18 January, 2008

Suharto: To Forgive or Not To

Likened to Chile's Pinochet, Suharto, to some of his people, is the Devil incarnate, and yet to many - he was the saviour. Holding office for 32 years from 1967 to 1998, Suharto is accused of overseeing a purge of more than half a million (some say 2 million) mainly leftist opponents, human rights abuses and killing or imprisoning hundreds of thousands more during his rule. He and his family too, have been accused of looting and amassing billions of Dollars from the state coffers. His biggest blunder, seems to have been his invasion and annexation of East Timor: which was a waste of time and resources for Indonesia and cost the people of East Timor hundreds of thousands in lives. And yet, neither Suharto nor any member of his family have been tried.

Then there's the economic crisis of the late 1990s which derailed the once strong Indonesian economy; which was not cushioned enough like the Malaysian one. Many Indonesians put the blame for the economic crisis and the financial crash, which reversed Indonesia's once admirable economic gains and put millions back below the poverty line - on Suharto and his policies which allowed rampant corruption that pervaded the entire economy; corruption that immensely enriched members of his family and close associates. It should be noted that, Suharto's main support came from the US; and it's mainly through the following of advice proffered by the U.S. Treasury Department and the IMF that the economic crisis in Indonesia was worsened. Unlike Malaysia which refused IMF assistance, advice and imposed controls (and was thus saved from the economic crisis) - Indonesia like many of the other Southeast Asian nations, accepted America's and the IMF's prescriptions. The result was devastating and has caused needless human suffering in these countries.

Still, without Suharto, Indonesia might have likely become a communist state and would not have seen the kind of economic prosperity and development that Indonesia had during the 30 or so years of his rule. It should not be forgotten too, that Indonesia is a large country (of about 13,000 plus islands) with a large population (presently about 200 million, the fifth largest in the world, who speak roughly 500 different languages/dialects); a majority of whose living standards, Suharto managed to lift up above the poverty line. He also established much-needed regional stability in Southeast Asia and allowed Indonesia to become self-sufficient in its staple food, rice. Also, by peacefully stepping aside, Suharto wisely avoided the bloodshed that marked the transfer of power from his predecessor, Sukarno.

A few days ago, I asked some of my Indonesian friends what they think of Suharto. All of them had more praise for the man, than blame. They say that, generally, he was good for Indonesia and did many positive things for the country. They also say that, under him - life was much more peaceful and economically easier, than now. They all were unanimous in one thing: they have no liking or respect for Suharto's children and his many corrupt family members and friends. Whatever: Suharto is in his last days now, and I believe he should be allowed to pass away peacefully. As a Muslim, God will certainly judge and sentence him appropriately.