‘Achieving food security is a matter of survival’, says the Babinsa while sipping his black Acehnese coffee, ‘and we are really focused on achieving it.’ ‘We’ in this case refers to the Indonesian armed forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia, or TNI). The Babinsa (Bintara Pembina Desa) are non-commissioned officers with a supervisory role in their villages and as part of Indonesia’s effort to increase local food production this Babinsa is in charge of delivering seeds from Lhokseumawe to the people in his village in North Aceh. ‘Without TNI supervision, the delivery process is prone to corruption’, he says.
Sitting in a small coffee shop in Gampong Geudumbak, he continues: ‘I help them at all stages, from identifying land to cultivation to harvesting. Under my supervision, within just a year, my village has already opened 150 hectares of soybean and corn fields.’ Asked why the TNI, and not civilians, needs to supervise these activities, the Babinsa’s attitude is revealing. ‘You know’, he says, ‘Acehnese are lazy. They would rather hangout in a coffee shop every morning than work in the fields. So forcing them to work in the field is for their own good. The TNI is like a parent, and we need to educate our kids [the people].’
Sentiments like these are reminiscent of the authoritarian New Order period (1966–1998) when the Indonesian military, through its infamous dwifungsi (dual function) doctrine, was deeply involved in President Suharto’s development agenda. The Babinsa’s words indicate that this kind of paternalistic attitude never really disappeared. And so it should not come as a surprise that Indonesian soldiers today are once again assisting civilian agencies in implementing national development policies. Based on a number of memoranda of understanding between the government and the military, soldiers are not only helping the police in counterterrorism operations but also securing airports, educating inmates and, in one of the most advanced programs to date, performing key tasks in the government’s efforts to achieve self-sufficiency in food production.
The TNI’s immersion into civilian affairs highlights that elite attitudes towards civil–military dynamics in Indonesia have barely changed since the end of the authoritarian New Order period. Civilian leaders continue to solicit help from the TNI in the belief that civilian agencies cannot be relied upon to fulfil these tasks satisfactorily. At the same time, the military leadership continues to harbour aspirations of being socially embedded at the grassroots level.
… Emirza Adi Syailendra is a research analyst at the Indonesia Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 11/01/2017