Commentary by Ilan Kelman (24 January 2005):
On 23 January, an announcement was made that the Indonesian government and the rebels in Aceh were soon to resume peace talks in Helsinki. This encouraging sign appears to have resulted as a consequence of the tsunami and might indicate disaster diplomacy. Some caution is required:
(a) Is it a legitimate offer and interest from both sides or only public relations?
(b) Is this really a new initiative or were there secret talks or backroom shuttle diplomacy going on before the tsunami? In particular, the report is about "resuming" peace talks. Is this initiative a continuation of on-again, off-again attempts to resolve the dispute peacefully?
(c) Will it lead to anything long-lasting or, like India-Pakistan following the Gujarat earthquake, will it bring high hopes of disaster diplomacy followed by failure?
An additional concern is that the publicity given to these talks could undermine them. The world, and many Indonesians and Acehnese want peace and might expect and demand that disaster diplomacy produces results. If the politicians, diplomats, issues, or negotiating atmosphere is not conducive to rapid resolution, the pressure and publicity of the disaster diplomacy paradigm could produce failure..
One possible approach is for the world and media to step back a bit and let the two sides talk and negotiate on their own terms and at their own pace. Immense reconstruction is still needed in Aceh. Let us consider focusing on that, so that the people can put their livelihoods and communities back together as much as possible. Despite the devastation, the survivors still have a future and there is much which the world can do to assist.
Meanwhile, diplomatic pressure away from the spotlight can be exerted to achieve a lasting peace. If such an achievement is made, Aceh and the rest of Indonesia can finally move forward from the conflict and the tsunami. Then, we can sit down and analyse the peace process systematically to determine the effects of disaster diplomacy. Otherwise, pushing this view now and forcing a peace deal to be reached because of the tsunami could be counterproductive.
15 August 2005 A peace deal is signed for Aceh. BBC Coverage.
Commentary by Firoz Verjee (19 August 2005):
The recent agreement between the Aceh rebel movement GAM and the Government of Indonesia is a remarkable breakthrough and a fine example of disaster diplomacy. Credit goes to the Finnish for brokering the peace.
Section 3 of the agreement details the rules of amnesty, reintegration into society, and the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other sections define the economic relationship between Aceh and Jakarta, as well as the security and dispute resolution mechanisms that will hopefully sustain the agreement.
Many questions remain. Did any other factors, aside from the catastrophic effects of the 2004 tsunami, motivate GAM to lay down arms? Why did it take 200,000 fatalities and near annihilation for the parties to reconcile their differences? How stable can such a reconciliation really be? What has been done to address the root causes of alienation in Aceh?
Commentary by Ilan Kelman (21 August 2005):
Irrespective of disaster diplomacy (or not), it is a relief that in Aceh and Sri Lanka, peace does appear to be progressing with the parties involved genuinely seeking a way forward--in the face of some intense opposition along with the various setbacks we have witnessed. Like Northern Ireland, perhaps it will get there eventually even through a remarkable roller coaster.
Next, it is important to examine the disaster diplomacy dimensions and the questions which Firoz asks are apposite. In both Aceh and Sri Lanka, disaster diplomacy unquestionably exists to some degree. I am always cautious at assuming that disaster diplomacy was the main factor because deeper investigation has always before shown the complexity of these situations and how the disaster is one factor, often quite small, amongst many. At some level we, especially the media, wish to believe that disaster diplomacy happens, hence we specifically look for it and are biased towards accepting its appearance.
Nonetheless, I would say that two points highlighted for Aceh are key and they also apply to Sri Lanka:
1. The comment by the International Crisis Group in their Asia Briefing N°40, 15 August 2005 that the tsunami "made it politically desirable for both sides to work toward a settlement". Yes, the pressure was immense, not really because of tsunami reconstruction but because the world suddenly realized that Aceh existed and what the people had gone through. It is a natural slide from there into linking peace and reconstruction, into world attention when Indonesia attempts to close down Aceh again, and into donors assertively setting conditions. Everything from illegal logging to an Indian Ocean tsunami warning system have kept the Aceh situation on the political radar. So, ironically, perhaps disaster diplomacy here is a result of the world's awareness induced by the disaster rather than of the specific disaster event leading to a humanitarian imperative for peace. Also, it looks as if Indonesia's leadership has changed its attitudes, particularly since the East Timor precedent.
2. Firoz remarks "How stable can such a reconciliation really be...what has been done to address the root causes of alienation in Aceh?" Root causes of alienation is fundamental in both cases--and, of course, in most international affairs cases. For Aceh and Sri Lanka, has tsunami diplomacy pushed the process too far too quickly?
In potential disaster diplomacy cases, three factors are needed: the peace initiative should be new due to the disaster, legitimate, and lasting. For both Aceh and Sri Lanka:
1. The peace initiative is not new, but was revived, pushed along, catalyzed, and significantly shaped, helped, and developed by the disaster. In contrast to the Greece/Turkey and India/Pakistan cases, the spotlight appears to have overall helped rather than hindered the peace process, although many of the Aceh negotiations were (sensibly) conducted in secret.
2. I think that the peace iniatives are legitimate from the Indonesian and Sri Lankan presidents, probably from GAM, and less clear from LTTE. All sides have significant opposition within their own institutions, with probably the least opposition within GAM. So legitimacy is mixed, but generally strong.
3. We have yet to see whether or not it will be lasting.
Commentary by Firoz Verjee (24 August 2005):
I would add a caveat to the three conditions in your commentary that the rapprochement after a disaster is not due to an outright exploitation of the vulnerability of affected populations. Your third condition, that the newfound peace be lasting, is related, but my concern is that if disaster diplomacy occurs out of desperation, it is bound to fail sooner or later. However, if a disaster creates an epiphany which pushes all parties to reconcile out of choice (versus need), it will have a better chance for success.
Tjhin, C.S. 2005 (October). Post Tsunami Reconstruction and Peace Building in Aceh: Political Impacts and Potential Risks, Working Paper Series 053, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta, Indonesia.
Schulze, K.E. 2005 (November). Between Conflict and Peace: Tsunami Aid and Reconstruction in Aceh, London School of Economics, London, U.K.
19 December 2005 GAM finishes giving up its weapons. BBC Coverage.
27 December 2005 GAM's armed wing is officially disbanded. BBC Coverage.
Commentary by JC Gaillard (8 June 2006):
Regarding the role of the tsunami in the Aceh peace process, according to representatives of the Aceh Monitoring Mission (AMM), talks between the Indonesian government and GAM leaders secretly started two days before the tsunami (on 24 Dec. 2004). AMM people themselves recognise that the disaster deeply influenced the rapidity and success of the peace process but it did not initiate it. So, I agree that disasters catalyse diplomacy rather create diplomacy.
5 January 2006 Indonesia police complete their pull-out from Aceh. BBC Coverage.
19 April 2006 Exiled GAM leaders visit Aceh. BBC Coverage.
Sukma, R. 2006. "Indonesia and the tsunami: responses and foreign
policy implications", Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 60, no. 2, pp. 213-228.
11 July 2006 Indonesia's parliament passes a bill increasing Aceh's autonomy. BBC Coverage.
Waizenegger, A. 2007 (February). "Armed Separatism and the 2004 Tsunami in Aceh", Canada Asia Commentary, no. 43, Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, Vancouver, Canada.
Kelman and Gaillard (2007) publish an article in Humanitarian Exchange on disaster diplomacy in Aceh.
June 2007 John Kurien writes The gift of the tsunami (478 kb in PDF) which is then published in the Sunday Magazine of the
Indian national newspaper The Hindu on 29 July 2007.
Gaillard et al. (2008) publish an article in Geoforum on disaster diplomacy in Aceh.
Waizenegger and Hyndman (2010) publish an article in Disasters on disaster diplomacy in Aceh.
Törnquist, O. 2011. "Dynamics of peace and democratization. The Aceh lessons". Democratization, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 823-846.
Zeccola, P. 2011. "Dividing disasters in Aceh, Indonesia: separatist conflict and tsunami, human rights and humanitarianism". Disasters, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 308-328.
Alles, P. 2012. "Depoliticizing Natural Disasters to Enhance Human Security in a Sovereignty-Based Context: Lessons from Aceh (2004) to Yangon (2008)". Chapter 8, pp. 157-172 in B.C.G. Teh (ed.), Human Security: Securing East Asia’s Future, Springer, Dordrecht, Germany.