Long, Checkered and Unfulfilled Road to Recovery for Aceh

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Long, Checkered and Unfulfilled Road to Recovery for Aceh
By Kishor Narayan , Indonesian Studies, Indonesia, Sharia, Shariah, Aceh.

The tsunami in the Indian Ocean in December 2004 resulted in massive destruction in Aceh province of Indonesia – the northern most region in Sumatra Island belonging to the Indonesian archipelago. Aceh was facing a secessionist movement by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in phases since 1976. The destruction was so complete that the international community and the Indonesian authorities were overwhelmed by the human tragedy that was unfolding. The immediate need was to ensure speedy distribution of aid and help to the people across the region by the government authorities. To this effect, GAM announced a unilateral ceasefire intended to let the relief aid reach the needy. This was reciprocated by the Indonesian authorities’ decision to uphold the ceasefire. Amidst the pause in hostilities, the stage was set for Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) headed by Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to organize negotiations between the two parties staring on 27 January 2005. On 15 August 2005, the peace agreement was officially signed in Helsinki by chief Indonesian negotiator Hamid Awaluddin and GAM leader Malik Mahmud1.

As per the negotiated deal, Aceh would have local parties allowed to contest in the provincial elections, which was a marked departure from the norm in the rest of the country. Massive peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts were carried out that have put an end to the cycle of violence that Aceh witnessed earlier. However, these efforts have given rise to many questions on the way they have been implemented. The issue of how Partai Aceh – the political party that arose out of GAM to contest and win the provincial elections – has been consistently winning the electoral mandate by virtue of being the only local party of prominence has raised many doubts on how Aceh can blossom into a multi-party democracy in the future. Another issue of prime concern is how the former GAM rebels have now formed terror groups that now owe allegiance to the Caliphate floated by the Islamic State in the Middle East.

This article will look at the political issues that remain unfulfilled amidst the environment of dangerous radicalization and thriving conservatism and how this has the potential to spill over to not just the other territories of Indonesia but also across the region like Southern Thailand and Myanmar. While searching for previous policy recommendations on this topic, this article will attempt to provide suggestions and recommendations of its own on how to deal with the growing menace as witnessed in Aceh.

Indonesia recently kicked off a 3-month long commemoration of the Helsinki Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed 10 years ago with the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels. It is claimed that the autonomous region of Aceh and the state at large have moved on from the bloody violence that had marred the region for almost three decades. Aceh, as it stands today appears to be slowly limping back to normalcy with its own Sharia law in force. The region has seen a single party rule (former militants adopting a political role) ever since by winning all the elections conducted. The region has recently enacted an Islamic Criminal Code criminalizing homosexuality, adultery, and public displays of affection outside of a legally recognized relationship. With this, the reports of human rights violation have been on the rise.  

The security scenario is slowly worsening in the region. With a large influx of persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and subsequently being given temporary refuge, the social living conditions have deteriorated gradually.3 Also, Partai Aceh, the political party in power in Aceh is accused of running a mafia to influence the people through terror tactics and stay in power for as long as possible. Some of the GAM rebels who held extreme views of Islam have turned towards running organized terror groups around the world. Some even owe allegiance to the IS. Of late the minorities have faced the brunt of radicalization witnessed in the Acehnese society. Recently, a mob torched a church, killing one person and injuring several others and now the regional government is considering closing down all churches due to pressure from Muslim groups.

With such multiple factors both internal and external at play within the self-governed region of Aceh, it is being observed that the security situation is worsening rapidly. This evolving situation should be studied extensively to prevent any spillover to not just the other regions of Indonesia but also to other countries in the larger Southeast Asia region. This article begins with an overview of the conflict that had crippled the region for almost three decades. The next section talks about the transition from a violent society to a fully functional self-governed unit through a well-chalked transition. This will be followed by a section dealing with the next steps in peacebuilding that will identify the core security issues marring the autonomous region currently, looking at past research and possible policy recommendations that can be of any help to the region. The final section concludes with a summary of the transition, peacebuilding efforts, security issues and the policy recommendations.##

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