Published: Jul 30, 2007

Don't let Aceh be

President Gus Dur said in mid February he had a new ideology called 'let-it-be'-ism (biarinisme). Problems, he said, were of two kinds - those that had to be solved, and those that solved themselves. Aceh, apparently, falls into the latter. 'We can't play God. Anyway God is always relaxed', he said in his disarming manner. 'For me it's quite simple. If God wants our state to fly apart, it certainly will, but if he doesn't, it won't. What's the fuss?'

Gus Dur's humour and humility have endeared him to many. And on some issues he has been far from 'let-it-be'-ist. But we should hope that 'let-it-be'-ism does not extend to Aceh. Neither Aceh nor most of the other regions wanting change are likely to solve themselves

A human tragedy is unfolding in Aceh that cannot be ignored. Jakarta clearly remains determined to refuse Aceh independence. But unless it wants to continue the violent repression plus elite cooptation model favoured under Suharto, Jakarta will have to engage in a political process that takes the Acehnese seriously. Acehnese overwhelmingly want a referendum on their association with Indonesia. Even if Jakarta cannot handle this demand, it can at least start by accounting for past human rights abuses, and giving more local control over the territory's natural resources.

Unfortunately Jakarta has until now been reluctant even to go this far. The military seem intent on sabotaging a special Acehnese human rights tribunal. And new laws that will by April 2001 begin returning resource revenues to the regions will probably operate not at the provincial level but at the district (kabupaten) level. This will ensure a big bunfight among Aceh's districts next year.

President Wahid's options are constrained because he runs a compromise government that still includes some of the same elites who ran the New Order. But 'let-it-be'-ism is not good enough for the people over whom he governs.

This edition of Inside Indonesia is again the work of many people, of whom only a few are named. Their satisfaction comes from knowing that you the reader will become just that little bit more engaged with the issues facing the people of the world's fourth largest nation.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000