Serve only the nation, Gus Dur tells generals

Seeking to keep the armed forces in line, the President says they should not succumb to ‘power brokers’.

President Abdurrahman Wahid, seeking to keep the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) in line against a backdrop of sporadic violence in the country linked to rogue army elements, yesterday urged his top generals to serve only the nation and not power brokers.

Addressing a mass parade to mark the 55th anniversary of the military, he called on the embattled institution to be more professional and keep out of politics.

“All this time, the TNI has been politicised not to serve the nation and the people, but to serve the holders of power,” he said.

“The TNI has been a tool of individual interests. This must be stopped.”

The 69-year-old Muslim cleric, who presided over a ceremony that lacked the military pomp and muscle of the Suharto era, reflecting the military’s steep slide in recent years, stopped short of naming the “power brokers” in his speech.

Analysts believe he was referring to former president Mr Suharto, and active and retired generals who had served under him.

The controversial Defence Minister, Mr Mahfud M. D., told The Straits Times in an interview earlier this week that these officers, who some observers believe were “powerful and feared because of their strong patronage network in place”, were trying to derail the reform process and destabilise the civilian government.

The ultimate aim was to take over power from the civilian government not directly, but through appointing a civilian politician as proxy to protect the interests of the past regime.

Despite the subtle attack on his opponents in the army, the President was careful to avoid casting aspersions on the military as a whole.

He tempered his comments by coming to the defence of the TNI, saying that the country had treated them “unfairly” for its past actions that he did not elaborate on. He was more likely referring to the military’s human-rights abuses in Aceh and East Timor.

“We ask much from them but give nothing,” he said.

“I, as the bearer of the people’s mandate, pledge that the government will do what it can to give the best to the TNI.”

Palace insiders believe that Mr Abdurrahman’s ties with the military have deteriorated significantly since he took over power last year. That relationship has been marked by several phases.

The first was a contested one in the early months of his presidency. He asserted dominance over the former security chief Wiranto and then antagonised the army top brass by appointing the controversial Lieutenant-General Agus

Wirahadikusumah as chief of the Army Strategic Command.

Observers said he also made the TNI uncomfortable with his policies on Aceh and Maluku and his stand on human rights. The generals found themselves being forced into a corner increasingly with the constant threat of being prosecuted over the East Timor saga, for example.

The second phase saw both sides groping towards some kind of accommodation. The dismissal of Lt-Gen Agus and a much more hands-off approach to TNI appointments suggested the President was stepping back from his confrontationist stance.

The decision to allow the TNI to hold on to its 38 seats in Parliament suggested that some sort of crab-like rapprochement was taking place.

The strategic context of this arrangement was of course the threat of impeachment hovering over Mr Abdurrahman during the National Assembly session in August.

With this threat receding and the background of spasms of violence in the country, the relationship began to revert to its earlier pattern.

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