Many in Afghanistan believe that the country is going through a crucial stage now as the two fate-deciding national matters (peace and election) have arrived at a climax. The long-drawn-out results of the last year presidential election are said to be announced soon and a new government established while the US-Taliban peace negotiations have once again regained momentum. There are reports of tremendous progress being made as the interlocutors have informed of inching closer to a peace deal as the matter of a seven-day ‘reduction in violence’ from both sides is hitting headlines around the world.
But would there be peace and how the election is related to it? Afghanistan Times exclusively interviewed Presidential Candidate and former National Directorate of Security Head, Rahmatullah Nabil before the recent progress in the talks.
He spoke regarding such crucial matters as government, war, peace and election.
He has provided insightful commentary into these issues and predicted the future of these processes.
What do you think about the incumbent government’s situation? What kind of government is the current one?
It was hoped that with the coming into power of the National Unity Government (NUG), we would witness a strong establishment echoing Afghanistan in its entirety, but unfortunately the sense of selfishness of the head of NUG (Dr. Ashraf Ghani) and his incompatible team which mostly focused on external dependencies rather than on internal capacities were something that not only led to lack of authoritativeness but also made the government even weaker.
What do you mean by incompatible?
I mean this in a sense that Ashraf Ghani in order to satisfy some of his neighbors, especially Pakistan, gathered some people around him who had strong tendencies towards Pakistan. On the other hand, he could not cope with CEO Abdullah Abdullah so that they could work together. These factors led the government to lose its authority both inside and outside the country and there were also some other matters that transpired:
1. We arrived at a stage of war of attrition. Rather than focusing on large-scale public programs, the government engaged in meritocracy, hiring and firing matters. This was while the Taliban with the help of Pakistan formed their Red Unit ranks. It waged war in most places and took on an aggressive mode but the Afghan government lacked a proper plan for winning the war. The government’s warfare was more tactical, immediate and reactionary than planned.
2. The government directly involved the security agencies in politics. Ashraf Ghani first thought that due to the higher number of Mujahedeen in the security sector in 2014, he could not be the final decision maker and has a sole stake in the government, so he considered them a hurdle to his authority and thus leaned more towards the Parcham-style policies. He appointed those who had been absent from Afghanistan’s matters for twenty to thirty years as military corps commanders. This led to heartbreaking events at different levels of security sector.
3. Immediately retiring many commanders through something called the organizational rejuvenation – while no one is opposed to the rejuvenation of the system – instead of a gradual program and without a transition period brought inexperienced people to the job. This resulted in disruption and breaking up of affairs.
4. In the civil affairs section of the government, we also saw that appointments were mostly personalized and contradictory. Dr. Abdullah could not get his rights but Ghani’s team made it an excuse for his failures.
4. Some circles within the government, rather than reaching a consensus, exacerbated the divisions among politico while NUG failed to prioritize national interests.
5. During this time, the division between the government and opposing politicians also increased. While there were divisions among politicians during the former President Hamid Karzai’s regime as well, they still had consensus on national interests and would come together. For example, Karzai, in his own time, undoubtedly had some government errors but we are certain that he did not want the country to be destroyed. However, there have been serious political scattering in the current government and besides; Ghani’s plans were also impractical and imaginary.
6. The security forces went into a war of attrition. Now the government, war, peace and election are in a deadlock and unfortunately one side of all this equation is Ghani himself. Governance fell apart due to this person and his individualism and monopoly destroyed the legitimacy of the government. At the moment, the government does not have legal-public legitimacy. A government that lacks legal and public legitimacy, we cannot call it a republic.
So your use of ‘incompatibility’ here signifies that the government instead of appointing people with national tendencies brought in people with foreign tendencies?
Yes, the government brought in some elements because it wanted to send a message to the influential countries in the region that we have no problem with you. At the provincial level, I saw it myself, and I made some controversy about it. For example, they appointed governors who had very close ties with Pakistan, and I had presented some documents in this regard myself. However, the government in order to keep the foreigners happy appointed their individuals. For example, the GHQ trip and security commitments and agreements signed.
You said that the war is at an impasse and that the current war is not a way forward for the Afghan government and people. Why?
I mentioned that there has been a problem in the management.
Is there a problem in the management of war or its purpose?
Problems with the way of warfare and with the objectives of the war. Now, we are in a situation where neither the security sector can say that we are winning the war nor the Americans – the Americans have repeatedly admitted that we are in a deadlock in the Afghan war. Meanwhile, the Taliban can’t say they could win this war. I say that our war is in a deadlock. Either the style must change or the purpose or management of the war. The Taliban have four basic and regular characteristics which we haven’t been able to neutralize so that their war machine could be destroyed:
1. Their financial system is still intact – whether from our taxes, external sources or drugs money.
2. Their recruitment has not been called into question, as we have not been able to undermine the legitimacy of their war.
3. Their safe havens are still in place.
4. Their war spirit is at its peak as they claim they would seize power and force US and NATO troops out of the country.
You are aware of the performance of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC), how do you see their functioning overall?
Before the election, peace and the election were two distinct national matters; because we think that the issue of peace is more consensus-dependent and that all of us should be involved in it. I think quite the opposite of the president – that is, my view is that when the war sacrifices and victimizes all, peace must also be universal. But now it is peace for a few people, but war for everyone. When peace is yours, then make war your own too. The election itself is scattered. Teams are formed, campaigns are started and they are only talking against each other. Our view was that the two (peace and election) could not be brought together before the election.
When election happened, I knew very well that election would be held this way, but since I was and I am pro-republic, so I nominated myself independently. At my first conference, I said that between 1.2 and 1.5 million people had participated and the election would go into a runoff. And even if it wouldn’t go to a second round, we must conduct a second round in order to at least raise the level of public participation – only in case if the IEC really carries out its duties – and secure legitimacy of the government.
What do you think about the election and what do you want to happen?
I have said many times that I do not care who succeeds and who does not; I say that this process of democracy has reached a point where it is in a mode of dying. They should declare at least 500,000 as transparent and one candidate would succeed. But at least there will be some atmosphere of trust in democracy built in the future. The low turnout in the election was not a security issue; you see no one in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood came out. It was really a slap on the de facto republic that Ashraf Ghani built for himself because our people had their own analysis and saw the interferences. They saw the appointments and dismissals and the money splitting.
What do you think about peace and how do you want the peace process to proceed?
There are five key players involved in the peace process (America, Pakistan, Taliban, Afghanistan and the region). The first three have agreed. Afghanistan is the only one left. On the Afghan side, the government, politico and people are key aspects but unfortunately there is no connection between these three. The government wants peace for its survival, and I have come to the conclusion that if the Taliban accepts the terms of Ashraf Ghani, he would put forward another condition because he wants to stay in power for another five years. Politicians also have a plan, scattered each of them, and the people are neither aware of their plan nor of Qatar’s.
Now the situation is in the favor of the region and Pakistan, but the weakest in this circle is Afghanistan. The government has not been able to communicate with politicians properly, as well the politico and government has failed to do so with the people. We do not yet know what will be the outcome of the Qatar peace negotiations. Our people don’t understand who’s going to represent the people on the negotiation team’s list? So, unfortunately, we have no choice but to accept whatever the three top players (Pakistan, the US and the Taliban) decided.
How much do you agree with the decision of IECC?
I can clearly say that all the decisions of the commission are political, because if an agreement is reached in Qatar, all those decisions will be worthless. The dumb and vague decisions of IECC are directly related to the discussions in Qatar, and the electoral commissions do this in order to see the results of Qatar negotiations clarified.
How much do you think the US is honest about Afghanistan in these talks?
The US decides in compliance with its own national interests in Afghan peace, and I have not yet considered the Qatari parleys a peace process. These talks rather than being focused on a peace are in fact aimed at the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. You see, we haven’t been able to agree on the negotiating team’s list for about a year. The Americans say that we and the Taliban are going to settle things and then you Afghans have to sit and discuss to come up with a new system. This is another conflict itself. The experiences of Dr. Najib’s time should not be repeated. At that time, we saw that Jihadi leaders were engaged in peace talks, but among the Mujahideen they reinforced prominent commanders. They kept the war machine and destroyed the legitimacy of the Najib’s de facto system. The same thing is happening now. A number of circles are questioning the legitimacy of the system under the pretext of the peace process, while on the other hand, the war is continuing. If the Mujahideen’s joined Najib’s establishment, the military equation would have disrupted given the Mujahideen’s capability in guerrilla warfare, but, on the contrary, the war turned into a war of attrition and neither the Mujahideen nor Najib’s government survived. I am afraid that we do not go the same way. The Americans say we’ve arrived at an agreed conclusion with the Taliban and that you Afghans have to get along now. However, no capacity exists here that could bring us together.
What’s the solution?
Because the government is not capable of managing war, peace and election, and thus cannot salvage Afghanistan from this predicament, so the only solution is to create a new government.