Separatism in Papua is a complex issue with many underlying, interrelated causes. The main parties to this conflict remain the Indonesian central government, indigenous Papuans and non-indigenous migrant settlers. Geolocation, history, and identity (ethnicity/religion) all play an important role in the parties’ construction of the conflict. These are reinforced by another set of factors: political, economic, social and humanitarian grievances. The question is: which set of factors is more amenable to resolution and thereby affords a better opportunity to stabilize the conflict? In looking at the Papuan conflict, one realizes that the first set of conflict issues - geolocation, history, and identity – can be mitigated with cross-cutting initiatives across the second set of conflict issues.
In effect, their narratives are made potent when reinforced by the second set of conflict issues. For this reason, domestic and international actors seeking to promote peace in Papua should encourage the parties in conflict to seek incremental resolution of their political, economic, social and humanitarian grievances instead of trying to tackle conflict issues related to geolocation, history or identity. This, of course, requires a comprehensive approach because Papua’s political, economic, social and humanitarian problems cannot be redressed in silos.
Geopolitical strategists have long recognized that the physical distance between conflict actors serves as an important factor influencing the risk of conflict. As Graham K Brown noted in his 2005 analysis of Acehnese separatism, the history of conflict suggests that the periphery of states are more susceptible to the rise of separatism than their core. While he made this reference in a case study on Aceh, it appears to apply generally across Indonesia, where four of the country’s major separatist conflicts of the 20th century (Aceh, Papua, East Timor and South Maluku) arose on either side of the expansive archipelago.
To read the complete article, please subscribe.
Buy a premium PDF version of this article
Subscribe and get premium access to Strategic Review's content