A key provision in the memorandum calls for the establishment of
local parties in Acheh to contest provincial elections. This
represents a dramatic departure from Indonesian law, which mandates
that all political parties be organised nationwide – a measure
intended to discourage the rise of secessionist political forces.
But it is essential in Acheh because it allows GAM to transform
itself into a political force.
The MOU stipulates that legislation be passed by mid-March 2006
and that provincial elections be held by the end of April. This
tight timeline looks increasingly unrealistic. It takes time to set
up genuine political parties, draw up programmatic platforms, and
run election campaigns, especially for an organisation like
GAM that knows more about military
tactics than about electoral strategies, and for civil-society
groups that have long been
Postponing the elections would not necessarily be a bad thing,
though this is uncharted political territory. It is essential that
outside observers continue to keep close watch over this process.
An end to impunity
The same applies to
the human-rights situation. The Achenese are slowly growing more
confident that peace is here to stay. Some of the most abusive
forces have now been withdrawn, but Indonesia’s military and police
have long brutalised Achenese civilians with impunity.
Understandably, many activists are still reluctant to reveal their
identities; the point of no return clearly has not yet been reached.
During my visit to Acheh as part of a
delegation in December, I heard many people express a strong desire
that the mandate of the international Acheh Monitoring Mission (AMM)
be extended beyond the current March deadline.
As the lead force behind the AMM, the European Union is a crucial
guarantor of peace and the indications are that the EU would like to
see the AMM’s mandate extended. But beyond continuing to scrutinize
developments in Acheh, the EU should also provide human-rights
training to security forces in Indonesia as it did in the Balkans –
far preferable to conventional military training, which the United
States resumed in 2005 after a period of intermittent
After the tsunami
2006 will also be
critical in terms of reviving Acheh’s tsunami- and conflict-battered
economy. House construction got off to a late start. In
Meuraxa, on the northwestern
outskirts of the provincial capital, Banda Acheh, it seems as though
time has stood still: though much of the debris has been cleared
away, the area remains largely desolate, with reconstruction
activities patchy and slow.
Across Acheh, only about 16,000 of the 120,000 houses needed had
been completed by the end of last year. More than 60,000 people
still live in tents, and some 100,000 in frugal temporary shelters.
The pace is slow in part because no permanent housing can be legally
built until land disputes are sorted out. With land titles washed
away, many property boundary markers erased, suitable land for
housing and farming scarce, and ex-combatants and the
internally displaced returning in
search of land, numerous disputes have broken out. It is estimated
that it will take two to three years to sort out the claims.
Resentment is also building because the big international aid
agencies kept promising more than they could deliver, or got
involved in areas outside their core competence, with detrimental
results. The government’s bureau of reconstruction and
rehabilitation and foreign-aid groups now proclaim 2006 to be the
rebuilding will gather momentum.
But better consultation with affected communities is a must.
Reconstruction offers many thousands of temporary jobs but in the
longer run some of Acheh’s economic mainstays face an uncertain
- natural-gas reserves may be depleted in a few years (though
the industry never offered much employment or other benefits to
- logging, much of it illegal, is decimating Acheh’s tropical
- the rebuilding of the fishing fleet will expand the number
of boats significantly beyond pre-tsunami numbers, and may lead
To capture a larger share of the economic benefits, and to create
more jobs, Acheh needs more industries like wood processing and fish
canning, as well as international support for training young people
in modern skills such as computers.
These tasks assume special importance now that GAM members have
come out of mountain and jungle hideouts. Many fighters lack the
skills needed for civilian life. Providing new jobs and training is
critical to avoid ex-combatants turning to crime for survival, and
hence to political stability.
Acheh and the world
notwithstanding, Acheh has an excellent chance of
emerging as a success story. It
holds important lessons for other areas that face similar
challenges, in particular Sri Lanka and Kashmir. Goodwill in the
aftermath of disasters can be a powerful psychological catalyst for
dynamics of conflict. But
humanitarian impulse needs to be translated into political change.
Acheh’s experience suggests the following “scorecard” for successful
- translate a groundswell of solidarity in the aftermath of a
disaster into firm steps toward peace. In Acheh, peace
negotiations started almost immediately. In
Sri Lanka, the opportunity was
frittered away, and the basic rifts reemerged. In Kashmir,
initial overtures between India and Pakistan bogged down in
ingrained patterns of rigidity.
- demonstrate a serious commitment to peace. The leaders of
Indonesia and of GAM were prepared to take substantial risks.
Sri Lanka’s opposing sides, by contrast, proved averse to
compromise. Indian and Pakistani leaders have wavered in their
commitment to peace.
- allow disaster aid to flow across conflict lines. In Sri
Lanka, wrangling over how international tsunami aid was to be
distributed ended up sharpening tensions. In Kashmir, suspicion
between India and Pakistan curtailed rescue cooperation; the
opening of five crossing points along the ceasefire line could
have brought a political breakthrough, but the
opportunity was missed.
- address core grievances. In Acheh, negotiations proceeded
even as low-level violence continued. In Sri Lanka, a ceasefire
was adopted, but the underlying issues were not resolved. India
and Pakistan have begun to thaw their relationship, but key
issues surrounding the Kashmir conflict remain un-addressed.
- take verifiable steps toward demilitarisation. In Acheh,
clear targets were adopted and supervised internationally. In
Sri Lanka, no comparable steps were taken and international
ceasefire monitors are in a weak position. India and Pakistan
keep trading demands for troop withdrawals and an end to attacks
across the ceasefire line, but no such steps have been taken.
- confront spoilers who – politically or materially – benefit
from a continuation of conflict. Indonesia’s civilian leadership
kept military opposition to peace at bay. In Sri Lanka, however,
the new president,
Mahinda Rajapaksa, panders to
political hardliners. And in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir,
militant anti-India groups have played a major role in assisting
earthquake survivors and may gain fresh legitimacy and support
as a result.
Progress is difficult, if not impossible, in the absence of
committed leadership, whether on the part of governments or the
international community. The sentiments of affected populations are
quite clear. Driving around Acheh, for example, one comes across
many banners with a simple message: Kami sangat rindu Kedamaiun
– “We really desire peace.”
For more information about this article, please contact the
Michael Renner at WorldWatch
Institute. This article originally appeared on
openDemocracy.net under a Creative Commons