How the Taliban’s triumph has inspired extremists in Southeast Asia

Organized major terrorist attacks have been replaced by several low-tech lone wolf attacks. The most recent was a suicide bombing of a church in southern Sulawesi in March by a newlywed young couple linked to pro-Islamic State cells and a shooting at police headquarters in Jakarta by a 25-year-old woman three days later. .

The pandemic has been another challenge for those dreaming of a Southeast Asian caliphate, but they have found a platform to stay active.

Noor Huda Ismail, who attended a notorious boarding school founded by Bashir and now runs deradicalization programs, has been monitoring the reaction of Southeast Asian extremists to Kabul’s fall on social media and private messaging channels.

Afradicalisation expert Noor Huda Ismail is following extremists' reactions to the Taliban's takeover.

Afradicalisation expert Noor Huda Ismail is following extremists’ reactions to the Taliban’s takeover.Credit:Rodrigo Ordonez

He said Islamic State supporters did not celebrate the Taliban’s triumph, claiming they had “succumbed to the international system” by holding peace talks with the United States this year.

“But the pro-al-Qaeda groups like JI, they are super happy about this,” said Noor Huda, who holds a PhD from Monash University and is a visiting fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

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“On Facebook posts and WhatsApp, they keep saying ‘this is great, this is an inspiration for us’.”

It is not just the jihadists in the region who are toasting the Taliban. The reformed militants that Noor works with are also happy, he said, simply because they “do not like America ruling another country.”

But he says a younger group could be drawn into extremism by a technologically savvy Taliban 2.0 who presents himself as a more sophisticated outfit than before, all the way down to fighters wearing trendy sneakers and designer sunglasses.

“With the advent of social media, we are seeing more and more people joining jihadi groups simply because of social media or WhatsApp groups,” said Noor Huda.

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“Imagine you’re young, you’re looking for a role model, you’re part of this ‘cool’ [organisation] trying to protect the sacred value of Islam or trying to defend the weak. It’s a matter of narrative, especially if you do not have a memory or experience from that era [when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001]. “

Sana Jaffrey, director of the Institute for Political Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, believes that the Taliban’s persistence and ultimate resurgence will resonate in Southeast Asia, but notes that this “does not mean that it will automatically translate into some form of action. “.

Two decades after the previous period of Islamist rule, the Taliban’s success in governing can be a key factor in any lasting influence in the region.

“I think that if the Taliban creates a functioning government, what we [would] garden is an Islamic state model that is an alternative to ISIS, which failed [in Iraq and Syria]said Jaffrey.

“What laws do they want to issue? How do they really govern? How do they work through these issues of what women can and must not do? These are the kind of things that will potentially serve as a model for the kind of Islamic state that people imagine travel towards. ”

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Indonesia itself, with a Muslim population of 225 million, may also play a role in the Taliban’s efforts to be recognized as a legitimate government internationally. Jusuf Kalla, who has twice been Indonesia’s vice president, including during President Joko Widodo’s first term, has been an active player in the Taliban’s peace talks with the US-backed Afghan government over the past year, and at one point offered to host a round of talks in Jakarta.

Eager for foreign aid and investment in war-torn Afghanistan, the Taliban have sounded more moderate than their previously brutal regime, which was a haven for terrorists in the late 1990s and early 2000s and “is very interested in getting recognition from Indonesia, “says Jaffrey.

The rationale for mainstream acceptance is put forward by Nasir Abbas, a former JI member who trained on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border between 1987 and 1993.

“If the Taliban have changed, then why can we not change the way we look at them?” he said in a webinar run by Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic mass organization in Indonesia.

He said the Taliban had shown through the eyes of terrorist groups that “fighting against the government in the name of religion can bear fruit”, he predicted that “threats will arise in Indonesia if people speak ill of the Taliban”.

“For example, if people say the Taliban is brutal, it loves to kill people, and those who speak that describe the Taliban use bad language, then anger will grow inside [radical groups],” he said.

Even a reformed jihadist, he hopes does not happen.

“I used to recruit people actively. I carried a weapon. “Some of my subordinates were influenced by Osama bin Laden and carried out operations in Indonesia with large bombs,” he said.

“Then I changed. I asked them to stop and be inactive.”

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