AFGHANISTAN’S President Ashraf Ghani has completed a two-day state visit to Indonesia, which was the first stop in Southeast Asia as part of his diplomatic tour of the Asia-Pacific region.
The focus of the visit was strengthening economic ties and boosting bilateral efforts to combat terrorism. On his first day in the country, he signed five treaties on education, agriculture, statistics, bureaucratic reform and fiscal policy with Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
Afghan asylum seekers and refugees – more than 7,000 are in limbo in Indonesia – feared forcible repatriation after Ashraf’s visit.
A young refugee of Afghanistan’s persecuted Hazara minority told Asian Correspondent, “I was in panic since I heard the news of Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Indonesia. I feared he will do the same as he did with refugees in Europe,”
“I [will not survive] if I am returned back to that hell,” he said. “Certainly, God [acted in] our favour that [Ashraf ] didn’t sign any illogical treaty with [the] Indonesian government.”
The core objective of Ashraf’s visit to Indonesia was to get comprehensive insight on how to eradicate radicalisation through the spread of moderate Islam, in order to bolster peace efforts in the war-torn country.
With a population of around 32 million, Afghanistan is home to numerous militant groups including Islamic State and the Taliban. After Iraq, it suffers from the most terrorist attacks in any country on earth.
Jihadi organsations in Afghanistan specifically target the long-persecuted Hazara minority, who are of a different ethnicity and practice Shia Islam.
In contrast, Jokowi said this week despite having a population of 250 million people, “17 thousand islands, many ethnicities, and languages, we are still united.”
To date, Indonesia has trained 358 Afghan men and women in 47 programmes in different fields including law enforcement, women’s empowerment, state administration and agriculture.
Jokowi pledged to build an Indonesian hospital worth IDR16 billion (USD1.2 million) in Afghanistan, to be initiated after the completion of the Indonesia Islamic Center (ICC).
“The ICC will spread Islam as Rahmatan lil alamin (blessing for the universe) besides serving as a religious, health and education center for Kabul residents. It will have the capacity to accommodate 2,500 people,” Jokowi said.
Higher education in Afghanistan remains fragile and hugely dependent upon foreign assistance. Progress has been hampered by violence, poor law enforcement, limited resources and ailing infrastructure. These are key elements behind the current “brain drain” in Afghanistan.
Indonesian Education Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the government would provide 100 scholarships for Afghan students, providing an opportunity to achieve their educational goals in a peaceful environment.
Afghanistan is one of Indonesia’s largest export destinations in the Middle East after Iran. In addition to this, Indonesia is the 14th largest import trading partner for Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, there is a number of barriers to Indonesia-Afghanistan trade, including Afghanistan being a landlocked country, untrustworthy transaction channels and a lack of direct access to the Afghan market.
Despite these obstacles, Ashraf attended an Afghanistan and Indonesia Business Dialogue on the second day of his visit, which saw hundreds of businessmen from both countries attend to boost trade and investment opportunities.
Ghani recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in regards to AUD320 million (US$240 million) to be provided over the next four years.
The development assistance package will focus on economic infrastructure, civil service training, anti-corruption initiatives, agricultural productivity and programmes on empowerment of women and girls.
Following Ashraf’s speech, Indonesian investors reportedly expressed their willingness to go to Afghanistan and explore business opportunities.
Ashraf heads to neighbouring Singapore on Friday.
***Mohammad Baqir Bayani is the co-founder and co-director of www.refugeesofindonesia.com, and is currently residing in Indonesia as a person seeking asylum awaiting third-country resettlement.