Indonesia Gains From The Victory Of The Taliban By Default

Phar Kim Beng













While many scholars and pundits believe that Afghanistan would once again become a "safe haven" or "shelter" for radical jihadists now that the United States has left, the fact is, militant radicals prefer places of hardship.


The more difficult and complex the conflict zone, the greater the adrenalin rush they get from fighting a combination of what they see is the ingathering of al-kafirun (infidels), al-munafikun (the hypocrites) and ultimately syaitan (satanic followers).


Granted that the decade-long war in Syria has not ended in a decisive victory, as the conflict involves evading snipers, chemical warfare, street-by-street pushback against a pastiche of enemies and even Kurdish female combatants trained by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), not excluding the militias backed by Iran and its proxy on the ground, the Hizbullah, all of which are the sworn adversaries of the Sunnis, one must not expect the latter to rush to Afghanistan.


In this sense, Indonesia benefits instantly from the Taliban's victory as its security authorities are keeping an eye on more than 1,500 militants who have been barred from returning due to their affiliation with the Islamic State (IS) movement in Syria.


Thus, while Indonesia is rightly seen as a friendly giant in Southeast Asia known for its commitment to gender equality, the Taliban is the complete obverse.


Indeed, in Afghanistan, prior to the beginning of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom in mid-September 2001, female students were banned from their studies. When the operation ended with the multiple evacuations, some of which clearly went awry, former US ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Cocker conceded in his op-ed article in The Washington Post that up to 34 percent of the millions of Afghan students were now female.


Their collective fate would be deeply beleaguered when the Taliban government returns to their old habits.


More importantly, while Indonesia may have hosted close to 2,000 Afghan refugees who have lingered for eight to 10 years, they have not been radicalized.


Rather, the arduous process to repatriate them to a third country by the United Nations Human Rights and Refugee Agency (UNHCR) should be blamed for the world body’s slow reaction to the plight according to the Asia Sentinel.


Thus, while narrative coming out from the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan, especially by the US forces, appears to mark another nail being hammered into the proverbial coffin of the US, the "Fall of Kabul" can be a bane to any aspiring Indonesian radical militants.


What was not further explained, however, is that the US eventually did end the 20-year-long military presence in Afghanistan correctly. The 2,500 remaining US troops were rescued together with countless other Afghans who had served as

their interpreters and assistants. Had they remained, they could have been executed by the Taliban for their collaboration with foreign forces, despite the Taliban's reassurance to the contrary.


Thus, the fear of the West that Afghanistan will once again be the shelter and safe haven of radical militants, especially al-Qaeda, may have to be carefully qualified.


While it is true, the return of Amin ul-Haq — allegedly the person in command of al-Qaeda now — to a rapturous welcome by supporters in Afghanistan, such a gesture could well be due to al-Qaeda's exuberance. There is no clear evidence as yet, however, whether the new Taliban government would want to

work with either al-Qaeda or the IS again.


Ul-Haq, 61, was a major al Qaeda operative in the 1990s and served as head of Osama bin Laden's security when he was hiding in the mountains of Tora Bora, close to the Pakistan border, following the 2001 US-led invasion. Ul-Haq was arrested in Pakistan in 2008 but released in 2011. Before the Taliban's takeover of Kabul, he was believed to have worked in the movement’s prisoner commission that focused on the release of detained fighters.


Is al-Qaeda, the group behind the attacks on the US on Sept. 11, 2001, able to form a new alliance with the new Taliban government? Not surprisingly, the answer appears to be a "No", as the new Taliban government has already distanced itself from any entities that could drag the country into another endemic conflict.


However, no matter how moderate an image the Taliban government appears to want to project, there is still a gaping flaw. The world cannot forget its obdurate and stubborn stance when it had refused to hand over the Sept. 11 perpetrators, including Ayman Zawahiri, the top deputy and chief ideologue to bin Laden.


Indeed, while ul-Haq may be a prominent figure of al-Qaeda, 20 years of antiterrorist financing has decimated the network and the strength of the group.


Granted that the murderous IS still stands at 40,000 fighters, they do not necessarily see eye-to-eye on continuing their rampage in Afghanistan.


The IS believes in holding on to whatever land it possesses, while al-Qaeda merely wants to use Afghanistan as an escape vault. At any rate, the Taliban government does have the upper hand to chase the two out as an alternative to allow the two factions only to stay — if they don't invite any international coalition forces to retaliate against the new Taliban government. Afghans fight for their tribes and intermarried clans; not the country. Indeed, when imposed on the global kaleidoscope of the entire Muslim world, what the Taliban government has achieved is just below.


In chasing out the Soviet Union, when Mikhail Gorbachev was already willing to return to where the then-superpower had come from, the situation resembled when US President Joe Biden decided to bring the US troops home even during his 2020 campaign trails to unseat then-president Donald Trump.


In other words, the Taliban "won" on both occasions when the two superpowers had largely either achieved their key objectives or become weary titans.


In this sense, the US will not break into pieces akin to the Soviet Union. The US is a federation now enjoying a domestic economic boom in spite of the problems caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.


As for the gains of Indonesia, the fact is this: Despite having the largest number of Muslims outside of the Middle/Near East and though more than 80 percent of its 270 million population embraces a moderate version of Islam, the radicalization of the religion has been largely contained since al-Qaeda's 9/11 brazen attacks 20 years ago. Indonesians, in general, do not have any visceral anti-American feelings toward the US or the West.


With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the sweeping Taliban offensives across the whole country, only the world can lament some but not all of the botched evacuations.


The writer is founder and CEO of Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena (

This article was published in The Jakarta Post dated 12 September 2021. Republished with permission from the author and The Jakarta Post.