He is the first Indonesian president to visit Afghanistan in last six decades.
Joko Widodo, the president of Indonesia, arrived in Kabul on 29 January in a snowy day. He was welcomed by second vice president Sarwar Danish and minister of finance Eklil Hakimi at Hamid Karzai International Airport Kabul.
Widodo along with his Afghan counterpart Ashraf Ghani spoke into a joint peace conference at Arg – presidential palace- on January 29, promised to play its role in the Afghan peace process and economic development. President Ghani thanked and appreciated his counterparts visit to Kabul and the condolence that Widodo express for the victims of the recent attacks in Kabul. Ghani stated that “we are keen to benefit from the Indonesian’s experience in the fight against extremism, peace reconciliation and economic prosperity.”
Afghanistan has a six decades old relationship with a Southeast Asian country with whom shared religious values have played a vital role in the bilateral relations. Indonesia is world’s largest Islamic majority democratic country, while Afghanistan is also a democratic country where the 99 percent of the population is Muslim. Both states are past members of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and are current members of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
According to President Ghani electoral manifesto, among the five circles of foreign policy, Islamic countries are in the second circle, and Indonesia as an Islamic country has a significant place in Afghanistan’s foreign policy.
In November 2017, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi during her official visit to Kabul offered support and cooperation for peace and reconciliation process. During a meeting with President Ghani and High Peace Council (HPC) chief Mr. Karim Khalili, she emphasized on the close relations between the religious scholars of both countries. Ghani stated that within few days the members of HPC would visit Jakarta to learn Indonesia’s experience in peacebuilding and reconciliations.
During his recent visit from Islamabad on 28 January, Indonesian leader Mr. Widodo proposed a plan for the establishment of a committee of Islamic scholars of the three nations–Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia- to issue a fatwa against the current conflict in Afghanistan and to promote a peaceful resolution to end the war. His proposal about Afghan peace is unprecedented. The question is whether this plan have any positive impact on Afghan conflict and peace process or not?
In my opinion, Indonesia can play a significant role in the Afghan reconciliation process. As the largest Muslim-majority country, Indonesia has an excellent reputation among Afghan people. Indonesia was neutral state during Afghan-soviet and civil war. This non-interventionist policy of Indonesia towards Afghanistan has resulted in a positive perception of Jakarta amongst the Afghans.
Indonesia fought an internal insurgency in Aceh province for three decades (1976 – 2005) with Free Aceh Movement (GAM). The conflict was ethnically, and economically-motivated and backed by external states – Iran, Libya and Southeast Asian nations-. Hundreds-of-thousands people were internally displaced, and thousands were killed on both sides. In 2003, a mass military offensive launched by TNI – to destroy rebels and the subsequent tsunami in 2004 in which 120,000 people were killed, compelled the GAM, a rebel group, to announce a ceasefire. According to a peace deal between Jakarta and the GAM, monitored by European Union in 2005, rebels surrendered their weapons and reversed from their claim of the independence of the Aceh. Jakarta ensured the immunity of GAM leaders, representation in government, permission to form political parties and the withdrawal of its troops and police from the area. The current Afghan war also has internal and external factors such as Indonesia. With the view of Indonesia experience, the Afghan government should launch an extensive military offensive to drive Taliban for negotiation, to create regional and international consensus against terrorism.
Indonesia has a top Islamic scholars’ network under the state control. Their fatwas -an official order by a Muslim religious leader- played an essential role in the stability of the state. They denounced the militant struggle of Aceh in Indonesia. So gaining the support of such efficient network is vital to delegitimize the current Afghan war, because Taliban and their Pakistani instructors always used Islamic card to legitimize their insurgency against the Afghan government and foreign forces. According to source from HPC, they are working on a framework with the support of the Indonesia Republic, to encourage Indonesian Islamic scholars to issue a fatwa, to delegitimize the ongoing war in Afghanistan. A similar fatwa also was released by 1800 plus intelligence backed Pakistani religious scholars to denounce suicide attacks in Pakistan. Whereas, many signatories of the above-mentioned fatwa openly support the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and oppose the Tehrik-e-Taliban-Pakistan, known as TTP, operations in Pakistan.
As a peace-loving, democratic, economic power among the Muslim world and a close Muslim ally of Pakistan, Indonesia prompt Islamabad to bring Taliban to the negotiation table with the Afghan government. Jakarta also faces threats from militancy; a menace which Pakistan has been a key factor, Indonesia could attempt to curtail Pakistani activities. Indonesia can be used as a model for state building by Kabul given that both countries are Islamic and that Indonesia faced an insurgency which has been resolved. In his recent visit to Pakistan, President Widodo asked Pakistan to cooperate honestly in Afghan peace process, because a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is also in the interest of Pakistan. Further, Jakarta can also push the Gulf States to cut finance to Taliban.
Earlier, many Islamic countries have announced contribution and support to Afghan peace process, but their endeavors have not received any clear outcome. Unlike other countries like Iran and Pakistan, Indonesia can garner more trust from Afghans since they are likely to have no ulterior geopolitical motive in their country, given the geographical distance between the sovereign nations. It has a particular political, economic and religious position in the Islamic world; perhaps their efforts might have positive consequences in Afghanistan peace process.
Dawood Mohammadi is an ex-research assistant at Fundamental Research Center for Kuchi – Nomads, in Kabul and currently studying Master program in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi, India. He tweets at @DaudMohammadi