Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Afghanistan: Ensuring Security Through Regional Cooperation

Interview by Manish Rai | IDN-InDepth NewsInterview*

NEW DELHI (IDN) - As the Afghan government prepares for the post-2014 withdrawal of NATO forces, M. Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi, India, says in an exclusive interview with ViewsAround Editor Manish Rai that the survival of the Taliban in Afghanistan hinges on the support they receive in Pakistan. "Without safe havens, without an operational infrastructure, and without financial means for their sustainment, the Taliban would cease to exist in a matter of a couple of months, if not a few weeks. Once these lines of support are withdrawn from their terror campaign, they would be smashed into easy defeat by the armed forces of Afghanistan," adds the Afghan diplomat.

Question: What was the main reason for shutting down of the Taliban political office in Doha, Qatar?

Answer: The main reason was the way the Taliban opened their office against the agreed-upon principles of the peace process. Labelling the political bureau of the Taliban, a basic venue for peace negotiation meetings, as the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Office,” along with hoisting their white flag, invited immediate reaction from the government and people of Afghanistan, as well as from our allies in the region and beyond. The symbolism of the event aimed at raising the legitimacy of the Taliban against Afghanistan’s elected government and the statement Taliban released, in which they neither committed to cutting ties with Al Qaeda nor accepting Afghanistan’s peace conditions, have indefinitely stalled the peace process. Any such attempts in the future would fail, unless the peace process is completely Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

Q: Do you feel the Afghan forces are capable enough to defend the country alone?

A: Afghanistan is now blessed with over 350,000 forces, willing to fight and die for the defence of our homeland against any type of external aggression, including the terror campaign of the Taliban. The press frequently reports on the spectacular successes of our special operations forces against the recurrent complex suicide terrorist attacks by the Taliban on innocent civilians. And under the security transition process, our forces are now leading all military operations across Afghanistan, with the NATO forces having entered into a new mission of advising, training, and equipping the Afghan forces. The Afghan people take immense pride in our forces, and we strongly believe that our brave, dedicated soldiers can perfectly defend our homeland, provided that they have the necessary training and critical enablers to be provided by NATO and allies like India.

Q: Why is the Taliban movement getting more aggressive day by day?

A: The brutality of the Taliban has increased given their utter rejection by the peace loving people of Afghanistan, who have embraced a culture of democracy, pluralism, and co-existence. The Afghan people continue defying the Taliban, their ideology of hatred, and their mass killing of civilians by suicide terrorist attacks. We recently witnessed the outrage of the Afghan people against the opening of “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Office” in Doha, a clear indication that the Taliban would never be accepted by Afghans, unless they renounce violence, accept the Afghan constitution and the democratic gains of the past 12 years, and join the peace process with honesty and sincerity to end their foreign-dictated violence against Afghanistan.

Q: Are you saying that Taliban is just sustaining because of Pakistani support?

A: It is now clearly known to everyone and acknowledged by the Pakistani government itself that the Taliban’s survival hinges on the support they receive in Pakistan. Without safe havens, without an operational infrastructure, and without financial means for their sustainment, the Taliban would cease to exist in a matter of a couple of months, if not a few weeks. Once these lines of support are withdrawn from their terror campaign, they would be smashed into easy defeat by the armed forces of Afghanistan. And for those willing to discontinue violence, we have a peace process through which they can reconcile with the Afghan people and pursue their political objectives democratically.

Q: But Pakistan also blames the Afghan government for non-cooperation in their campaign against Taliban?

A: The government of Pakistan cannot deny the fact that we have been asking them since 2004 to join hands with us and our common allies in the fight against extremism and terrorism. We had been warning them that external sponsorship of terrorism in Afghanistan would backfire with far-reaching security implications in Pakistan and the rest of the region. As a landlocked, war-torn country, Afghanistan can hardly afford to side with any entity or country against any of our neighbors. So, that is why right at the beginning after the fall of the Taliban, we signed a Good Neighborly Relations Declaration with all of our six neighbors, who firmly committed to non-interference in the Afghan affairs as a way to end war and violence in Afghanistan and to stabilize the entire region. And that is the foreign policy we continue to pursue, inviting and encouraging our immediate and near neighbors to support the implementation of the Istanbul Process to ensure peace, stability and prosperity for all countries of the Heart of Asia, at the center of which lies Afghanistan.

Q: Is the Afghan government willing to talk to Taliban again?

A: The Afghan government is firmly committed to ending the war in Afghanistan through peace and reconciliation, which is also an integral part of a comprehensive transition process with security, political, and economic components. The High Peace Council, consisting of representatives from across Afghanistan, has the sole responsibility of negotiating a peace settlement with the armed opposition, including the Taliban, after they have accepted our peace conditions. President Hamid Karzai recently visited Pakistan, and requested Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to support sincerely and vigorously the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Pakistan has acknowledged their strong influence and leverage over the Taliban leadership in the country, which we hope they would use to jump-start the stalled peace process.

Q: Do you think that the Taliban menace is a threat to other countries as well?

A: There is broad regional consensus on the fact that extremism and terrorism in their different manifestations pose a major threat to the security and stability of every country in the region.[ . . .] extremism threatens the security of Pakistan itself, as a direct consequence of neglecting the menace, which has been victimizing the Afghan people for too long. If Pakistan joins hands with Afghanistan, India, and the rest of the region in the fight against the threat of extremism, we should be able to immediately contain and subsequently eliminate it. Doing so will not only stabilize our region but also enable us to focus on regional economic development, a key demand of every nation in the region.

Q: What will be the three top priorities of the Afghan government following the post 2014 withdrawal of NATO forces?

A: Our three top priorities in the post 2014 period include the consolidation of our gains of the past decade, the pursuit of a negotiated peace settlement that can end war and violence in Afghanistan, and the implementation of our vision for 2024, with a focus on achieving self-reliance in the economic and security sectors. To achieve these top priorities, we will need the continued support of the international community, including our allies in the region and beyond. And we are confident that, based on the many strategic partnership agreements we have signed with them, our allies will stay the course in Afghanistan, and together we will achieve our shared objective of enabling the Afghan people to stand on our own. Let me also extend the gratitude of the Afghan government and people to more than 55 countries, including India, for their continued multi-faceted assistance, as well as for the ultimate sacrifices of their forces to stabilize Afghanistan.

*This interview is being re-published with due acknowledgement to ViewsAround, which carried it on August 31, 2013. [IDN-InDepthNews – August 31, 2013]

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: M. Ashraf Haidari, Deputy Chief of Mission of the Embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi | Credit: ViewsAround