MOSCOW: In last six months, both Russia and the U.S. have boosted their efforts to find a lasting settlement to the Afghan conflict.
On Feb. 22, Russian and U.S. envoys for Afghanistan met in Ankara to discuss the problem. After that U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad went to Qatar for talks with the Taliban leadership while Russian special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov is preparing for a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Moscow. After that, Kabulov and Khalilzad will meet in Washington again.
Kabulov told Anadolu Agency about the recent developments in the Afghan peace process.
AA: On Feb. 22 you met with Khalilzad in Ankara. What was the major purpose and what are the results of the meeting?
Zamir Kabulov: Our purpose was the same as it had been before – the Afghan reconciliation. We agree that neither Russia nor the U.S. will impose their own solutions to Afghanistan. Although we discussed the issue of providing a trip waiver to the Taliban members. But as the issue is not of our bilateral competence, we have to discuss it with all UN Security Council members, for the sanctions were imposed by the UN Security Council and only the council has the right to make the related decision. We are working with the U.S. colleagues on it, this is the burning question, the time has come to do it if we really want to boost the Afghan reconciliation.
AA: Did Khalilzad confirm the readiness to contribute to it?
ZK: Khalilzad confirmed not only readiness but interest to make it happen.
AA: Who will put the question on the agenda of the UN Security Council, Russia or the US?
ZK: We have colleagues who work in New York, in the UN headquarters, they are professionals, they will set us on the right track.
AA: Have you already made a list of nominees for sanctions lift?
ZK: Not yet. Our colleagues in New York will work on the list. We didn’t discuss with Khalilzad if it would be representatives of the Doha office or someone else. By the way, ideally, the Taliban have to reside in Kabul, not in Doha. But until that moment doesn’t come, and Qatar’s government hosts the Taliban, the office in Doha will do.
AA: What about other Taliban demands?
ZK: They were not on our agenda with the US envoy.
AA: How do you characterize Russian-Turkish interaction on the Afghan track?
ZK: It is being built. Apart from our cooperation in the Istanbul process “Heart of Asia”, we haven’t had any direct, active interaction so far. Turkey is not a member of the Moscow format on the Afghan settlement, but I am sure, that the majority of members would welcome the active role of Turkey in the process of working out regional approaches to the Afghan problem.
AA: How can Russia and Turkey work on the Afghan track together?
ZK: Russia and Turkey could together contribute to the establishment of a dialogue between the Taliban and other Afghans, it is very important that all Afghan parties feel such support. And as you know, this year the presidential election is expected to be held, any president and government that will be formed consequently, will be interested in support of all external players. Here we can work well with our Turkish colleagues.
AA: Why is the presidential election so important?
ZK: Because for the Afghan reconciliation we need agreement between the government and the Taliban, the latter does not recognize the current government, then, it is necessary to elect the government with which the Taliban will talk. Therefore, if we really want Afghan reconciliation, it is crucially important not to postpone the elections, to hold it within the scheduled term.
AA: But the Taliban recognizes neither the current government nor elections. It’s a dead end!
ZK: The Taliban do not recognize this government because it considers it a puppet, set by the Americans. But if as a result of the inter-Afghan talks that began in Moscow, a new team will be formed, it may even include representatives of the current government, then everything will be alright.
AA: Can former Afghan President Hamid Karzai return to power?
ZK: I know from him that the constitution doesn’t give him such a possibility. From Karzai himself, my very great friend, whom I have known for a long time, I haven’t heard that he wants to return. But he is an experienced politician and can serve his people and the Afghan reconciliation in any capacity.
AA: What about Hanif Atmar, former interior minister of Afghanistan?
ZK: I positively spoke of my friend Hanif Atmar and lo and behold – he is considered as a Russian candidate. It is not true; Russia has no preferences at the Afghan elections.
I can speak positively about other candidates to completely confuse everyone.
AA: Is it possible to involve the Taliban in the election process?
ZK: Of course! Yes, they have reservations, but this is – once again – a question of Afghan agreements. I assume that if the elections are agreed with the Taliban, they may take part.
AA: What are the main obstacles for the Afghan settlement?
ZK: First, we need to agree on the withdrawal of foreign troops, and then proceed to the formation, through legal methods, of the new Afghan leadership, which will be engaged in the reconstruction of the country in the full sense of the word.
And as the national reconciliation between the Taliban and all other Afghans is expected to be reached after the withdrawal of foreign troops, then there should be no war.
AA: Can you share the Soviet experience of troops withdrawal?
ZK: Soviet troops withdrew on the basis of the Geneva agreement.
There, all the steps are described in detail, on the basis of this document, Soviet troops were quietly pulled out.
AA: The year has started very actively – an inter-Afghan meeting in Moscow, your talks with Khalilzad, and other events are taking place in parallel. How do you plan to keep up the pace?
ZK: In the near future, say, in the next week, I will meet with a Chinese colleague in Moscow. And then it’s my turn to go to Washington (to meet with Khalilzad).
AA: When are you going to the US? In April?
ZK: Why April? Things are moving fast now.
AA: In March?
ZK: Let’s see, shall we?