Published:  12:14 AM, 17 September 2019

Dr B J Habibie --- a dreamer of South Asian regional cooperation

Dr B J Habibie --- a dreamer of South Asian regional cooperation The writer (right) along with Dr Ilham Akbar Habibie (left), Salahuddin Kasem Khan (second from left) poses while offering SEACO documents to B J Habibie (died on September 11, 2019) at his residence on May 18, 2019.

Back in 1992 at the  IDB-INDO Product Seminar organized by the Indonesian Government and the Islamic Development Bank in Bandung, Indonesia , OIC member states unanimously adopted the resolution "Regional and sub regional cooperation between member states is a first step towards globalization of their trade and industry leading to South East Asian Cooperation Organization (SEACO)".

The seminar was inaugurated by the then Indonesian State Minister of Research and Technology Dr B J Habibie and co-chaired by the President of IDB Dr Ahmed Mohammed Ali Al- Madani.  Since then, Dr B J Habibie became a patron and a dreamer of South East Asian Regional Forum for economic trade tourism, industry and investment in infrastructural (development) cooperation.

Echoing his vision, Hon'ble Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina proposed the formation of a regional economic forum involving five OIC member states of South and Southeast Asian region (Bangladesh, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Maldives) during her talks with Brunei Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah at the Istana Nurul Iman Brunei Dares Salam on 22 April, 2019.

With the kind courtesy of Dr Ilham Akbar Habibie, the eldest son of Dr B J Habibie, Mr Salahuddin  Kasem Khan, executive chairman of the SEACO Foundation  and myself have had an extraordinary audience with Dr B J Habibie at his residence in Patra Kuningan, South Jakarta in the morning of May  18, 2019. The Hon'ble Habibie was very pleased to hear the development made so far in the formation of SEACO.

He appreciated the role of Bangladesh private sector in mooting and taking forward the SEACO. Dr. Habibie was also very pleased to learn the conceptual development of SEACO in this direction and he expressed his confident that SEACO will be able to flourish in cementing people to people/ Business to Business/ Investment to Investment among the Muslim Ummah.

He enthusiastically offered his kind support and he will take personally to the capitals in support of SEACO. On our request, Hon'ble Habibie agreed to send a congratulatory message to the 1st SEACO Regional Forum and will dispatch a high level delegation from Habibie Center. Dr Ilahm Habibie was also present in the meeting. They also agreed that Habibie Center will be a collaborative platform with SEACO.

In esteemed regards and affection Dr Habibie presented us with his autograph, two of his books, "Decisive Moments Indonesia's Long Road to Democracy" (2006) and "Habibie and Ainun The Power of Love" (2011) and  Special DVD edition of the film "Habibie and Ainun" (2012).

Indonesia's top engineer and former president, Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie or B J Habibie (19  2019), who built the country's aircraft industry from scratch, died at the age of 83 in Jakarta on Wednesday, 11 September .

The brilliant scientist studied in the Netherlands and Germany and worked for German aerospace manufacturer Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm before Indonesia's second president, Suharto, asked him to return to Indonesia. He established the country's first aircraft manufacturer, Nurtanio Aircraft Industry, known as IPTN, in 1976.

The state-owned company grew to become a subcontractor to the world's major aircraft manufacturers, such as Boeing, Airbus, General Dynamics and Fokker.

Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie became the third President of Indonesia, led the Republic of Indonesia at a time of massive change. His courage and vision during the period of reformasi are ever appreciated globally. Bapak BJ Habibie, as all Indonesians call him, had a very close relationship with Germany. He started studying in RWTH Aachen in 1955, obtained an engineer's degree in 1960 and a Doctorate in aerospace engineering in 1965. 

He was also known as an egalitarian person, a teacher and an extraordinary role model for Indonesians. It was B J Habibie's most proud of when he served Indonesia as the country's research and technology minister, as vice president and then as president that he played crucial and controversial roles for Indonesia. 

He could talk for hours explaining his vision; he was the country's only minister who could confidently tell journalists that the president agreed with his proposal even before he met his boss. He was most proud not of his achievement as an internationally recognized expert on the aircraft industry, but his romantic relationship with his pediatrician wife.

"My wife always treats me like her patient. She is very strict with my diet, especially with my favorite chocolate. But I always find my own way to escape her super tight control," His love for his wife was legendary .It is very rare, probably even globally, that a film of a love story between a former president and his wife is so well received by millions of people that the producer decides to make another film about the same person.

Habibie & Ainun was a box office hit in 2012, as people thronged to watch the romance of Habibie and his wife. The film was released two years after the death of Hasri Ainun Habibie. They were married in May 1962, and they had two sons, Ilham Akbar Habibie and Thareq Kemal Habibie. Habibie was so devastated about his wife's death that he visited her grave almost every day for years.

Many Indonesian mothers and children would answer "Habibie", when asked of their role model for their children. Habibie was adored by millions because he was a genius. He was the symbol of Indonesia's ambition to be equal with industrialized countries in the mastery of advanced technology, including in producing commercial and military aircraft and sophisticated military weapons.

Appointed minister of research and technology in 1978, Habibie had a clear strategy for how Indonesia should use science and technology to develop the nation.

During his 20-year tenure as minister, he developed high-technology industries, such as aircraft manufacturing, supported science-driven biotechnology research (my area of work), sponsored thousands of young people for science fellowships abroad, and used his power to cut the stifling red tape that hampers scientific research.

Habibie, who was developing Indonesia's aircraft industries at the time, noticed the important scientific revolution that was happening in the field of molecular biology, one far from his own. This is a testament to his visionary thinking as the country's minister of research and technology.

 As written in his official autobiography published in 2006, Decisive Moments, Indonesia's Long Road to Democracy, Soeharto entrusted Habibie with helping him "lay the foundations for Indonesia in entering a new century" and said that "Dr. BJ Habibie may do whatever is necessary, and God willing, I shall to the best of my abilities always strive to give you my full support."

According to the book, Soeharto trusted "Habibie's capacity and capability to build super modern and high technology that is equal with the West", so he allowed him to control so many strategic industries and allocated nearly unlimited funds for him.

Soeharto brought him to stardom, even appointing him vice president in March 1998. But when protests swept the country, Soeharto was forced to end his 32-year dictatorship on May 21, 1998. According to the Constitution, the vice president automatically becomes president. Soeharto only agreed to let his "golden boy" become the third president at the very last minute. Habibie served as president for 512 days.

"During my 512 days in power, I was constantly assailed by demonstrations - 3,200 in all […] denouncing BJ Habibie. However, I remained firm in my convictions, even though many experts forecast that I could hang on only for three months," he wrote.

Habibie immediately released political prisoners and guaranteed press freedom, including the right of Tempo to reappear. He also ensured the provision of everything required to make Indonesia a full democracy, including the abolition of the military's sociopolitical role.

Indonesia, which many feared was on the brink of Balkanization and economic collapse, held a democratic general election on June 5, 1999. Habibie also let East Timor get rid of Indonesia. Four months later, however, he had to end his term.


The writer is a former secretary to the government and former
chairman, NBR.
Email: mazid.muhammad@gmail.com

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