Sat, 12 Feb 2000

Forging ties with Jakarta

At last, relations between India and Indonesia are back on track and clearly on the upswing. The visiting President, Mr. Abdurrahman Wahid, has clearly spelt out his canvas for building pan-Asian ties and creating a new equation between New Delhi and Jakarta.

Despite simmering problems at home and his own frail health, Mr. Wahid went ahead with his ambitious tour of Europe and India to drive home the message that he was still in command and as much focused on international relations as on the pressing domestic crises.

India seized the occasion to roll out the red carpet for the Indonesian leader and bilateral talks at the highest level have reportedly struck the right chord.

The President, Mr. K. R. Narayanan, the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, and the Leader of the Opposition, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, have all had useful meetings with Mr. Wahid, who must have been reassured that his plans for cementing a partnership with India are being warmly reciprocated.

Mr. Wahid has been forthright and practical in his views, both on domestic and international issues. He must know the complexity of balancing ties with China and India on the one hand, and wanting to maintain the excellent rapport Jakarta enjoys with the U.S.

Last month, the visiting Singapore Prime Minister, Mr. Goh Chok Tong, shared India's desire for creating an Asian Free Trade Area over the long term. And now, the Indonesian President has outlined his vision for an Asian league, with India, China and Indonesia at the core.

It must be borne in mind that Mr. Wahid is head of the world's largest Muslim country and the fourth most populated nation. But time and again, he comes out loud and clear as a moderate, liberal Islamic scholar-turned-political leader. He wants Islam not as a state institution but as a belief system or morality.

It is high time India realized the potential for building a strategic partnership with Indonesia, spanning the whole spectrum of economic, political and military cooperation.

New Delhi can begin by helping Jakarta develop an information technology base and harness science and technology for agriculture and fisheries.

-- The Hindu, New Delhi