The Indonesian President Joko Widodo, along with a high ranking Indonesian officials visited Kabul last week. In his meetings with the Afghan officials, the Indonesian President discussed about expanding and strengthening the relations between the two countries. In a joint conference with the Afghan President, President Widodo said that in addition to the peace process, Indonesia was ready to cooperate with Afghanistan in other areas as well.
This trip is part of President Widodo’s trips to the Asian countries. A few days earlier, he had visited Pakistan, where he met his Pakistani counterpart Mamnoon Hussain and proposed the formation of a joint committee of Afghan, Pakistani, and Indonesian Ulama so that peace could be maintained in Afghanistan.
All these come at a time that the insecurities in Afghanistan are escalating and only in the past two weeks, three bloody attacks were carried out in Kabul city, which left more than 400 killed and injured.
Here you would read about the bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Indonesia, the recent trip of the Indonesian President to Kabul, and this country’s role in the Afghan peace process.
The Kabul-Jakarta bilateral relations
Relations between Afghanistan and Indonesia dates back to about half a century ago. Afghanistan was one of the first countries that recognized Indonesia in 1949, after the end of the Indonesian revolution. The diplomatic relations between the two countries officially started in 1954. In this year, the Afghan Embassy in Jakarta was opened and one year later a Friendship Agreement was signed between the two countries on 24 April 1955. Sukarno was the first Indonesian President to visit Afghanistan (1961).
During the Cold War, the two countries continued to have good relations, the main reason behind which was the beginning of the Non-Alignment movement, in which both Afghanistan and Indonesia were members. When Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviet Union (1979-1989), as a reaction, Indonesia did not participate in 1980 Olympic Games, held in Russia. In addition, the Indonesian Muslims provided many contributions to the Afghan Mujahedin. Nonetheless, After the Afghan Jihad and during the civil war in the country, relations between Kabul and Jakarta began to deteriorate.
After the collapse of the Taliban regime, the ties between the two countries improved once again, and this country supported the Afghan government and people in various areas. During his second term as the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai traveled to Indonesia in November 2012. In this trip, in addition to participating in the fifth Bali Democracy Forum (BDF), the Afghan President also signed two agreements with the Indonesian officials, one of which paved the way for the political, trade, and cultural cooperation between the two countries and the other approved visa free travels for those who had political passports as well as bilateral services and consultations.
After the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG), these relations improved even more. On 5 April 2017, the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani visited Jakarta, where he was warmly welcomed by his Indonesian counterpart. In this trip, six agreements of cooperation in areas of education, agriculture, statistics, reforms and civil services, science, and technology was signed. During his meeting with the Afghan President, the Indonesian President showed preparedness for any kind of cooperation in the Afghan peace process and announced 100 educational scholarships for Afghan students. After this trip of President Ghani, the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs came to Kabul and met the Afghan officials. However, despite all these, trade between these two countries have not expanded and still the value of trade between Kabul and Jakarta is only $16m a year.
The recent trip of Widodo to Kabul and Islamabad
Widodo visits Kabul and Islamabad at a time that on the one hand, tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan have escalated and, on the other hand, the Afghan peace process is in a deadlock, due to these tenuous relations.
One week ago (26 January 2018), President Widodo visited Pakistan and in his meeting with the Pakistani officials discussed the regional issues, the situation in Afghanistan, and ending the war in Afghanistan. During this trip, the Pakistani officials accepted Indonesia’s proposal about establishing a joint committee of the Ulema of the three countries. However, while the Afghan High Peace Council (HPC) welcomed this proposal, the Afghan government is yet to comment about it.
During his visit to Kabul, the Indonesian President reiterated on the cooperation of his respective country in the Afghan peace process. Another importance of Widodo’s visit to Afghanistan is also because it is the second time since 1961 that an Indonesian President visits Afghanistan.
In the meeting between the Afghan and Indonesian Presidents, President Ghani called Indonesia as the most populated and the largest Islamic country and said that this country was one of the important Asian economic powers and that its role among the Islamic countries was unique.
Indonesia’s role in the Afghan Peace Process
The NUG’s peace strategy is rather foreign policy centered. Many travels were done and meetings were held in this regard. However, none of these efforts have entailed any desiring and tangible outcomes.
Among the five circles of the Afghan President’s foreign policy, Indonesia is located in the second (the Islamic countries). During the NUG, the Kabul-Jakarta ties improved more than ever and the NUG seeks to attract Indonesia’s support in the Afghan peace process. That is why, two months ago, after President Ghani’s travel to Indonesia, Head of HPC Mohammad Karim Khalili and some members of this council visited Jakarta and during this trip, the Indonesian President Jako Widodo assured the Afghan delegation that his respective country will take part in the efforts towards maintaining peace in Afghanistan.
Although Indonesia have a similar experience of the war and instability as Afghanistan and, therefore, can help Afghanistan in areas of peace and stability, due to the following reasons, this county’s cooperation in the peace process will not have a major impact in the Afghan peace process:
First; the current war in Afghanistan was started by the US and NATO in 2001 apparently to suppress the Al-Qaeda Network and the Taliban. Nevertheless, the US was pursuing its long-term goals in the region. According to the analysis of the some analysts, the US’s goal in the region is to encircle its rivals, Russia and China. Therefore, the Afghan war has foreign factors behind it and it will continue as long as foreigners are present in Afghanistan.
Second; after dozens of years of war in Indonesia, this country achieved peace through negotiations and political agreement and not through war and military force. Therefore, the only way to end the war in Afghanistan is also the intra-Afghan reconciliation; whereas, the US and Afghan strategy in Afghanistan is based on war and military option, as recently the peace talks were boycotted first by the US and then by the Afghan government.
Third; Afghanistan’s effort to attract Indonesia’s support in the Afghan peace process, pressure on Pakistan, and holding a meeting of the Ulemas of the three countries to issue a Fatwa against the war in Afghanistan are at a time that on the one hand, the Indonesian Ulema do not have an influence over the Afghan government’s armed opposition and on the other hand, it does not seem likely through such Fatwas and condemnations the Afghan war will end. Moreover, the Afghan government is not engaged only with the Taliban; as based on the remarks of the Afghan President, many groups fight in Afghanistan, which indicates the complication of the war in Afghanistan.