When Indonesian police dragged their feet investigating an assault on uniformed Marine Captain Agus Komaruddin by thugs running a carpark protection racket in South Jakarta last month, they were taught a lesson they won’t likely soon forget.

Within hours, several hundred servicemen from the nearby 1st Marine Division, the Indonesian Special Forces (Kopassus) and Halim airbase descended on the nearby Ciracas sub-district police station, blowing up vehicles, ransacking offices and leaving the building in flames.

Apart from spokesmen making the usual statements about looking into the December 10 incident, national police chief General Tito Karnavian and Indonesian Armed Forces (TNI) commander Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto remained strangely silent.

Sources who talked to some of the participants say no serious disciplinary action was taken in what has become an all too familiar embarrassment across many parts of the country where the police and the military often work in close proximity.

Twenty years after the police were separated from the TNI chain of command, little seems to have been achieved in tamping down tensions between the two forces, which stem at ground level from turf battles over the illegal activities that supplement the incomes of poorly paid lower ranking officers.

Anti-terror policemen stand guard following a bomb blast at police office in Surabaya, Indonesia May 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta
Anti-terror policemen stand guard following a bomb blast at police office in Surabaya, Indonesia May 14, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta

On a higher plane, the inter-service rivalry revolves around conceptions of national security and what role, if any, the army should play outside of external defense when the police are specifically charged with maintaining domestic order.

None of that, however, was the issue on the early morning of December 12 when Komarrudin, 47, and his young daughter were accosted by parking attendants after the captain complained about them moving his motorcycle.

While several policemen were injured in the ensuing riot, the Jakarta Post relegated the story to an inside page, a telling indication of how much Indonesians have come to accept such a lapse in discipline and professionalism.

Kompas daily pointedly ran a picture of a poster on prominent display along many of Jakarta’s main thoroughfares showing Tjahjanto and Karnavian, clasping hands in a show of apparent solidarity ahead of the 2019 national elections.

Only last June, the long-standing enmity between the two forces erupted in two off-duty brawls in South Jakarta, in which a soldier was stabbed to death. But that pales in comparison with a string of previous altercations, many of which have gone unreported.

In March 2013, 100 soldiers from an artillery battalion attacked and burned down a rural police station in the Komering Ulu district of South Sumatra after a policeman shot dead an army private in an argument over a minor traffic violation.

Two weeks later, in a case that shook the military establishment, eleven Kopassus operators raided the Cebongan prison north of Jogjakarta and summarily executed four men facing trial for the nightclub murder of a fellow soldier.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) inaugurates Air Force Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto as the country's new military chief at the presidential palace in Jakarta on December 8, 2017. Photo: AFP / Gagah Adhaputra
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (R) inaugurates Air Force Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto (L) as the country’s new military chief at the presidential palace, Jakarta, December 8, 2017. Photo: AFP/Gagah Adhaputra

Central Java regional chief Major General Hardiono Saroso lost his job, but Kopassus Group 2 commander Colonel Maruli Simanjuntak, son-in-law of chief maritime minister Luhut Panjaitan, escaped censure because he had only assumed his post that night.

Now the newly-minted commander of the Presidential Security Force, Simanjuntak had previously taken part in Indonesia’s longest-range military operation to rescue the crew of the bulk carrier Sinar Kudus, taken by pirates off the Somalia coast in March 2011.

A year after the prison raid, in November 2014, soldiers laid siege to the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) barracks on the island of Batam, south of Singapore, this time after police arrested soldiers allegedly providing protection to fuel smugglers.

The incident did nothing to harm the career of local military commander Brigadier General Eko Margiono, 51, who earlier this year was transferred from his previous job as governor of Indonesia’s military academy to become Kopassus commander.

When the police assumed responsibility for internal security in 1999, it also took over many of the shady businesses formerly under military control, one of the main reasons for the friction that persists among the lower ranks in particular.

But while the police have the greatest impact on public life – and its generals have resisted efforts by the Anti-Corruption Commission (KPK) to investigate their suspiciously-inflated bank accounts — it is the TNI which retains the latent power.

Last year, tensions came to the boil again after the military impounded weapons imported by the police, claiming that one in particular, a 40 mm grenade launcher, could fire lethal ammunition as well as rubber bullets, teargas and smoke.

Indonesia's army forces paint their faces for celebrations of the 72nd anniversary of the Indonesia military, in Cilegon, Indonesia Banten province, October 5, 2017.  REUTERS/Beawiharta
Indonesia’s armed forces paint their faces for celebrations of the 72nd anniversary of the Indonesia military, October 5, 2017. Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta

Australian military analyst Bob Lowry, a former Jakarta-based army attache, has suggested the confiscation of the ammunition was a sign that the TNI wants to limit the capabilities of the police and thus lower the threshold for military intervention.

While the military has now been given a limited role in counterterrorism planning, Kopassus and other specialized units will only be called on if an operation is deemed beyond the capabilities of Detachment 88, the police strike force.

Military analysts blame the latest escalation in tensions on TNI commanders General Moeldoko, President Joko Widodo’s current chief of staff, and General Gatot Nurmantyo, who pushed for a more autonomous role over internal security during their terms between 2013 and early 2017.

Both also expressed presidential ambitions after their retirement in an old-school belief that the electorate was craving for a return to Indonesia’s authoritarian past when the security apparatus ruled the roost under Suharto’s New Order regime.

Moeldoko has come the closest but only as Widodo’s right-hand man at the palace. Nurmantyo overreached, unilaterally severing military ties with Australia, and then cozying up to Islamists in the campaign to unseat Jakarta governor Basuki Purnama, a Widodo ally.

Moeldoko, a retired military chief and newly appointed chief of staff to Indonesian President Joko Widodo's cabinet, attends his swearing in ceremony at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia January 17, 2018.  REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
Moeldoko, chief of staff to Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s cabinet, at the presidential palace, January 17, 2018. Photo: Reuters/Darren Whiteside

Tjahjanto, a Widodo loyalist like Karnavian, has also called for a wider military role, proposing in a letter to Parliament last February that terrorism should be changed from a law enforcement to a state security issue in the revised 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law.

Calling terrorism a “threat to national sovereignty,” he said the existing law only provided for prohibited acts carrying criminal liability for the perpetrators and was not applicable until after a terrorist attack had actually been carried out.

Panjaitan, a close Widodo adviser and the first commander of Kopassus’ elite Detachment 81 unit, says Indonesia is merely seeking to model itself along the lines of Western countries in trying to strike an equilibrium between the armed forces and police.

But Lowry contends the key to any lasting solution lies in an objective and comprehensive review of national security that clarifies the role, functions and tasks of the two services, as well as laying out a clear command and control structure.

On the ground, the only answer may be to return to the days when military and police recruits spent their first year together at the military academy, one of the reasons why Karnavian counts 1986 classmate and former Papua regional commander Lieutenant General Hinsa Siburian as one of his closest friends.

Until that happens, Indonesian and foreign analysts alike see the continuing tensions as a troubling part of the declining quality of Indonesian democracy nearly two decades after it was born.