Tuesday, 11 January 2005

In the Left Corner...

There's a 4-cornered contest shaping up in Aceh at the moment. Hopefully the contest won't involve significant violence.

Here (IMHO) are the 4 contestants.

Australia - Primary aim is to save lives, long-term aim is to neutralise the Indonesian threat. This can be accomplished by either or both simultaneously of two methods: First, to remove the "will to fight" by making friends. Second, to remove the capability for them to do us harm by "encouraging" the instability that is inherent in Indonesia.

Aceh Separatists - Primary aim is to restore the Sultanate of Aceh. This part of Indonesia has historically been quasi-independant and self-governing, even under the Dutch. "Limited Autonomy" is the correct phrase. Also historically, it's been very Islamic indeed compared to the rest of the region, and the Aceh separatists have played up this aspect in order to weaken the TNI ( Indonesian Armed Forces ) and create chaos.

Islamists - Primary aim is to contain western influence, and kill westerners.

Indonesia/TNI - Primary aim is to contain the situation so it doesn't spread, and if possible retain Aceh within Indonesia.

Right now, some of the Aceh separatists are sort-of allied with some Islamists, some of the Islamists are very much allied with parts of the TNI (who have encouraged them in order to keep the Christian, Chinese and Hindu minorities from getting ideas above their station). And if certain of the Aceh separatists haven't been getting covert support from Australia, somebody hasn't been doing their job here.

You must remember that Australia and Indonesia have a peculiar relationship. We've fought several low-intensity conflicts ( aka "wars" ) against each other over the last 50 years. The last Confrontation was in East Timor, where one part of the TNI ignored its own government's instructions, and Australia went in "armed for bear". Fortunately, reason prevailed, the feudal overlords decamped, and no-one (apart from an unfortunate Indonesian border policeman) was killed.

On the other hand, there's a friendship between Australians and Indonesians that transcends politics. They're a good mob. I think it's this that has stopped our political differences ( e.g. Australia is against Genocide ) from leading to massive bloodletting between us.

Anyway, that's background to this story, from The Australian :
A Hardline Indonesian Islamic group has attacked the presence of Australian aid workers in tsunami-devastated Aceh, as Labor raised concerns yesterday about their safety in the troubled province.

Habib Rizieq Shihab, head of the Islamic Defender's Front (FPI), said Australian assistance in Aceh could herald the start of an East Timor-style intervention designed to secure independence for the troubled northern province.
I'd be very surprised if contingency plans for that didn't exist. But not now, we're trying to save lives.
Authorities in Aceh yesterday warned aid workers that rebels may have taken shelter in refugee camps in the province while the military claimed there had been attempts to interfere with the distribution of aid.
And they have the bulletholes and casualties to prove it.
The Australian Government insisted yesterday it had no interest in any military involvement in Aceh and downplayed a threat of confrontation with the growing number of Islamist relief workers also flooding into the area. John Howard, in an interview on global news network CNN, ruled out any involvement by Australian troops in peacekeeping or arming troops on the ground.
We're kinda busy right now feeding people. We don't have the resources for armed action, and frankly, we don't want to get involved. Not now, anyway.
The Prime Minister said Australia was not interested in picking sides on Aceh, but was there "as a friend trying to give practical help".

"We're not there in a military role, it's just that our military are there in a humanitarian role," he said.
Still, it's good practice for the distant future. Just in case.
But Mr Shihab told The Australian he feared the presence of hundreds of Australian troops in Aceh would corrupt the province's strict Islamic culture.
What, hundreds of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists etc saving people's lives? Hmm, maybe he has a point. Fundamentalist Islam would be taking a bit of a beating. Good. A useful byproduct.
Mr Shihab accused Canberra of using the excuse of humanitarian assistance to support a long-term strategy of undermining Indonesian sovereignty.
No, he's got it wrong. This is the "make them friends" bit, not the "remove their capability" bit.
Australia's strategy in Indonesia was best seen by its role in helping East Timor gain independence, he said.

"We need to be vigilant. We do not want a second East Timor."
Understandable. Neither do we. For now. besides which, West Papua's next, anyway.
He said thousands of his supporters were already in Aceh monitoring the behaviour of foreign troops, including Australians.

"Please Australia, move your feet from Indonesia as soon as your humanitarian work is done," he said.
Suits us. And he said "please", which gives me a little hope that this situation may not turn out as bad as I fear.
"They should not corrupt Islamic sharia law in force in Aceh, because we know that these foreign soldiers like to bring prostitutes with them.
He's confusing us with the UN.
Also, these soldiers drink alcohol and in Aceh it is strictly forbidden."
Guilty as charged, on this one.
The Australian army was enforcing a strict no-alcohol policy in Aceh to avoid offending devout Muslim communities, a senior military officer said last night.
I suspect "trying to enforce" would be closer to the truth. But again, everybody's too flat-out saving lives to even scrounge a beer.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told the ABC that Australia's military was happy not to be armed and for security to be provided by the Indonesians.
"A Diplomat is someone who Lies for his country." This must be some strange new meaning of the word "happy" I'm not familiar with. "Sadly realising it's neccessary", yes, that would be accurate. "Happy" isn't.
"I think when it's seen what the humanitarian assistance we're providing is actually doing for the communities, it's a little unlikely that Islamic extremists would see advantage in attacking people who are providing that sort of help," Mr Downer said.
Says he, crossing fingers and murmuring a prayer. 9/11 wasn't exactly a great example of people acting rationally.
But acting Opposition Leader Chris Evans emerged from a briefing with senior government officials on the Australian aid effort to raise concerns about the security of Australians in Aceh.

He said Australia had gone to great pains to ensure the security of its troops in Iraq and the Solomon Islands.

"Previously, on occasions like this, the Australian military have generally insisted on providing their own security.

"I was a little surprised to learn that we weren't providing our own security on this occasion and we did raise those concerns with the Government."
In view of East Timor, there was absolutely no way that the TNI would allow armed Australians anywhere near Aceh. None. Fergedaboudid. Ain't gonna happen.
Commander of the Indonesian Armed Forces, Endriartono Sutarto, downplayed security concerns in the region.

"In my opinion, it's not that bad," he said. The army was not conducting offensive operations against Acehnese rebels, and the estimated 30,000 troops on Sumatra island were only engaged in the relief effort.

Before the disaster, most were fighting rebels from the Free Aceh Movement, known as GAM.
It's not the GAM - the Aceh Separatists - that's the worry, for the most part. Sure, some have a habit of decapitating Christians and Chinese while screaming "Allahu Ackbar", but others are, shall we say, on very friendly terms with Australia. No, it's the Islamists, the Al-Quaeda-by-any-other-name, the ones who were ferried in by Indonesian Military Aircraft, that we're concerned about. I guess certain parts of the TNI think that one bad turn deserves another, and Australia's not the only nation that can make use of catspaws with their own agenda.
UN staff in Aceh have been placed on high alert following a shooting incident at the weekend and armed guards patrol their compounds, amid fears of rebel attacks.

Mr Howard said the Government would keep a careful eye on the security of Australian aid workers. "Thus far we believe the security situation can be handled effectively and it's not in any way impeding the delivery of aid."
THUS FAR. How comforting. I have a Bad Feeling about this. Still, we don't exactly have much of a choice. If the Islamists start attacking, we'll put pressure on the Indonesian government to crack down on the parts of the TNI that are giving them aid. We may have to give a quid-pro-quo and let parts of the GAM hang out to dry - this is all part of the "Great Game", and other parts of the GAM are Islamists anyway.

But as the events in Pakistan proved, the Islamists have their own agenda. If the attacks don't stop - and I suspect they won't - well, John Howard has already said that if he can't get co-operation in stopping a threat to Australia from overseas, he'll take "pre-emptive action". That probably means covert SASR special forces, who may just be already covertly operating in the area. Hit squads.

Of course all this is pure conjecture: if I knew anything (as opposed to merely guessing), I wouldn't be posting this. It seems to me to be obvious, but one thing I have learnt about International relations is that the obvious isn't always true.

Time will tell.

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