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'I don't see a coup scenario': Wirahadikusuma

Time Magazine - January 24, 1999

Maj.-General Agus Wirahadikusuma, a leading reformer in Indonesia's military, spoke with Time reporter Jason Tedjasukmana on January 17 about President Abdurrahman Wahid's relationship with the army and rumors of a possible coup Time: How would you characterize the army's relationship with President Wahid?

Agus: We have been in a militaristic culture for more than three decades, so leaders in the TNI [Indonesia's military] have to change their styles and habits in accordance with a civilian government. We didn't have problems in the past under a five-star general. President Gus Dur [Wahid's nickname] needs time to persuade the TNI to make changes in line with the current culture and environment. Gus Dur is a religious leader and as president he has had to change his leadership style to accommodate so many groups. But he should be stronger. People still see him cracking a lot of jokes.

Time: How strong is resistance to change in the military?

Agus: I believe most soldiers want to see a change in the TNI's role and function. The problem is the pace. The progress of change in Indonesia has been very rapid – by the day, even by the hour. But key positions in the military are still dominated by President Suharto's close circle. Because of these relationships the military's leadership is in crisis, and many of the most professional and qualified soldiers – who don't have these relationships – have had a hard time advancing their careers. Moral relations with the old authority make it difficult to react.

Time: How should President Wahid deal with elements resisting change?

Agus: Give them time frames to solve problems, and if they fail they should retire. Gus Dur has a mandate from the people, and he should use it.

Time: Do you agree with the changes he has made and the direction he is taking the military?

Agus: Yes, because the TNI is moving too slowly and not seriously enough in coping with problems nationwide. Just look at Aceh, West Kalimantan, Ciamis, Banyuwangi, Pasaruan, Ambon, Irian Jaya.

Time: How difficult will it be to dismantle the military's current structure, stretching from the cities down into the smallest of villages?

Agus: The territorial structure has long been the essence of the military in detecting problems and monitoring in the field. It is used as an intelligence tool. Under the old regime, it was used to control and balance the power of the PKI [the former Indonesian Communist Party], which used villages as its basis to gain control. Suharto used the structure to support Golkar and to influence the election process. But territorial management broke down sometimes. In Aceh, the Special Forces should be held responsible for mishandling the operation. Kopassus used Aceh as an intelligence operation without permission from Pangdam.

Time: Does the military have enough resources to do its job properly?

Agus: If we talk about military businesses, we are talking about budget shortages. They are to cope with and improve the soldiers' welfare.

Time: Do you think US military training is important for Indonesian soldiers?

Agus: My experience overseas helped shape my views to see things from a macro and international perspective. Some people may look at me as a threat because of my different background and because I have seven years left in the military. But I have a strong commitment to the future.

Time: Who should be held responsible for human rights violations in East Timor?

Agus: The top leaders in the military must be responsible. They say there was no scorched earth policy, but we can see what has happened. As leaders we have to say to the people, "We're responsible," and then ask to be forgiven.

Time: How nervous is the top brass about the threat of an international human rights tribunal?

Agus: Very nervous. For a long time we never thought Timor would create this kind of attention.

Time: Can more troops and military threats put an end to provincial unrest?

Agus: The separatist problem cannot be solved by military force. We need to increase communication and interaction. But they just send more troops.

Time: Is it possible for TNI to remain neutral in times of conflict?

Agus: External groups have always tried to create relationships with top leaders of the TNI, which attracts political players because it is a dominating power. This has created conflicts of interest and therefore TNI should not be involved in politics.

During the previous government, ABRI [the military's former acronym] and the government were one and ABRI used it to get forestry concessions and other business facilities. When dealing with ethnic and religious conflicts, TNI must be neutral and cannot take sides. The TNI are not the soldiers of the NU or Muhammadiyah [Indonesia's two largest Muslim groups]. Their obligation is to protect all Indonesian people.

Time: Is the military feeling demoralized?

Agus: During the old regime it was normal to get involved and use violence, perhaps a legacy of the Dutch and Japanese. But this culture is not in sync with a growing consciousness of human rights.

Time: How real are the recent rumors of a possible coup d'itat? Agus: I don't see a coup scenario. That opinion was created after changes were made in the military and misconstrued. The people would never support a coup.

Time: Is the TNI part of the problem or solution?

Agus: Both. It is a problem if the leadership does not adapt to current demands of the reform process. It is part of the solution because the TNI can play an important role in helping the government cope with crises.