Can we win the hearts and minds of the Papuans?
Adhi Priamarizki, Singapore Sat, 10/29/2011 12:39 PM
In the past few weeks, the situation in Papua has escalated both in terms of security and political tension. The incidents around Freeport and the Third Papuan People’s Congress reignited the increasing tension in this beautiful land.
The Third Papuan People’s Congress outcome: declaration of a West Papua State. The congress was dismissed by the police. The question is what is going on in Papua? Why are these accidents occurring?
In his book, Defeating Communist Insurgency, British military officer Sir Robert Thompson explained five basic principles of counterinsurgency.
The first principle is that the government must have a clear political aim. The aim is to establish and maintain a free, independent and united country which is politically and economically stable and viable.
Second, the government must function in accordance with the law. Third, the government must have an overall plan. Fourth, the government must prioritize defeating political subversion, not the guerrillas. Fifth, in the guerrilla phase of an insurgency, a government must secure its base areas first.
In the case of Papua, and especially the declaration of independence, there is a possibility the escalating tension will turn into open insurgency. The notable element is the disappointment of some parts of the people to the government policy. The puzzle is: Can we “win the hearts and minds” of the people of Papua?
As noted by Thompson, maintaining the stability and viability of political and economic conditions should be the priority of the government.
It is believed that the main cause of the problem in Papua is connected to the economy and infrastructure. Building infrastructure and implementing precise policy in Papua is needed.
Furthermore, the government must strictly act according to the law. Thompson argued that there is a temptation to act outside of the law in engaging with the insurgency. The government must avoid doing this, because it is morally wrong and will create more problems than solutions.
He also raised the idea of bringing all persons involved in the insurgency to public trial. This would not only show that law enforcement is in place, but also open the nature of the insurgent conspiracy, including the probability of the insurgents getting any direction and assistance from outside the country.
Moreover, Thompson emphasized the balance between the military and civil action to remedy the problem. These two elements must support each other to settle the situation. Since the population is the source of power for the insurgency, he believed that the insurgents must be isolated from the people.
Finally, if the guerrilla action broke out, the government must guard the high-population areas first. This would advantage the government’s ability to start the counterinsurgency campaign because these areas could support the campaign properly.
The insurgents will not engage in the conventional military battle with the government. In his book, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, David Galula explained that the gap of power between the insurgents and counterinsurgents would force the insurgents to find a new way to fight the government.
The population becomes their objective to win this war. As well as the insurgents, the counterinsurgents must aim to win and gain support from the population.
It should be noted that this kind of war would not happen on a battlefield, but in our territory and among society. According to this condition, the operation should be conducted very carefully to reduce casualties. Further, the media will also become the battleground in this war.
As the objective of the insurgents’ operations is the population, they will use the media to gain support for it. In combating the insurgency, the government cannot undermine the media factor in its counterinsurgency campaign.
Gil Merom stated in his book How Democracies Lose Small Wars that a democratic country tends to lose in small wars because of disagreement between state and society about moral issues that concern human life and dignity. In other words, the public opinion is a matter and the media is the key to control it.
What is happening in Papua now has not happened overnight. It has gradually risen for years or even decades ago. If we look back, there have been several attempts at rebellion.
In conclusion, military operations alone cannot resolve the problem in Papua, it also needs civil action. If the government can solve the economic and infrastructure problem in Papua, the possibility of an insurgency could be abolished.
The insurgents would feel that it is not necessary to revolt because their needs have been fulfilled by the government. Economic stability cannot be undermined. The economic stability that has been enjoyed by Indonesia in the past few years must be maintained in order to keep the trust of the people.
However, one thing that should be remembered is that we are not engaging with the enemy but facing our brothers who are disappointed with their circumstances.
It would be remarkable if the problem in Papua could be solved without any military operations. As Sun Tzu said, “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
It sounds simple to solve the problem in Papua – just fix the root of the problem. However, as noted by Carl von Clausewitz, everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is very difficult.
The writer is a student at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
(read in the Jak Pos)