Has Indonesia’s Islamic diplomacy proved effective in the Afghan peace process?
By Umair Jamal
Indonesia has welcomed the beginning of the intra-Afghan peace process between the Afghan government and the Taliban. The beginning of the intra-Afghan dialogue follows a treaty between the United States and the Taliban that outlined plans for the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan.
After six months of tough negotiations involving many countries, including Indonesia, the Taliban and the US finally reached the consensus necessary to start the most important part of the peace process.
Over the years, Indonesia has played a significant role in the Afghan peace process. Indonesia’s foreign minister attended the signing of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.
Jakarta has long used the idea of Islamic diplomacy to support peace in Afghanistan and in this regard, Indonesia’s support for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process remains steadfast.
Indonesia is now likely to use its links with both the Taliban and Afghan government to push for a viable solution to the crisis. Any such efforts will help establish Indonesia’s role as a credible arbitrator in the Muslim world.
How has Indonesia relied on Islamic diplomacy to push for dialogue in Afghanistan?
Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world. The country’s leadership has believed in the role of Muslim scholars to broker peace in regions where such an influence could prove effective. Indonesia has been appreciated for its vital mediation role in conflict resolution processes in Cambodia during the 1980s, as well as for its domestic efforts to achieve peaceful resolutions in Ambon and Aceh’s religious conflicts.
For the past three years, scholars from Indonesia have routinely invited the Afghan Taliban to participate in religious conferences. Arguably, the bond between the Afghan Taliban and Indonesia’s Islamic scholars has driven Jakarta’s approach to push the group as a key political stakeholder—rather than just a military power—in the Afghan peace process. Last year, a Taliban delegation led by co-founder and deputy head Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar visited Indonesia to participate in an Ulema, or Islamic scholarship, conference of experts from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia. The participation of the Taliban in a major conference in Indonesia at the time underscores the weight that Jakarta gives to the Taliban’s role in the peace process.
In 2018, Indonesia also invited Afghan government’s High Peace Council which helped in pushing the peace process.
“I think this is a good initiative, as Indonesia can contribute to the Ulema’s capacity building and diplomacy because the Ulema play an important role in Afghanistan and people listen to them,” Muhyiddin Junaidi, a scholar at the Indonesian Ulema Council told The Arab News.
Indonesia’s approach is understandable. After 20 years of fighting, Washington has ended up signing a peace accord with the Taliban. The group is also poised to return to power in the country after the conclusion of the intra-Afghan peace process. Indonesia’s focus on dialogue with an Islamic group that remains essential to Afghanistan’s political landscape can also boost Jakarta’s Islamic diplomacy across the Muslim world.
Why has Indonesia pushed for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process?
Indonesia’s political leadership believes that in order to find a sustainable solution to Afghanistan’s security woes, the country needs a peace process that is widely accepted domestically. “It is fundamental that the future of the land be determined by Afghan peace through an-Afghan owned and Afghan-led process,” said Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno LP Marsudi. She further explained, “We need to first restore trust among all parties in Afghanistan to ensure success in the intra-Afghan negotiations. This is where Indonesia’s role comes to fore.”
Indonesia is part of a group called “the quint” that has worked to promote dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban. One of the challenges for Indonesia and likeminded countries is the public perception that the Taliban are controlled by other countries in the region, particularly Pakistan. On the other hand, the government in Afghanistan is often accused of not taking the Taliban’s political role in the country seriously.
However, over the last three years, Indonesia’s role has been prominent on both sides of the corridor. In 2017, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani requested Indonesia’s support in the peace process during a visit to the country. The exchange of high-level delegations from both sides has allowed Indonesia an opportunity to build trust with the Afghan government.
Jakarta’s uses the same policy approach to deepen ties with the Taliban. Indonesia has pitched itself as a player that carries political clout with both the Taliban and Afghan government.
Thus, pushing for an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process serves Indonesia’s policy when it comes to maintaining friendly ties with the Afghan government and the Taliban. Further, by doing so, Indonesia is pushing for the approach that remains the only workable solution to Afghanistan’s security woes.
Now that the world recognizes the Taliban’s position as a credible stakeholder in the peace process, Indonesia’s role in Afghanistan is likely to increase and its Islamic diplomacy may have scored a major win.