Indonesia’s President Inducts First 3,100 Military Reservists

Tria Dianti
Jakarta
2021-10-07
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Indonesia’s President Inducts First 3,100 Military Reservists Indonesian soldiers participate in a ceremony in Banda Aceh to mark the nation’s 76th Independence Day, Aug. 17, 2021.
AFP

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inducted 3,100 military reservists on Thursday, the first phase in a plan to create a 25,000-member force which, human rights groups fear, could usher in the militarization of civilian life.

During a ceremony in West Java province, the army reserve recruits displayed skills including martial arts, disassembling guns with eyes closed and shooting cannons.

“I officially declare that the Reserve Component of 2021 has been established,” Jokowi told those gathered in Bandung Barat regency.

The president said the reserve force was needed to deal with potential threats to national sovereignty, territorial integrity and people’s safety. Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country, has no compulsory military service.

“I need to emphasize that the Reserve Component should not be used for anything other than defense purposes,” Jokowi said. “Every citizen has the right and obligation to participate in efforts to defend the country and national defense efforts.”

The military’s three branches – army, navy and air force – have about 400,000 members.

After the passage of a law in 2019 establishing the force of reservists, officials in May began recruiting for the National Reserve Component (Komcad), as the new reservist force is known.

That same month, a coalition of civil-society groups lodged a petition with the Constitutional Court to rule against the reserve component.

The plaintiffs argued that its creation could foment conflicts in society, given the history of violence by government-backed paramilitary groups in Indonesia.

Some of that violence occurred during the anti-communist purge in the 1960s and the political upheaval that followed when President Suharto fell from power in 1998 after 32 years of military-backed rule.

The court has not ruled on the petition. 

On Thursday, Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto joined Jokowi at the ceremony.

“Every citizen has the right and obligation to participate in the defense and security of the state as mandated in the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia,” Prabowo said.

The Defense Ministry plans to recruit 25,000 reservists by next year who will train up to 30 days each year and be given a stipend during those days, according to Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

Maintaining the reserve component is expected to cost 1.37 trillion rupiah (U.S. $96.4 million) annually, or about 1 percent of the defense budget, he said.

Militia concerns

Muhamad Haripin, a security analyst at the National Research and Innovation Agency, said he was concerned the reservists could act as state militias.

“Is there a guarantee that it will not be used to expend military control over society?” Haripin said. “Komcad could be used as a tool of the state in doing dirty work and pitting communities against each other.

“There’s been growing militarization of civilian life, with the military being everywhere, and now civilians are being trained to be combatants. We should not revive the culture of violence,” he told BenarNews.

Hussein Ahmad, a researcher at the human rights group Imparsial, warned that the reserve force could be used to suppress freedoms under the pretext of dealing with communism, terrorism, and domestic conflicts.

“The establishment of the Reserve Component is not urgent, because so far, even without a reserve component, the government is capable of dealing with various threats,” Hussein told BenarNews.

Under Jokowi, the government has outlawed the Indonesian branch of an international Islamic movement, Hizb ut Tahrir, and the vigilant group Islamic Defenders Front, while courting a paramilitary wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Muslim organization.  

Earlier this year, national police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo said he planned to revive the controversial Independent Community Security Force (known by its Indonesian acronym Pamswakarsa), which was formed in the late 1990s to counter anti-government protests. 

Hussein said Indonesia should instead modernize its military and direct its attention to regions where threats exist, including the North Natuna Sea where Chinese ships have been active in Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone.

“The modernization of the defense equipment system can focus on the offshore patrol vessel fleet and all of its weapon systems for the Indonesian Navy,” he said.

“Instead of recruiting tens of thousands of civilians to become members of the Reserve Component, it is better to aim at increasing the level of welfare for all active soldiers, such as improving remuneration and providing adequate housing,” he said.

Susaningtyas Kertopati, a former legislator who served on the defense committee, disagreed, claiming the reserves would complement the military in responding to future challenges.

“The Reserve Component will not become a mercenary organization because it’s fully funded by the state and is bound by law,” she told BenarNews. “They will be trained to have high discipline and to be able to help all members of society, especially during humanitarian missions.”

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