By Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia’s top diplomat has called on the Taliban to form an inclusive government and respect women’s rights in Afghanistan, during a meeting in Qatar with one of the fundamentalist Muslim group’s political leaders.
The talks between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy director of the Taliban’s political office, took place on Thursday in the Qatari capital Doha, hours before two bomb explosions killed dozens of people outside the Kabul airport.
“On the sideline of my visit to Qatar, I also met with Representatives of the Taliban Political Office in Doha,” Retno said via Twitter.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic-majority nation, in recent years had tried to facilitate negotiations aimed at ending decades of war in Afghanistan. On Aug. 15, Taliban insurgents swept into power when they seized the Afghan capital after the United States withdraw its military forces that had backed the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
“I conveyed to the Taliban the importance of: an inclusive government in Afghanistan; respecting women’s rights; and ensuring Afghanistan does not become a breeding ground for terrorist organization and activities,” Retno said.
On Friday, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Teuku Faizasyah, declined to comment on the meeting between Retno and Stanikzai.
The Taliban returned to power 20 years after being ousted by an American-led international military coalition in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. The militant group al-Qaeda launched them from its base and safe haven in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
During the Taliban’s five-year rule in the late 1990s, the group implemented policies that supressed women’s rights, such as cutting off access to education for women and girls.
In July 2019, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s co-founder, met in Jakarta with the head of Nahdlatul Ulama – Indonesia’s Muslim organization – who told Baradar that the warring Afghan factions should sit together and agree to a peace based on the spirit of Islamic brotherhood.
Since the Taliban took power again on Aug. 15, women’s rights advocacy groups have expressed grave concern over whether the Taliban will undo progress made since 2001 in boosting gender equality and opportunities for Afghan women and girls.
Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban’s political bureau in Doha, said in a tweet that Retno and Stanikzai had discussed the situation in Afghanistan and the future of bilateral relations.
“The Indonesian delegation thanks the Islamic Emirate for the safety of its diplomats,” Naeem said on his Twitter account.
Retno discussed Afghanistan during a meeting in Doha with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, who is Qatar’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister.
She also talked about evacuation efforts at Kabul’s airport, security, and the future of Afghanistan during a meeting in the Qatari capital with Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation.
Indonesia had evacuated 26 Indonesian citizens, including diplomats serving in Kabul, using an Indonesian Air Force aircraft on Aug. 20.
The unrest at Kabul airport has prompted the Indonesian government to move its embassy in Afghanistan temporarily to Islamabad, the capital of neighboring Pakistan.
Faizasyah, the foreign ministry spokesman, said two Indonesians had decided to remain in Kabul, including a U.N. worker.
‘Hotbed for terrorists’
Meanwhile, Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia both condemned the bombings that took place on Thursday in and around Kabul airport, which were claimed by ISIS-K, the Afghan branch of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
The two simultaneous bombings hit in the evening, hours after Western embassies urged people to leave the area due to the threat of a terror attack by the regional branch of IS.
The Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the attack would “only further exacerbate the already dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan.”
“Malaysia calls on all concerned parties to give their utmost priority to the safety as well as protection of all civilians, including those wishing to leave the country,” the ministry said in a statement.
Hikmahanto Juwana, an international law professor at the University of Indonesia, said the meeting with the Taliban was important for Indonesia to raise concerns about the impact on domestic security from the Taliban return to power.
Indonesia wants to “ensure that Afghanistan will not become a hotbed for terrorists,” Hikmahanto told BenarNews.
“Many countries have the same concern and the foreign minister has articulated it,” he said.
Wawan Hari Purwanto, a spokesman for the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), said last week that developments at the global and regional levels influenced the movement of militant groups in Indonesia.
BIN “has taken anticipatory steps to strengthen early detection and early prevention, especially regarding groups that have an ideological resemblance to the Taliban,” he told BenarNews.
Indonesian authorities are also investigating reports that several Indonesian militants were among those released by the Taliban from a prison near Kabul earlier this month.
In the days leading up to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Indonesian police caught dozens of suspected members of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah in a nationwide sweep.
On Aug. 20, police announced that JI suspects had been plotting to carry out a terrorist attack on Aug. 17, Indonesia’s Independence Day.
Indonesian authorities had blamed Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaeda affiliate, for the 2002 Bali bombings – the nation’s deadliest terrorist attack. At the time, members of the group included Indonesians who had trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Indonesian veterans of the war in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
Refugees ‘stressed and scared’
Hassan Ramazan Rateq, a 42-year-old Afghan refugee who has been stranded in Indonesia since 2016, said he worried about the safety of his family and friends back home.
“I and other refugees feel more stressed and scared because our family and relatives are under the clutches of the Taliban’s cruelty,” Hassan told BenarNews.
He called the Taliban’s conciliatory promises “nonsense.”
“They have carried out house-to-house searches, locked up people who worked or had contact with the past government and non-governmental organizations,” Rateq said.
Rateq said his relatives who live near Kabul were desperate to leave Afghanistan.
“They are safe, but every day they are afraid. Nobody knows what will happen to them,” he said.
“If they had a chance to get out, they would.”
Rateq was among hundreds of Afghan asylum seekers who staged a rally outside the Jakarta office of U.N refugee agency UNHCR on Aug. 24 to demand resettlement in a third country.
He and several other refugees were allowed in by UNHCR staff.
“UNHCR staff said they would hold regular meetings with us to listen to our aspirations. As for resettlement, they said it would be done on a ‘first-come-first-go’ basis,” he said.