By Subel Rai Bhandari
Many Southeast Asian nations and Bangladesh are reserving judgment on the interim Taliban government in Afghanistan, saying they hope a permanent administration will be more inclusive and ensure that the country doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorists.
Afghanistan’s caretaker government, announced Tuesday, is fully Taliban, all male, majority cleric and overwhelmingly Pashtun, analysts said. It also includes internationally wanted terrorists – with huge bounties on their heads – and two members of the ruthless Haqqani terror network, which was closely allied with al-Qaeda and Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden.
“Indonesia still hopes that the permanent government of Afghanistan will be an inclusive one,” Abdul Kadir Jailani, director-general of Asia, the Pacific, and Africa at Indonesia’s foreign ministry, told BenarNews on Wednesday.
The spokesman for the Taliban, which returned to power in Afghanistan last month after 20 years, had earlier expressed the group’s commitment to establishing an inclusive government, he noted.
“Indonesia is closely following developments in Afghanistan, including yesterday’s announcement by the caretaker government.”
Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met with representatives of the Taliban political office in Doha late last month, and conveyed the importance of forming an inclusive government, respecting women’s rights and ensuring Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorist organization and activities, she said at the time.
Haibatullah Akhundzada, now the supreme leader of the newly renamed “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” was said to be “a good friend” of al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah, was behind is the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist attack. Members of JI included Indonesians who had trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Indonesian veterans of the war in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
Similarly, while Dhaka is also worried about the resurgence of the Taliban, the country is adopting a wait-and-watch attitude, said Faruk Khan, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee and a lawmaker from the ruling party.
“We in Bangladesh hope that the Taliban would form a full-fledged inclusive government incorporating representatives from all races, sex and ethnicities of Afghanistan,” Khan told BenarNews.
“Also, Afghanistan must not be a safe haven for terrorists and militants.”
As in Indonesia, militancy in Muslim-majority Bangladesh took root after the return of citizens who fought alongside the Taliban against Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1990s, analysts say.
Lawmaker Khan and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said Dhaka wants to see what the permanent Afghanistan government will look like.
“We didn’t either welcome or not welcome the interim Afghan government,” Alam told reporters on Wednesday, according to state media.
“We don’t want to do anything hurriedly.”
Malaysia, meanwhile, will on Friday make a statement about its official stand on the new Afghan government, Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Wednesday.
“We want to maintain relations with all countries, but, on Afghanistan, we have not decided. … We stand with the people of Afghanistan, of course,” Saifuddin told reporters.
He has spoken with Qatar’s foreign minister, because the country helped broker Washington’s deal with the Taliban last year, and the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to seek advice and opinions on Afghanistan, Saifuddin said.
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand said it was “premature” to state a position on an interim Afghan government.
“We are closely monitoring developments in Afghanistan in order to consider our position,” Tanee Sangrat, foreign ministry spokesman, told BenarNews on Wednesday.
Philippine officials did not reply to BenarNews’ request for comment on the new Taliban government.
‘No concern from Afghanistan’
Meanwhile, Taliban chief Akhundzada said the interim government wants good ties with its neighbors and other nations.
“We want strong and healthy relations with our neighbors and all other countries based on mutual respect and interaction,” he said Tuesday in a statement.
“We are committed to all international laws and treaties, resolutions and commitments that are not in conflict with Islamic law and the country’s national values,” he said, adding that other nations had nothing to fear from Afghanistan.
“Our message to our neighbors, the region and the world is that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against the security of any other country. We assure all that there is no concern from Afghanistan, and we expect from them the same,” he said.
Many countries may not recognize the interim government, because, despite advice from international stakeholders, “the Taliban went ahead with a predominantly exclusionary caretaker government,” said Omar Samad, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank.
The “Taliban are more interested in regional and neighborhood recognition at this stage as they know that most Western nations are reluctant to grant quick recognition,” Samad said.
“They are also mindful of the U.N. delisting process as they seek to have their leaders’ names taken off the sanctions lists.”
Afghanistan’s interim Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund, a Taliban founder, is under United Nations sanctions.
Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, and his uncle, interim Minister for Refugees Khalil Haqqani, belong to the dreaded network that bears their name – which Washington has designated a terror organization. The U.S. is offering a $10 million reward for Sirajuddin’s capture, and a $5 million one for his uncle. The Haqqani network is also under U.N. sanctions.
As retired senior British diplomat Ivor Roberts told the Voice of America, assigning members of the Haqqani network to oversee the security of Kabul is akin to the “fox being put in charge of a chicken coop.”
Nontarat Phaicharoen in Bangkok, Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka, Tria Dianti in Jakarta, Muzliza Mustafa in Kuala Lumpur, Jason Gutierrez in Manila and Shailaja Neelakantan in Washington Jason Gutierrez in Manila contributed to this report.