Unlike the armed forces in other countries ABRI is heavily involved heavily in social-political affairs under the philosophy of dwi fungsi. Dwi fungsi says basically that, in addition to its role as a defence force, ABRI also has an active role to play in the creation and maintenance of social and political stability.
This doctrine, first proclaimed by armed forces chief General A H Nasution in the late 1950s as a civic mission or middle way, has been utilized intensively since General Suharto assumed power in 1967. Under the New Order, ABRI officers are employed in an array of non-military roles, including provincial governors, ambassadors, senior civil servants and the chiefs of State enterprises.
The problem for ABRI is to maintain its neutrality and professionalism in carrying out this secondary role. The difficulty on neutrality is highlighted by the fact that no member of ABRI may join any political party other than Golkar. The fact that high-ranking officers hold senior positions within Golkar has raised the question of impartiality even within ABRI itself.
In 1978, for example, some senior generals belonging to a group called FOSKO TNI-AD cticized ABRI's involvement in Golkar, asking how ABRI could stay "above all groups" and "close to the people" when they became leaders of Golkar and kept a distance from other political parties.
These officers were promptly silenced and removed from their strategic positions. The dominant faction within ABRI had made it clear that its discriminative treatment in relation to political parties was not to be questioned.
ABRI's involvement in politics was recently stressed by General Hartono (Commander in Chief of the Army). In a public speech in Solo this year, he declared that all members of ABRI were cadres of Golkar and therfore had to take orders from the party's chairperson.
Although this statement was later softened somewhat by other generals, no one dared to oppose it openly. Some critics said this was evidence that ABRI had been demoted from its overarching position as guardian of the country and the people to being merely a tool of the ruling elite.
ABRI's recent intervention in the internal affairs of the PDI has again raised the question of its neutrality. Critics point out that the military has placed itself firmly on the side of Mr Suryadi's government backed faction within the PDI at a time when the legality of his position was under court challenge by Mrs Megawati Sukarnoputri.
As a result, many ordinary Indonesians are finding it difficult to maintain their faith in ABRI as an instrument of the State, seeing it rather as no more than a political tool of the ruling elite - and a heavily armed one at that. ABRI's professionalism as a manager of socio-political affairs is also the subject of criticism, particularly its ready resort to force. Rather than using political skills to attain its goals, the military have used violence. They play politics as they play the game of war.
This was clearly demonstrated in ousting Mrs Megawati as the legitimate leader of the PDI and reached its peak during the takeover of the PDI headquarters. The military openly backed the violent attack by Mr Suryadi's followers that resulted in at least three deaths and injured scores of people. Rather than a political manoeuvre, the takeover took the form of a military operation, triggering the rioting by Jakarta's urban poor in which vehicles and buildings were burned.
In response, Gen Sutiyoso gave the shoot-on-the-spot order and equipped his men with guns instead of the batons and shields the day before. Again a violent solution to a political problem was the preferred option.
The result off this heavy-handed approach is that ABRI may have succeeded in controlling the situation temporarily, but the real problems remain - and some new ones created. Perhaps the greatest of these is the damage to ABRI's image in the eyes of ordinary citizens, who will find it difficult to maintain their belief in ABRI's neutrality nd its ability to solve civilian political problems.
THe order to shoot alleged troublemakers on the spot has been criticized as an over-reaction as has the brutal handling by some members of the military of unarmed rioters. While ABRI insists that communists organized the riots, pointing the finger at the small student-dominated People's Democratic Party, people are more inclined to believe the riots were the result of ABRI's poor handling of the PDI case. After recent events, many Indonesians have cause to doubt the usefulness of the dual function doctrine.