The Taliban, Pakistan, and Indonesia: Changing the Geopolitical Landscape

The situation in Afghanistan

On August 19, 2021, the Taliban declared the re-establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (further called the Emirate). After a grueling twenty-year war with the United States and its NATO allies, the Taliban have reclaimed Kabul and taken control of the country, meeting little resistance except in Panjshir Valley and the temporary American occupation of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. 

Regardless of its formal legal recognition, the Emirate’s hold over the Afghan means that neighboring countries have to interact with the rebel-turned-government group. One such government is Pakistan. Harboring around 3-4 million Afghan refugees and itself fighting a different kind of “Taliban” insurgency, Islamabad must have some degree of understanding and agreement with the Emirate. Old connections within Pakistani intelligence and religious communities would be a huge asset to that end.[i]     One could say that Pakistan  had a strong influence over the Emirate, as it becomes an interlocutor between great powers and Afghanistan as shown in the recent troika plus meeting.

This new development poses a radical change in the geopolitical landscape, one where Indonesia should act swiftly to secure its national interests. Introducing Indonesia as a player to secure peace and stability with Pakistan would be a perfect duet, as both countries are Muslim-majority, Asian, and a republic that implements democratic system of governance. With this background, both countries could serve as a best practice for the new government in Afghanistan to learn on how to balance between Islamism and secularism.

As a country with a long friendly relationship with Pakistan, Indonesia should not shy away from seeking further cooperation, in particular regarding the security and political situation in Afghanistan. In 1965, Indonesia reportedly sent its two Whiskey-class submarines and two missile boats to assist Pakistan in the Second Kashmir War.[ii]When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan 1979, the Indonesian deputy chief of intelligence Benny Moerdani visited Pakistan to offer weapons, medicines, and logistical support to the Mujahedeen fighters, who were supported by Pakistani intelligence.[iii] At that time, Indonesia still possessed a lot of Communist-made rifles, such as the SKS and AK-47, which were imported from the Soekarno era. Given their history of cooperation, Indonesia should pursue another round of engagement with Pakistan.   

Possible Political Cooperation

Although the Emirate has somewhat established a government, no country in the world currently has formal diplomatic relations with Kabul, not even Russia or China. This could be attributed to the current quagmire of the evacuation of foreign nationals, in which, for most countries, the safety of their diplomatic corps takes priority. However, the current status quo is unrealistic, as at the end of the day power decides the configuration of politics.[iv] 

Afghanistan is a strategically located country and is rich with natural resources, and thus world powers would sooner or later engage with the new government in Kabul. China had already met with the Emirate’s deputy leader, and Russia declared that the current administration in Kabul has so far shown a “positive signal.”  Even the Group of Seven (G7) are considering recognition of the Emirate, albeit with several preconditions.

This race for influence is not limited to great powers, as Indonesia and Pakistan are also trying their best to ensure that the final peace settlement in Afghanistan is in line with their respective foreign policy agendas. Indonesia and Pakistan have a mutual interest in the creation of an “inclusive government,” as it would ensure that the current Emirate would be more moderate than its 1990s counterpart. An inclusive government could mean that ethnic minorities or marginalized communities are included in the government. This is imperative, as an exclusive government would not be received well by the international community, especially by democratic governments. As a result, it is not in the interest of Pakistan and Indonesia to recognize a government that does not have diplomatic relations with many countries, in particular with the United States.

Although the Indonesian Foreign Minister recently met with the Emirate’s representative in Doha, it would be more prudent for Indonesia to also approach Pakistan. As both nations are Muslim-majority and democratic countries, it would send a strong signal to the Emirate that the demand for inclusivity is real. Both nations could also call for the Organizations of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to step up its involvement by providing humanitarian assistance and experts to expedite the reconstruction.

Possible Security Cooperation

In the security sphere, Indonesian authorities should cooperate with their Pakistani counterparts in combating the resurgence of transnational terrorism. The recent attack by ISIS-Khorasan that killed US service members showed that terrorists have been more focused on indiscriminate attacks on military and civilian targets, both domestic and foreign. 

As a transnational organization, an emboldened ISIS and other similar terrorist organizations could reinvigorate their overseas operations as they perceive that the international community is weakening its effort in curbing terrorism. In this regard, Pakistan and Indonesia share a common interest in tackling the terrorist threat, as both are already engaged in ongoing domestic armed conflicts. Indonesia still faced terrorist threat in Poso and Papua, while Pakistan still faced terrorist threat in Balochistan.  A resurgence of ISIS would require both nations to divert resources from the already present counter-terrorism operations. 

More comprehensive anti-terrorism cooperation between Indonesia and Pakistan could prevent ISIS from expanding its network of cells.[v] If terrorist presence in Afghanistan becomes uncontrollable, then there should be an option for Indonesia and Pakistan to lend a hand. This is where Indonesia would need Pakistan’s assistance, as the region is more familiar to Islamabad than it is to Jakarta. In return, Indonesia could utilize the information gathered to improve its ability to stem the flow of resources, particularly manpower and money, to international terrorist networks.

Conclusion

In the end, peace can only be achieved by an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned solution. The international community can assist the Afghans to achieve peace, and at the end of the day, it is only the Afghans themselves that could maintain the peace However, an inclusive government and the eradication of transnational terrorism should be considered by the Emirate itself, as it is also in their interest to have friendly relations with the international community. The War on Terror had already taken a large toll, and therefore a resurgence of terrorism should be prevented.


[i] Riedel, Bruce. 2021. “Pakistan’s Problematic Victory In Afghanistan”. Brookings Institution. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/08/24/pakistans-problematic-victory-in-afghanistan/.

[ii] George, Justin. 2021. “When Indian Navy Worried Indonesia Would Send Submarines To Aid Pakistan In 1965”. The Week. https://www.theweek.in/news/india/2021/04/26/when-indian-navy-worried-indonesia-would-send-submarines-to-aid-pakistan-in-1965.html.

[iii] Matanasi, Petrik. 2021. “Benny Moerdani & Bantuan AK-47 Untuk Mujahidin Afghanistan”. Tirto.Id. https://tirto-id/benny-moerdani-bantuan-ak-47-untuk-mujahidin-afghanistan/.

[iv] Allen, John. 2021. “General John Allen: The US Must Be Realistic About Its Influence Over The Taliban”. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/3e11e101-15e1-4c2a-bd31-6ee2b3ec540c.

[v] George, Susannah, Joby Warrick, and Karen DeYoung. 2021. “Pakistan Using Informal Intelligence Channels To Prop Up Taliban Fight Against ISIS”. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/10/23/afghanistan-isis-pakistan-intelligence/.