Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Jusuf Wanandi is not exactly a major player in Indonesia's modern politics.
Nevertheless, the founding member of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been close enough to the powers that be to understand the complexities of Indonesian politics going back to the mid-1960s. Now, he tells his story in this long overdue book, Shades of Grey: A Political Memoir of Modern Indonesia 1965-1998.
Wanandi enjoyed much more than a ringside view of this history. He had a free pass to the dressing room to listen to what was being said inside and, once or twice, to give his own pieces of advice. Not enough lot to make him a major player, but enough to give him the authority to comment on various events that shaped Indonesian history.
If the key players were former presidents Sukarno and Soeharto, Wanandi knew the two men just as well as many others who worked around them. He was not a complete outsider nor did he have complete access on the inside. The period covered by the book denotes the end of Sukarno's presidency, and the rise and then the fall of Soeharto's New Order regime.
In the mid-1960s, young Wanandi gained access to Sukarno's palace working as a secretary to a member of the Supreme Advisory Council (DPA). He sat in many meetings with Sukarno. He had really wanted to pursue an academic career as a law professor and was preparing himself for Harvard. But friends in the Catholic Students Union (Pmkri) persuaded him to stick to the job. He would be their man for monitoring how Sukarno handled the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and the Army, both powerful political institutions then vying to succeed the ailing president.
Wanandi never looked back on his career choice. He became a political activist and later emerged as one of Indonesia's most prominent political and foreign policy intellectuals, including through the CSIS, which he and his friends founded in 1970.
Wanandi and the PMKRI gang had someone else with access to Sukarno's inner circle. The informant, according to Wanandi, regularly updated the Catholic community about the ongoing power struggle. The fate or survival of any one group in society in those days depended on how well informed they were. The "mole" has since passed away, but Wanandi and others have decided to keep his identity concealed to this day.
If this sounds like a John Le Carre cloak and dagger novel, it's because of the way the memoir is written. Typical of Wanandi, he uses powerful narratives. Those who have sat with him over dinner or a glass of wine know that engaging the audience with his political stories is one of his passions. This book keeps you in suspense from the word go.
So many people have written about the Sept. 30, 1965 Movement (Gestapu). Wanandi gives his interpretation of these events but he presents them in a way that relates to his and his friends' movements during those tense days and nights.
Wanandi joined the student protests against Sukarno in 1965 and 1966 and also in making contacts with the Army. The memoir recounts a dialogue that student leaders had with Soeharto, who had taken charge of the military, and how they became frustrated at what they perceived to be his slow pace. The students felt Soeharto was missing out on opportunities to seize power. But as Wanandi admits, events proved that Soeharto had been right in waiting for the opportunity before taking power without the use of force.
The rest of the book is about the New Order government and how in the early years, Wanandi and the CSIS were able to influence the government. It is easy to overstate or understate the clout that the CSIS had. Suffice to say that Wanandi and friends were one of several competing political camps fighting to influence events and to influence the man at the top.
The book sheds interesting lights on major events during the New Order regime, from the tragic mass killings of 1965-1966, which remain shrouded in mystery to this day; the Malari, or the Jan. 15, 1974 riots, which emanated from the power struggle within Soeharto's inner circle; to the internal debate ahead of the military invasion of East Timor (now Timor Leste). Wanandi provides his analysis of how and why Soeharto lost his power, a process which the book says began in 1988, a decade before his regime eventually collapsed.
The memoir rightly dedicates an entire chapter on foreign policy. The CSIS and Wanandi in particular played a prominent role in the conduct of Indonesia's foreign policy through track-two diplomacy during the Soeharto years. They still do today. The chief legacy of Wanandi and the CSIS would be in the realm of foreign policy.
The book details how Indonesia ended the "confrontation" with Malaysia in 1966, the establishment of Asean in 1967, and how Indonesia pursued relations with countries like Japan, the US, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and China.
Two characters are frequently mentioned in the book; Ali Murtopo, the one time presidential assistant to Soeharto, and Benny Moerdani, the military chief and later defense minister. It is largely thanks to these two men that Wanandi was able to gain access to power and hence develop a greater understanding of politics in the country.
As good and as well written as it is, the book does not do justice to Wanandi's more than 40 years of experience in Indonesian politics. You can only squeeze so much in 300 pages, certainly not enough for someone as knowledgeable and insightful as Wanandi. Will there be a sequel?