ALI ALATAS: VETERAN DIPLOMAT STILL IN THE RING
Alpha Amirrachman, Contributor,
Ali "Alex" Alatas' tenure as Indonesian Foreign Minister may have ended in 1999 after the country's brutal exit from
Through the transitional governments that led the country from authoritarianism to democracy, Alex, who graduated in 1956 from the Faculty of Law at the
When Alwi Shihab was appointed Foreign Minister during Abdurrahman Wahid's presidency (1999-2001), Alex was assigned as special advisor to the minister. After the collapse of Wahid's government due to his erratic style, Alex was appointed foreign affairs advisor to President Megawati Soekarnoputri.
It was during Megawati's presidency (2001-2004) that Alex was sent to
Since May 2001, Alex has also been a member of the Experts and Eminent Persons Group of the ASEAN Regional Forum, which has recently succeeded in inserting a human rights clause in the would-be ASEAN charter, despite opposition from
From 2005 to 2006, Alex was a member of the UN High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilization, and was a special advisor to the UN Secretary-General in 2006.
And since March 2007, he has been chairman of the Advisory Council to the President of the
Born on Nov. 4, 1932, in
Immediately following marriage, Alex was assigned as Secretary II in
Upon his return to
Alex became the Permanent Representative of the
He was finally appointed Foreign Minister for four administrative terms spanning 1987-99, under presidents Soeharto and Habibie.
His impressive career in diplomatic posts saw a string of critical events in
As the country's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, he had to tackle unrelenting international criticism regarding
Without his diplomatic skills,
"Diplomacy is like playing cards. Don't show them all, but drop them one by one," he once said.
He was thus bewildered when then president Habibie, apparently without first consulting him properly, announced that
While Alex was trying hard to leave behind the "diplomatic incident" of the loss of
And Alex has no lack in words when commenting on pressing, contemporary international issues.
"Religion has been exploited in many of the world's conflicts," he told a group of journalists on the sidelines of a public lecture held last Wednesday in
"There have been tensions and conflicts between the faithful of three monotheistic religions -- Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Nevertheless, the root of the problem is not religion or culture, but political and economic grievances," he said.
"We live in an increasingly complex and volatile world. Our societies are still afflicted by ethnic and religious strife, by intolerance and prejudice, by misunderstanding and miscommunication and by intra-state and interstate violence," he continued.
"Polarized perceptions, fueled by injustice and inequality, have often led to conflict, threatening international peace and stability. Events of recent years have exacerbated mutual suspicion and contention, especially between Muslim and Western societies. This environment has been exploited by extremists throughout the world. There can be no doubt that this has become one of the defining issues of our times."
There should not only be persistent dialog, he stressed, but also tangible collaboration between different civilizations, such as in the area of economy.
A number of recommendations of the UN High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilization -- of which Alex is a former member -- illustrate such an approach: the development of an objective and rational white paper on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; the reinvigoration of the stalled peace process; renewed commitment to multilateralism; consistent respect for international law; avoidance of double standards; combating poverty and economic inequalities through effective and concerted measures within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals.
"Unfortunately, the recent UN Secretary-General (Ban Ki-moon) has not moved swiftly enough to heed the
Alex might not be Foreign Minister any longer -- and old age is inevitably snapping at his heels -- but his highly active mind is still filled with clear ideas on how to help resolve conflicts and mitigate tensions in world politics.
His high-profile performance and established stature as a senior diplomat is a model for aspiring young diplomats who are eager to push the world's third-largest democracy in playing a more strategic role at both regional and international levels.