Jakarta – When a conflict happens, an outsider's view of the dispute and how to solve it tends to be free from any bias. This should be the case with the protracted scuffle in Papua between the central government, which persistently maintains its security approach as evident in its NKRI Harga Mati (Undisputed Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia) tagline, and local people who yearn for prosperity and justice in their own land.
The discourse about the future of Papua has come to the fore now that the government and the House of Representatives have moved to revise the 2001 law on special autonomy for Papua. The revision is pressing in particular because the special autonomy fund scheme to accelerate development in Papua and West Papua provinces will expire in November of this year.
Ahead of the crucial debate, tension and violence have continued to grip Papua. On Friday, a group of armed people held hostage the pilot and passengers of a Susi Air flight for two hours in the Papua highland regency of Puncak to express their disappointment with the government rural development fund that did not reach their village. A series of firefights took place in Nduga, Intan Jaya and Puncak last month between security troops and armed groups, which displaced hundreds of civilians who fled their homes for fear of attacks and intimidation.
Local Catholic Church leaders have renewed their appeal to both parties for an end to the violence through dialog between Jakarta and local people. Specifically, the Church asked the central government to stop sending reinforcement troops and let the local police and military take their own measures to maintain peace and order in a "proportional and professional" manner. The call has fallen on deaf ears as the Indonesian Military is preparing reinforcement troops to fight the rebel groups in Papua.
Many scholars have pointed to the failure of Papua's special autonomy as a dignified effort to keep Papua as an integral part of the Republic. Data show that the poverty rates in Papua and West Papua remain the highest in the country, despite billions of dollars in special autonomy funds having been transferred to the two easternmost provinces, which are known for being rich in mineral, oil and gas resources.
Infrastructure development, which President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has accelerated, has not succeeded in bringing peace. Instead, Papuans have continued to endure racial discrimination, among other injustices. In the latest incident, a group of Papuan students filed a report with the National Police against the Malang police chief for an utterance deemed racist when handling a rally held by the students on Friday.
In her criticism of the special autonomy, Sidney Jones of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) says the policy has failed to empower Papuans, which is one of the chief goals of the 2001 law. Jones notes that then-president Abdurrahman Wahid took the right step in acknowledging Papuan political grievances without legitimizing separatism, but such an approach discontinued as soon as he was impeached in 2001.
It is time for the government to listen to advice from scholars and nonpartisan people, who have no interest but restoration of peace and justice in Papua.