Afghanistan is a country where peace is still a distant dream for its citizens. Its people have suffered decades of unrest and infighting. Fighting has not subsided even as political and diplomatic efforts intensify. Civilians continue to bear the brunt of an imposed, grisly war.
In one hand, uncertainty is still looming over the reconciliation process and the long drawn-out election. On the other, the United States and the Taliban are sticking to their guns vis-à-vis their standpoints, hauling each other into accusations of reluctance, each throwing the gauntlet on another.
This situation is ruining the prospects of a peace deal and the start of Afghan-to-Afghan dialogue. Moreover, fraud and a myriad issue marred the presidential election and yet its outcome remains in limbo.
To dig into these issues in depth, we interviewed Chief Executive of the National Unity Government Dr. Abdullah Abdullah who is running for president. To his opinion, peace is the ultimate solution of the current political uncertainty. “There is an ever-increasing need for mobilization of efforts to resuscitate the ailing peace deal,” he enthused.
Let’s start with the peace. Dr. Sahib! You recently had a meeting with the US delegation led by the US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad; what are the recent developments in the peace process? Do you think the ongoing US-Taliban negotiations will yield any results?
Abdullah: Thank you! Peace is a national issue. We support all those ally countries that can pave the ground for peace talks. As Khalilzad recently increased his trips, I think the peace talks have reached a stage now where the public hopes have risen drastically compared to the past. It means that if God wills, the issues that are between the Taliban and the United States will arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Moreover, in addition to an agreement, if there is also a reduction in violence witnessed by Afghan people, they will realize that it is in our favor, as well as understand that it has an effect on their life, security and the environment. If this result is reached and then the intra-Afghan negotiations begin, that is when the key issues would be addressed. Our stance in this regard is clear that we don’t support imposing preconditions. But during the talks, there should be two conditions put in place: a team should represent all Afghans, comprised of the government and politicians in the framework of a national composition. A delegation of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan only representing the government would not produce results, nor would one that excludes the government. But again, whatever issues that would be presented there require an absolute determination and will from both the sides, including the Taliban and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Why is there strong insistence recently from the government on ceasefire and there are preconditions put forward beforehand; don’t you think that it is an attempt to sabotage peace efforts?
Abdullah: The ARG (the presidential palace) should translate its intention into practice not just state it verbally. The people’s ultimate and real demand is not a truce but a sustainable peace. If there is no fighting and violence for one day, two days or a month, this will bring about a new atmosphere. It’s a useful step for peace but presenting ceasefire as a condition is not a good move. It is better to discuss the issue of truce during the intra-Afghan dialogue.
People are concerned about the lack of justice in peace talks. How much justice will be ensured in peace talks in your opinion?
The main and important achievement in the justice sphere will be that the imposed war and fighting which victimize innocent people will be brought to an end as a first step towards ensuring justice. Afghanistan’s conditions differ. Every issue needs to be dealt with while taking into account the on-the-ground conditions. Today, the war continues. Dozens of innocent people are killed every day, and due to war, justice cannot be ensured. The current system cannot function according to the demands of the people. Therefore, peace brings an opportunity for us to build a sound system in which people can repose their trust. It should be a law-based system where there is no hate, something that itself paves the ground for justice. Today, we can say there is no justice because in wartime, it doesn’t matter how much we act in accordance with justice, such efforts will consequently become under the influence of the conditions of war but if somebody’s intent is not sincere in this regard, then that’s a whole different topic.
The armed opposition of the government is a specific side of the Afghan war. The rebel group stoned a woman to death a few days ago and has also been involved in some other similar incidents; how do you negotiation with such a group?
Do you want this situation to continue? By no means. Stopping this situation, however, is an obligation. This issue will be put on the negotiating table when we are about to reach an agreement with the group. Once we were sitting behind the table when some conditions brought forward were unacceptable to everyone, so our first step now is to bring an end to the current situation, then we will arrive at a conclusion where all people will present their thoughts and fight politically but will not support terrorism. In such a situation, the best service is to change the status quo.
A while ago, the president announced that 45,000 soldiers have been killed and that the number might have increased by now. A soldier killed has a father, a mother, is someone’s father, brother and has a family. Can we provide legitimate rights to such victims’ families? Are we aware of them? On the contrary, there may be 45,000 people killed from the opposing side as well, but that is not the solution. As the solution is in peace, negotiation and political settlement, Afghans have a general consensus that everybody holds different views regarding the modality of peace talks.
The US is expected to leave Afghanistan? Will the Taliban’s backers shun support to the rebel group as soon as peace is ensured?
This is part of the terms of the agreement and it is also an essential part of the discussion among the Afghans. We will make peace among ourselves. The US will leave. A new group might come into the picture and seek military help from one country or another and will try to knock down other groups. All these guarantees are a part of the agreement, but should not be presented as prerequisites. Any delegation that represents the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan would be all-inclusive and would speak from a higher stance. Now, Afghanistan has escaped from the dark situation of the past and wouldn’t revert back to such state at any cost.
If the foreigners leave Afghanistan before a peace agreement, is there any guarantee that Afghanistan will not become home to internecine warfare once again?
This ongoing war existed even before the presence of the foreigners. If the Taliban keep insisting that they won’t engage in intra-Afghan negotiations then it would seem that they are not serious about peace at all.
As we do not put forth any preconditions, they too must do so. If the foreigners leave and the situation worsen, it’s possible that the foreigners may return but in that case, only the war will continue.
Is America really honest in peace talks because the Taliban keep saying that America has new conditions and repetitive demands? What does it mean?
The details that are discussed in the negotiations between them are shared with the Afghan government. They inched closer to an agreement but a series of events took place in Afghanistan. The US thought that Afghan people should also get something from this deal. As the Taliban had told the US that they would observe a truce with their forces but not with the Afghan government, this proposition was not accepted by the US. It was a good move on the part of US because it is illogical to reach a ceasefire with foreigners but continue fighting your own people.
How do you assess the role of Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia and other regional countries in the Afghan peace process?
All countries have their own influence and are affected by the war. Regardless of what some people believe, I reckon that no country can benefit from war. Some countries may consider it beneficial but only for the short-run. But in the long-run, the continuation of the war is to the detriment of all.
Why do the ARG and the Sapidar Palaces issue two separate statements regarding meetings with Khalilzad?
We have broadcasted whatever we had heard. It’s not possible that we release statements to the contrary. Those who distort statements should be prosecuted.
Is there any development made in regards to the intra-Afghan talks? Are you in the loop?
There are different views, but no significant progress has been made so far. This needs to be properly pursued.
Dr. Sahib! You issued an order regarding the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA); what will be your reaction if your order is not implemented? And secondly, rumors suggest that there is a plan that you, by a decree, would appoint governors and ministers as per your allotment prescribed in the National Unity Government (NUG) agreement?
I have to say about the MoFA that it is not just my opinion. There were some measures taken in the garb of reforms which were not in the interest of the ministry. The people who work there are employees and following the steps carried out against their legal rights under the name of reforms, I considered myself responsible to prevent them.
If you ask MoFA employees, more than 90 percent believe that these are not reforms. The reform drive is simply trampling on their rights and treating them with discrimination.
Now, I will only say this: I have issued an order and it will be implemented In Sha Allah. The important thing is that all of us should be convinced that NUG will continue until a new government is established. I have not taken any other action yet but I deem it necessary that those who are in the positions of authority should act in accordance with the law. In this interview, I wouldn’t declare anything else but I expect that all those actions should be prevented whose reactions are not beneficial to anyone.
It is believed that the election results won’t have a winner in the first round and both the leading electoral teams are now engaged finding ways to extend NUG system for another five years? Is this true?
Not at all! The result of the election should be announced to the people who have risked voting despite security concerns. The continuation of the current establishment for another five years is not in the interest of Afghanistan. There has been no discussion in this regard that I have been part of.
So how does General Dostum talk about political solutions?
No, General Dostum’s words have been distorted. A part of his words was taken from a long interview; his goal was that the current conflict within the government should not continue and it was not about the election. His comments which are misconstrued stated that tensions within NUG are not in the interest of the people. I am in touch with him, God forbid if peace does not yield results, we will witness a tough season of war ahead. At this point, we say that the current government should continue until the announcement of the results, but its continuation for the next five years is utterly unacceptable.
Is there going to be a run-off vote because Fazel Ahmad Manawi stated this?
I should not say anything about this. Our technical teams have some ideas but I am convinced that the current election results are going to change.
In the last part, can you say a brief message about election and peace?
Peace is the primary demand of the people of Afghanistan. The absolute majority of Afghanistan is in the favor of peace, a sustainable and lasting one, meaning a peace for all. I do not offer a precondition for achieving peace and the beginning of inter-Afghan dialogue but I believe it’s good if fighting is reduced and a ceasefire is achieved. But ceasefire should not be a sine qua non to the launch of intra-Afghan talks. All Afghans should sit behind the table: a delegation from the Afghan Republic and a delegation from the Taliban – this a good start for ending the 40-year war. This is my desire. Seats and positions should not prevent this.
Secondly, there is the issue of election. The way the presidential polls were conducted here, half the people of Afghanistan have become election experts and they know what has happened and what hasn’t. I hope that transparent results will be announced in compliance with laws and if they are as such, the people of Afghanistan would accept them. Fair election would help people have more hope for peace. If we don’t have a proper model of election, we cannot convince others at the table of peace negotiations.