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Indonesia May Send Peacekeepers to Afghanistan - 2001-12-22


Indonesia says it may send troops to help keep peace in Afghanistan. A troop deployment could be good for Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, and for the country's military. Indonesian officials say the government has agreed in principle to participate in a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan - and that it would be proud to help the Afghan people. Indonesia has joined 10 peacekeeping missions including missions to Bosnia and Somalia in the 1990's.

Besides providing humanitarian assistance to another Muslim country, sending Indonesian peacekeepers to Afghanistan may serve a political purpose for President Megawati Sukarnoputri who has challenges to face at home.

Shortly after the September 11 attacks on the United States, President Megawati's government decided to support Washington in its war against terrorism. The decision, however, left her walking a fine line between international and domestic pressures. Some conservative Islamic groups at home are angry about the U.S.-led attacks on Afghanistan, and led rallies in protest. While President Megawati must avoid provoking Islamic extremists at home, she needs to maintain close ties with Washington, partly because of the hundreds of millions of dollars of help the U.S. provides Indonesia's beleaguered economy.

Analysts say that deploying Indonesian troops to Afghanistan may help President Megawati soothe her critics. Political analyst Rizal Ramli, from the Center for Strategic and Independent Studies in Jakarta, says a peacekeeping mission could improve her relationship with Islamic groups groups that could pose a threat to her administration's success. "It is good if the U.N. and the U.S. ask Muslim countries' contribution to the peacekeeping cause there. Indonesia will have to participate in that sense. And for Megawati it's very good domestically," he says.

It is not just President Megawati who stands to win more support by participating in a peacekeeping mission. Once considered the cement that held the country together, the reputation of the Indonesian armed forces has suffered in recent years, because of the way troops handled domestic security situations.

Human rights groups blame the military for the deaths of thousands of people in the restive provinces of Aceh and West Papua in the past few years, and even in the Indonesian capital, where students have died in violent protests. One of the last major deployments of peacekeepers was to restore calm to East Timor - after its vote to break free from Indonesian rule. Human rights groups say undisciplined members of the Indonesian armed forces backed anti-independence militia groups, which killed hundreds of people. Analysts say deploying troops overseas could help the military restore its reputation with the Indonesian people. Analysts say that despite their spotty track record at home, deploying Indonesian troops overseas could help the country's image abroad because Indonesian troops usually perform well on peacekeeping missions. That is largely because the United Nations provides good funding to peacekeepers. At home, the Indonesian government can afford little in pay for soldiers which leads to corruption.

Harold Crouch is an analyst with the think tank, International Crisis Group here in Jakarta. "When you're in an international organization, all the pressure is on you to perform properly. When you're sent to Kalimantan or Maluku there are none of the economic pressures to not do your proper security job. So I think Indonesian troops would respond to an environment that gives them an incentive to behave properly," he says. The Indonesian government says it is still waiting to be formally asked to participate in a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan. Official say they have one caveat: it will only deploy its troops under the auspices of the United Nations - and not the United States or its allies in the war against Osama bin Laden's al Qaida network in Afghanistan.

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