Simplifying the complexity of Papuan conflict could be fatal


Vidhyandika D Perkasa (The Jakarta Post) PREMIUM Jakarta
● Tue, February 8, 2022
One set of actions alone cannot solve the crisis in Papua, whether it manifests itself in conflict or socio-economic deprivation. There is a need to initiate intervention to overcome conflict and promote development and peace as one integrated action. This is the underlying meaning of nexus, defined as a series of connections linking two or more things, persons or events in the same way.
However, in such a case, the government tends to undermine the nexus necessary to solve the complexity of Papua. Ironically, the complexity of Papua can be dealt with by means of simplification.
Despite its controversy, the government finally extended the implementation of special autonomy for another 19 years (2022-2041) through Law No. 2/2021. Through this, it is clear that economic development is seen as an ultimate panacea to solve the complexity of Papua. Articles in the new Special Autonomy Law mandate economic development and investment, besides regulating other essential issues such as Papuan political and cultural representation. It is basically “economic determination” heavy, which emphasizes the development aspect of the nexus.
More funds will be transferred to increase education, health services and indigenous people's economic empowerment in Papua and West Papua, according to the new law. With these increased funds, attention will be directed to improved public services, improving the welfare of indigenous Papuan and infrastructure development. This law also regulates the regional expansion mechanism, which is again intended to enhance economic growth and public services in Papua.
The developmental approach in Papua through Special Autonomy first enacted in 2021 confirmed the government's standing that the alarming issues in Papua, including conflict, is all about economic (mal)-development that should be corrected. Thus, it is assumed that conflict will subside when economic development is achieved, and peace will be manifest.
This by no means simplifies the complexity of the issues in Papua. Despite serious efforts to promote development, there is minimal effort to develop mechanisms to de-escalate conflict and promote peace.
Conflict-resolution mechanisms are seemingly about restoring order by sending more troops to the country’s easternmost territory with the ultimate mission of capturing members of armed criminal groups. There are, however, still no signs of a de-escalation of the conflict that has claimed lives among the security forces, armed criminal groups and civilians. Late last month three soldiers were killed in a gunfight in the highland regency of Puncak.
Without special attention to initiating programs to reduce conflict and promoting peace, the development element of the nexus is in jeopardy. In other words, Special Autonomy could lose its effectiveness if the causes of conflict remain unaddressed.
Many studies have shown the connection between conflict and development and economic growth. The consequences of the conflict for development are profound. Conflict hinders the achievement of most development goals. Conflict is thus development in reverse. Research has shown that many economic conditions (low income, slow growth and severe economic downturns) correlate with the outbreak of conflict.
In addition, the relationship between conflict and human development can be conceptualized in the framework of a low human development-conflict trap. Papua ranks the lowest in Indonesia's Human Development Index (HDI).
A low HDI is usually associated with political instability, as in the case of Papua. Unresolved conflict in Papua will destroy human capital and physical infrastructure, lead to the displacement of skilled labor, a disruption of social order and weaker institutions and a rise in economic and political uncertainty that could prompt investors to delay long-term investments. Conflicts also destroy education and health outcomes. In general, conflict in Papua could have a negative impact on the country's per capita gross domestic product, however small its contribution to the national economy.
With the underlying threat that conflict could bring to the implementation of special autonomy, the government should put a special effort into assessing how the prevalence and intensity of conflict has evolved over time in Papua. In this case, we are talking about the multidimensional aspect of conflict sparked by armed criminal groups and other actors.
The implementation of special autonomy itself bears the risk of conflict if it results in injustice or marginalization of indigenous Papuans, since conflict could be an outcome of improvement (e.g. benefiting non-indigenous Papuan) and not necessarily impoverishment.
Observation should also be made of the impact of conflict in Papua on development, productivity and economic growth both directly and indirectly through spillover effects. This assessment would also assist the monitoring and evaluation aspect of special autonomy later on, which is currently still challenged by the effort to promote good governance.
Conflict-resolution mechanisms are urgently needed in the conflict and peace nexus. Referring to a life-cycle model of conflict, sadly, we have only seen rising tension, confrontation, intermittent violence and sustained violence. There should be an effort to promote a cease-fire and agreement implementation, which is central to peace enforcement and peacekeeping, leading to decreasing tension and post-conflict operations. However difficult it is, we also need to bring the armed criminal groups into a dialogue and the mediation process. In this case, we must also avoid treating peacemaking as something ceremonial and procedural. Peacemaking is a comprehensive range of short, medium and long-term actions that can prevent conflict and build, create and sustain peace.
This includes efforts to combat racism and discrimination, investigate human rights violations, promote trauma healing for the victims, and stressing the importance of political recognition for indigenous Papuans.
With those attempts, the nexus linking conflict, development and peace will hopefully find its true meaning for the betterment of Papua.
*** The writer is a senior researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.

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