Held six decades ago in Bandung, Indonesia, the 1955 Afro-Asian Conference (also known as the Bandung Conference) was a landmark event in the history of decolonized countries and those aspiring for independence from colonial rule. The Conference was organized by Indonesia, Pakistan, Burma, India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and was unique in that there was no official western presence. It was attended by the great leaders of that time: Zhou Enlai and Ho Chi Minh, Nehru, U Nu, Tito, Nasser, Ben Bella among others and seasoned diplomats like Prince Waithayakow of Thailand, Fatin Zorlu of Turkey and Carlos Romulo of the Philippines. For The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs, the Bandung Conference has a very special significance because our founding Secretary, K. Sarwar Hasan, went to Bandung to organize the Conference on behalf of the Government of Pakistan. He recorded his impressions of the Conference in this unpublished paper, Bandung Memories.
The Asian-African Conference, held in Bandung from 18 to 24 April 1955, was undoubtedly the largest gathering of the kind held on the soil of Asia or Africa. Twenty-nine governments participated, many of them represented by their prime ministers or other leading statesmen. Arrangements for the Conference were made by a Joint Secretariat of the five sponsoring powers, the so-called Colombo Powers, namely, Burma, Ceylon, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. The personnel of the Secretariat was drawn from these five sponsoring countries. It was headed by the Secretary-General of the Conference, Roeslan Abdul Ghani. Some of the sponsoring countries had sent more representatives than the others; some of them had sent more senior men than the others. The bulk of the staff naturally was Indonesian; and these Indonesians, most of them boys and girls, were a happy, laughing team, with a quiet determination to make a success of the Conference.
When I accepted the invitation of the Government of Pakistan to serve as their representative on the Joint Secretariat of the Asian-African Conference, I knew that I had taken on a most interesting assignment. I had never been to Indonesia before although I had read a great deal about the country and its problems and met some of its leading men both in Pakistan and in other countries of the world. I realized also that the Asian-African Conference, whether it succeeds in achieving its object or does not, would be an epoch-making gathering. So, I set out for Indonesia and on the morning of 25 March 1955, arrived in Jakarta where the headquarters of the Joint Secretariat were, for the time being, located and where preparations for the Conference were being made.
The Secretary-General of the Conference was Roeslan Abdul Ghani and his principal Indonesian lieutenant was Dr. Ngroho. Under him, the Chief Organizer of the Conference, already on the job, was Dr. Appadorai of India. My position was defined as co-equal with that of Dr. Appadorai. Roeslan Abdul Ghani, Secretary-General of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with shrewd eyes, a round jovial face and honest to the hilt, well-read, well-informed and well-mannered, proved himself a resourceful administrator. Early in April, he and his wife hosted a dinner for the principal functionaries of the Conference in their charming house. That afforded one the opportunity of seeing Roeslan’s well-stocked library, which contains books in half a dozen languages, everything from the Quran to Machiavelli. Ngroho, always smiling, is a younger man than Ghani, an intellectual and an administrator combined. It was a pleasure to work with them.
For the convenient dispatch of business, the Secretariat was split into several sections. Kurana of India and Mutahir Hussain of Pakistan were outstandingly successful as the heads of accommodation and transport sections. Accommodation and transport had to be arranged of various categories for about 400 delegates and 800 correspondents and cameramen. The organization of the press room was a large and complicated responsibility which Moazzam Ali of Pakistan discharged altogether adequately. Yunus Khan of India was intrepid in the protocol section.
Appadorai of India and I were incharge of what was described as the Conference Section. Our work was of a multifarious character and comprised everything that related to the Conference proper, correspondence, preparation of background papers on practically all the questions that were due to come up for discussion, reading of the working papers prepared by the participating countries, printing or duplicating of them all and their distribution, providing them to the interpreters, planning and organizing the sessions of the Conference and its committees and, finally, the preparation of summary records of the sessions. We received valuable assistance from Tin Manus of Burma and Murti of Ceylon.
To have been in Jakarta was a memorable experience, the same as being in Karachi, although the former has about double the population of the latter. A large sprawling town with plenty of open places, Jakarta seems to be a city of cheerful easy-going, democratic people. Basically, these people are far removed from the influence of the West, but the elite of Indonesia, like the elite of most eastern countries, is highly westernized. Western ways of living have invaded Indonesia as they have invaded Pakistan. Professional people and office workers dress in western clothes and this applies to a certain extent to women also, there being a large number of women in offices in Indonesia.
English was the language of the Conference but arrangements were made for rendering English speeches into French and vice versa. No experienced interpreters being available, we had three men from Pondicherry, one of them a physician and a girl from Madras, who were proficient in both French and English. We trained them up as best as we could. Their performance was beyond our expectations. Especially when sometimes they simultaneously interpreted a speech of which they had no script. After the Conference had started, our team of interpreters was strengthened by the arrival of two Lebanese, a man and a woman, who had good command of French and English.
Some of the delegates who did not speak English had brought their own interpreters. Chou En Lai, for example, both in the plenary sessions and in the committees spoke in Chinese and was interpreted by his own interpreter. But we could not have helped him anyhow. The leader of the Turkish delegation made his speeches in English. But his interventions in the debates were generally made in faultless French which his interpreter rendered into no less faultless English. Some of the delegates from former French Indochina were ignorant of English so we detailed our interpreters to help them follow the proceedings and translate documents for them. None of the Arabs spoke in Arabic but Vietnamese was heard and so was Cambodian.
The Conference was inaugurated in a simple but impressive ceremony by President Soekarno who was accompanied by his wife and Vice President Hatta and his wife. The President’s speech was carefully thought out and written and he delivered it in a dignified and deliberate manner. His pauses, his gestures and the rise and fall of his voice showed that he was a master of the art of public speaking. Soekarno has a very clear voice, with a ring of sincerity in it. Although he was speaking in English, one could quite believe what is claimed for him, that he is one the world’s greatest living orators. His utterance was evidently that of a man who has long suffered for a cause and who has had the satisfaction of seeing that cause triumph, of a realist in politics, of a deeply religious man, for he opened the Conference in the name of Allah.
Of the Bandung Conference, I am often asked, ‘who do you think dominated the Conference?’ I do not think that any one statesman dominated it. Before the Conference met, it looked as if Nehru would dominate it. On the eve of the inauguration, a meeting of the principal delegates was held in the house of the Indonesian prime minister. They represented 22 countries, the representatives of the remaining seven countries not having yet arrived. Those present included Chou En Lai, John Kotlewala, U Nu, Nehru, Nasser accompanied by Fawzy Jamali of Iraq, Carlos Romulo of the Philippines, Mohammed Ali of Pakistan and Fatin Zorlu. This meeting, of which the object was provisionally to settle the procedure of the Conference, was certainly dominated by Nehru who spoke in a decisive way and the other leaders agreed with him. As is well known, the decision of this meeting were upset at the full meeting of the principal delegates held the following day even though Nehru pleaded hard for them. This was largely because of Mohammed Ali. Although Nehru continued to assert himself throughout the Conference, more often than not, he failed to carry the consensus of opinion with him. Nehru does not affect the manner of an orator. He can be extremely pleasant or extremely unpleasant when he likes. He can be adamant in refusing to compromise on an issue, yet yield on it when he sees he cannot have the decision he wants. Krishna Menon also follows the same technique in diplomacy but with far less finesse than Nehru. There is, of course, no comparison between Nehru and Menon.
Chou En Lai played his part at Bandung in a distinguished manner. This being his first appearance in a large international conference, there were some who thought that he would allow himself to be led by Nehru. Some even felt that Nehru expected that. But Chou En Lai did nothing of the kind. One of the first things he told the Conference was that he represented a nation of 600 million, by far the largest of all the participating nations. Nobody could have failed to grasp the significance of that statement. His technique was the reverse of Nehru’s. He was extremely polite, never lost his temper and studiously refrained from making accusations.
Mohammed Ali scored an outstanding success for Pakistan. He defied Nehru, as Nehru defied him. He did not defy Chou En Lai, who did not defy him. The Chinese and Pakistani prime ministers were bold and frank in defining the area of their differences as well as the areas of agreement between them. Nehru assailed Mohammed Ali’s ‘Seven Pillars’ and thought that the ‘Five Principles’ were sufficient. Chou En Lai thought that numbers did not matter and if the five did not suffice, they could be added to. In a word, he was courtesy and conciliation personified. He accepted Mohammed Ali’s assurance that the latter did not regard Communist China as aggressive or subversive. By agreeing to some of the Pakistani prime minister’s propositions regarding the relations of nations, Chou En Lai demonstrated that he was very far from taking orders from Nehru. Chou En Lai could have raised several issues in which his country was interested and which were germane to the Conference. But had he done that, he would have been strongly opposed by some nations, would possibly have split the Conference and would not have received the measure of general sympathy that he did.
Probably the most seasoned diplomat and perhaps the only diplomat in the true West European tradition present at the Conference was Fatin Zorlu, prime minister of Turkey who headed his country’s delegation. Tall, good looking (in clothes which I thought were a bit too warm for Bandung), he was unequivocal yet tactful and persistent yet uniformly courteous, as dignified in his speech as he was in his personality. Of course Turkey, of all the modern Asian states, has the longest experience of independent government and diplomacy.
The debate on Palestine showed that Muslim sentiment was far from being a negligible factor in international politics. This sentiment was avowed not only by the delegates of the Arab countries but also those of Afghanistan, Indonesia, Iran and Pakistan. Chou En Lai expressed his respect for this sentiment by saying that 10 per cent of the Chinese population were Muslims and that he had brought with him as a member of his delegation one of the prominent leaders of the Chinese Muslims. Prince Wan of Thailand also stated that there were three million Muslims in Thailand.
Significant in this respect were the statements of the chief delegate of Turkey which has so long and rigorously been following a secular policy. In his speech in the opening session, Zorlu referred to the link of Islam between Turkey and Indonesia. No official spokesman of modern Turkey has ever made a statement of this kind. Later Zorlu supported the claims of the Arabs in respect of Palestine and the demand for independence for Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. This marked a reversal of the policies that Turkey, under American influence, has been generally following in the United Nations with regard to these matters.
United Nations experience was represented in the Conference by Price Wan of Thailand, Carlos Romolu of the Philippines, Charles Malik of Lebanon, Jamali of Iraq, Khalid al Azam of Syria. One of Romolu’s moving perorations will always be remembered. Malik carried weight even though he was not as clearly heard as the others due to a problem with the microphone. Mohammad Fawzi, another United Nations man, was throughout silent, all the speaking being done by his leader, Nasser, who was one of the best liked person in the Conference. Very tall and soldier-like, sometimes dressed in his military uniform and at others in civilian clothes, he was shy, modest and very charming. His speeches, too, were simple and straight forward which he read out in a similar manner.
Since observers were not allowed in the Conference, representatives of Arab countries that were under foreign rule who had come to Bandung to elicit support for their independence movements, got themselves inducted into Arab delegations and thus qualified themselves to sit in the delegations. The Mufti of Jerusalem was inducted into the Yemen delegation and Saleh ben Yousuf of Tunisia into the Iraq delegation.
The Mufti’s personality is as vivid and forceful as ever and has lost nothing by the fact that he is now in exile and no longer the head of a national political movement. Most of the credit for the success of the arrangements for the Conference, of course, goes to the Indonesians. In many ways, their government took a direct responsibility for it and their president a deep personal interest. Soekarno personally visited Bandung more than once and went around the buildings in which the Conference was to be held or the delegates were to stay, giving advice on such details as the acoustics of the meeting rooms, and the feasibility of parking places. Ministers of the Indonesian government helped in matters falling within the sphere of their respective departments. They were energetically led by Ali Sastroamidjojo who went around for the last minute check-up on the eve of the Conference. The local administration of Bandung, headed by the Governor, and the municipality of Bandung and the local ad hoc committee all cooperated in giving their advice and assistance.
Bandung was a good choice for the venue of the Conference as could have been made anywhere in South East Asia. It was certainly better than Jakarta, the capital, and the only other city of Indonesia that I know. Jakarta, with a population of three million, though green and in a way attractive, is large, sprawling, overcrowded, hot and humid as Karachi is, except during the winter months. And the Dutch did not care for electric fans, nor do the Indonesians very much. Bandung, about 150 miles from Jakarta, is in the hills and is surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery, of course green, like every other spot in Indonesia. It was developed as a resort by the Dutch and one heard Indonesians say that until before the war, it was the ‘Paris of the East’. It has beautiful avenues going up and down the hills, lined with neat villas, large and small. It was fortunate that Bandung had two large modern hotels, the Preanger and the Savoy Homann, in addition to several smaller ones.
For the plenary sessions of the Conference, the Concordia building was chosen. It has a very large hall which was completely overhauled so that it should have perfect accoustics and was redecorated and furnished with desks and chairs for the delegates. It has an ample press gallery and appropriate seating arrangements for visitors and staff. It was provided with an interpreter’s cabin and had the same efficient though complicated system of microphones and transmission of sound one finds in the United Nations. There were in the Concordia two large committee rooms, a very large press room and a cafeteria.
Some distance, over two miles I think from the Concordia, the Pension Fund Building was selected for the meetings of the Conference apart from the opening and closing sessions. In this large, imposing and modern double-storey structure–all straight lines and glass–the Conference transacted its business, all in secret sessions. While the heads of delegations with their principal political advisers sat in the main conference, economic and culture problems were discussed respectively in two committees of the whole. In all three, delegates sat speaking at desks which were arranged in two elipses facing each other. The main Conference and economic committee were provided with microphones. But there was no arrangement for simultaneous interpretation as for the opening and closing sessions.
Not the least responsibility of the Indonesian government was to provide adequate security arrangements for the very important statesmen coming to the Conference. That such arrangements should be made was always intended. But the need for them came into sharper focus after the tragedy of the Kashmir Princess* which, from the very first, was suspected to be the result of sabotage. There was elaborate military bandobust at the Conference buildings, the hotels at which the delegates were staying and nobody was allowed to enter them who could not produce a pass bearing his photograph. The Indonesian soldiers who were detailed for these duties appeared to be very young but were very smart, sturdy and well built. In their jungle green uniforms, with their automatic weapons, hats coming down to their eyes, their impressive faces, they were quite awe inspiring. But they were intelligent and polite. Scores of soldiers on motorcycles, with their sirens playing, preceded the motorcars of all the principal delegates.
For some days before the beginning and during its pendency, it seemed that the principal interest of the people of Bandung was the Conference. They appeared to spend most of their time in the streets, watching the delegates come and go. They lined the streets or stood long hours outside the Concordia, sometimes in heavy rain, to catch a glimpse of their favourite statesmen and to cheer them.
There was no doubt that Chou En Lai got the most enthusiastic applause and this came from people of his race. School children of all ages ran furiously about, collecting autographs.
With the exception of the opening and closing sessions, all the proceedings of the Conference and its various committees, large and small, were confidential and the members of the Secretariat of all ranks gave an undertaking not to divulge them. I shall not, therefore, comment upon them and content myself by making only a few such observations, as I may.
* The Kashmir Princess was a passenger plane which exploded in mid-air, killing three staff members of the Chinese delegation, five Chinese journalists, and three foreign journalists. This was suspected to be a scheme to assassinate Chou En Lai.
Sarwar Hasan read law at Cambridge University. He was Barrister-at-Law (Middle Temple) and Visiting Professor of Government at Columbia University in 1963. Throughout his career, his professional ability and expertise and his eloquence as a speaker, won him numerous opportunities to represent Pakistan. In 1948 he was Adviser to the Hyderabad delegation to the Security Council. In 1955 he became Joint Secretary to the historic Asian-African Conference at Bandung. He was Adviser to the Constitution Commissioner in 1961. He represented Pakistan several times at the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council where he distinguished himself for his brilliant exposition of Pakistan’s case on Kashmir. He was also an ardent supporter of the Arab cause in Palestine and the independence of Muslim states struggling against colonial rule.