Sukarno was an era, a legend!

By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

Jakarta was enchanting. Its colonial past seemed to be hanging in the air. Its teaming millions, locked in a small area of 255 sq miles, were not yet in sight as the car drove from the airport toward the city center. Unlike Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta had personal associations going back to the time of Sukarno—the founding father who had unilaterally declared independence when the occupying Japanese army surrendered to the allies in August 1945.

Sukarno’s downfall had coincided with a turning point in Pakistan’s history after the 1965 war. ZA Bhutto had just emerged on the political scene with a bag containing the Tashkent black cat, which he was holding in his hand as he toured the country. He was going to bring it out at an appropriate time to let Pakistanis know what really happened in Tashkent and how they were betrayed.

It was a time of massive public rallies the like of which had not been seen in Pakistan for over a decade. It was through his article in People’s Party’s official newspaper, Masawat, that most Pakistanis heard about a CIA plot against Sukarno. ZA Bhutto reminded Pakistanis of the immense support Sukarno had given to Pakistan during the war. I remembered that in his article Bhutto had mentioned ten-hour long public speeches which Sukarno used to deliver to mesmerized and  spell-bound crowds.

These memories surfaced in my mind as the car entered the city limits and slowed down. The city was lush; recent rain had washed away all the dust from the leaves. Sukarno did not survive, I recalled in my mind, but the way ZA Bhutto projected his cause brought out yet another leaf of history. It was a time of ideological struggle between the left and the right, the red star was rising from the east and communism was gaining ground in scores of third world countries where a new brand of fiery nationalistic leadership was standing up to the West’s imperialism. Sukarno was a forerunner of that leadership and Bhutto was inspired by his example both in his political views as well as in his approach to masses. He modeled Pakistan Peoples’ Party on the pattern of Sukarno's vision for Indonesia, which consisted of five principles blending Marxism, nationalism and Islam. These principles were Indonesian nationalism, Internationalism, Deliberative consensus emphasizing representative democracy, social welfare, and monotheism.

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Just as Sukarno summarized his five principles in one phrase (“gotong royong”), Bhutto was to sum up his political philosophy in one phrase: Roti, Kapra and Makan. Just as Sukarno reached out to the leaders of the People's Republic of China, Bhutto was to do the same. The greatest contribution Sukarno made to the international politics of his time was to attempt to forge a new alliance, the “New Emerging Forces”, as a counter to the old superpowers, whom he accused of spreading “Neo-Colonialism, Colonialism and Imperialism". In this he was a visionary who wanted to create a third power block. He was one of the main organizers of the Bandung Conference (1955), with the goal of uniting developing Asian and African countries into a non-aligned movement to counter against the competing superpowers at the time.

Just as CIA plotted against Sukarno, Bhutto accused CIA of plotting against him. There are well-documented proofs of CIA’s involvement in many assassination attempts on Sukarno’s life. CIA used a mix of anti-communist and so-called Islamic movements to attack Sukarno. In 1958, J. Allan Pope, an American pilot, was shot down after a bombing raid in northern Indonesia which was organized by CIA. In 1961, he founded the Non-Aligned Movement with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser, India’s Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Yugoslavia's President Josip Broz Tito, and Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah, in an action called The Initiative of Five (Sukarno, Nkrumah, Nasser, Tito, and Nehru).

The past came rushing as the car stopped in the heart of the city inside a college building where I was going to give first of the two lectures to a crowd of over 500 students. They all seem to emerge from behind the trees, eager to listen. It was an open area between two blocks of building. The stage was set up and as the students gathered, we went to pray the noon prayer in the college mosque.

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As I returned to the venue, I found myself still immersed in the past—days when a new world order was being envisioned by a handful of third world leaders, an order in which millions of poor people will finally have a voice. That world order never became a reality, but Sukarno did succeed in stirring up an anti-American campaign. He withdrew Indonesia from the UN membership in 1965 when, with US backing, the nascent Federation of Malaysia took a seat of UN Security Council. He forged a new link with China and the Peking-Jakarta axis was going to stand up against the hegemony of the West, but CIA finally demolished the nascent hopes. On the night of 30 September 1965, six of Indonesia's most senior generals were killed mysteriously. Major General Suharto, commander of the Army’s strategic reserves, took control of the army the following morning.  What happened after this remains unclear to this day. Sukarno was eventually stripped of his presidential title on March 12, 1967, and remained under house arrest until his death from kidney failure in Jakarta on June 21, 1970 at age 69.

The leaf from history could not be read through as students had now gathered and the session was about to start, but this brief reminiscence was a wonderful way to begin the two-day visit to Jakarta.

Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (, Canada, and editor of

Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), and then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to study Islam, its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he pursued his research and study on various aspects of Islam in Pakistan, where he also worked as Director, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) between 1991-96 and as Director, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998-99).

During 1999-2001, Dr. Iqbal was Program Director (Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, USA.

Dr. Iqbal has published books and papers on  the relationship between Islam and science, Islam and the West, the contemporary situation of Muslims, and the history of Islamic science.

His publications include Islam and Science, God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives , Science and Islam, Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim’s Passage , The Making of Islamic Science (IBT, 2009) and a few more titles.

He is the General Editor of the forthcoming seven-volume Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, the first English language reference work on the Qur’an based on fourteen centuries of Muslim reflection and scholarship. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.