Tony Hotland, Jakarta – It is rare to get a behind-the-scenes look at historic events. But Tuesday's conference commemorating one year of the Aceh peace accord provided a rare glimpse into the process and gave the actors involved a chance to publicly pat themselves on the back.
Poignant and sometimes boastful, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Jusuf Kalla separately took turns to highlight their personal struggles during the momentous process.
In his opening seven-page speech, the President recalled the need for boldness at a time when peace efforts were facing legions of cynics. Yudhoyono described how personal the issue had become through his involvement in the negotiations as coordinating minister for security under the previous administration. "(I) spent my entire energy trying to find ways to end the conflict," he said.
Yudhoyono's first attempt failed when the 2002 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed in Geneva collapsed a year later. That experience led him to appreciate "the processes of a negotiated settlement." "To be successful requires focused, sustained and creative efforts and a determination at the highest level of leadership," he said.
An important lesson from this episode, which Yudhoyono may have applied later, was the need to have the political will for a settlement. "Negotiators need assurances, political backing, instant decisions, close engagement, constant guidance. Without these, they would not be able to move far in pursuing peace," he said.
An event outside the process was also the catalyst, and Yudhoyono conceded that the cataclysmic Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami provided a window of opportunity at a time when peace seemed most distant. "I (also) instructed my officials to stop harsh public rhetoric against GAM (Free Aceh Movement)," he said.
Yudhoyono said he took a political risk by engaging in negotiations. Peace was a risky business, but it was a risk worth taking, he said. Resistance would always come from people with vested interests in war, for economic motives or other political reasons. The President said peace would never have been achieved with out courage and "if we had bowed to cynical and self-defeatist attitudes".
The conference, organized by the Indonesian Council on World Affairs, brought together top Indonesian and GAM officials. Also present were former Finland president Martti Ahtisaari, the facilitator of the peace deal, and Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM) head Pieter Feith.
The closing remarks of the one-day conference saw Kalla take the stage and recollect eleventh-hour obstacles that might have derailed the process.
One of these occurred on the night of July 17, 2005, when he received news of a deadlock on the question of local political parties. "I called the President and he instructed (me) to negotiate more. Three hours later, I sent them a counter proposal and we finally agreed at the last minute," he said.
Kalla also said it was he who recommended Martti Ahtisaari to act as the negotiator. "The President didn't know who Ahtisaari was," Kalla joked. "I endorsed him, got him on the phone, persuaded him, and he was in!"