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Thursday 13 Dec 2018 | 03:02 | SYDNEY
Thursday 13 Dec 2018 | 03:02 | SYDNEY

Indonesia: Yes, TNI has changed



11 March 2013 13:21

Gary Hogan was the first foreigner to graduate from Indonesia's Institute of National Governance (Lemhannas) and was Australia's Defence Attaché to Indonesia from 2009 to 2012.

When I first saw that Edmund McWilliams had apparently read my post on a changing of the guard at the top of Indonesia's military leadership and responded to my views, I felt genuinely chuffed. To draw comment from someone as well known for his volunteer activism over the years with human rights NGOs like the West Papua Advocacy Team and the East Timor Indonesia Action Network was encouraging, at least at first blush. 

Additionally, Ed McWilliams' experiences with the US Embassy in Jakarta from 1996 to 1999, when the Indonesian Armed Forces' performance was its most egregious since 1965, would surely place him in a perfect position to recognise that the TNI of 2013 was a far cry from the ABRI of 1998. Or so I thought.

Disappointingly, it became obvious that Mr McWilliams had not read my piece at all. My post discussed generational change in TNI, the capacity of its new leaders to see problems from a foreign perspective and the fresh possibilities this raised for strategic engagement. Ed McWilliams either read a different piece on TNI generational change or sought to use my comments to shift the debate to the issue of TNI reform.

But Mr McWilliams raises an excellent point. It is high time for some deeper and less value-laden discussion of TNI reform that is not reliant on preformed ideas and outdated experience. His comments have inspired me to consider this issue at greater length, state some facts and share some thoughts. So watch this space for the relevant prequel to Ed McWilliams' riposte.

Somehow, though, I don't think any amount of reasoned argument will sway Mr McWilliams' views. 

His assertion that Indonesian democracy is 'hostage to a rogue military and the whims of its elite officer ranks' is one I have not heard seriously expressed since the democratic election of Gus Dur to the presidency in 1999, and certainly never during the SBY decade of power. This is a view Mr McWilliams has held and has been espousing since 1996, and it is a view that belongs there. I doubt any argument I could mount would ever shift this idee fixe that has shaped and characterised Mr McWilliams' comments on Indonesia for almost two decades.

Ed McWilliams and I will necessarily approach any aspect of TNI reform from different perspectives, informed by different experiences, garnered at very different times. I did not see Jakarta burning in 1998 and I did not witness the TNI of 1998. But I have considerable experience working with the TNI of today and I draw on that for my commentary. That is the TNI I write about. And that is the TNI we are all now interested in.

I appreciate Mr McWilliams responding to my piece on TNI leadership changes. I would only ask that he bothers to read my comments before branding my arguments 'weak'. The debate on TNI reform is for another post on another day. In the meantime, should anyone with an interest in Indonesia get tired of reading clear-eyed analysis of issues and unbiased reporting of fact, I can highly recommend the monthly West Papua Report, edited by Ed McWilliams.

Photo courtesy of the Defence Department.

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