Indonesian ambassador Air Marshal (Retired) Muhammad Basri Sidehabi has been in Doha for two years. The 66-year-old is very social and outgoing. Even post-retirement, he has accepted the challenging assignment of being an ambassador in an important country.
Basri takes pride in his services for the country as a former air force pilot. He recalls the experience of flying an F-16 fighter jet with much fondness.
Community recently got a chance to catch up with him. Excerpts from an interview:
Please share with us briefly your journey so far.
First of all, I would like to say I am old (smiles)… am already 66. But my background is not that of diplomat. I have a military background. I was a pilot and flew the F-16 fighter jet. I spent 34 years in (military) service, retiring in February 2008. Then, I joined politics and entered the parliament for five years. After that in 2015, the Indonesian president appointed me as ambassador to Qatar. I came here on February 14, 2016.
After high school, I joined the air force academy. Later, I got MBA degree also. I have three kids and two grandsons.
As far as my career as diplomat is concerned, I was appointed as Indonesian air attaché in the US in 1994, serving there for three years. I learnt about diplomacy there. I rejoined the field two years ago only. I think this is (going to be) the first and last appointment as an ambassador (laughs).
How would you define diplomacy?
I have had a long career with the military. I think people with military backgrounds can work as diplomats as well because we have aims and know how to (achieve those).
As an ambassador, I think I have done well. The visit of His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani to Indonesia is a career high for me.
My job is to maintain closer relationship between Indonesia and Qatar. We have good relations with the media (in Qatar) and we thank them for promoting Indonesia here.
What was your most challenging assignment?
We have been trying to build a good image of Indonesia. In the past, many people would say that Indonesia was an underdeveloped country. But now we can say, no. People in Indonesia are educated and the country is no more underdeveloped.
How would you define Indonesia’s relations with Qatar?
Indonesia is getting much closer to Qatar. We established diplomatic relations in 1976. Today, we are a lot closer with many ongoing business and corporate activities. Our co-operation is increasing in economy, defence, agriculture, and infrastructure. We hope to see further growth and betterment in bilateral ties.
How many Indonesians are there in Qatar and what is the spread vocationally?
We have around 43,000 Indonesians working in Qatar. Of these, around 33,000 work in different fields; another 10,000 are professionals. Most of these professionals venture in oil and gas areas. These expatriates have been contributing to stronger bilateral ties.
Where does the bilateral trade stand today?
As far as trade goes, we try to add newer things. We have more bilateral trade co-operation today. Indonesia and Qatar have already been engaged in different industries. They are engaged in building electric power plants. We have many Indonesian companies doing business in Qatar. We have online shopping centres from Indonesia here. We also have very good Qatari companies working in Indonesia. We have been trying our best to increase trade with Qatar.
What do you do in your leisure?
I remain very busy. Looks like I don’t have any free time (laughs). We have many professionals from Indonesia here, who invite me for different events every Friday and Saturday. Even when I am free, I am doing work related to my profession.
However, I like golf and fancy myself as a player. I also like playing table tennis. Apart from this, whatever free time I get, I do read some books. My interest is in politics and defence.
What has been your experience living in Doha?
First, I felt it was very hot here (smiles). I guess it takes some time to adjust. However, I am very settled (now) and satisfied. I really enjoy living here. My impression (about Qatar) is that it is a modern Arab country. It seems that Doha is changing every day as a lot of construction and development work is going on in the country. It is really good to see more and more shopping malls opening up in Qatar. I like going to these malls. When the weather is good in the evening, I go out for a walk.
What advice will you give young and aspiring diplomats?
Every country and culture is different. We need to understand each other. Try and make friends. It is a must. Even if it is difficult initially, it will be okay, eventually. Young diplomats should always try to make friends with people in different countries.
What is that one good lesson you have learnt in life?
One should be eager all the time (for a goal). One should never give up. One should try again and again. My motto in life is that if you fail today, what you can do is try again, tomorrow. If you fail again, keep trying until you succeed.
Air Marshal (Retired) Muhammad Basri Sidehabi, Indonesian ambassador to Qatar