The following brief post is inspired by the Armed Christian article. Using the same title “Never Underestimate”, I change the subject to discuss West Papua Separatists.
I read a lot of opinions on online media about Free Papua Movement. The actual threats of Free Papua Movement to Indonesia’s sovereignty are known as small. For example, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, BBC, ABC depicted the threat of Free West Papua Armed group as a low-level separatist insurgency for decades.
Despite continuing terrors, armed attack, killing, burning, kidnapping by West Papua Army, Indonesian human rights activists spend more time criticising Indonesian security and belittling Free West Papua separatists and other supporting groups such as young communist Papuan who create National Committee for West Papua and other Papuan student movements. The communist ideology is clearly the main driver of the demonstration led to riots method in Papua and West Papua provinces.
Democracy in Indonesia opens an opportunity for its people to challenge every policy of the government. The same situation applies in Papua and West Papua provinces. Respect to human rights increased dramatically in all regions of Indonesia, including Papua and West Papua. However, democracy can be also used as an excuse to manage rebellion by asking independence through referendum.
West Papuan separatist leaders are actually hopeless because they know for sure that the way to separate from Indonesia must involve Indonesian government. In other word, they need the initiative and bless from the government of Indonesia. As a comparison, we can see the East Timor case. Timor Leste independence is only possible to happen because of the decision of President Habibie.
The 1969 Act of Free Choice was a final and internationally recognised referendum for Irian Jaya (now Papua and West Papua). Despite critics of method of referendum by noken or representative leaders, repeating referendum has no reason but emotional dreams of West Papuan separatist leaders.
Why Indonesia should never underestimate West Papua separatists?
First, Free West Papua supporters use social media and international media mainstream like the Guardian and RNZ to manipulate the situation in Papua and West Papua. Their intention is to create negative international public opinions against Indonesia. Unfortunately, the reaction of Indonesia most of the time is too impulsive nationalistic by counter attack using simple narratives denying every propaganda of Free West Papua supporters.
The current result of this propaganda war is the domination of Free West Papua narratives. Despite regular reporting to WordPress, Google and efforts to takedown this blog, I confirm that West Papua Blog is among very-very few blogs that can exist for many years. When I read Jakarta Post and Antara News, I found many good news from Papua and West Papua. However, such good news was drowned out by negative news from Free West Papua Campaign.
Second, democracy is a delicate concept if it must face separatism challenge politically. The case of Scotland separatism in the UK and the Catalan nationalist movement in Spain are two examples that can show the difficulties in negotiating or mediating the differences. Free West Papua supporters, especially scholars and lawyers are very familiar with this and able to find a niche in creating many argumentation to challenge Indonesia’s sovereignty over Papua and West Papua regions.
Indonesia should develop a solid reasoning based on international law, political science, historical background, and current positive development. Please don’t forget that the problem lies in Papua and West Papua, not outside the regions. So, Papuan local government and central government have the responsibility to improve the living standard of people in West Papua and Papua. The increasing number of middle class in the regions will also push the demand of substantive democracy like in other regions of Indonesia.
Third, the so called low-level insurgency is more than just a pebble in Indonesia’s shoes. It needs a long-term and short-term strategies that is consistent with Indonesia’s national law, human rights, and protecting the populations in Papua and West Papua. Insurgency will never survive without the support from the people who live around the area of insurgency. Insurgency in the regions is concentrated in mountainous area near several villages.
Indonesia should never consider the villagers as their enemy, in contrast should start to win their heart and mind. If possible, a surgical military operation is needed in tackling low-level insurgency. But we all know that such surgical precision only targeting combatant is not as easy as in the theory. So, alternative of opening contact with the armed group is also possible to try. Do they really want independence, which is unacceptable for Indonesia, or they want something else that can be accomodated.
Finally, the fourth reason is how to handle the tricky West Papuan separatists leaders outside Indonesia. When it comes to West Papuan separatists leaders in foreign countries, I sense a tendency of overreaction that make those leaders bigger than the reality. For example, the leadership of Benny Wenda is very weak due to his mental breakdown and hallucination (please confirm this with Serogo Tabuni). Benny Wenda is not only afraid of West Papua Army leadership, but he has no place among the traditional tribe leaders in Papua and West Papua.
Benny Wenda supporters may have a huge success in ballooning Benny’s name and image internationally. However, in reality he can’t even speak properly in arguing about the future of Papua and West Papua. The same situation is also applied to other West Papuan separatist leaders. I also want to highlight the case of Veronica Koman who suddenly become a celebrity lawyer on West Papua issue. Koman who was Ahok hardcore supporter is not as famous as we think. Her twitter account is followed by paid buzzers who continue to retweet and like her tweets.
When I write in the beginning, never underestimate West Papua separatists, it doesn’t mean that Indonesia has to overestimate them. What Indonesia should do is to tackle the threat strategically and consistent with the good intention to solve the problem for the population in the regions.