is no force in Indonesia today that can effectively challenge the army's position, notwithstanding the fact that the Suharto government uses a fairly light hand in wielding the instruments of power. Over the next three to five years, it is unlikely that any threat to the internal security of Indonesia will develop that the military cannot contain; the army--presumably led by Suharto--will almost certainly retain control of the government during this period.”

Suharto's Meetings With U.S. Officials
National security adviser Henry Kissinger briefs President Nixon on his upcoming visit to Indonesia and likely conversations with Indonesian President Suharto. Kissinger argues that there is no U.S. interest in getting involved in the issue of West Irian and that its people will choose integration with Indonesia. In Nixon's talking points, Kissinger urges that the President refrain from raising the issue except to note U.S. sympathy with Indonesia's concerns.
Suharto made his first visit as head of state to the U.S. in May 1970. The trip came amidst a major crackdown on political parties in Indonesia aimed at insuring the dominance of the Joint Secretariat of Functional Groups (GOLKAR) and the Army in parliamentary elections scheduled for 1971, as well as detailed revelations of pervasive corruption among government and military officials including smuggling, bribery, kickbacks and nepotism. Privately the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta warned that the corruption and authoritarianism of the New Order would progressively undermine its rule even as it eliminated or co-opted its opponents. Publicly, however, the White House fairly gushed over the state of relations with Jakarta and the Suharto regime’s performance, viewing the trip as a chance to strengthen its already cozy ties with the Indonesian dictator (who must have been surprised to learn that he presided over one of the “largest democratic countries in the world”). “There are no issues between the U.S. and Indonesia,” Henry Kissinger wrote the President approvingly, “and relations are excellent.” Suharto was offering to help support the U.S.-backed Lon Nol government in Cambodia, the regime continued to welcome American investors and pursue a “pragmatic” five year development plan, and Indonesia was increasingly identifying with U.S. regional goals as the Administration began its inexorable drawdown in South Vietnam. “What Suharto has done and is doing accords perfectly with your concept of Asian responsibilities under the Nixon Doctrine,” the national security advisor observed.
Memorandum of Conversation, President Suharto of Indonesia, The President, Dr. Kissinger, May 26, 1970
Source: Richard M. Nixon Papers, Subject Numeric Files, 1970-1973, Box 2272
In his meeting with President Nixon, Suharto frankly admits to having “nullified the strength” of the Indonesian Communist Party, an apparent reference to the mass killings of alleged PKI members, and states that “tens of thousands” of its members “have been interrogated and placed in detention.” President Nixon largely confines himself to questions and supportive statements concerning U.S. support for the Suharto regime. Over the course of Suharto’s two-day visit, the White House reassures Indonesian officials of their continued commitment to Southeast Asia and pledges to increase military aid to $18 million to enable Indonesia to purchase 15,000 M-16 rifles to replace the AK-47s it is covertly sending to Cambodia to assist the Lon Nol government which recently overthrew the government of Prince Sihanouk.
Memorandum of Conversation between President Ford, President Suharto, Dr. Kissinger, et al., July 5, 1975
Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, National Security Adviser Memoranda of Conversations, Box 13, July 5, 1965 - Ford, Kissinger, Indonesian President Suharto

This document records a conversation between Suharto and Ford at Camp David on July 5, 1975, five months before the invasion of East Timor. Speaking only a few months after the collapse of the Thieu regime in South Vietnam, the two presidents shared a tour d'horizon of East Asian political issues, U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, international investment, and Portuguese decolonization. Suharto brought up the question of Portuguese decolonization in East Timor proclaiming his support for “self-determination” but also dismissing independence as unviable: “So the only way is to integrate [East Timor] into Indonesia.” Ford gives no response.
U.S. Embassy Jakarta Telegram 1579 to Secretary State, December 6, 1975 [Text of Ford-Kissinger-Suharto Discussion]
Source: Gerald R. Ford Library, Kissinger-Scowcroft Temporary Parallel File, Box A3, Country File, Far East-Indonesia, State Department Telegrams 4/1/75-9/22/76
On the eve of Indonesia’s full-scale invasion of East Timor, President Ford and Secretary Kissinger stopped in Jakarta en route from China where they had just met with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. For more than a year the U.S. had known that Indonesia was planning to forcibly annex East Timor, having followed intelligence reports of armed attacks by Indonesian forces for nearly two months. Thus, Ford or Kissinger could not have been too surprised when, in the middle of a discussion of guerrilla movements in Thailand and Malaysia, Suharto suddenly brought up East Timor. “We want your understanding,” Suharto stated, “if we deem it necessary to take rapid or drastic action.”
Ford and Kissinger took great pains to assure Suharto that they would not oppose the invasion. Ford was unambiguous: “We will understand and will not press you on the issue. We understand the problem and the intentions you have.” Kissinger did indeed stress that “the use of US-made arms could create problems,” but then added that, “It depends on how we construe it; whether it is in self defense or is a foreign operation.” Thus, Kissinger’s concern was not about whether U.S. arms would be used offensively—and hence illegally—but whether the act would actually be interpreted as such—a process he clearly intended to manipulate. In any case, Kissinger added: “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly.”
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke’s visit to Jakarta in April 1977 and his lengthy meeting with President Suharto was the first by a high-ranking Carter Administration official.  The visit occurred during the run-up to tightly-controlled Presidential and parliamentary elections in which hundreds of Suharto opponents had been arrested and critical newspapers shuttered.  It thus represented, in the words of the U.S. Embassy, an “unusual opportunity” to advance concerns about human rights and democracy more generally - had that been Holbrooke’s intention.  In his meeting with Suharto, however, the Assistant Secretary offered no criticism of Indonesia’s human rights record while “acknowledging efforts President Suharto appeared to be making to resolve Indonesian problems,” especially on  East Timor, where he “applauded” the President’s judgment in allowing Congressional members to visit the territory but remained mute on reports of ongoing atrocities.  Suharto responded that Indonesia did “not seek to hide anything” in East Timor – at a time when journalists and relief organizations were banned and visitors allowed only under military escort.
Memorandum for the President from the Vice President, "Visit to the Pacific," April 26, 1978
Source: NSA Staff Materials, Far East Files, Box 7, Carter Library
From May 9 to May 10, 1978,Vice President Walter Mondale visited Indonesia as part of a larger regional visit and the Carter Administration's initiative to "deepen relations" with the Suharto regime. This Memo for President Carter requested his approval for Mondale's policy goals for the trip, including the expedited delivery of sixteen A-4 fighter jets to Indonesia, which was then preparing for a massive campaign of aerial bombardment of East Timor in an effort to crush armed resistance to its occupation of the territory. Mondale's briefing memo makes no mention of East Timor.
In a May 10 meeting with Indonesian President Suharto, Mondale noted that Indonesia's 1977 release of thousands of political detainees had "helped create a favorable climate of opinion in the Congress" for expanded American arms sales. He suggested to Suharto that releasing prisoners more regularly would further improve public opinion and deflect criticism - a suggestion the regime later implemented. The Vice President likewise noted the two nations' "mutual concerns regarding East Timor," in particular "how to handle public relations aspects of the problem." As with the problem of political detainees, Mondale suggested that allowing humanitarian groups such as Catholic Relief Services access to East Timor would not only help refugees in the area (overwhelmingly generated by Indonesian military operations) but "have a beneficial impact on U.S. public opinion."
In October 1982 Suharto came to the U.S. on an official state visit, the highest honor accorded visiting dignitaries.  The briefing papers and summary of Suharto’s plenary session with President Reagan are most notable for what they do not contain – a single mention of human rights in Indonesia or East Timor.  The visit offers striking reminder of the degree to which the Reagan Administration abandoned any high level concern about human rights in Indonesia through the 1980s.
In August 1983 East Timorese guerrillas attacked Indonesian military forces at the airport in Dili, killing 18 soldiers. In response to the attack, and as part of a larger military offensive involving 10,000-12,000 troops, Indonesian soldiers carried out several large massacres: of 200-300 civilians near the town of Viqueque, and at least 500 civilians in villages near Mount Bibileu. These two lengthy cables describe those operations and the breakdown of the ceasefire which preceded it, and fits a persistent pattern lasting from 1975 to 1999 in which U.S. Embassy officials expressed skepticism over the scale or even the existence of Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. In the second cable, the embassy officer repeats the claim, apparently from an Indonesian source (whose identity is excised), of several hundred killed near Viqueque.
In May, 1984 Vice President George H. W. Bush visited Indonesia as part of a longer trip that included stops in Japan and South Asia. The briefing papers prepared for Vice President Bush highlight the continued focus on commercial and security relations over considerations of human rights.  In 1984 the U.S. provided $45 million in credits for foreign military sales (FMS) and $2.5 million in International Military and Educational Training (IMET), “our second largest IMET program worldwide.”  Vice-President Bush’s political scene setter notes that “political activity in Indonesia is tightly controlled,” with “no organized political activity” between national elections and opposition forces “dispirited and incapable for the foreseeable future of mounting a direct challenge to his power.”
Vice President Bush’s visit came on the heels of a major Indonesian military offensive in East Timor in which hundreds of civilians were massacred and in the midst of a period of severe repression in Indonesia punctuated by “a government-organized campaign of summary killings of alleged violent criminals” known as the “mysterious killings,” which began in late 1982 and continued through 1984.  The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta estimated that the government had summarily executed about 4,000 people, with continued killings reported.
In his meeting with Suharto, however, Bush, like Reagan and previous high-ranking U.S. officials, offered nothing but praise for the dictator, assuring him that “our relations with Indonesia are most significant and that we derived great satisfaction from our relations with Jakarta.”  As with Suharto’s 1982 visit to the U.S., there was no mention of human rights, and discussion focused largely on U.S. relations with the Soviet Union and China.

Suharto and Corruption
Memo from David Gunning from Peter Flanning, Weyerhauser Company – Indonesia Problems, December 5, 1972
Source: Nixon White House Central Files, Subject File, Country File Indonesia, Box 37
U.S. officials were aware from the start of the deeply entrenched corruption of the Suharto regime.  This memorandum outlines the sort of protection rackets the Suharto regime offered to foreign investors as the cost of doing business in Indonesia.  It details an arrangement that the Weyerhaeuser Company (one of the world’s largest timber companies) made with the Army for a timber concession in Borneo, offering the Army “a 35% interest in the concession at no cost in order to insure government cooperation.”   Weyerhaeuser officials express concern that “this arrangement has not provided the protection which was expected” and that “disconnected actions by disparate army officers and civil servants” in addition to the Army’s rake-off are threatening the company’s profitable operations.
This lengthy telegram describes the mounting concern with corruption voiced by the Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia (IGGI), a donor consortium established in 1967 to coordinate foreign aid to Indonesia. It describes “increased, though fragmentary information of widespread and growing corruption” and “the consensus of all informed observers that scale is large and growing, that it involves highest echelons in government, and that this in turn is causing it to spread and deepen in all branches of social and economic life.”
Memo from Carleton Brower to the Ambassador, What Happened While You Were Away, August 10, 1973
Source: Lot File 76D446, Box 12, National Archives
These two memos describe Suharto’s personal intervention in a timber concession in Kalimantan being sought after by the International Paper Company. The head of IPC stated that “the matter was of the most extreme sensitivity; that Suharto would brook no interference.” The second memo describes how, after complex notions involving IPC and the Indonesian government, “Suharto and his people were talking over the entire concession for their own profit.”
In unusually blunt language, the memo describes Suharto’s purported plan: “three dummy corporations, one headed by his half-brother, one by his son, and one by the notorious Bob Hasan group, will reportedly exploit the concession. The memos seem to show that Suharto and his colleagues in this enterprise are totally uninterested in proper timber management or development of a wood processing industry and are intending only to rape the concession for maximum short term profit.” [Note: The memos summarized by these documents were not included in the lot file box at the U.S. National Archives.]

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesia’s West Papua Headache Continues

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Indonesia’s West Papua Headache Continues: Indonesia’s West Papua Headache Continues In West Papua, old issues continue to simmer, perhaps threateningly so unless Widodo can ne...

Indonesia’s West Papua Headache Continues

Indonesia’s West Papua Headache Continues

In West Papua, old issues continue to simmer, perhaps threateningly so unless Widodo can negotiate deftly with people who have little in common with Indonesia’s central authorities and those who run the conflict-prone country.

The latest escalation in tensions between locals and Widodo’s administration erupted last week when it was revealed that a secret petition had been passed around, gathering 1.8 million signatures, demanding a free vote on independence for West Papua.

The demands were presented to the United Nations in New York by exiled pro-independence leader Benny Wenda. But the bid was rejected, with doubts cast over the veracity of the petition by Jakarta.

In fact, The Jakarta Post reported that the chairman of Special Committee on Decolonization, Venezuela’s Rafael Ramirez expressed “indignation with those individuals and parties who had manipulated his name for their own purposes.”

“I have never received anything or anybody regarding the issue of West Papua,” he apparently said in a doorstop interview at UN headquarters.

The United Nations, and the international community more generally, may not want to upset the Indonesian government. But the 1.8 million signatures figure, if correct, represents around a whopping 70 percent of the West Papuan population. Separatist agitation also has a long history there, amid sporadic crackdowns by the military that have obviously not worked.

And the petition did in fact exist. It asked the UN to appoint a special representative to investigate human rights abuses in the province and to put West Papua back on the decolonization committee agenda and ensure their right to self-determination.

It was that committee which refused to accept the petition.

“In the West Papuan people’s petition we hand over the bones of the people of West Papua to the United Nations and the world,” Wenda said, adding the petition was banned in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, and blocked online.

“After decades of suffering, decades of genocide, decades of occupation, we open up the voice of the West Papuan people which lives inside this petition. My people want to be free.”

Indonesia can ill-afford another conflict, having dealt with similar issues with respect to East Timor and Aceh that threatened the country’s political and social stability.

West Papua was lumped within Indonesia’s sovereign borders through a forced and controversial annexation by Indonesia that has been well-documented. Since then many reports have documented how indigenous people have been subjected to harassment, ranging from beatings to murder.

Peter Arndt of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission compiled one report accusing the Indonesian government of staging violent incursions into the region and systematically expelling Papuans from their homes in what amounted to a “slow-motion genocide.”

According to the report, the indigenous people of West Papua now account for just 40 percent of the population, compared with more than 95 percent three decades ago.

Released a year ago, the report also found that the situation in West Papua was “fast approaching a tipping point.”

“In less than five years, the position of Papuans in their own land will be worse than precarious,” it said.

“They are already experiencing a demographic tidal wave. Ruthless Indonesian political, economic, social and cultural domination threatens to engulf the proud people who have inhabited the land they call Tanah Papua for thousands of years.”

Doubts surrounding the recent petition might be real. But the fact is there are fewer doubts surrounding human rights abuses committed by the military and the hostility felt among locals on West Papua.

This is a highly combustible mix. And it comes at a potentially troubling time for Widodo ahead of presidential elections in 2019. So far, although he has visited the area several times and focused his efforts on economic issues, resolving the harder political questions has proven elusive. Navigating them will demand a skillful and more sensitive approach, which is a far cry from the clumsy, violent and authoritarian hand of the military we have witnessed previously.

Luke Hunt ‘The Diplomat’

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Is Indonesia’s Military Chief Making a New Politic...

Kerry B. Collison Asia News: Is Indonesia’s Military Chief Making a New Politic...: Is Indonesia’s Military Chief Making a New Political Power Play? for The Diplomat Indonesian military (TNI) commander General Gatot N...

Is Indonesia’s Military Chief Making a New Political Power Play?

Is Indonesia’s Military Chief Making a New Political Power Play?for The Diplomat

Indonesian military (TNI) commander General Gatot Nurmantyo has positioned himself as the new bĂȘte noire of Indonesian politics. He’s not the black creature of the French expression, but double green – the Army, the ultimate defender of the republic, and Islam. Nurmantyo, it seems, is making a play for political power through an appeal to both nationalism and Islam, a potent combination.

Recent Developments

Long a controversial figure, he is set to retire in six months’ time. Over the past few weeks, he has been outspoken on a number of sensationalist issues. Previous attempts to stake a political position were pulled back by President Joko Widodo. But this time Nurmantyo appears to have thrown off the shackles, while formally still declaring his submission to his supreme commander.

In the post-fact world popularized by the United States’ 45th president, Donald Trump, the Indonesian elite is embarking on another play of an old theme, perhaps to remind the world that post-fact discourses are an age-old art form in their country.

Much heat has been generated by Nurmantyo’s order of September 18 that all military personnel should watch The Betrayal of G30S/PKI, the classic propaganda movie that has framed Indonesians’ concept of their recent past since it was first screened to the nation in 1984.

The title of the G30S movie refers to the September 30 movement, when a coup attempt blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) in 1965 sparked one of the worst bloodbaths of the 20th century.

Nurmantyo further raised the heat over the issue by publicly lambasting Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, who contested the order, stating that he doesn’t take orders from the minister but only the president.

Then, on September 22, Nurmantyo told a meeting of retired senior officers that non-military institutions were about to import 5,000 firearms, insisting that only the military and police were allowed to use weapons.

The general threatened to attack any institution if it owns weapons capable of destroying tanks, planes, and ships because “only the military has the right to possess such weapons.”

To informed observers, the suggestion that some unnamed force was about to obtain armaments capable of taking out “tanks, planes and ships” is a very obvious echo of a 1965 plan hatched by PKI sympathizer and Air Force commander Omar Dhani to ship in 100,000 weapons to arm a “fifth force” that would essentially have been an armed PKI militia.

Dhani’s action was seen at the time as an attempt to lever the PKI into effective power by sidelining the military. Jakarta in 1965 was filled with rumors that a clash was coming between the PKI and the military, rumors that proved correct when rebel officers led a short-lived takeover of the capital after abducting and killing six generals. Whether the PKI was actually behind the coup attempt is a factor that has been conveniently ignored.

Is history repeating itself? Nurmantyo appears keen to convince the nation that a new attempt to overthrow established authority is in the making. The general, who gave an indication of where he stands in the political mix last December when he appeared at a major Muslim demonstration wearing a white prayer cap, has now won immediate support from those same Muslim hardliners, to whom the PKI is anathema.

Self-exiled leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) Rizieq Shihab, in a speech recorded to commemorate Islamic New Year on September 21, accused the authorities and law enforcers of allowing the PKI to regain its foothold in the country.

According to Shihab, the resurgence of the PKI is part of concerted attacks against Muslims by the government. “The PKI continues to launch dangerous movements across the country, as their sympathizers are allowed to hold various activities by law enforcement personnel,” he said, according to a report in the Jawa Pos.

Shihab added that this further confirmed that Indonesia has been overpowered by foreign countries, particularly China. “Our country is sold to foreign powers and China,” he said, calling on his supporters to continue waging war against the enemies of Islam. He stressed that there could be no reconciliation with any party that attacked adherents of the religion.

The website Portal Islam has declared Nurmantyo “the best general for the Muslim faithful and the people of Indonesia.”

It is no coincidence that the TNI commander is due for retirement next March. In speaking out now and stirring up a major issue – albeit without any apparent foundation – he appears to be setting himself up for a new career in political life. His use of the anniversary of the attempted coup and with Armed Forces Day celebrated on October 5 provide plenty of scope for grandstanding in the public eye, giving him the chance to dominate the national discourse and raise fears of a new ‘communist’ takeover.

A Shortage of Evidence

The lack of any evidence to support Nurmantyo’s argument that the nation is under threat from leftist sources has done little to minimize the impact. The PKI issue was never difficult to drag out of the treasure chest of potent and ever-lasting bones of contention, the “latent danger” often scrawled on walls.

A forlorn meeting on September 16 of activists, some of them the descendants of persons banned from all public life, who had often spent decades in jail, provided the excuse for the country’s latest set of conspiracy theorists to start a hue and cry.

The police averted any direct confrontation on that occasion, but an event the following evening, staged as a music and art performance at the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (YLBH) saw an assault by purported hardline thugs who tried to force their way into the building. They claimed that communist supporters were attending the meeting.

A non-event was thus posited as evidence of a major underground movement to overthrow the state and sideline the Muslim majority. Meanwhile Nurmantyo’s claim that weapons are being imported for shadowy institutions with a hidden agenda also appears to be baseless.

“There are certain parties who seek top positions through immoral ways and I promise I will make them whine, not only cry, even when generals are involved,” he told the meeting of military retirees. “It is dangerous when TNI (members) play politics; it will deny us our rights and it is the start of all the fighting, of the demise of this country. We will do anything (to prevent that) and we are looking for your blessings.”

His comments on the weapons were quickly dismissed by Coordinating Minister for Politics, Security and Legal Affairs Wiranto, who told a press conference on September 25 that 500 weapons were involved, not 5,000, and that they were for the use of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN). Ryacudu also told reporters that there was no substance to Nurmantyo’s claims, brandishing a letter from the Defense Minister authorizing the purchases.

Redder Than The Reds

President Joko Widodo is now the latest target of an old game of ‘who is strongest against the reds.’ Conveniently for the contestants in the battle over who will lead Indonesia in 2019, the president is under pressure to address inequality, but doing anything about it could easily be misconstrued as socialist in tone.

Widodo has actively courted Chinese money to fund his drive to modernize the economy. When seeking election, rumors circulated that the Javanese former furniture businessman was actually Chinese.

The issues being stirred up are potent. Nurmantyo’s insinuation that something close to an insurrection could be being planned will appall the stoutly nationalist. Allegations that the PKI is making a return and threatening Islam in Indonesia speaks to many of the Muslim faithful, particularly the hard-liners who showed their power in ousting former Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (popularly known as Ahok) and put him in jail earlier this year.

At the Center for Southeast Asian Studies-Indonesia, director Yosef Djakababa explains why the PKI issue has been wheeled out.The PKI has been a convenient scapegoat since the New Order era when the government criminalized so many people with accusation (of involvement with) the PKI. The tendency continues today, in which anyone can be discredited by accusing him or her of being involved in the PKI. It is an effective way for mass mobilization behind a political move. Moreover, there is no agreement by the government about the actual history and how it should be presented. Mass mobilization becomes easier by labeling communism as anti-religion, so that hard-liners (Muslims) will beat up those who are accused of communist.”

While Widodo tries hard to get around the country and press the flesh, his response to all of the rhetoric has been restrained. He has suggested that it might be a good idea to make a new version of the events of 1965 rather than allow the much-contested position portrayal of Arifin C. Noer’s movie to dominate the discourse. There has been much debate in the public sphere about what such a movie should portray, but it can be guaranteed that the PKI, once the third largest communist party in the world, would continue to be the villain.

The film, and the associated decades-long program of brainwashing of an entire nation, created a convenient bogey man to be trotted out at any time elite groups want to test the strength of an opponent. The anti-communist rhetoric is the perennial antidote to any group that challenges the status quo.

Nurmantyo’s allies have reinforced his message. Retired Lt. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, head of the Association of Retired Army Personnel (PPAD), in an op-ed in Kompas daily on September 26, stated that “… what is claimed as a move to promote human rights and to straighten out history (the debate over some form of reconciliation for victims of the 1965 purges) is actually an attempt of one party/group to cleanse/restore its reputation, monopolize truth and at the same time lay the blame on other parties.”

Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zein, who continues to face charges of sedition himself, has been prominent in the campaign against the so-called PKI masses. In the past he has claimed that the PKI is no longer a latent threat, but a real and present one with a large membership and its own headquarters.

Active Dissent

Opposing this push is the normal collection of activists constantly present on the frontline of Indonesian civil society. Hendardi, head of the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, claimed that “the TNI commander is demonstrating a poor example to soldiers, who up until now have been disciplined to develop good relations with the police…”

“He is involving those soldiers in a serious conflict of interests that can only benefit the TNI commander himself, who throughout the month of September has been trying to grab public attention with hateful and destructive comments… He is maneuvering to find new enemies, not in the interest of the nation but for his own short-term political advantage.” Hendardi’s advice to Widodo is to be cautious, since Nurmantyo is clearly seeking to raise his political profile.

Rachland Nashidik, a former director of NGO Imparsial and now a leading figure in Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party, states that Nurmantyo has overstepped his authority. In a statement, he said the general should not have shared intelligence on the proposed weapons purchase with retired officers, since such information is supposed to be purely for the president to hear. Instead the information was aired at a meeting at which members of the media were present and immediately spread the information into the public sphere.

More important, he argued, was that Nurmantyo’s threat to attack any group that tried to gain military force was in conflict with his authority. Such policy decisions could only be taken by government officials chosen by a democratic election. His responsibility under the law on TNI is to follow orders, not to create policies, he said.

“For the sustainability of democracy, we should all be able to understand that an order for 5,000 weapons by the intelligence agency – assuming that is correct – is little different from a TNI commander who plays politics and overshoots his authority.”

Dr. Najib Azca, head of the Center for Security and Peace Studies at Gadjah Mada University, writing in the new Indonesian edition of the Conversation, sees a clear link between recent events and the coming presidential election. The attack on the YLBH event was a follow-up to the “Defend Islam Action” that colored so much of the country’s political landscape at the end of last year. “Within Islamic political circles, the issue of communism has strong appeal,” he noted.

Islamic political actors are stirring up fears of a new threat to Islam, a potent message guaranteed to win support from the Muslim faithful. “It is an effective marketing strategy because it is able to touch the nerve of political mobilization. The effect is remarkable: people are prepared to sacrifice, as members of a collective movement, to defend and support Islam.”

Nurmantyo, he says, is portraying himself as “green-green” – a military man who is at the same time a defender of Islam. “Political Islam on the whole is extremely disappointed with the government. A construction has emerged in which the Widodo government and the National Police are persecuting religious teachers and Islamic groups. There is an accusation that the government is anti-Islam and supports a revival of communism.” Widodo and National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian are under pressure to demonstrate that they are not “pro-PKI,” he states.

Proxy War Theorist

Nurmantyo has been the subject of controversy ever since 2014, when he began a series of speeches at universities warning students that shadowy forces were attempting to erode Indonesia’s independence in order to grab its natural resources.

In 2015 he released a booklet in which he accused foreign powers of trying to infiltrate almost all segments of Indonesian society, ranging from the education system and media to Islamic organizations, corporations and political parties. He also views narcotics and a permissive culture as foreign ploys to weaken the nation.

In December that year he told a national defense seminar in Makassar, South Sulawesi, that “foreign powers will try to control the national media, disrupt the country’s social fabric, instigate internal disputes between the TNI and the National Police and also instigate disputes among the political parties and increase the smuggling of narcotics.”

Conflicts currently occurring in the Middle East could shift towards countries near the equator, he said. “Currently, 70 percent of the conflicts in the world are instigated because of the demand for energy. But in the future, the struggle for energy would shift towards instigated wars to gain access to food, energy and water.”

Many observers believe that Nurmantyo’s main interest is not defending the nation from shadowy forces poised to attack it by non-military means, but improving his own political position. Now firmly allied with right-wing Islamic forces, he represents a mounting problem for the president.

On September 27, he attended a discussion of the G30S issue held by the opposition Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and was reported to have praised the party for its consistency and told senior party officials he was ‘proud’ to be at the event.

Nurmantyo could be hoping he will appeal to opposition parties as a suitable challenger to Widodo at the 2019 presidential elections. To achieve that, he would need the support of Greater Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) founder Prabowo Subianto, long expected to mount his own challenge to Widodo in an attempt to reverse his 2014 defeat.

An alternative theory is that he is bucking to be chosen as Widodo’s running mate in the 2019 election. That, the theorists hold, would undermine Subianto’s support base among nationalist and Muslim groups.

Widodo does not need to take Nurmantyo’s ambitions too seriously. Results released on September 29 of a poll conducted by respected Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed that 86.8% of its 1,220 respondents did not believe that the PKI has made a return. Only 5% of respondents believed that the PKI was a current threat.

Arya Fernandes, a researcher at Jakarta-based think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), says the floating of the PKI issue lacks potency. “From the electoral point of view, throughout the reform period (since the end of the Suharto era) the use of the communism issue has empirically given no significant impact on the number of voters.

“Nurmantyo has detected an opportunity to run in the presidential election if Subianto decides to back off as they have similar voters’ characteristics. Subianto has suffered stagnation of votes to 20%-30%.”

In January this year, rumors were flying that Widodo planned to replace his senior commander, after Nurmantyo was seen to have unnecessarily stirred up a dispute with Australia about some insulting material at a military training exercise in Perth. But Widodo chose not to act, presumably feeling that it was better to leave the general where he could keep a close eye on him rather than have him scheming from a desk at Armed Forces headquarters while he waited out his retirement.

That retirement is now coming closer and Widodo will soon have to make a decision on when to sack Nurmantyo. For many in Widodo’s government, not least Wiranto and Ryacudu, it appears that relegation to the back benches for Nurmantyo could not come soon enough.

Keith Loveard, Shinta Eka Puspasari, and Nalendra Yusa Faidil are analysts at the Jakarta-based Concord Consulting.