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Indonesia carefully treading with Taliban-led Afghanistan

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JAKARTA: Indonesia has been cautious in granting diplomatic recognition to the new Taliban regime in Kabul. There are good reasons for doing so.

Indonesia reinstated its representative office in Kabul to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. This was a subtle way of getting involved in the country without granting diplomatic recognition to the new Taliban government.

The Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) supported the Taliban’s assumption of power in Afghanistan and has urged the Indonesian government to recognize the new government. But PKS is in the minority; other sectors of Indonesian society are more concerned with the growth of Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan and its potential influence on Indonesia.

Said Aqil Siraj, the general chairman of NU from 2010 to 2021, has issued a warning to all Indonesian Muslims about the potential of the Taliban regime in instigating Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. Muhammadiyah, Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim organization, has cautioned its members against jumping to conclusions concerning the comeback of the Taliban. Abdul Mu’thi, the secretary-general of Muhammadiyah, has advised members to be critical of the overwhelming amount of unfiltered information coming through social media. 

Syafi’i Ma’arif, a former leader of Muhammadiyah (1999-2005), suggests that Indonesian Muslims wait and see if the current Taliban is indeed different from its former self.

Indonesians have cause for concern, given the Taliban’s longstanding relationship with al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Since the 1990s, al-Qaeda has pledged allegiance to the Taliban, and the latter’s acknowledgment of the pledge implies endorsement of al-Qaeda’s agenda for global jihad.

Nasir Abbas, a former trainer with the Afghan jihadists and a leading figure in JI before being arrested and deradicalized by the Indonesian police, explained that the euphoria of the Taliban victory in August 2021 could have an impact on new recruitment for JI. Nasir argues that the JI can be very persuasive in portraying the victory as a triumph for Islam, and in turn draw on the affinity between Indonesian Muslims and their Afghan brothers in the faith.

The Indonesian Intelligence Authority (BIN) has also warned about the role that a reinstated Taliban could play in inspiring Islamic radicalism in Indonesia. Many important figures behind the rise of Islamic radicalism and violent extremism over the last two decades in Indonesia, such as Ali Imran and Abu Tholut, had participated as jihadists in Afghanistan. In the wake of the Taliban’s victory, the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) has stepped up its surveillance of social activism and social media in Indonesia.

It is clear that both government agencies and mainstream Islamic organizations in Indonesia remain suspicious of the Taliban and are unable to shake off its decades-long association with cultivating and exporting Islamic radicalism. If Indonesia has not been successful in introducing its version of ‘moderate Islam’ to Afghanistan, it should at least fend off the form of sharia statehood propounded by the Taliban. How it relates to Taliban-led Afghanistan is not merely a foreign policy issue, but a matter with domestic implications for an Indonesia that embraces pluralism and inclusivity in its national ideology.

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