On August 29, 2022, the Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII) campus welcomed a visit from the United States (US) Embassy led by Rina Amiri, the U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights. The visit aims to explore how Indonesia can participate in addressing the problem of the Taliban in Afghanistan. UIII is considered as a place that can build the concept of religious moderation.
"I think this university presents a critical model in the Muslim world. It is the foundation for a long-term vision to expand the vision of modern Islam and fight for it in education, and counter the more radical ideological trends that have occurred in many parts of the world," Amiri said. She added that UIII would have a significant influence that would impact the world, considering Indonesia's position in Afghanistan is very important.
We were deeply touched by Amiri's stories about the problems of women, children, and human rights in her country. Amiri herself is an Afghan-born female scholar and activist who previously served in the U.S. State Department. For two decades she provided input to the governments of various countries and the United Nations on Afghan issues. Currently the world tends to ignore Afghanistan because the Covid-19 pandemic has not fully recovered, as well as for other reasons. Meanwhile, the suffering of the Afghan people continues.
More than a year after the United States withdrew all its troops from the land of the Mullahs, on August 16, 2021, acts of violence continued to occur. Last Friday, for example, a large explosion rocked a mosque in the western Afghan city of Herat. The blast killed a number of civilians and an influential cleric known to be pro-Taliban. Earlier, the cleric called for "those who commit acts against our Islamic government to be beheaded."
The incident indicated that domestic conflict between supporters and opponents of the Taliban government had spread. This is perhaps not too surprising. Because, since U.S. troops left Afghanistan one year ago, and the Taliban took power, the seeds of the conflict have been visible. We certainly still remember how panicked civilians were when they found out that the Taliban militia would return to power after the US evacuated its troops from the country. The US itself has been in Afghanistan since 2001 after overthrowing the Taliban government for supposedly hiding Osama bin Laden, who was judged by the US to be the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 WTC bombing attacks in New York. 20 years later, in August 2021, US troops withdrew. On that day, August 16, 2021, thousands of Afghan civilians left their country. They seemed to have known that the transition of power would be violent and frightening. Moreover, the Taliban as the new ruler has announced to implement strict legal regulations that will be carried out in a harsh way.
Regardless, what is surprising is the response of the international community to see as if what is happening in Afghanistan is only a matter of the Taliban. However, such a response would ignore the far more serious humanitarian problems in this country. Recently the UN warned that Afghanistan is facing worsening poverty with 6 million people at risk of starvation. Conflict, food insecurity, flash floods and a major earthquake last June have made conditions worse for civilians.
Many observers view that the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan today will awaken terrorist cells around the world. It is suspected that the “Taliban victory” will be a driving force for jihadist groups to call for a global jihad again. This is why Afghanistan is viewed with suspicion and abandoned by the world. Are such suspicions true?
In fact, jihadist groups around the world are taking it easy with the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The alumni of the Afghan jihad, including the al-Qaeda group, did not celebrate the victory. This reminds us of the era of the 1990s when Mujahideen troops succeeded in driving out the Soviets in Afghanistan after the 10-year war (1979-1989). The victory did not spark the worldwide jihad euphoria as feared. Even long before, the victory of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, which was initially feared would trigger an Islamic revolution everywhere, did not happen either.
Terrorism only arises when there are conflicts and other issues such as inequality and injustice. Terrorism, then, must be seen as a consequence. The root causes are poverty, oppression, violation of basic rights, injustice, misery, hunger, and the like. Religion gives ammunition to fight all that. Religious violence appears everywhere. This is the face of the world today. So, what is happening in Afghanistan is nothing but our own face.
So, once again, "a state of defeat" is actually the main factor that drives the emergence of terrorism. Therefore, the "victory" of the Taliban is not really a threat to the world. This situation is the same as when ISIS succeeded in controlling Syria (2014). Thousands of jihadists from all over the world, including Indonesia, flocked there to celebrate the victory and enjoy life under the leadership of the caliphate. But when the situation was reversed, ISIS was destroyed in Syria and Iraq by the international coalition since 2017, this sparked a global outrage of its supporters, so that acts of terror by ISIS networks and sympathizers occurred in various countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe, America, and Australia.
So, this essay wants to suggest that the world should not be too concerned about the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which keeps us away from them. Current attention should be focused more on the humanitarian aid that the Afghan people desperately need. The current and future lives of Afghan children are the responsibility of all of us as citizens of the world. In particular, Muslim countries should provide humanitarian assistance and urge the government to pay attention to the world's aspirations to provide and protect women's rights, including their right to attend the highest possible school and a career in the public sphere.
UIII itself can only play a role in accordance with its capacity as an educational institution. Amiri understands this, while emphasizing that religious moderation education as carried out by UIII is important in the long term to counter radical ideologies. In the meeting with Amiri and the US Embassy, we also presented 4 Afghan students who are studying at UIII with full scholarships from the Indonesian government. In this regard, Amiri said that she would soon visit UIII again to bring a formula that Indonesia can do in Afghanistan, and the output in the form of scholarships from the US Embassy for Afghan students who will study at UIII.
What we can do today for Afghanistan is to plant the trees of hope together, so that one day they will grow, bear fruit, and be enjoyed by the children of the future who will build their beloved country with great pride.