Edmund McWilliams writes:
Gary Hogan's March 11 comment on my recent letter critiquing his article fails to address the central points of that critique. For more than a decade those who have sought to defend the TNI and presumably to encourage stronger ties between that military and other defense establishments (notably that of the US and Australia) have made the same case: that the rising crop of TNI leaders is somehow different than that of the past (ie. 'more sophisticated, more worldly and conscious of the wider implications of military actions for Indonesia's image and reputation.') I argue that not only is this contention highly impressionistic and unprovable, it is also, more importantly, irrelevant.
The problem with TNI leaders and the TNI establishment as a whole is not a 'sophistication' deficit. Rather, the issues are systemic. The TNI is not accountable to any effective judicial system. Its crimes are not subject to action by any regular civilian prosecutor or judge. The TNI's own 'judicial' procedures are notoriously prejudiced in favor of the TNI accused and invariably generate disproportionately weak sentences in the relatively rare instances in which TNI personnel are either charged or tried for abuses and crimes, particularly when those abuses and crimes target civilians.
The TNI as an institution is also largely beyond the control of the civilian government, owing in large measure to the reality that today, as in the past, it draws a major portion of its budget from legal and illegal businesses from which the Indonesian parliament insisted that it divest itself...by 2009. It has not. To the extent that the TNI is independent of civilian budgetary constraints, it is insubordinate to any civilian regime.
Other patterns of undemocratic behavior continue: during the Suharto regime it stoked instability in East Timor so as to maintain/expand a presence there that was lucrative. Although East Timor was a relatively poor land, TNI officers used the half-island as a basis for smuggling luxury and other goods into Indonesia tariff free. It stoked resentment and rebellion in Aceh in order to maintain a large presence there which drew money into TNI coffers, including through illegal drug production and trafficking. In West Papua today the TNI encourages a low level insurgency (eg. through illegal sale of arms and often brutal assaults on the Papuan people). That purported 'security threat' is used to buttress arguments for an expanding a highly lucrative, often illegal TNI trade in lumber and other natural resources.
Perhaps this critique of the TNI, as Mr Hogan contends, has not changed significantly over the years. But that is because the TNI itself has not fundamentally changed. Notwithstanding the alleged new face of emerging TNI leadership, the institution remains unaccountable, insubordinate to civilian rule and corrupt.