- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Is Indonesia, which the World Bank lists as the most crooked state on earth, worth saving?

That's not as arrogant a question as it sounds. If you were to ask the peoples of Acheh, Borneo, Celebes, the Malukus, Irian Jaya or East Timor, some of the big Pacific islands of this archipelago state, their answer, probably unanimous, would be a thunderous "no." Indonesia is not worth saving.

The question of U.S. policy towards Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world 210 million will be one of the most immediately pressing on the new Bush administration. Clandestine meetings in Washington hotels by State Department officials with anti-Jakarta rebel leaders is not policy not when some 5,000 Achenese, most of them civilians, have been killed.

From its beginnings in 1949 as a misbegotten state, thanks to the defeated Dutch colonial regime which ignored, except for the Javanese, the nationalist strivings of other island peoples, Indonesia has suffered from corrupt leaders who treated the rich resources of the 17,000 islands as their family property.

For it should be remembered that there never was a country called Indonesia. The name is a fiction. In colonial days it was called the Dutch East Indies. The various islands had no political relation to each other and certainly not to Java. In fact most of these non-Javenese people were fearful of what they called "Javanese imperialism." They never wanted to become, when Dutch rule ended, part of a Javanese empire.

"Indonesia was nothing but a geographic expression until the Dutch found it more efficient to unite the islands of the Indies under a single administration." The author of that finding was then-Harvard Professor Henry Kissinger. What he wrote in 1963 ("Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy") is just as true today. Since the Dutch administration headquarters were in the city of Batavia on Java, the Javanese took over the island empire and renamed Batavia as Jakarta. They installed Sukarno (Javanese rarely use first names) as president and then organized larceny and looting on an enormous scale which continued under Suharto, Sukarno's unelected successor. There is a new president since Suharto's ouster in 1998. He is Adburrahman Wahid, 59, who has promised an end to larceny as well as a plebiscite for the Achenese. Promises, promises.

By international law, Indonesia is a state but it will never be a nation-state, one with a national identity to which all its citizens subscribe. There is no common language, no common culture and no will to live together. Widespread inter-ethnic violence will be the country's fate in coming decades.

Target No. 1 for the Indonesian Army is Acheh, an enclave in northern Sumatra, rich in natural gas and other resources. There an armed struggle for independence, GAM (Gerakan Acheh Merdeka or Acheh Freedom Movement) was declared some three decades ago under the leadership of Hasan di Tiro, a direct descendant of Achenese royalty. In 1990 the Suharto government launched a campaign to crush GAM. The anti-Acheh operation continued without success for eight years until Suharto's overthrow. The war against Acheh was then resumed under President Wahid.

Human rights organizations have documented 7,727 cases of human rights violations in Acheh between 1990-98. From January 1999 to February 2000 the coalition documented nine cases of "massacre" in which 132 civilians were killed and 472 wounded, 304 arbitrary detentions, 318 extra-judicial executions, and 138 disappearances.

In February 1999, the Indonesian army started deliberately displacing inhabitants from some parts of Acheh. From June to August 1999 there were 250,000 to 300,000 internally displaced persons in Acheh.

However, in the following two months, despite the relative reduction in armed conflict, the numbers of the displaced rose rapidly again into the thousands. In one camp there were 4,110 refugees, including 712 infants, 818 children less than 5 years old, 52 pregnant women and 112 women who were still nursing infants.

Despite all these casualties, the Achenese, whom Dutch colonialism couldn't conquer, are not going to surrender. And the overriding question still remains: Is Indonesia worth saving?

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