Like many predominantly Muslim countries, Indonesia has refrained from openly recognising – or denouncing – the resurging Taliban of the majority ethnic Pashtun as the absolute ruler of Afghanistan. The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) urged the Taliban on Sunday not to use Afghanistan as a backyard for international militancy or a safe haven for “terrorists”.
Fear of more terrorist attacks is spreading across the world because the Taliban are globally perceived as a host of all known terrorist groups. The success of the Taliban in kicking out the US and its allies, after occupying the impoverished Central Asian nation for 20 years, will be inspiring for those who share the same ideology of terror.
The influx of Afghan refugees will soon reoccur, causing social and security problems for the host countries, as they have to accommodate the people for an indefinite time. As of today, Indonesia has to cater to many Afghanistan refugees who fled the country to escape the war on their home soil.
In the meantime, US President Joe Biden and the Democrats will become easy prey of condemnation and criticism by former president Donald Trump and the Republicans, especially after suicide bombers and gunmen killed 13 US service members and 90 Afghans in Kabul airport on Thursday.
Before going further, let us pay attention to a young Pakistani woman who is now an icon of female Muslims in the struggle for equal treatment and gender equality.
Malala Yousafzai, the colaureate of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize with India’s Kailash Satyarthi, warned the world about the dangers of the Taliban in a beautifully written column in the New York Times on August 17, shortly after the Taliban took over Kabul from the government of fleeing President Ashraf Ghani.
Taliban militias shot the then-15-year old student in her head as she was walking home from school in her hometown of Swat Valley in Pakistan on October 9, 2012. The Taliban, who had taken over the city in 2007, wanted to kill her simply because she was outspoken in defending the rights of young girls to education.
Malala wrote that although the Taliban had promised they would not deny women and girls education or the right to work, “but given the Taliban’s history of violently suppressing women’s rights, Afghan women’s fears are real”.
“We will have time to debate what went wrong in the war in Afghanistan, but in this critical moment, we must listen to the voices of Afghan women and girls. They are asking for protection, for education, for the freedom and the future they were promised. We cannot continue to fail them. We have no time to spare,” Malala wrote.
I read Malala’s column just a few days before I comoderated an online roundtable discussion on the impacts of Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban for the South and Southeast Asian region. Speakers came from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand, and a senior consultant from IHS-Jane. They also shared Malala’s distrust and concerns about the Taliban.
There were at least three interesting conclusions of the discussion.
First, the Taliban’s victory will be a powerful inspiration for terrorist groups in the two territories.
Second, the Taliban will become a nationalist Islamist party and will not accommodate the presence of foreign militants. But the speakers were also suspicious about the Taliban’s real intentions.
Third, which is the most saddening, no one knows the future economic development of Afghanistan. The speakers said that in the last 20 years, Afghanistan’s economy was mostly supported by the US and its allies, while the Taliban’s main revenue mostly came from opium plantations.
In the interethnic relations point of view, the Taliban is the opposite of Indonesia. We Indonesians should be grateful for the Javanese people. Despite their majority in number, history shows they have never tried to dictate the direction of the nation. The Javanese, for example, accepted the national language that was rooted in Malay.
To a certain extent, Afghanistan may have to learn from Aceh. After decades of war, former Aceh rebels suddenly received the opportunity to govern, thanks in part to a peace deal signed in Helsinki in 2005. The new regional government of Aceh faced difficulties in managing ex-rebels, who were uneducated and unskilled. It will be a problem the Taliban have to face very soon.
What about economic development in the Taliban-led Afghanistan?
Former vice president Jusuf Kalla, who was intensively engaged in brokering peace in Afghanistan, said the Taliban should know how to run the economy. They will need the current machine of bureaucracy to effectively run the government.
“I tend to believe that because they cannot run the country if the economy is not running, then for that, they’d need to have international cooperation,” said Kalla in a recent interview with the Jakarta Post.
We also need to listen to professor Jeffrey Sachs from Columbia University. According to him, the “US knows a lot about punishing other countries, but it doesn’t know much – or perhaps care much – about fixing them”.
The Taliban have defeated two great superpowers. In 1989, the Mujaheedin (Taliban) ousted the then-Soviet Union after a 10-year occupation. Just recently, they forced the US to leave the country after 20 years of occupation.
This may remind us of the success of North Vietnam to integrate with South Vietnam and become a new state, Vietnam. The Vietnamese Communists beat two major powers, the US and France. But Vietnam has never become a threat to other countries.
Now, the Taliban have regained power. Will they become a regime of terror or a regime of economic progress and a representation of mainstream Islam? It is easier for the Taliban to choose the first path, but it will not last long, as people need food rather than words of threat. For Indonesia, the Taliban look concerning but at a level that is worrying.
Kornelius Purba is a senior editor of the Jakarta Post
THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK