Mr. Ali Alatas former prime minister of Indonesia and envoy of the Secretary-General for the September 2005 Summit to the 32nd OIC for Foreign Ministers, in his interview with the Yemen Times:”We need to know about each other’s potentials and make use [Archives:2005/857/Reportage]

July 7 2005

Mr. Ali Alatas was one of the most prominent figures at the OIC Foreign Minister's conference conducted late last month in Sana'a. He came as a representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, and he puts in his delight to be visiting Yemen again. Mr. Ali Alatas was foreign minister of Indonesia from 1988 to 1997, since becoming Minister for Foreign Affairs in March 1988, Mr. Ali Alatas served three terms under the former Suharto administration and was reappointed by the Habibie administration in May 1998. He is a veteran in the field, going into his twelfth year. Having worked as a diplomat for over 40 years, he has participated in numerous international conferences. His abundant experience serves the Habibie administration's foreign policy well.

Mr. Ali Alatas plays variegated roles in the vexed East Timorese independence-or-autonomy question. Under UN auspices he has negotiated many times with Portugal, the former colonial satrap. All efforts are being used to promote a peaceful resolution.

Visiting VIPs from overseas are greeted with a relaxed and jovial smile. Mr. Ali Alatas has gained the trust of many foreign diplomats.

From 1976 to 1978 Mr. Ali Alatas was stationed at the UN in Geneva. From 1982 to the time he entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was Ambassador to the UN.

After graduating from Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Academy, Mr. Ali Alatas graduated from University of Indonesia's law faculty. His family consists of his wife and three daughters. Mr. Ali Alatas is 66 years old.

Nadia al-Sakkaf chief editor of the Yemen Times met with Mr. Alatas and had a very interesting interview.

Q: Minister of foreign affairs from 1988 to 1997, during which two regimes and also close affiliation to the UN. How do you assess the progress Indonesia has gone through politically and economically during your career years?

A: Until 1997/ 98 Indonesia was making good progress economically and socially. It belonged to the group of south Asian countries, which were at that time called economic tigers because they were making so much economic progress. However, everything changed in 1998 after the Asian crises or the financial economic crises that was concentrated mostly in Thailand, South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. This affected our economy badly and even politically and president Suharto had to resign, where a new, more democratic regime came to power. Since then we had to concentrate on the devastated economy and on very large social and political problems. Now we are coming on the upswing again. We have stabilized our economy with a growth rate if 5.5%. The exports have risen to the 1997/98 level and even more and the GDP today per capita is slightly beyond $1000.

Simultaneously, we are making a good progress politically as resumed a very active independent policy. As you know we are member of the Asian countries alliance and play an active role in the UN, OIC and non-alliance countries. After some years of looking inwards now we have resumed that active role again and in order to make improvement after the crisis.

Another example of how Indonesia has become very active economically is that we have recently revised the Asian African relations not only as an attempt to revive the glorious days of the 1997 but we are trying to strike a new type of relation between the Asian continent and the African continent. We call this a new partnership and we are highly motivated to enhance this partnership. We often don't know each other's potentials. We need to know about each other's potentials and not only that, but we need to make use of each other's potentials by pulling our resources together and sharing our experience.. This is the gist of the African-Asian relations and the South South relations.

Q: How did you cope with the Tsunami crisis?

A: Then came tsunami which devastated part of Indonesia, it was a big catastrophe that did not hit only Indonesia, but also Thailand, Srilanka, and even as far as Somalia and the African horn. But contrary to what is sometimes described in the press, it only hit two provenances. Indonesia is a very large country and while it took a terrible toll on the people of Achen provenance, and we are gratified at the international response, it did not destroy our national economy as a whole or the overall situation. So we are trying to get out of the tsunami related economic problems but it has not affected the overall economy of the country.

Q: How is the “war against terrorism” affecting the Indonesian local stability and peace?

A: We are a very large country with very diverse population of 220 million people inhabiting 17,000 islands, not just one, and we speak many languages, yet thank God, we have only one national language. Can you imagine the complications of this? We have many resources and there are rich provenances where we produce oil, gas, fruit, rubber, and tea tc. We have poor regions and rich regions and so we distribute the resources to all and some problems arise because the rich regions are not happy with this distribution. But we are developing and are focusing on getting over the 1998 disaster. In addition to focusing on economy we are also focusing on democratizing, good governance and fighting corruption, which is a very important part of our present government's plan. We had our first direct presidential elections for the first time in our history, and now we are having the first direct elections of the government in the 32 provinces. We are growing and we hope to become stronger.

Q: Reform of the United Nations, is it a desperate way to save the UN's status in the world?

A: As you know, this September, there will be a summit for the members states of the United Nations to discuss wide ranging reform and what the secretary general referred as a common response of the international community against the new threats, challenges and problems that we face in the 21st century. Consequently, we need to reform the UN. Apart from facing the old threats in three interconnected fields: economy and development, security, and human rights, we must ensure that the UN, which is the only universal body, is strong and capable. We have to ensure that it reformed and in this context the secretary general has submitted in March this year to all the United Nations member states a report called “in larger freedom” in which he suggested a number of policies for reforming the UN structure and procedures. Heads of governments in September this year will decide on this, and we hope that these are seen in a balanced package because as I said earlier the problems of development security and human rights are interconnected and we can not see each one alone although development by itself is a very important issue and so is security but they can not be seen alone. That is why in the report the secretary-general has commented: “we cannot attain development without security and we cannot attain both without respect for human rights.” Also we cannot tackle this problem by ourselves no matter how strong the country is, and therefore we need the United Nations to be strong and reformed to be able to solve the crisis. It has to be reformed because in many ways the United Nations is still reflecting the situation immediately after the Second World War. There is no doubt that it achieved tremendous progress, it has achieved great success in fields that are not often written such as health and all, and most of the time the failures are the ones which are highlighted. In the past we had the cold war and the Security Council was almost immobilized by the vetoes and counter vetoes. Today this has changed and I think that now we can take decisions in the Security Council. But still the Security Council is still highly unrepresentative of the real world. We have now 191 members and the majority are developing countries yet no developing country is represented in the Council except China. So we are trying to push the Council to be more representative of the real world to include developing and Islamic countries.

Q: What are the benefits the Islamic world would get from expansion of the Security Council and the representation of the Islamic world?

A: As you may have followed since some time the Islamic countries have noticed that there are no Islamic countries among the permanent member states. So I think now any change in the Security Council should include a Muslim country. There are no speculations of which country would be the one, however we know that there is a need for at least one country to be among the permanent member states of the Security Council.

Having an Islamic country in the Security Council would reflect the world and give more balance; we have one and half billion Muslim people of the total population and many Islamic countries. I don't think more than one country could be included in the Security Council if any but I think there should be at least one and the discussions are still on going.

Q: Along with participating in the OIC conference for foreign ministers, do you have any message you are carrying from the UN to Yemen?

A: The purpose of my coming here is first of all to represent the Secretary-General who wanted to come himself and deliver a speech on his behalf. In his paper he talks about the importance of reform proposals, however important, should not distract us from certain urgent tasks, particularly the need to resolve protracted conflicts and ensure that countries in difficult transitions receive all the support and help they need. That is why the United Nations as a member of the Quartet will continue to work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East based on full implementation of Security Council resolutions and achieved by full implementation the parties of their Roadmap obligations, and that is why we are heavily engaged in political, security and humanitarian work in Iraq, in Lebanon in Afghanistan, in Sudan and in many countries in West Africa.

Secondly, I come to this conference because many of the foreign ministers member countries are here and I am going to see many of them to talk about the state of affairs now and negotiations and consultations. I will explain to them and hear their views and report them back to the head quarters when I go back in preparation of the summit in September this year.

Q: How do you comment on the situation in the Arab-Islamic Region and the various challenges of the new era?

A: The coming of OIC brought together all countries with Muslim population whether countries of Muslim law and constitutions or countries with a large Muslim population. Indonesia for example is a country with the largest Muslim population and the constitution is not based on the Islamic Sharia'a. Since we came together we have been able to conduct a lot of collations, but still this is not enough considering the economic potential we collectively possess. Among our membership there are very rich countries and we should do more on the economic front. On the political front our voices are often being heard on issues that affect the Islamic Ummah and also on the world issues, because we are an important group of countries with certain common few points of concern like Palestine and Bosnia. It is a good thing that we have this organization but we must not be comfortable with what we have now in terms of its achievements but continuously aspire to achieve more.

Q: Some of the themes of this year's conference is: promoting the Joint Islamic Action, such as to better project the radiant image of Islam, better serve the causes of the Islamic Ummah and boost Islamic solidarity among the OIC Member States in all fields, many of which are repeated from last year so are we not repeating ourselves? Is this not just talk without implementation?

A: You are very right, but this only shows the demand in terms of power. The world remains very unjustly made up,. where military and political powers are not in the hands of the developing world and even concentrated on only few of the developed countries like the United States and Western Europe. It is true that some of the Islamic countries are rich economically but the power of economic decision-making is only in the hands of just a few. Therefore we have to continue struggling and strive to improve ourselves. Conferences like this are just a process. We must not expect to be empowered over night and such conferences are an opportunity to become aware of ourselves, to make the people aware, to make the world aware of our position and then to make changes.

Q: How can the Islamic nations come together economically? Are there any projects promoted by Indonesia?

A: We have been operating with the OIC, and the Islamic Bank for Development IBD. We have been cooperating with many of the OIC countries and like mind countries. We have South South cooperations, and we have smaller cooperations within the OIC as some like-minded countries have come together within the OIC in a smaller group where we think that we can progress faster economically. The D-8 Countries include Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries such as Turkey. The results are then presented to the larger group of the OIC. The idea of cooperation between major Muslim developing countries was mooted by Dr. Necmetin Erbakan, the former Prime Minister of Turkey during a Seminar on “Cooperation in Development”, held in Istanbul in October 1996. The group envisioned cooperation among countries from regions stretching from South East Asia to Africa. Representatives from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Pakistan attended the Seminar. The D-8 was formally established at a Summit of Heads of Sate/Government in Istanbul held on 15 June 1997. The Istanbul Declaration, adopted by the inaugural Summit envisaged improving developing countries' position in the world economy, diversifying and creating new opportunities in trade relations, enhancing participation in decision-making at the international level and providing better standards of living to the masses of the member countries, as the objectives of the Group.

Q: What future aspects could you predict about the relation between Yemen and Indonesia, especially that the historical ties are clearly evident in the Indonesian family names such as yours?

A: I think our relationship goes back a long time in history. The warmth and sense of friendship between the two people are very strong, we have the same experiences in life and even similar cultures. Up till now the relationship between Yemen and Indonesia is very good, but it could improve much better economically. Yemen has improved in the recent years very much, it has produced oil, and gas and it is democratizing, it is making good progress socially and economically. We congratulate the Yemeni government for its achievement. I have been here in 1994 and I have noticed the progress since then and this is good. But as I said there is always room for improvement and we must do much more in the economic field than we are doing right now, although of course our relation with Yemen goes beyond the economic relations. Generally speaking the economy between developing countries need to be improved in the sense of South South cooperation need to be constantly improved.

Q: Any last comment?

A: I am glad to be back to Yemen again, and yesterday when we called on the president, he recognized me as I was foreign minister and I have many friends here. Prime Minister Abdulqadir Bajamal is my friend and I have many other friends here in Yemen and I am happy to be back here in this lovely country again.