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Jusuf Kalla and His Soft Approach behind Aceh Peacemaking

The militaristic approach taken by the Government of Indonesia (GoI) to eradicate the separatism and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in Aceh proved to have failed. Such a repressive approach continued to reproduce violence. Sofyan Djalil, the Aceh Peace negotiator in Helsinki, Finland, states that during the 1975-2004 conflict, there were 15,000 people died in Aceh. Human right violations occur evenly in all regions of Aceh, where both conflicting parties, GAM and TNI, commit murders (Khoiri cited in Kompas, 12 April 2014).

Along with the murders, there were numerous cases of forced detention, torture, kidnapping, rape, and forced evictions. At the same time, GAM members also committed violence against civils mainly people who came from outside of Aceh or people who were considered TNI informants (Yuniar & Easton, 2015). In short, all military operations to create peace by attacking GAM to wipe out separatism failed (Marzuki & Warsidi, 2011). Therefore, it needed a different approach to managing conflict in Aceh.

After several earlier peace efforts failed, in August 2005, GAM and GoI agreed to cease the conflict and create peace in Aceh. Helsinki MoU is now admitted as a masterpiece in the history of conflict resolution and peacemaking in Indonesia. Behind this peacemaking success, it is only one person whose dedication and contribution will always be in the heart of Aceh people and the worldwide, i.e. Mr Jusuf Kalla (JK).

JK is the kingmaker who played multiple significant roles behind the peacemaking process in Aceh. He will be remembered for his soft and humanistic approaches in the Aceh peacemaking process. This essay examines some approaches that JK undertook during the process of peacemaking in Aceh.


The Soft approaches

The first one is that JK approached GAM (Aceh Free Movement) elites and local power softly. JK was fully aware that peace would never find its way in Aceh if Government of Indonesia took repressive approach in building dialog with GAM. As such, the first and the foremost preliminary step JK took was building trust among GAM elites to go forward with to the dialog.

It was testified by Malik Mahmud, the chair of GAM delegation in Finland dialog by saying, “…honesty in talking and action had convinced me and Tgk Muhammad Hasan Tiro to go forward with dialog. Mutual trust and respect shown by JK as a negotiator is the bridge towards building never lasting peace in Aceh” (cited in Serambi Indonesia, 3 March 2018). He added that JK was the first person that contacted him soon after a magnitude 9.1 quake and Tsunami struck and devastated Aceh in the late December 2004.

Malik Mahmud asserted that JK was hoping that the earthquake and Tsunami should be seen as a momentum and turning point to re-visit the peace dialog. These ‘first-hand’ testimonies actively demonstrate that GAM had a good trust in JK and as such, they agreed to go to dialog.

Furthermore, JK also demonstrated his full trust during the dialog process in Helsinki. In the 4th round of the negotiation process in Finland, the situation was tense because GoI was heavily suspicious about GAM proposal to establish a local political party in Aceh. In Jakarta, JK needed to manage disturbances and intervention from ultranationalists in parliament and the military (Cunliffe, Riyadi, Arwalembun, & Tobi, 2009).

Many politicians in parliament instructed the government to stop negotiation with GAM and attack them if they refused to stop separatism. “ … no more dialog, GAM only has two choices: accepting special autonomy or GAM is demolished” stressed Mr Permadi, the member of parliament from commission 1 to respond to the Helsinki dialog (cited in, 23 May 2005).

JK is well-known for his fast and strategic move. His goal was very clear, i.e. agreement to end conflict must be signed soon. Despite his position as a government official, JK is not a bureaucratic person. As such, he took many initiatives to be able to move more freely and quickly in decision making (Aspinall, 2005).

In such a deadlocked situation, Hamid Awaluddin as the head of GoI delegation consulted with JK.

Surprisingly JK came with very humanistic and whole-hearted support by saying that “everything you can do, just do it as long as it does not conflict with Indonesian constitution. The most important thing for me and us as the GoI is that our family in Aceh stop this war and live peacefully” (Hasyim as cited in Serambi Indonesia, 15 August 2015).

Furthermore, JK did not only work closely with GAM negotiators in Helsinki, he also actively built communication with influential individuals in GAM to seek their support towards establishing eternal peace in Aceh. Husain (2007), a negotiator from GoI in his book To See the Unseen, unveiled many untold stories where JK tried hard to meet the key GAM members living abroad such as Swedia and Belgium. Husain explained that it was very challenging to facilitate the meeting with GAM people overseas as they do not trust on GoI.

For that point, the former GAM Defense Minister, Tengku Zakaria Saman, emphatically testified:

“…he (JK) is the machine behind the peace agreement in Aceh. He intensively built communication with senior combatants both at domestic and overseas. He monitors the process of dialogs by himself … he is even pick up my phone at 12 a.m. in the midnight where even Camat (subdistrict officer) normally does not do it in Aceh” (Khoiri as cited in Kompas, 12 April 2014).

This strong support from JK again indicated his sincerity and total expectation to see peace in Aceh. In short, the bottom line is that JK is highly trustworthy among GAM elites.

GAM perceived that he was all-out and sincere to create peace in Aceh. In the eyes of GAM, JK is an ambitious and persistent figure, and he does not want the peace process to fail again.

Another success factor behind Aceh peacemaking process was JK approach regarding negotiators choice. He was completely aware that negotiator is critical determinant towards negotiating peace with Aceh Free Movement. It is, therefore, JK selected people who would be most likely ‘accepted’ by GAM to negotiate.

There were five negotiators sent by JK on behalf of Indonesian government namely Hamid Awaluddin (the chair), Sofyan Djalil, Farid Husein, Usman Basya and Agung Wesaka Puja. None of these negotiators are Javanese because JK well-informed that GAM would not trust fully to negotiators with Javanese background (Suryo as cited in Antara, 8 April 2007).

For example, Hamid Awaluddin, Farid Husein and JK himself are Buginese people who had strong connection with Aceh in many aspects previously such as trade and Islamic teaching development.

In an interview with Murizal Hamzah (the writer of the bestseller book about Hasan Tiro) to collect data for this essay, he stated that many people criticized their negotiation capability.

However, Jusuf Kalla had hidden and thought well the reasons why he decided to send them instead of choosing other well-known and proven negotiators to talk with GAM. Hamzah (2015) argues that JK’s consideration was well-accepted negotiators by GAM and only such negotiators we can go forward with dialog with GAM.

This is justified by Hasyim in his article entitled Stories Behind Aceh Peace Dialog in Helsinki. He clearly described that Hamid Awaluddin and Malik Mahmud were talking each other like a friend in early days of dialog process. In his article, Hasyim beautifully wrote Malik and Hamid dialog “Mr Hamid, I deeply miss my family in Aceh. I want to stand against the beach in Aceh while enjoying Buginese ships. I like Buginese ship. Previously, my parents in Singapore had Buginese ship for transporting goods. Every evening, I spend my time on the ship and enjoy my lunch with the crew” (cited in Serambi Indonesia on 15 August 2015).

As Zaini Abdullah was following them, he jumped into conversation and spoke to Hamid that “I can’t wait to eat gulai kambing Aceh (a common goat curry in Aceh)”. Interestingly, Hamid was exactly got their points that they wanted peace and therefore he was friendly replied,

“Insya Allah (a greeting hoping to God will) Teungku (special degree for Acehnese Islamic Scholar). All your dream will come true soon. We will make it, Tengku. We will make it” (Hasyim as cited in Serambi Indonesia, 15 August 2015).

All these dialogs might look simple and meaningless. In communication and negotiation perspective, however, such a dialog would not happen if they did not trust and felt ‘accepted’ on each other. In summary, it clearly indicates that GoI negotiators were easily accepted by GAM and they would freely share their thoughts and feelings each other without being suspicious.


Ideas to promote JK leadership in peacemaking process

For us, as Acehnese, we don’t see ‘Bugis Factor’ as a critical part of the success of peacemaking in Aceh. It is his leadership, strategic action and decision, intelligence, sincerity, totality, and political will within peacemaking process what makes JK deserve for Peace Nobel Prize.

There are several ways to campaign and promote JK for his leadership, contribution, and dedication to the peacemaking in Aceh, Poso and other places. One, produce one (more than one) books depict his steps and ways in peacemaking process.

The emphasis is on the process of peacemaking (not focusing on the output) such as people that JK lobbied, called, met, and selected the meeting location. In short, this book will be a medium to uncover and promote the untold stories behind peacemaking process such as approaches above.

Following to book-publication, the second idea, it requires a solid team with a purpose to disseminate and sale JK’s stories in peacemaking to the public on his behalf. The dissemination is not only in domestic but most importantly for international audiences.

The other strategic way worth to consider is producing a movie. Perhaps a biography movie with an emphasis on JK contribution in peacemaking in many areas in Indonesia. There are many movies telling about a figure such as The Lady (telling about Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar, regardless her leadership controversy now); Sir Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour; Nelson Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.

In Indonesian context, there are Sang Pencerah telling about the journey of Ahmad Dahlan or the phenomenal Habibie and Ainun film depicts their live journey.

Lastly, in the eyes of writers as young Acehnese, JK is an interesting leader and figure who never ask for a reward for his hard work to create peace in Aceh. We believe that his leadership, contribution and dedication will inspire many young people and leaders to incorporate his style, approaches, and ways in their life.

It also important to underline that JK’s hard work in Aceh is not only for Acehnese but it is for the sake of humanity and human rights. In this perspective, JK deserves worldwide appreciation for his contribution to the peacemaking in Aceh.



Muhammad Adam

31 years old, currently working for Human Development Section Australian Embassy Jakarta.



This essay has been edited and modified for digital publication and reading easiness reasons.

These terms have been agreed upon by the writer (s).


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