Ambassador of Republic of Indonesia talks to Centreline
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
Ambassador Republic of Indonesia to Pakistan Mr. Burhan Muhamamd gave an exclusive interview to Centreline. During the interview the Ambassador discussed various bilateral as well multilateral issues. He also gave a comprehensive account of business relations especially after adoption of PTA between Indonesia and Pakistan. Here are excerpts of his interview.
Let us begin with Pakistan, Indonesia relations. How would you describe these relations especially after signing of the PTA between the two countries?
The fraternal relations between Indonesia and Pakistan are deep and abiding. Since the beginning of our diplomatic ties in 1948, our two countries have worked together and kept a steady and positive momentum of growth in our constructive and cooperative relationship. During this long period of exemplary bilateral relations, the cooperation and mutual support in all the important areas has continued to increase. Especially, the people of our two countries are strongly tied with the bonds of friendship and brotherhood and always support each other in difficult times. On the economic front, the signing of the Indonesia-Pakistan Preferential Trade Agreement is certainly an important achievement, which is the result of the consistent efforts from both sides to enhance and expand the mutually beneficial trade relations and commercial activities. The PTA has given a new impetus to our growing economic ties, encouraged the business community of the two countries to explore new avenues for joint ventures and raised the bilateral trade volume. Keeping in view the present pace of momentum and developments, I see a very promising future for our bilateral trade relations in the coming years.
What is the current trade volume between two countries and with PTA in place now, what do you expect the trade volume to be in coming days?
I believe that in the area of bilateral trade, we are now moving in the right direction by advancing our bilateral trade partnership through providing access and opportunities to our corporate sector for a robust economic growth. In this connection, the bilateral trade volume in 2012-13 had been above US$ 1.6b and with PTA in place now, we are expecting that the trade volume will reach around US$. 2 b in 2014-15. After the PTA, we have seen significant increase in the export of CPO from Indonesia as well as the export of Pakistani Kinnow to Indonesia, which are the major components in the increase of these trade figures.
Of course both counties shall now be looking for a FTA, can we expect any breakthrough on this particular issue any time soon?
Yes, the two countries are working together for the possibility of signing an FTA to maximize the benefits of the PTA. Happily, the political will is there from both sides but it may take some time on account of ongoing presidential elections in Indonesia and some official procedures.
The FTA is certainly important for both sides but in the meantime, we will also evaluate the feedback and outcome of the PTA before entering into the next round of negotiations for the FTA.
The Indonesian embassy, under your guidance, has taken a number of steps to promote cultural relations between Pakistan and Indonesia. Can you share with our readers some of those initiatives?
Since Indonesia-Pakistan friendship is based on the strong foundation of shared values and similarities in culture, therefore we consider it very important to constantly nurture these cultural bonds, which are greatly valued by our peoples. In this regard, the promotion of cultural ties is the part of our efforts to strengthen the people-to-people contacts and promote goodwill. The Indonesian region is a diverse region and despite this diversity, we are held together by our belief in unity in diversity. With the objective of promoting the socio-cultural ties and to make the Pakistani people familiar with the Indonesian art & culture, the Indonesian Embassy has organized many cultural events during the last two years to strengthen the bilateral cultural ties. I am glad that we have received an encouraging response and support from the Pakistani art lovers.
I would like to mention here some important events held in 2013 and 2014 for the information of our readers. In April 2013 & 2014, the Embassy organized the ASEAN Food Festival to present the distinct variety of the ASEAN cuisine and the cultural diversity of the ASEAN member states. In August 2013, a Fashion Show “Journey through Colors” was presented on the occasion of the 68th Anniversary of Independence. It was followed by the month of October 2013, which was full of cultural activities. The Embassy organized a big cultural show “Colors of Indonesia & Pakistan” in Islamabad and Lahore and inaugurated a Batik Workshop in collaboration with the Pakistan Institute of Fashion & Design (PIFD), Lahore. The recent effort in this regard was the “Indonesian Film Festival” held in May 2014, which was aimed to introduce the Indonesian cinema and the similarities of culture to the Pakistani audience. In future, we are planning to organize a cultural event ”Indonesia-Pakistan-Golden Bridge of Harmony” in collaboration with the Embassy of Pakistan in Indonesia, in which famous artists
and performers from Indonesia and Pakistan will present traditional shades of their distinct culture. I believe that spontaneous cultural exchanges between our countries would be a great source of pleasure and enrichment to all of us. And our Embassy would continuously be seeking new opportunities to promote the cultural exchanges in future.
How would you describe relations between Pakistan and ASEAN and how can these relations be further cemented?
In fact, ASEAN is now a symbol of regional cooperation and ASEAN’s neutrality and commitment to peaceful engagement offers tremendous potential for economic growth and partnerships.
The diversity of cultural, economic, political and social systems of the ASEAN countries is the additional attraction of this vast integrated market. Considering Pakistan’s “Vision East Asia Policy”, the prospects for an active cooperation are very bright between Pakistan and ASEAN since Pakistan has acquired the membership of ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and acceded to the Treaty of Amity (TAC) as well as signed a joint declaration to combat terrorism with ASEAN. In this regard, the necessary support can be provided by the respective governments of ASEAN States by signing the Free Trade Agreements, Preferential Trade Agreement individually and collectively. The proposal of signing an FTA between ASEAN and Pakistan has already been suggested for further consideration. During the last few years, we have seen increasingly frequent interactions between ASEAN member states and Pakistan and we have more and more common interests and broader areas for cooperation.
Pakistan keenly wants to promote its relations with the Asian countries as part of its “look east” policy. How do you see this initiative?
Considering the increasing importance of Asia and East Asia, we deeply appreciate the “Vision East Asia Policy” of Pakistan which is aimed to cultivate strong diplomatic, economic, cultural, and security ties with the countries of East Asian region. In this regard APEC and ASEAN are the two main bodies facilitating cooperation and model of regional stability and economic growth. The East Asia is a diverse multi-ethnic region and pluralism drags the region toward economic development. It is predicted that by 2020, seven of the top ten world economies would be in East Asia alone that signifies its vital economic strength. Therefore, I fervently believe that Pakistan’s policy will provide opportunities to explore new areas of cooperation in East Asia and build comprehensive, constructive, and structural partnership in the field of business, trade, investment, and economic cooperation by encompassing strong relations with countries of the region both at bilateral and multilateral level.
Indonesia is now rated among one of the fastest growing countries of the world. Can you share with us the details of Indonesian success story?
The economic indicators of the Indonesian economy have remained very positive during the last decade and even during the time of economic recession, the Indonesian economy has shown great resilience. The main reasons for the sustained development of Indonesian economy are political stability through democracy, economic reforms, development of industries, strength of SMEs, betterment of infrastructure and investment friendly policies.
Indonesia is perhaps an apt model of religious harmony and tolerance and that is why foreign investors as well as tourists are flocking to your country. What according to you is required to achieve these goals?
In fact, Indonesia is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and the marked feature of our society is national unity and religious harmony, which are at the core of our economic development. We are aware of the fact that the main obstacles in the line of economic prosperity are ethnic conflicts and terrorism, which can hamper the economic growth as well as the in-flow of investment. Therefore, we have taken all the measures to consolidate the ethnic and religious harmony through community based efforts and government initiatives, which are vital for economic progress. We strongly believe that we must respect each other since it is the fundamental spiritual aspect advocated by all the divine religions and use polite approach to convince others. With this objective, we always endeavor to maintain our unity and social harmony with our national slogan of “Unity in Diversity” since it is a precondition for economic development in a diverse society like Indonesia. As Indonesians, we share a heritage that is as diverse and magnificent as our landscape and we feel pride that we are part of a society recognized around the world for our tolerance, our diverse and multicultural character and our commitment to democratic values.