Disclaimer: The discussion is purely focused on the strategy from a business point of view. In no way we would endorse the Taliban, their ideology, or their repressive tactics. 

Probably nobody outside Afghanistan, even many inside, could predict that Taliban could take over Afghanistan so fast after US pullout.

The scene at Kabul Airport today (16 Aug 2021) resembles that of the evacuation from Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in 1995, and many are drawing the parallels between the American strategy then and now. However, one point that is rarely mentioned internationally but gets brought up a lot in China today is:

Taliban seems to be following the military strategy of Mao Zedong, encircling cities from rural areas?  

Mao’s famous People’s War strategy includes this:

In stage one, the revolutionary force conducting people’s war starts in a remote area with mountainous or forested terrain in which its enemy is weak. It attempts to establish a local stronghold known as a revolutionary base area. As it grows in power, it enters stage two, establishes other revolutionary base areas and spreads its influence through the surrounding countryside, where it may become the governing power and gain popular support through such programmes as land reform. Eventually in stage three, the movement has enough strength to encircle and capture small cities, then larger ones, until finally it seizes power in the entire country.

Using this strategy, the Communist insurgents defeated a much larger, US-armed-and-supported Nationalist army, and seized the power in China in 1949. There are indeed some parallels between that and the current episode in Afghanistan.

How about Bukalapak?

Someone in the community asked an interesting question this morning: “Is Bukalapak following the same strategy?

The fourth largest ecommerce platform in Indonesia has a very differentiated strategy that focuses a lot on lower tier cities and non-metro partners/customers.

Will that allow them to build strength, defend against encroaching Shopee and Tokopedia, as well as eventually prevail?

Unfortunately this is quite unlikely for the following reasons:

  1. Ecommerce is different from politics, where the sheer number of people count more than what they do or what their spending power is. Ecommerce marketplace is a business where efficiency and cost effectiveness, not force, determines the winner;
  2. In ecommerce, the significant percentage of spending power in Indonesia rests in Jakarta Metro area (Jabodetabek). Our friends in logistics estimate about 60-70% of all ecommerce parcels in Indonesia have their final delivery address in Jabodetabek. That gives players which dominate Jabodetabek good economies of scale and efficiency when they move into lower tier cities;
  3. Besides, in Indonesia, more than 55% of the population live in cities. In comparison, Afghanistan’s urbanisation rate was merely 25%; about 10% of Chinese citizens lived in cities when the Communists seized power; Vietnam’s number stood at about 18% when Saigon fell;
  4. As you can see in the following maps, the population distribution of both countries are very different from each other. In Afghanistan, the cities are pretty insignificant, while in Indonesia the population is relatively concentrated:

Not to mention that the Taliban was facing demotivated enemies, while Bukalapak’s foes are strong and aggressive.

To win the battle to become a viable ecommerce platform, Bukalapak needs more than the support of Indonesian retail investors.


Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].