Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Good Cop - Bad Cop Blackmail on Aceh: The Advantages of Seeming Crazy

The TNI - POLRI is now saying that they have about 35,000 men in Aceh, which, if true, would mean that under the Helsinki deal with GAM signed yesterday they will be temporarily withdrawing about 32% of their troops, not much more than a normal rotation.

It is often said that there are more TNI - POLRI bases than there are schools or mosques in Aceh, and traveling along the roads and counting suggests that in many zones that might well be true. In populated areas of the main Medan - Banda Aceh road one encounters a marked base or post every few hundred meters, not including the unmarked Intel and Kopassus bases, which are sometimes known to residents. In Langsa, plainclothes Kopassus officers can be seen smoking in their undershirts outside a run-down commercial building where local civil servants have been dragged in and had their faces mauled on suspicion of giving food to GAM.

The Kopassus men have money and are wordly; they move all over the archipelago, and their foreign trainers have included Americans, Australians, Germans, and Taiwanese. But it is the TNI's cruder street level militias -- not counted in official troop numbers -- that are now in the spotlight since people fear that if the Jakarta generals don't get enough payoff from the GAM surrender deal, they may unleash the militias in order to provoke the GAM into taking up arms again.

That scenario may be unlikely, but everyone knows from experience in Timor and elsewhere that it is not impossible, and that hanging possibility of supra-normal terror creates leverage for TNI - POLRI, both within Aceh and in their lobbying for restored aid overseas.

It is a classic good cop - bad cop con: the smooth lobbyists (like the President, Gen. Susilo, and Juwono Sudarsono, the defense minister) say to the foreigners: 'Look, these generals are crazy! You'd better buy them off with aid, or God know what they'll do. And as much as I'd like to stop them I can't be responsible for their actions. '

So on top of the continuing rule by their oppressors there's an implicit blackmail hanging over Aceh: if the generals don't get what they want -- like restored US guns and money -- they may take it out on Aceh and burn it, as they did to Timor in 1999.