29 Mar 2016

Islam and Indonesia’s Foreign Policy: with Special Focus on Jakarta-Islamabad Relations

I Gede Wahyu Wicaksana, June 2012
The University of Western Australia

Abstract
This study explores the roles of Islam in Indonesia’s foreign policy. Indonesia is a country with the world’s largest Muslim community, where the political meaning of Islam is contested in the process of nation-building. Islam has come under increasing scrutiny by international relations scholars, particularly since Islamic extremism has become one of the major challenges to the post-Cold War world order. Therefore, it is important to research whether and how the religion has impacted the basic thinking and making of foreign policy in Indonesia. To contextualize the analysis, the study pays special attention to Indonesia’s relations with Pakistan as a major case study.

Chapter One examines the role of Islam in Indonesian foreign policy within three dimensions; national identity formation, elite interest and domestic politics, and external situations. The discussion on Jakarta-Islamabad relations are presented in chapters organized based on the changing political regimes in Jakarta and developments of international and regional Islamic-related issues, in a synthetic fashion. Chapter Two demonstrates that under the Sukarno regime (1945-1965) there was a shift in Indonesia’s policy towards Pakistan; from avoiding to using Islamic identity. This was coupled with the change in Jakarta’s strategic interests in the relationships with Pakistan and India. Chapter Three and Four report on the weakening of Islam’s role in Indonesia-Pakistan relations, particularly as happened during the 1970s and 1980s under the New Order of Suharto in Indonesia. Islam did not rate as an important factor because the Indonesian government tended to pursue secular interests - with an emphasis on discourses of economic development and regional stability. Chapter Five discusses the growing interest between Indonesia and Pakistan to enhance cordial ties. Following two decades of waning relations the commencement of re-engagement took place in the mid 1990s when Indonesia was performing a greater commitment towards the Muslim world, at the same time as Pakistan was pursuing closer ties with Southeast and East Asian powers. However, Islam was not reflected as an identity which Suharto wanted to construct in foreign policy alone, but as the consistent implementation of the independent activism policy. Chapter Six explores Indonesia’s responses to the Kashmir conflict, particularly since people uprising has shaken the state in the early 1990. This chapter asserts that although Islam was not a factor in Indonesia favouring Pakistan on the Kashmir issue, Indonesia maintains the position of impartiality. Chapter Seven looks at how and why Indonesia views the importance of Pakistan in the global war on terrorism. It demonstrates that the policy is made upon the mixed context of Islamic and non-Islamic considerations.

This study concludes that Islam, to a limited degree, is used by the Indonesian government to relate with Pakistan, but it has not become the major consideration and real reference in shaping Jakarta’s foreign policy towards Islamabad. The role of Islam is marginal. The relationship between Indonesia and Pakistan is dominated by secular economic and political agendas. In contrast, policies taken by the Indonesian government have in many respects differed with the Muslim people’s voices. The Indonesian Muslims consistently articulate the Islamic identity to describe their relationships with Pakistan; - especially in dealing with issues pertinent to Islam and Muslims. This divergence surfaces because Islam has been significantly prevented from influencing the making and implementation of Indonesia’s foreign policy. The constraints are set up by the state’s non-Islamic identity, the ruling elite’s material interests, as well as the condition of external environments.

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