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En Route to the New Model of Efficient Conflict Mediation: Jusuf Kalla’s Interpersonal Approach to Peace

The JK’s approach  

The word ‘insurgent’ is a common word in Indonesia’s history. Economic inequality and politics of identity often become reasons of atrocities and conflicts that have made the country vulnerable in the long-run.

Political figures, barely seen as proper mediator due to the political interest, delving themselves for greater cause for the next political campaign, rely themselves on hubristic beliefs on their capability in solving crises.

However, it becomes counter-intuitive when we speak about conflict resolution in Indonesia, instead of local political figures than foreign mediator seldom finds its way to the peacemaking process when there is a certain conflict running.

The foreign mediator plays a preeminent role within the process of resolution. The factor that plays a more significant role here is the strong beliefs on the traditional value that overrides the rational legal system stated by the law. Not a single law expert ever said that legal-based resolution is sine qua non to solve the conflict.

Thus, it is justifiable to state that a strong political figure with the interpersonal-cultural approach could be applied in mediating any conflict involving two groups with different identities. It was also said that interpersonal relations could lead to a more cooperative process of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation .

Conflicts in Indonesia have been spotted by international society ever since the late 1940s in early independence of Indonesia to the 1960s during the political instability in Indonesia, and to the end of New Order in the late 1990s.

But nothing has changed; the conflicts occurred in the grassroots level are wheeled by identity-skepticism, feeling of difference, and less-empathy toward other groups from a different background. Up to now, the structure of conflict remains unchanged albeit all of the processes of democratizations across the country.

Big conflicts in Indonesia included Aceh (resolved in 2005), Maluku (resolved in 2002), and Poso (resolved in 2001). Jusuf Kalla (JK) (Minister of Social Affairs then, later Vice President) has persistently led the efforts of conflict resolution and reconciliation in regions above.

Some experts, like Harris, agreed that the success of resolution is relied on his determination on conducting informal interpersonal approach preceding the negotiation, raising the narratives of familiarity and the importance of unity and value of humanity, while eradicating the act of violence along the way. The essay comprises analysis of JK’s effort in three different sides: leadership, hybrid approach to peace, and psychocultural narratives as the preeminent matter within the JK’s way to create peace.


Lesson to Learn: Decent Structure for Conflict Resolution

In general, JK’s approach to peace was the in-depth covert and subtle involvement to assure the peace negotiations supported by multilevel of society, from eminent figures, to local populations. Tronquist and Brauchler support this manifesto when analyzing about Aceh and Maluku by saying that JK was paramount in preparing the peace before the negotiation by various efforts (e.g. secretive talks, power-sharing agreement, and availing business deals) in exchange for peace.

Even, JK himself admitted his manifesto for a subtle approach in one of his interviews . This subtle movement has three main components: (1) supports from the traditional leader; (2) hybrid approach, and (3) the psychocultural narratives.

First, Sultan of Ternate began the first negotiation in the Kao-Malifut conflict in North Maluku in 1999, keuchik (head of village) in Aceh contributed to the pre-negotiation process prior to the peace agreement signed in Helsinki, in other continent, leader like Paul Kagame (Rwanda), and Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe) ended the conflict by using their strong background as traditional leader, despite some dictatorship following their victory over atrocities.

Traditional leader mainly has three functions that could affect the peace process: (1) mobilizing the conflicting parties; (2) disseminating the resolution in the long-run; and (3) the person, seen as a portrayal of the sacred tradition.

During the conflict in Aceh and Maluku, the talks conducted under JK’s initiative were targeting preeminent leader portraying the people’s interest in both sides, keuchik and GAM local commander in Aceh, and the Sultan and Raja in Maluku.

Such acts have paved the way for the representation of each side to take a seat in the negotiation table. Therefore, in the long-run, the traditional leader attained burden for the creation of a warm-peace environment in the post-conflict reconciliation process. Both Maluku and Aceh, supervised by JK himself, underwent the multilevel-integrated reconciliation system, from the provincial level to the individual level. The never-ending process reflected the evolution of peace and unity in Indonesia.

Second, beyond the subtle involvement in the local level, international support is also essential in mediating specific dimension that unable to be penetrated by each conflicting party. In Aceh conflict, the national forces of Indonesia (TNI) has become the biggest issue since the late 1970s, TNI has been accused for human rights violation. Meanwhile, the armed forces of GAM used the ‘self-defense argument’ to do their operation against TNI.

Here, the role of the Henry Dunant Center (HDC) and the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) emerged.

Both mediator institutions succeeded in one thing but failed in another. HDC succeeded in passing the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) but failed to implement it due to the ‘reductionist argument’ excluding the multidimensional issue intertwining both military and normative dimensions.

Meanwhile, CMI succeed in facilitating the Government of Indonesia to conduct the talks but failed to be the leading actor facilitating the peace.

On the other hand, taking initiative personally, JK has been involved in Aceh conflict since in the early 2001, taking in-depth covert involvement, learning more, talking to lots of figure, utilizing the international platform taking part in mediating peace, while learning the best efforts to accommodate the interest of the insurgents.

Finally, there are psychological narratives played by JK during subtle peace talks. He once said that he never let the parliament know the process of resolution until the agreement has been met. The reason was to avoid the political interest affecting the peace process. Thus, making each word, he and his team said to the conflicting parties, were far from the parliament, but somewhat close to the generic value of Indonesia’s constitution.

The beginning of conflict resolutions in Indonesia was started by raising the narratives of similar identity and tribal closeness, which both conflicting parties shared. Later, we can see that conflicts in Poso and Maluku were solved by the careful process of the creation of a mutual trust with the Agreement of Malino I and II becoming milestones toward better reconciliation process.

Meanwhile, the Aceh conflict was solved by utilizing the psychocultural narratives from the horrific disaster of Tsunami, and reminding the parties in Aceh that the nationhood of Aceh is the same as Indonesia.

Therefore, barriers to solving conflict across the globe remain the same:

(1) Military dominance creating tension and distraught; (2) Lack of communication making two groups unaccustomed to each other, and (3) Weak government creating distrust, breaking unity. Those things are fairly handled during the resolution and later post-conflict reconciliation in Indonesia.

Indonesia will be taking a role as the non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) for the term of 2019-2020.

It leads Indonesia to take part in the major decision regarding global peace and resilient . This approach to conflict resolution is not novel, but instead, it has been proved effective in handling conflict rooting from an identity crisis in the multidimensional and diverse community.

Currently, the conflict in the Middle East and Africa are either handled with security approach or humanitarian approach, and seldom took thorough research about the cultural dimension of the people.

Post-Arab Spring democratization needs to be seen thoroughly; atrocities in Myanmar and Tibet need to be seen differently, and insurgents need to be treated fairly. Thus, it will be an excellent chance for Indonesia to spread Indonesia’s way to peace, as an accommodating approach in resulting warm peace and community resilient in the long-run.


Conclusion: Toward a Better Mediation

Making peace is easy, but sustaining the warm peace is the challenge. The process of conflict resolution and post-conflict reconciliation shall include the cultural dimension as the core, not only rational-reductionist view undermined by the normative part of the conflict.

As seen in the practices of mediation in Indonesia, led by Vice President JK, the conflict shall be seen deeper, not only as the atrocities among armed, but also hatred, skepticism, and pessimism toward living together as the generic cause toward the conflict. Deeply involved does not mean to be unneutral. It understands more and mediates better. Because peacemaking means compromising the difference and creating concessions.



Cecep Hermawan

21 years old, a 4th-year student in the Department of International Relations, Padjadjaran University, now active as a research assistant in my department, as well as active in the promotion of the discourse of peace-making.



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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