PH position on Afghanistan will test Duterte's independent foreign policy — analysts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 19) — With the Taliban recapturing the seat of power in Afghanistan, world superpowers are watching carefully and making their stance on the issue.

In an online forum on Thursday, security analyst Rommel Banlaoi, chief of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research (PIPVTR), said should the Philippines make an official stand -- whether to support the new government or not -- it will be a test on the so-called independent foreign policy of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

Banlaoi said the situation in Kabul will be a geopolitical showdown between the United States and China.

The United States has withdrawn its forces in Afghanistan after participating in the more than 20-year war in the country. It has also frozen the assets of the Afghanistan Central Bank worth $9.5 billion.

On the other hand, China, while expressing security concerns following Taliban’s victory, has made known its intent to help in rebuilding Afghanistan and developing its economy.

“It will be major arena of US-China rivalry," Banlaoi said. "Because China promised the Taliban government that if the Taliban government will refuse to support international terrorist activities, China promised to cooperate with the Taliban government.”

The Philippines has a long-standing alliance with the U.S. under a 70-year old Mutual Defense Treaty. The Duterte administration has also restored the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with Washington just last month.

But under Duterte, the Philippines is tilting toward Beijing, as he repeatedly described China as a ‘friend and partner for peace and development.’

“Remember, we already disappointed the United States many times," Banlaoi pointed out. "Because their expectation as an ally is we will follow the decision of our ally."

"But things have changed," he also said. "Our decision on Afghanistan will be a test to Duterte’s independent foreign policy… We already had a position in the past that defied our ally when we recognized the state of Palestine.”

Give Taliban a chance

Bobby Tuazon, director for policy studies at the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), said since the Taliban declared that the war is over, they deserve to be given a chance to govern.

“They indeed deserve international support because many countries are already talking with theTaliban," Tuazon explained. "From China, to Russia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, even the United Nations… They are sick and tired of foreign invasion.”

As for terrorist links, Tuazon said the Taliban is not a terrorist organization. And currently, they cannot afford to support atrocities in a global scale, he added.

“The war is over as far as the Taliban is concerned," he said. "They want peace. They want to develop Afghanistan because that’s the only way by which Afghanistan will continue to exist…"

"If they continue to war, they will lose," Tuazon added. "They know that. Eventually they will lose. Terrorism will not win.”

But he suggested a wait-and-see attitude toward the Taliban and the direction it will take in governance just like what China and Russia are doing.

That includes the formation of an inclusive government and ensuring the protection of rights of women, he said.

Terror link between Philippines and Afghanistan

But Banlaoi warned of the terror links between Afghanistan and the Philippines.

He said that a certain Saifullah, an Indonesian terrorist affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), is now based in Afghanistan. Saifullah is said to be the leader of Islamic State East Asia.

Banlaoi claimed Saifullah helped finance the Marawi Siege through Dr. Mahmud Ahmad of Malaysia and Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s anointed “emir” in Southeast Asia. Government forces killed Mahmud and Hapilon during the five-month war in Marawi.

“Saifullah helped Mahmud facilitate the transfer of funds from ISIS in Syria through Afghanistan and Indonesia then to the Philippines," said Banlaoi. "Saifullah channeled $600,000 through Mahmud who used it to finance the Marawi siege. Money was transferred through the secure messaging app of Telegram and wire transfer services.”

He also said that Saifullah may have a hand in the 2019 Jolo Cathedral bombings. He added that intelligence information revealed that alleged Indonesian terrorist Andi Baso was in direct contact with Saifullah.

Over the years, Banlaoi said some members of the Taliban had connections with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. And if theTaliban government will get recognition from the United Nations, they need to implement the global counter terrorism strategy.

“If the Taliban will commit itself in the implementation of the global counter-terrorism strategy, then it has to fight the Islamic State, then it has to fight Al Qaeda, and it has to fight other armed groups in Afghanistan committing terrorist activities," Banlaoi explained.

"And that will be difficult for the Taliban because they will be fighting their own brothers,” he added.