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archive: Timor deal may fragment Indonesia

Timor deal may fragment Indonesia

M.D. Nalapat
Sunday Times of India
May 2, 1999.

    Title: Timor deal may fragment Indonesia
    Author: M.D.  Nalapat
    Publication: Sunday Times of India
    Date: May 2, 1999.
    The agreement to be signed next week by Indonesian President B.J.
    Habibie on East Timor may in the next few years lead to the
    fragmentation of Indonesia amid much blood- shed.  Thus far, the
    country's 85 per cent Muslim population has been largely tolerant of
    religious minorities, because of the multi-ethnic, multi-faith nature
    of Indonesia.  
    The country has 583 distinct ethnic groups in its 200 million
    population, as well as significant concentrations of Hindus,
    Christians and Buddhists.  Independence for East Timor may result in
    similar demands being raised by other territories, notably Aceh, Irian
    Jaya and Bali.  
    The East Timor agitation has long been fanned by the former colonial
    power, Portugal.  It is a measure of the degeneration of the United
    Nations that this country is given equal status with Indonesia in
    discussing the fate and future East Timor.  This is akin to the United
    Kingdom being asked to mediate on issues relating to India, a
    proposition endorsed solely by the U.K.- centric Clinton White House
    so far.  By rolling back to the "rights" of the colonial era, the
    U.N.  has created a dangerous new precedent under pressure from NATO. 
    Not surprisingly, in the region only Australia is pushing hard
    (together with the NATO states) for an independent East Timor that in
    effect will be a NATO protectorate.
    Together with Diego Garcia, now under illegal U.K.  occupation, such a
    neo-colony could serve as a base for NATO forces operating in the
    Indian Ocean.  This would increase the capability of the European
    alliance to intervene in this sensitive part of Asia, decades after
    they withdrew from it thanks to decolonisation.  By agreeing to the
    NATO diktat, President Habibe has revealed his undemocratic status. 
    No elected head of government would have been permitted to com-
    promise national security in this manner.  Interestingly, the nation's
    most popular leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is firmly against
    independence for East Timor.
    By encouraging a Christian-majority province to push for independence,
    the U.N.  is putting at risk minorities elsewhere in Indonesia thanks
    to the upsurge of Muslim fanaticism that the Timor agitation has
    caused.  Indonesia together with India - two countries with the
    largest Muslim populations in the world has been oasis of secular
    calm.  Unless East Timor remains within Indonesia, that will be
    threatened.  For the sake of naval and other bases, NATO is putting at
    risk a unique experiment in ethnic togetherness.
    Besides Christians, and possibly Hindus and Buddhists, many Muslims
    too are likely to attempt to break away from Jakarta once East Timor
    gets statehood.  This is because the people of Indonesia are fractured
    into numerous groups, many with only a short history of living
    peacefully together.  Already, riots have broken out between different
    groups in over a dozen of Indonesia's 27 provinces and territories. 
    The ongoing economic turmoil will make these frictions worse.
    Sadly, New Delhi has thus far watched silently as a nominated head of
    a friendly government prepares to launch a process that could spell
    the doom of his state.  India has an immense stake in Indonesia's
    continuance as a multi-religious society wedded to tolerance.  Else
    the flames from the growing fanaticism in this once- proud nation may
    reach Indian shores, just as those from the Talibanised regimes to
    India's west have.  If not publicly, then privately Indonesia needs to
    be warned against the catastrophe that will follow the breaking away
    of East Timor.

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