Nepali Times
State Of The State
Asian futures


JAKARTA --There is a familiarity to the chaos outside the Seokarno-Hatta airport. Touts, taxis and tour operators swarm around visitors just like they do at Tribhuban. Tourism is booming in Indonesia and there are rich pickings.

The drive to the city of Jakarta offers a dramatic view of stunning contrast of office towers soaring over a sea of shantytowns. In Kathmandu, we now only have brick shantytowns.

Indonesia is the fifth most populous country in the world, and 3,000 of the archipelago's 14,000 islands are thickly inhabited. It takes four hours to fly from Irian Jaya bordering Papua New Guinea in the east to Aceh in the west where some of the islands are only 30 km from India's Andamans. This huge country is blessed with enormous natural resources, but has been cursed with a history of dictatorship and the plunder of a nation by outside powers through their native agents.

Indonesia gained formal independence in 1949 and showed the potential of emerging as a quasi-socialist nation under Soekarno. But his anti-communism didn't satisfy Washington during the Cold War. He was sidelined by a more pliant highly ambitious Suharto through a bloody coup in 1965-1966. Suharto ruled the country for three decades with an iron hand. Present president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is Suharto's prot?g?.

With the help of what were known as the \'Berkley Mafia' of US-educated advisers Suharto rescued the economy from the brink of collapse, but over three decades built an elaborate system of crony capitalism. The pathologies of Indonesian politics can all be traced to a na?ve belief in the doctrine that mixing political passivity and technocratic excellence will foster economic growth. It may have done so for a brief period and it may work in a test-tube experiment like Singapore, but in Indonesia the resulting prosperity failed to lift all boats.

Rulers tried to divert the attention of the people by raising racist fears of Chinese dominance that resulted in some of the worst pogroms in the world. The culture of violence has transcended traditional Javanese tolerance and is now metamorphosing into Islamic militancy in a country with the world's largest Muslim population. The frustration of a seething youth population feeds into this.

A stroll along the streets of Jakarta with its signs in Romanised Sanskrit is a constant reminder of things that can go wrong with Nepal. We too had our version of the Berkley Mafia when graduates of western universities were brought back to Nepal by King Mahendra and King Birendra in the sixties through the seventies: Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, Pashupati Shamsher, Prakash Chandra Lohani, Mohammed Mohsin, Mohan Man Sainju, Harka Gurung. Former Finance Minister Yadav Prasad Pant who died this week was also one of them.

A decade after the East Asian economic meltdown, Indonesia has begun to recover from the shock and shaking of the tumbling rupiah. Its vice-president felt confident enough to make \'Oil for forest' and \'Oil for education' proposals at the OPEC summit early this month. From a UN seminar on democracy and governance to a global summit on climate change in Bali next month, the world has begun to assemble in Indonesia.

The ASEAN Summit this week in Singapore had as its slogan \'One ASEAN at the Heart of Dynamic Asia'. And at the heart of ASEAN is its most populous nation, Indonesia. What happens here will affect us all, yes even here in Nepal, in some way or other in the coming decades.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)