Pakistan-Indonesia historic relations

Arif Qureshi

The Pakistan and Indonesia relations have passed through different phases since the independence of both countries. It further tracks back to the pre-independence period when both the nations Indian Muslims and Indonesian Muslims supported each other in their respective cause of independence from their colonial masters. The Indian Muslim soldiers went a step ahead and fought the battle for Indonesia against Dutch armies and also refused to obey the command of their British masters, when they were deployed against Indonesian freedom fighters. This particular aspect connected both the nations in a strong bond even before their emerging as independent states on the map of the world. The efforts of Indian Muslims in achieving a separate homeland became successful before those of Indonesian Muslims and after its independence Pakistan played a vital role in support of Indonesian Muslims by sending troops to Indonesia and also by blocking the Dutch airline in Pakistan which was a means to supply arms to Dutch armies in Indonesia. A large number of Muslim soldiers died in the war with Netherlands in Indonesia and those who survived preferred to stay there and passed rest of their life in Indonesia.

The United Nations, who mediated in the conflict, formally acknowledged the independence of Indonesia on 27 December and Mr. Sukarno who led the independence movement of Indonesia became its first President. President Sukarno in acknowledgment of Pakistani support to Indonesia developed a very friendly relation with Pakistan and both the countries enjoyed brotherly relations with each other. In the initial years after independence the leadership on both sides made efforts to strengthen the trade and industrial co-operation with each other and in 1960 President Ayub Khan and President Sukarno signed an agreement to establish direct shipping services and indentified items for export and through this agreement Indonesian students started to come Pakistani universities for education. In the 1967-1968 agreements were signed to promote co-operation between radio and television corporations and news agencies.

Pakistan as a gesture of respect dedicated some streets and roads in its different cities to President Sukarno. Sukarno tenure which continued till 1967 is considered to be the golden period in perspective of Indonesia-Pakistan relations in which heads of states of both the countries gave several visits to each other and explored new dimensions of relationship.

With the change of leadership in Indonesia in 1967 when President Suharto took over, the Indonesia-Pakistan relations took a new turn. However, there appeared no alarming change in the bilateral relations between the two states; however, Indonesia started showing its slight inclination towards India. In the same course when Pakistan faced the 1971 war with India, Indonesia preferred to take a non-partisan position into it and showed no support to Pakistan. While in the 1965 war of Pakistan, Indonesia provided full support to Pakistan. In 1972 Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto visited Indonesia which helped to build confidence between the two countries again.

Pakistan has sound relationships with Indonesia in terms of commercial and agricultural trade, tourism, and defense. President Musharaf’s  and Pakistan people party era is considered to be one of those periods in which the bonds were strengthened and the business relations between the countries were developed but the real change came during the last four years. The personal attention of former prime minister Mian Nawaz sharif proved beneficial for both Pakistan and Indonesia. At the moment the civil and military relations between Pakistan and Indonesia moving forward at excellent pace.

Bilateral trade between Indonesia and Pakistan is expected to reach $2.5 billion this year, both countries had tried to improve both political and economic ties since 2012. The two countries signed the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) on February 3, 2012, which came into effect in September 2013 after many rounds of negotiations. Under the PTA, Indonesia offered market access for 232 tariff lines, of which 103 are zero-rated.  Pakistan’s offer to Indonesia under the PTA covers 313 tariff lines that include items such as edible palm oil products, sugar confectionery, cocoa products, chemicals, kitchenware, rubber, wood, glassware and electronic products.

Resultantly, a number of Pakistan’s parliamentarians, trade delegations and military personnel visited Indonesia recently to further enhance the bilateral relationship. Trade volume between Pakistan and the Indonesia has been growing strongly for the last couple of years. The volume of bilateral trade grew from $700 million in 2010 to $2.3 billion in 2016, an increase of 229%. Pakistan’s major exports to Indonesia include textiles and clothing, vegetables and fruits (mainly oranges) while its major import item from Indonesia is palm oil.

Indonesia and Pakistan have signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation in 2010 during the tenure of former president General Parvaiz Musharaf. The defense cooperation agreement(DCA) entailed joint military exercises between the armed forces of both countries, intelligence sharing on terrorism and military student exchanges. One of the key terms of the DCA was an offer for Indonesia to take part in joint-manufacturing between Pakistan and China of the JF-17 fighter jet. Since then the defense ties are improving steadily. last year during the visit of Indonesia General Rashad Mahmood, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, Indonesia offered to sell Pakistan CN-235 aircraft, the Anoa armored personnel carrier (APC), and assault rifles. In last development Indonesian Navy took parted  in Multinational Naval Exercise AMAN-17 organized by Pakistan navy and latter Chief of Naval Staff Muhammad Zakaullah made a week-long visit to Indonesia in May and met his Indonesian counterpart Admiral Ad Supandi at Djakarta and discussed matters of mutual and bilateral interests besides enhancing cooperation.

Historically Pakistan and Indonesia have enjoyed good relationships. Pakistan always has a desire to seek Full Dialogue Partnership (FDP) with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as part of its efforts to establish a mutually beneficial relationship and to further Pakistan’s “Vision East Asia” policy which aims at strengthening political, trade and economic ties with ASEAN member states. To achieve this Pakistan will have to get ASEAN membership and tried to secure through Indonesian channel for its bearing an influential position amongst ASEAN countries. For this Pakistani government should endeavor and take suitable measures to strengthen the ties with Indonesia and use its position to seek access to the ASEAN countries which can bring a drastic change in the trade activity of Pakistan resulting into the economic betterment of the country.

To more cement Pakistan and Indonesia relations Indonesian President Mr Joko Widodo during his South Asia tour paid a two days visit of Pakistan in January, Mr Widodo became the second President from Indonesia to address the joint sessions of the Parliament after President Dr Ahmed Soekarno, who had addressed the highest institution in 1963. While addressing Pakistan’s legislature, Mr Widodo reminded his hosts that the Muslim people are the worst victims of terrorism perhaps in a bid to come closer to Pakistani leaders, who maintain that their country is the victim of terrorism — rather than a safe haven or sponsor for terrorism, as other countries allege.

Indonesian President also denounced war and conflicts, saying that weapons can never bring economic prosperity. He reaffirmed his country’s commitment toward a peaceful solution to the Palestine issue. Indonesia, along with Turkey and Pakistan, has been vocal in condemning Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The writer is an editor of, he can be reached at

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