This paper outlines the history of the military in Indonesia and its role in politics, as well as in perpetrating violence. Since its inception at the time of Indonesian independence, the military has had a defined role in both defence and politics, particularly during the Sukarno (1945-1965) and Suharto eras (1966-1998). While this role has been somewhat reduced in the Reform era (beginning mid-1998) through various stages of military reform, many of the underlying principles of the involvement of the military in politics still remain in reality. Given the historical dual roles of the military, it has been able to set agendas and perpetrate violence without civilian oversight. In Papua, this has led to various acts of violence perpetrated by the military and the police, often tapping into local ethno-religious relations. However, this has been less overt than the violence occurring in Aceh.
In Aceh, the initial response of the military in the 1950s to Acehnese resistance was more accommodating and less violent than the military operations in the 1970s to the 1990s. While the negotiations in the 1950s were a drawn-out process, it enabled a peaceful agreement to be reached without extensive use of force. However, in later periods the orchestrated use of violence in Aceh left locals seeing the military from Java as colonisers. Furthermore, these repressive strategies did not elicit peace agreements but rather stimulated further rebellion, which some argue was part of a broader military strategy of creating tension and maintaining a role for the military in domestic security provision. In Maluku, clashes between the military and police, as well as bias on the part of different sections of the armed forces towards each of the warring communal groups, increased the levels of violence and prolonged the conflict. Today, the role of the military in politics has been significantly reduced by disbanding the political sections of the military in the regions and a number of other reforms. However, many of the original principles of the functions of the military remain, whereby they can still be involved in politics and elections by resigning from their military posts.
CRISE Working Paper No. 62, 37 pp.