Philippines Military Sees No Risk From Afghan Refugees; Indonesia Worried About Fighters’ Return

BenarNews staff
Cotabato and Iligan cities, Philippines, and Jakarta
Philippines Military Sees No Risk From Afghan Refugees; Indonesia Worried About Fighters’ Return A man carries Taliban flags to sell at the Karte Mamorin area of Kabul, Aug. 22, 2021.

As Southeast Asia worries about ripple effects of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, a Philippine military official said on Monday that the country was not at risk from Afghan asylum seekers, while Jakarta said it was perturbed by reports that Indonesian militant suspects were among those freed from a Kabul prison last week.

The Philippine military’s deputy chief of operations, Maj. Gen. Edgardo De Leon, was seeking to calm public fears after a local security expert warned of “a spillover of violence” in the south of the country, where violent separatist groups have been operating for years.

“We don’t see any risk because those trying to seek asylum are those people who are peace-loving, who are running away from conflict,” De Leon told an online media forum.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman had announced last week that Afghans fleeing their country would be granted asylum, though he did not say when this would occur or how many would be granted entry to the Philippines.

“So with regard to the possible risk of a spillover of the Taliban conflict to the country, it is very remote, because we have already substantially reduced the capability of the local terrorists to launch conflict,” De Leon said.

Philippine forces had already reduced the threat of terrorism after the 2017 battle of Marawi, in the southern Mindanao island, he added.

In May of that year, Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern fighters linked to the Islamic State (IS) group took over Marawi, beheading Christians and holdings hostage dozens of civilians. The audacious move was meant to transform Marawi – a Muslim city in the predominantly Catholic Philippines – into the IS’s regional hub.

The city was heavily bombed by the military, with government forces breaking the siege in October 2017.

“We have seen victory over Marawi and the terrorists,” De Leon said, adding that the militants had been effectively contained “in portions of central Mindanao.”

Among the groups active in the south is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which has pledged allegiance to the IS. Since January 2021, security forces have captured or slain 131 members of BIFF, the government said.

Meanwhile, in Manila, the foreign department said it had evacuated 182 Filipinos from Afghanistan, but around 27 have yet to be repatriated.


Taliban men march on the street in Qalat, Zabul Province, Afghanistan, in this still image taken from a social media video uploaded on Aug. 19, 2021. [Via Reuters]

‘Taliban made a lot of positive promises’

In neighboring Indonesia, the head of operations at the country’s counter-terror police squad said he was worried about reports that Indonesian militants linked to IS were among prisoners released last week by the Taliban from a U.S. airbase.

Aswin Siregar of Densus 88 said their possible return to Indonesia could spell trouble.

“We can't confirm this yet because we have no direct contact with security and prison authorities there. But I think the news could be true,” Aswin said.

“We are still trying to collect information. What we are worried about is that they may return to Indonesia. We will investigate why they were arrested, how many were released and where they are going.”

Densus 88’s efforts are hampered, though, because it does not have direct contact with authorities in Afghanistan.

“We only monitor as much as possible through existing networks in Indonesia,” Aswin said.

As it is, Indonesia temporarily moved its embassy from Kabul to Pakistan’s Islamabad late last week, although Abdul Kadir Jailani, the foreign ministry's director general for Asian, Pacific and African affairs, said on Monday that the move was “not a big deal.” 

Indonesia on Friday evacuated 26 of its nationals, including its diplomats, for their safety, the country’s foreign minister said.

Meanwhile, new embassy personnel who departed from Jakarta on an air force aircraft couldn’t disembark in Kabul because of the “unfavorable” security situation at Hamid Karzai airport, foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Saturday that the team assigned to Islamabad consisted of a Temporary Charge d’Affaires and three other staffers.

“It's just a technical matter and we will eventually return,” Jailani told BenarNews.

Indonesia, like other countries, was adopting a wait-and-see attitude, he said.

“The Taliban made a lot of positive promises. The international community is hoping that the Taliban will make good on its promises,” Jailani said.

“Safety is the main consideration. We know what the situation at the airport was like the other day. The situation on the ground is very difficult.”

Taliban ties

Jailani said Indonesia would continue to play a role in peace negotiations in Afghanistan.

Since 2014, Indonesia has been involved in Afghan peace initiatives through participation in talks, meetings, capacity building and via invitations to Afghan Muslim clerics to a conference on peace in Indonesia, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 2017, President Ashraf Ghani visited Jakarta and asked Indonesia, as the country with the largest Muslim population in the world, to play an active role in supporting the peace process in Afghanistan.

President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited Afghanistan in 2018.  

Jusuf Kalla, who was vice president in Jokowi's first term from 2014-2019, said he had met the Taliban four times, in Jakarta and in Doha. 

Kalla said last week that the Taliban had moderated their views on Islam.

“That's why I invited Taliban leaders twice to Indonesia, so that they could see for themselves that Muslims can progress in moderation,” he told reporters. 

Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar and his entourage met with leaders of the Nadhlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, during their visit to Jakarta in July 2019.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Richel V. Umel in Cotabato and Iligan cities in the Philippines,  and Tria Dianti and Ronna Nirmala in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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