The emergence of the Islamic State and the splintering of the Taliban have added to the complexities of the fragile process aimed at bringing the militants to the negotiating table, Afghan chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah tell HT in an interview.
Here’s the full text of the interview:
Q. Has Afghanistan’s National Unity Government, which you described as a unique experience, been a success?
A. I would say yes, as a whole, I put it in the context, if you’re look at it, the expectations of the people were much higher than what has happened. But if you look at the legacy, in terms of security and other challenges that we had to deal with, I would say that yes. We shouldn’t be satisfied with our record, we should have done much better. The people expected this from us and they deserve the right to have expected us to deliver better. There might have been missed opportunities as well but if you put it into the bigger context in the background i would say that it was very important that this happened
Q. Are steps being taken to institutionalise the chief executive’s role?
A. The point is our system is presidential. It is unitary and it will be unitary throughout. That’s the essence of our constitution. At the same time, the agreement which was there for the formation of the unity govt, it says that after the elections and the constitutional Loya Jirga, this role will be formalised. While the current circumstances, it is as it is.
Q. Recently October 15 was announced as the date for parliamentary polls. Is that doable?
A. The process has to start, it’s important. Once the process starts, then lots of activities will start. The focus will be on the political situation, if it left in a sort of ambiguous way, then nothing will start. There is no doubt that there are challenges, there are security challenges and other problems. Do we have an alternative for parliamentary elections? No. Since that’s the case and there is no intention of skipping the parliamentary elections, it’s important that the activities should start sometime.
Q. Does it bother you that the increasing attention on Daesh in Iraq and Syria could lead to Afghanistan slipping off the radar?
A. Why not? That bothers the people. The fact that it was announced that they will continue to support and that they will stay longer than it was decided at the beginning, and the support continues. The focus has not shifted as such but to the natural extent, why not? There are very serious situations in Syria and Iraq and other parts of the world and that attracts focus and resources. That’s not just the military-security side of it there is also the civilian assistance.
But our expectation is that since things were started here, and the terrorist groups have always maintained focus on Afghanistan, those who want to see a different situation – well, the situation is different today from what it was 15 years back, (when) Osama bin Laden will have the whole territory, most part of the territory and the population under his control, and then planning things for New York, Washington and elsewhere, that’s not the case anymore – but there is no doubt that the challenges are still there.
And the West especially has one experience of pulling out, or disengagement in Afghanistan, in the 1990s after the Soviet withdrawal and that left a vacuum which is part of the factors behind what is happening in our country but also relevant to other parts of the world.
Q. You have spoken of the Daesh in Afghanistan being different from the Daesh in Iraq and Syria...
A. That does not mean that it’s not a threat to Afghanistan – it is a threat in Afghanistan, there is a Daesh threat in Afghanistan, the nature of it is different.
Q. Will the emergence of the Islamic State and some Afghan groups joining it affect the process aimed at starting talks with the Taliban?
A. It will have an impact on the peace talks. Apart from that, there are different groups now among the Taliban. Taliban are divided into different groups and this will have an impact on the talks.
The talks have not started yet, so that’s the point.
Q. The Afghan government has indicated that women’s rights, education and the democratic process are red lines for the outcome of any talks with the Taliban...
A. This has always been the position of the government and the people of Afghanistan. The situation and the position have not changed.
Q. Reports have linked the attack on Pathankot airbase and the strike on the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif. Could this be a blowback for India’s decision to provide four gunship helicopters to Afghanistan?
A. Incidents had taken place earlier as well, in the same old manner, there are things which had happened earlier as well. So this sort of detailed security issues, better to leave it to the (security people).
Q. Do you fear Afghanistan becoming the scene of a proxy war between competing powers?
A. What we are saying is stability in Afghanistan, and the stabilisation of Afghanistan in the interests of all countries and all of the region. It has to be taken in that context. It has to be seen from that lens. That is our expectation. If there is any country who can claim that stability in Afghanistan is not in their interest, how come? There is no such thing, there is no body.
Looking at it from that angle, what india has been doing has been in support of the Afghan govt and empowering the Afghan people, institutions, that is in the interest of stabilisation. Stabilisation means the well-being of the people, it means not just the well-being of our people but the much wider region.
And in this there is a win-win situation for everybody.
Q. In the quadrilateral process involving Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and the US, could the close ties between China and Pakistan give Islamabad greater leverage in the process?
A. China has some investment in Afghanistan and is also faced with the same common threat, which is terrorism.
The point is that once the talks start, it will be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. At this stage, it is for the countries which are part of this to use their leverages to see how they can facilitate that.
Once it starts it will be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned and it will be the interests of Afghanistan that will drive the outcome of the talks and negotiations.
Q. There was a lot of criticism in Afghanistan last year of a reported agreement between the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and Afghanistan. What is the status of that agreement?
A. Do you want to take us to bygone issues (laughs)? The point is that yes, there was an issue there. The point is that we need to work, as...the Afghan government, it’s the interests of the country which drives our actions or our attitude. And Afghanistan wants good relations with all neighbouring countries and countries of the region, and we have shown our seriousness and sincerity in this regard and at the same time, we have made important decisions in this regard and we will continue to make efforts to come to a common understanding to deal with that common challenge.
Also, it’s not just dealing with common challenges, not just the negative side of that, it’s also the positive side of it which is the great opportunities that are there not just for Afghanistan but for the region as a whole, South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East.
While the interests of Afghanistan will always be utmost in our mind, at the same time, we have tried to encourage all the players to work together with sincerity.
Q. Is the intelligence agreement still on the table?
A. Still there are security contacts between us and Pakistan. Gen Raheel Sharif visited us a few weeks ago and those contacts will continue at different levels and different sectors. Because there is one issue in front of us and that’s the issue of terrorism and radical groups which are creating insecurity and contributing to instability and it’s in our common interest to work together.
Q. Under the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement, Afghan trucks can carry goods to the Indian border but have to go back empty as they cannot carry Indian goods. Has this been taken up with Pakistan?
A. I can assure you that this has been a topic of discussion in our economic commission throughout. It has been and we will continue to focus on that as that’s in our interest as well as the interest of the region.