Subject: Op-Ed: Book Sheds Light On Aspiring Leaders

[Panjaitan lost a civil suit in the U.S. for his role in the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre. see  - JMM/ETAN]

The Jakarta Globe

Monday, March 1, 2009

The Thinker: Book Sheds Light On Aspiring Leaders

Taufik Darusman

Old soldiers never die, the legendary US Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur once said, they just fade away.

Most older Indonesian soldiers also tend to retreat to the background, although many later reappear on the national scene as cabinet ministers, top executives in large private or state-owned corporations, ambassadors, or wealthy businessmen.

In recent times, they have been setting up political parties as well and sitting on as chairmen. Notably, two military officers have become presidents, even though Suharto and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono were only 46 years old and 55 years old respectively when they first took office.

Still, a few soldiers write memoirs to share their stories to the public. Among them is retired three-star army general, Sintong S. Panjaitan, the former commander of the Army’s Special Forces, or Kopassus, and later territorial military commander, whose charge also included the former Portuguese colony and now sovereign state of East Timor.

Last week Sintong, whose last official position was as special adviser on military and defense to former president, BJ Habibie, published “The Journey of a Commando,” a book that could put a bad light on two former senior military officers who also happen to be running for president: Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto.

Sintong, who hails from North Sumatra Province and whose people are known never to mince words, dismissed Prabowo as “deranged” for concocting — unbeknownst to his direct superiors — a pre-emptive plan to kidnap key military officers in a bid to foil what he imagined to be a military coup in the making against his father-in-law, Suharto, in 1983.

Worse, Sintong wrote, the military failed to censure Prabowo for the misdeed. Then 15 years later, according to Sintong, the military again failed in its duties when it only discharged Koppasus personnel serving under Prabowo for kidnapping activists and never probed more extensively to find out who the mastermind was behind the act .

The book also revealed the full extent of Prabowo’s bizarre behavior in the aftermath of Suharto’s resignation, as he maneuvered to remain in power despite his dismissal as commander of the powerful Kostrad strategic armed forces unit by Habibie.

Sintong, who gained national prominence in 1981 when he led an antiterror team to overpower hijackers of a Garuda aircraft in Bangkok — not one single passenger died during the 30-second operation while it left all five terrorists dead — had no less kinder words for Wiranto.

As the commander of the Armed Forces at the time of the 1998 May riots in Jakarta that saw over 500 people perish, 4,000 buildings damaged, 1,000 cars torched and 1,000 homes burned down, Wiranto should have been held responsible for the national tragedy, Sintong wrote.

Sintong also questioned Wiranto’s professionalism and sense of leadership for leaving Jakarta at the height of the riots to attend a change-of-the-guard ceremony, which was a relatively mundane event and for refusing to accept a special mandate from then president Suharto to restore law and order in the aftermath of a blaze that lasted for three days in Jakarta.

Even by post-reform standards the revelations found in Sintong’s book are remarkable. So far, Prabowo and Wiranto have reacted in a civil manner to the book’s contents. What this means is anybody’s guess. Either they’re not keen on publicly challenging Sintong’s claims, or maybe it’s a tacit admission to the veracity of the book.

The incredibly shoddy editing and the numerous misspellings strongly suggest that the book was published hastily, about four weeks before the legislative election and the ensuing presidential election on July 9. It is a matter of speculation whether the timing of the book’s publication was designed to provide voters with a different, if not adverse, perspective on two men who are running for the nation’s highest office.

But those who subscribe to the so-called conspiracy theories are different from those who vote on the basis of real-time developments with little regard for the past.

As the nation has been overwhelmed by the enormity and the pace of national events in the past decade or since reform has set in, it looks all too easy for people to forget to factor in the past when they decide on the future.

Taufik Darusman is a veteran Jakarta-based journalist.

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