When I met you in 2002, I asked if you had to choose between justice and peace, what would it be? You said peace. Twelve years later, what have been the main achievements of your tenure as President?
||It was in the hands of America and it also depended on the cooperation from Pakistan. America did not go to eliminate the sanctuaries to remove the training grounds, motivational factors and instruments of financing terror; they rather got themselves busy in raiding homes in Afghanistan and bombing Afghan villages.|
That has been a sorry state of affairs, and Pakistan did not cooperate and kept finding use for radicalism and extremism unfortunately. So where Afghans needed the help of especially America and Pakistan we did not succeed.
What would be America’s motivation? After all it came as a power that wanted to destroy the forces of Al-Qaida and others?
They did help initially in 2001 liberate Afghanistan, no doubt. The Americans in their arrival in Afghanistan, for which we were grateful, did liberate it from terrorism, from that secret invasion that had crept into our country from our neighbourhood. We are immensely grateful for that. But the most important issue and one for which they came to Afghanistan, an effective campaign against terrorism, was not conducted properly... or where it should have been conducted.
You seemed very angry with the US — that’s the word you used — at the end of your tenure. Why was that?
Angry because of so much loss of life among Afghans, because we were targeted, not the [terror] sanctuaries.
And have you still not figured out a pattern in what they were doing? What was their interest?
I have my understanding of it, but I cannot speculate on behalf of America. But I believe they either had a larger objective or they simply failed to adopt the right policy, [and it seems] they are still following it.
The government that succeeded you signed the bilateral security agreement. What were your concerns that kept you from putting your signature on it?
The lack of an effective campaign against terrorism, and the lack of seriousness in bringing peace to Afghanistan, especially when we all recognised early on that Afghanistan’s peace was entirely in the hands of the United States and Pakistan, that this was not our war, that we were the victims of broader international and regional interests from the neighbourhood. So I saw that it would be of no use for us — without clear prospects and assurance of peace — to have a foreign power in our country.
But this also presupposes that you are now confident that Afghanistan’s security forces and the army can hold the country as a whole?
Now the Afghan people can definitely hold Afghanistan together. The reason that we fell apart initially after the Soviet Union withdrew was not because we could not hold Afghanistan together. It was because of our sincerity towards our neighbours and those who helped us in our Jehad. We thought they had helped us defeat the Soviet Union and liberate Afghanistan, and now they would help us to build Afghanistan. But it did not happen that way. They had different intentions, and we did not see those intentions right there and then unfortunately. And the consequences were tremendous in the end for Afghanistan. Now we have analysed this region, we know who’s a friend and wants Afghanistan to do well and who does not want Afghanistan to do well. So we have our sights focused. Therefore, no, we will be safe and Afghanistan would be protected.
If the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and the American-NATO troops were to leave tomorrow or day after, do you think Afghanistan would hold?
Afghanistan would hold, but there is a major condition. We would hold if the neighbours cooperate. If we continue to see a secret invasion from our neighbourhood and if our other big neighbours like India, China, Russia and Iran don’t help then there will be trouble, as it is today. Afghanistan will not see security if that interference continues, if the arrival of terrorists continues. That is why I have been during this visit emphasising heavily on strong Indian commitment to Afghanistan and on strong cooperation between India, China and Russia in Afghanistan. All three countries are also threatened by exactly the same thing as Afghanistan is threatened with, terrorism. And so is Pakistan in a big way. I hope that now there will be action based on this recognition.
You have expressed your frustration against Pakistan on many occasions. What was the sort of role you saw them playing when you were dealing with its leaders?
Well the Pakistani civilian leaders are very much aware of the consequences the Pakistanis are suffering of the growth of terrorism and radicalism there. That it has become a danger to the state of Pakistan itself. When we saw that Pakistan was beginning to be insecure itself, I went with a lot of hope and enthusiasm to Pakistan hoping now that they had begun to suffer they would give up on using terrorism as a tool. Unfortunately that was not the case. So I hope that realisation would turn into action now.
Did you get the feeling that you were talking to many Pakistans — civilian, army, and ISI authorities?
We know the situation there, and we treated Pakistan as a State and we spoke to them as a State. It was for Pakistan to decide who called the shots, and who did not. We treated Pakistan as a State and respected them as such. We all know that [the ISI continues to cause trouble].
What would be your advice to Nawaz Sharif?
Nawaz Sharif is a good man. He wants Pakistan to do well. He knows, as do a lot of other people in Pakistan, that Pakistan can do well only if it has friendly relations with both India and Afghanistan. This tension and acrimony has to give place to friendship and cooperation, and they recognise it. Now there are also unfortunately forces that recognise this but do not believe in correcting it. [Pervez] Musharraf’s remarks on proxy war in this context were very unfortunate and sad. Why would someone say that they would wage a proxy war in another country, what does he consider Afghanistan to be — a no man’s land, a country without right to peaceful living, people without a right to government? Why is he so insulting to the people of Afghanistan and the Pakhtoons who live in Pakistan — to say that Pakistan would use Pakhtoons against India in this proxy war?
Do you think that the ISI and the Pakistan Army still have the same mindset as their former chief had?
If they have that mindset, it is very tragic, and it will cost them very heavily, as it has already been.
What role can India play now for Afghanistan?
India has been the frontrunner in the broader region in supporting Afghanistan. India is traditionally not a donor country, but India went out of its way to give massive support to Afghanistan of more than 2 billion US dollars of the toil of the Indian people, to build us roads, schools, Parliament House, dams, schools, hospitals, scholarships, transmission lines. So, we are very grateful to India, and Afghanistan would want India to continue its support.
How do you see the new government in India headed by Mr Modi?
The Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, is committed to supporting Afghanistan. He has assured me on four occasions — twice during personal meetings and twice on the phone — that India is committed to supporting Afghanistan and its people. And that is exactly what we would like to hear from India.
Do you also look for arms supply, and security boots on the ground from India? What has been India’s response to that?
India has supported and trained our officers and did provide some other assistance and equipment; of course, we had a bigger wishlist that we presented to India. I am sure in time that will also happen. India is well placed to do all that for us. But we don’t need boots on the ground, whether Indian, American or NATO. That is going to help neither India nor Afghanistan. Afghanistan can give security to its own people, its security forces should protect its citizens on their own. What we need from India and other neighbours is to train us and equip us.
You are reported to have said once that the Al-Qaida was more myth than reality?
I have never had a report about Al-Qaida from our intelligence agencies. So I don’t know if it really exists or not. It may be a label some people use to do their work. But I know Al-Qaida’s name has been used to threaten India, as has been Lashkar-e-Toiba and other organisations. Now there is the ISIS. I don’t know [if Al-Qaida exists], I know there is terrorism and there is sanctuary for it. The name they use is immaterial.
India does not believe there are two Taliban — ‘good Taliban’ and ‘bad Taliban’. But you have always maintained that there should be a dialogue with the Taliban.
I refer to the Afghan Taliban — those who are sons of the Afghan soil and have been forced by circumstances to take up arms against their own country, but otherwise do not want to hurt their own people and Afghanistan or for that matter other countries. They should be approached, brought in and freed from the exploitation by a foreign intelligence agency of a foreign master. That is my purpose and a legitimate purpose for Afghanistan to pursue.
Have you been able to get across to the Haqqani group that the ISI apparently supports? What is your sense of their motivation?
Unfortunately, areas on the other side of the Durand Line have for long been turned into territories where terrorism was nurtured at tremendous cost to the inhabitants of that region, the Pashtoons living there. And then in the name of the same groups, somebody else trained in those territories, and the people of Waziristan were bombed and killed. So they suffered twice — at the hands of terrorism and then in the name of fighting terrorism; just as we did in Afghanistan. They are the victims; it is somebody else doing it to undermine their name.
Do you see them coming back into the process... or they are lost cases?
The organisations in the name of Al-Qaida, TDP or the Haqqani group are different from the people. We should free the people in North and South Waziristan from terrorism that has been imposed on them. We should join hands for that.
What would be your advice to the new Afghan government that has succeeded you?
I am in close consultation with President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah. We are backing the new government and they would do all the things that are right for our country.
What should be the Afghan government’s priorities in order of importance?
The national priorities are set. We want peace for Afghanistan, but peace for an independent and sovereign Afghanistan. Because without independence and sovereignty, we would not have peace anyway. We have to work to bring better governance, better life for people and better standards of living.
Do you think the dual arrangement of having a CEO and a President will work?
It is a product of the particular circumstances of Afghanistan. With foreign forces there and with foreign interests there, we could not manage it any other way, so this was the only way possible.
SAARC is going to meet in Kathmandu. Afghanistan came into SAARC in 2007. Do you finally see some movement in SAARC, like creating a ‘South Asian Union’ on the lines of the European Union? What is your advice to SAARC?
SAARC is an important body and I am happy that Prime Minister Modi is emphasising an enhanced role for SAARC, and is committed to making it stronger and functionally more capable of delivering. We are fully behind it and this is the need of the hour.
There is drug supply in India, particularly Punjab is facing a major problem of trafficking; there are a lot of youngsters taking drugs. It comes from Afghanistan, through Pakistan. There are gangs working to do this. Then one hears of Dawood Ibrahim being in Pakistan. Do you have any information on this?
I was asked this question yesterday as well, but as far as Dawood is concerned, we have no information on him. As for controlling drug smuggling, we tried our hardest to bring down the trafficking. But it is more an international exercise than an Afghan exercise, and it has not succeeded unfortunately.