Can Indonesia broker peace in Afghanistan

Photo: Joko Widodo official Facebook page
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The Indonesian government will host talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan. This conflict is beyond Indonesia’s peace brokering abilities.

Editorial

Indonesia will host peace talks in Bogor with the goal of bringing peace to Afghanistan. The government has invited Indonesian and Afghan clerics. Representatives from the Afghan, Indonesian and Pakistani governments will also attend.

Indonesia has a history of brokering successful peace negotiations. There are indications that this time it might have been too ambitious.

Indonesia has a strong record of brokering peace

The Indonesian government was involved in brokering peace in Mindanao. In 1991, the first formal meeting between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Filipino government took place in Indonesia. Wiryono Sastrohandojo of the Indonesian Foreign Affairs department was the chief facilitator.

Indonesia also had a central role in bringing peace to the Vietnam-Cambodia conflict. It brought the two governments together in 1985 at the Bandung Conference. Most recently the Indonesian government found peaceful resolutions to its internal conflicts.

Widodo wants to restore Indonesia’s standing as an international proponent for peace

Bringing peace to Afghanistan would be a victory for Indonesian President Joko Widodo. His critics at home have labelled him anti-Islamic. Bringing peace to one of the most hostile conflicts in the Islamic world would be an achievement. He would go into the 2019 election campaign with a major retort to their allegations.

Indonesia’s involvement is also part of a wider policy. Widodo wants to further Indonesia’s commitment to upholding global peace. Under Widodo, Indonesia has increased its contributions to UN peacekeeping operations. It has also committed large amounts of aid to the crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In 2017 it sent around 20 tons of aid to the region.

Source: United Nations Peacekeeping

Can it replicate its past successes in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is not Southeast Asia. In Mindanao, Indonesian Islamic organisations could work with their Filipino counterparts. There was deep cooperation. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) worked closely with the MNLF. However, this Islamic-focussed approach is unlikely to work in Afghanistan.

Widodo has invited both Indonesian and Afghan clerics to the talks. This suggests that he will appeal to Islamic ideology to broker peace.

The major problem with this is that Indonesian and Af

ghan Islam are too different.  Islam in Afghanistan is intricately linked to politics. Afghanistan is a myriad of different ethnic factions. Each faction is fighting for its own brand of political Islam, with its own goals and objectives. Even broad groups like the Taliban contain warring factions with differing political objectives.

The Taliban has already said it will boycott the meeting

Factions within the Taliban have already rejected the meeting. The group will boycott the talks in Bogor. Without all parties involved, the meeting will make little progress.

The Taliban is an integral player in the Afghan conflict. The Indonesian government should have taken every measure to ensure their attendance. It should have negotiated with the group to find out their demands for coming to the table. Without them, the Bogor talks are doomed to fail.

Afghanistan is too remote for Jokowi

For Jokowi, Afghanistan conflict is too far out of reach. It is not a case of deradicalizing jihadis or negotiating peace between two states. Afghanistan is a melting pot of warring political and religious factions. Indonesia has never dealt with anything on the same scale.

Indonesia’s involvement has only stirred up more division among the differing factions. Some in the Taliban have welcomed it, while some have outright boycotted it. That should be a signal to Jokowi. Stirring this pot will only worsen the broth. This one is not to be meddled with.