Taliban Outreach to India and China Indicates New Diplomatic Phase
In the Taliban’s continued quest to gain international legitimacy and abandon its reputation for “terrorism,” it has been increasingly establishing and improving diplomatic relations with regional neighbors, China and India. The earthquake that struck Afghanistan’s border region with Pakistan in June exemplified the Taliban’s deepening ties with China. The Taliban’s embassy in Beijing, for example, went so far as to not only announce that China would “stand by” Afghanistan by providing humanitarian aid to the country through various government agencies, but also specifically that the “provincial government of China’s Xinjiang Province is providing one million Chinese yuan in aid for the earthquake recovery” (Twitter/@beijing_embassy, June 26).
Considering that the Taliban has formerly hosted anti-Chinese Uighur militants in Afghanistan, it was notable for the Taliban to accept collaboration with Xinjiang Province, which Uighur nationalists and jihadists both call “East Turkistan” (aljazeera.com, April 25, 2016). The Taliban was, in essence, legitimizing the provincial government of Xinjiang, which makes sense in light of its crackdown on sympathizers to “East Turkistan” independence movements.
Chinese state sponsored Global Times also highlighted the Chinese government’s aid provision to the Taliban by releasing photos of Taliban officials receiving $7.5 million worth of tents, towels, folding beds, and other supplies “to help Afghans survive the country’s deadliest earthquake in two decades (Twitter/ @globaltimesnews, June 27).” Besides the earthquake-related support to the Taliban, China is also facilitating new business ties with Afghanistan. The first step in this initiative will be for China to introduce business visas for Afghan citizens, which Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi had requested to the Chinese embassy in Kabul (muslimmirror.com, June 27).
While the Taliban has been building closer relations with China, it has also rapidly been bolstering its relations with India. On June 24, for example, the Taliban welcomed India’s provision of 27 tons of aid to earthquake victims, which involved two flights to Kabul from India and a “technical team” that was re-deployed to the Indian embassy in Kabul. This signaled that the Taliban and India could soon formally restore diplomatic relations (hindustantimes.com, June 24). India is further justifying its support to the Taliban as being part of the “historical and civilizational relationship” between the people of India and Afghanistan. And although India has not resolved to restore diplomatic relations with the Taliban anytime soon, the Indian government has pursued a “step by step” process to conducting activities in Afghanistan, which could potentially lead to the restoration of formal diplomatic ties at some point in the future (theprint.in, June 23).
For India, improving relations with the Taliban could irritate Pakistan, which itself is struggling to have as much influence over the Taliban as many analysts had expected (hindustantimes.com, June 24). The Taliban, for example, is not constraining the activities of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), otherwise known as the Pakistan Taliban, enough that the TTP can no longer attack Pakistan. For China, improving relations with the Taliban will contribute to its broader regional economic initiatives if security in the country can be restored.
Meanwhile, for the Taliban, which is still seeking to receive broad international legitimacy, recognition from rivals like India and China would only further this diplomatic agenda. If ultimately the TTP can reach a peace agreement with Pakistan and the Taliban’s own rival, Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISKP), can be defeated, then for the first time since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Afghanistan may see relative peace.
Papuan Insurgency Escalates in Indonesia
The insurgency in Indonesia’s easternmost province of Papua has continued to escalate in 2022, despite not garnering significant attention outside of Indonesia itself. The turning point this year occurred in March, when the insurgents killed eight cellular phone company employees. The West Papua National Liberation Army (TPNPB), which is the armed wing of the Free Papua Movement (OPM), claimed the attack, which resembled a similar attack in 2018. At that time, TPNPB alleged the cellular phone company employees were, in fact, part of the Indonesian army’s engineering squad, which is how they justified their attack (benarnews.org, March 3). The same logic seems to have been at play in the March attack.
Following this attack in March, the insurgents continued with their most common tactic involving hit-and-run ambushes on Indonesian police and the stealing of their weapons. On June 18, for example, a Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officer was killed in Jayawijaya regency and two of his weapons were stolen (antaranews.com, June 18). That attack was not claimed by TPNPB, and Brimob suspected other decentralized Papuan insurgents were behind that operation (tempo.co, June 20). Indonesian security forces have identified two other insurgent groups besides TPNPB operating in Papua, which are called the Paniai Group and the Intan Jaya Group and are references to the regencies in Papua where those two groups operate (tempo.co, June 27). It is, therefore, possible that another “Jayawijaya Group” is emerging to operate in that regency as well.
One of Indonesia’s strategies to deal with the growing insurgency is to establish three new provinces out of what is now just Papua province. They would be South Papua Province, Central Papua Province, and Papua Mountains Province (suara.com, June 28). While the Indonesian government views this as necessary to improve the distribution of development services, which in turn would aid in countering the insurgency, Papuan locals tend to fear that the initiative will simply lead to more transmigration into Papua. This, in turn, would displace the local population and cause further grievances that the insurgents could exploit for recruiting purposes.
In addition, grievances have been caused by perceptions from Papuan locals that Indonesian security forces and intelligence agencies have fired indiscriminately on villages (benarnews.org, June 8). Although Indonesian officials deny these allegations, neither these denials nor the government’s developmental initiatives have quelled the resurgence of TPNPB or the other regency-based insurgents. Without international support, TPNPB and the other insurgents are unlikely to see sufficient pressure placed on Indonesia to change its policies dramatically. However, the continued attacks are straining the Indonesian military and, in perhaps a best case scenario for the insurgents, they could force the government to the negotiation table to cede certain insurgent demands for greater autonomy.