In early October, Aceh will hold its second gubanatorial elections since the 2005 peace agreement that ended almost three decades of separatist war. After five years of relative peace and stability, the main political tensions appear to be between competing factions of the former Free Aceh Movement (GAM). Other, more troubling tensions are, however, just below the surface.
There is little to divide the main factions competing in the elections. The incumbent governor, Irwandi Yusuf, has overseen the development of a universal health care system, expanded education, overseen underlying economic growth and banned logging in Aceh’s spectacular rainforest.
His main electoral opponent, GAM’s former ‘Foreign Minister’, Dr Zaini Abdullah, also supports such programs. Apart from personalities, the division between them might be characterised as one of the latter being more conservative and the former more progressive.
The announcement by East Timor’s prime minister, Xanana Gusmao, that his country will begin military to military links with Indonesia has caused widespread surprise, given the deeply troubled history between the small, recently independent state and its large and previously belligerent neighbour. There are a number of benefits to this new arrangement, which will also see police to police links established. But there are also many unresolved issues.
Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975 led to the deaths of more than a quarter of its population, almost 200,000 people, with its final farewell being the destruction of most of the country and the murder of around 1,500 more civilians. According to Prime Minister Gusmao, it is now time to forgive and forget.
In a short couple of months, Aceh will again go to the polls to elect a governor and vice-governor, bupatis and local representatives. The election will mark a consolidation of the democratic process in Aceh, introduced as a result of the 2005 Helsinki peace agreement.
Even though the campaign period for the elections has not yet formally started, there is great interest in who will run, what they stand for and what their chances of success might be. It is healthy that people take an active interest in the political life of their community, as the political process determines how the people of the community are to live, within the constraints imposed by their circumstances.
That the political environment in Aceh has remained more or less peaceful since 2005 represents a victory for the idea of democratic, representative government. The electoral process itself represents a victory for accountability, which is the opposite of the imposed rule that Aceh once experienced.
It is reasonably widely accepted that Osama bin Laden was able to stay in the Pakistan town of Abbottabad because he had the protection of Pakistan’s military, in particular its powerful Inter Services Intelligence organisation. It would have been all but impossible for bin Laden to have stayed in one place in Pakistan without the ISI knowing, implying it at least tolerated his presence. More likely, the ISI’s involvement was more active than mere tolerance.
The question is, then, no longer whether bin Laden had the active support of the ISI but why Pakistan’s premier intelligence organisation – from a country which is long-time ally of the United States – would host the US’s number one enemy on its soil. At risk is not just the defence relationship with the US but, more importantly, the major strategic deterrent to Pakistan’s principle enemy, India. It also risks the important, $7.5 billion, US aid budget to Pakistan.
A person who contributed to a discussion on East Timor recently wrote, regarding a leaked UN report that was critical of PM Xanana Gusmao’s increasing executive control of government:
“There is an eerie silence out there regarding the attacks contained in the UN report against the PM Gusmao from the many foreign academics, commentators and media who in 2006/07 vehemently condemned the FRETILIN Alkatiri first constitutional government for what they termed its anti-democratic, authoritarian, centralist, even Marxist practices and policies. Why is this so? Perhaps now that their preferred Timorese PM who is not a member of FRETILIN is in power they do not want to help draw attention to perceived or otherwise weaknesses.
The world of intelligence – spying to you and me – is by definition shrouded in secrecy, so that often what we know is limited or partial and the rest is, hopefully, what makes sense based on building up a longer term picture of events. The question of who knew what and how that was handled in the tracking of Osama bin Laden is a case in point.
It is known that the US had been tracking Osama bin Laden closely for the last few years, had known where his hideout was since last August and had been planning how to neutralise him since that time. We also know that massive bombs were considered as one option, but that a highly detailed raid by two units of special forces operatives was chosen instead.
The Australian government’s ‘East Timor’ asylum seeker solution is dying a death of a thousand cuts. It is a slow and painful process and unedifying to watch it writhe in agony. The plan has not yet been killed outright, but only an unreconstructed optimist would now suggest its fate is other than sealed.
The Bali Process ministerial forum has been one of the more damaging cuts to the ‘East Timor solution’, even if the decision by East Timor Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa not to attend was not a snub to Australia, as presented by some. Rather, East Timor has correctly pointed out that it has much more pressing priorities than Australia’s domestic concerns with asylum seekers and its half-baked plan about where to process them.
The line attributed by Mark Twain to British PM Benjamin Disraeli that there are ‘lies, damned lies and statistics’ might be held to be true when assessing the value of indicators. Indicators, after all, only indicate, so there is scope for debate about the meaning of the UNDP’s Human Development Index, identified by Robert Johnson in Crikey.com yesterday and by me last Friday.
But as well as damned lies and statistics there are also category errors – analysing metaphorical tangerines when one is supposed to be looking at oranges. They are similar, but not quite the same and confusing one for the other can lead to inaccuracies.
For every Australian tired of bad news – disasters, political disputes and public people behaving badly – here is some good news. While nobody was noticing, late last year Australia pipped Norway to achieve the highest standard of living in the world.
There is increasing discussion and hand-wringing about the pros and cons of direct intervention in the carnage that is now Libya. What seems certain is that without a circuit- breaker, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi will continue to wreak havoc on the Libyan people.
What is at stake here is the much debated ‘Responsibility To Protect’ (R2P), in which the international community agreed in 2005 that it needs to act to stop such bloodbaths before, rather than respond after, they happen.
However, as many analysts correctly point out that, a military intervention in Libya could well cohere the Libyan people not against Gaddafi but against the external forces. The invasion of Iraq was not based on the R2P principle, but it did show the folly of foreign occupation of a country that the people did not want occupied. Afghanistan is doing likewise.