‘Only US-Taliban deal will not bring peace in Afghanistan’
ISLAMABAD: Peace seems closer in Afghanistan as the US and the Taliban have resumed talks, nearly two months after they were abruptly suspended.
Afghan academic turned politician Fazlul-Hadi Wazin believes that a timeline for the withdrawal of the US troops, commitment of a ceasefire by the Taliban and a future governance mechanism in Kabul, are still the sticking points that need to be hammered out, to bring peace in the war-torn country. Wazin, a member of the Hezb-e-Islami party as well as the vice-presidential running mate of GulbuddinHekmatyar, who is contesting presidential elections on behalf of the Peace and Islamic Justice electoral group. An effective anti-Soviet military commander and two-time Prime Minister Hekmatyar returned to Kabul in 2016, nearly a decade after the Taliban pushed him out of power.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Wazin, who is himself involved in intra-Afghan peace negotiations, revealed many facets of the peace process and the road ahead for Afghanistan.
Anadolu Agency (AA): How bright are prospects of peace in Afghanistan now, since the US and the Taliban have resumed negotiations?
Fazlul-HadiWazin (FHW): Keeping in view the geopolitical position of Afghanistan, peace in this country is necessary for the stability of whole of Asia and the region. History has shown it repeatedly that the world, especially the countries around cannot live in peace unless there is stability in Afghanistan. We are also a bridge and a connecting link between South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East.
The hopes for peace have brightened because all stakeholders and players have concluded that peace is necessary. All of them want an end to the fighting. It is not the view of the Taliban only that foreign powers should not decide the fate of Afghanistan. Everybody in Afghanistan is of the view that foreign powers should no longer stay and decide the future of the country. Americans knew they have been defeated, as other powers in the past, who tried to occupy the country. They are negotiating for an honorable exit.
Q: What is progress in the US and the Taliban talks? Will they really bring peace in Afghanistan?
FHW: I am happy that they have resumed talks in Doha, two months after they were abruptly called off by President Donald Trump. But as far as I know, they had not shut backdoor contacts. They were in touch. So far both sides in open have held nine sessions. They have reached some conclusions. As far I know, they have reached the stage, where they have agreed on a broad framework.
They are discussing technicalities. The main part of the discussion is the withdrawal timeline and the technicalities of it.
Some issues like the timeline for the withdrawal of the US troops, commitment of a ceasefire by the Taliban and a future governance mechanism in Kabul, are still the sticking points. There is largely progress on many issues. My information is that the agreement will not take much time now. It is not that the US is giving any concession to the Taliban or Afghans. It is in their own interest to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible.
Replying to your second question, as a keen observer and a player in Afghanistan, I want to say, that a mere agreement between the US and the Taliban will not bring peace in the country. It has to be complemented with an intra-Afghan negotiation. Otherwise, it will lead to another civil war. After the US-Taliban agreement, domestic parties like the Taliban, political parties of Afghanistan and Kabul government need to sit together and discuss the constitution, nature of government and resolution of various other issues. I think the next phase of talks among the Afghans will prove more challenging than the US-Taliban talks.
Q: During war against the Soviet Union, Hezb-e-Islami was an important player. Its chief GulbuddinHekmatyar later became prime minister twice. But abruptly he vanished from the scene. What is his relevance in the current situation in Afghanistan?
FHW: As you said Hikmatyar was an important player in Afghanistan. He was never out of the scene. When the US forces landed in Afghanistan, he was leading the resistance. I can tell you, that it was actually the Hezb-e-Islami that was leading an armed struggle, till Taliban reassembled. We concluded that the country needs peace. That is why he returned to Kabul two-and-half-years ago. He contested the presidential elections as a candidate of the Peace and Islamic Justice electoral group. Results have not yet come. We too have some reservations about the conduct of elections. Everybody in Afghanistan will tell you, we led the biggest campaign. Our political rallies, across the length and breadth, were well attended, more than our competitors. We proved; we are not a party confined to a single region. We are approaching and taking everybody on board to tackle any crises that may swarm the country after results are declared.
AA: Elections in Afghanistan have been spoiled with controversies. In the current elections also, results are taking too much time. Why do elections not invoke credibility and trust?
FHW: A fair and a credible election is the only way to help Afghanistan. But unfortunately, due to various factors, like occupation, vested interests who want to hang to power and not share it with others do not want fair elections.
The culture of elections needs a background. We want an improved system. A good thing for these elections was that there was good participation, but still far away to be called better. Some 1.5 million people participated in the elections, out of 35 million total population. Some 9.7 million people had registered themselves as voters. Six million Afghan refugees living outside and three million internally displaced people could not get the chance to register and vote. There were many restrictions. There was external interference also. Some embassies and missions were directly involved. They showed their utter bias towards one party or candidate. If it had happened in any other country, it would have been treated as a huge offense. Interference in the electoral system of any country to impose a favorable government is an unpardoned sin.
Election results will not help in lowering tensions. There is fear that they would add up to the crises. Therefore, elections apart, we want to focus on intra-Afghan dialogue. It should start as soon as possible. After their talks with the US, the Taliban must participate in the intra-Afghan dialogue and arrive at a consensus on government formation in Kabul. Only after the formation of such a government and in absence of any interference, credible and fair elections should be conducted.
AA: For many countries, like India, Pakistan, US and China, Afghanistan off late has become a turf for one-upmanship.
FHW: It has been our endeavor to tell world powers, to leave Afghanistan alone and not make it a ground to test their geo-political interests. We want regional powers to recognize and respect independence of Afghanistan. We can assure that from Afghanistan we will not interfere in any other country’s affairs. We will not let our land to be used against any other country. In past also, Afghanistan has never been a threat to any neighboring country. Situation has become such that powers have made it a turf for their own interests.
AA: There are many countries in the region like India, who fear return of Taliban in power. How can you assuage fears of such countries?
FHW: They are wrong. Taliban are not external forces. They are our own children. They have as much right to decide the country’s future and participate in its development as anyone else. Any county, including India should not favor or disfavor or dictate who should come to power in Kabul. The way we do not say, who should rule India or any other country. It is a choice of people of that country. Taliban are also saying they will not pose a threat to any country. They will not interfere in any other country’s affairs. I am sure that a legitimate government in Afghanistan will be a responsible government, fully atone with its international and regional commitments. We will have good relations with all the countries. Historically, we have had friendly and traditional relations with India. We will continue to have good relations. We have lot of common interests with Pakistan. We want all to help us for the return of peace. We do not want any of them to impose their favorites on us. Due to its large investments, India has goodwill in Afghan people. But I tell you, what is happening in Kashmir is casting a shadow in Afghanistan too. A common Afghan despite having a goodwill for India, is concerned at the developments in Kashmir, like peace loving-people everywhere in the world. We want India and Pakistan to settle issue of Kashmir, as per wishes of people there and let this region remain in peace. And do not to create further instability in the region, by creating another unstable region in the backyard. That will again affect us.
AA: According to recent reports, ISIS or Daesh is busy making Afghanistan as its next base. There were reports that many of its terrorists were captured in a number of operations recently.
FHW: Some powers and groups do tend to take advantage of instability in Afghanistan. That is why, it
become more urgent to work for peace and stability in the country. But I tell you with full authority, that ISIS or Daesh does not have much presence in Afghanistan. Daesh project was not able to gain ground in the country. Some statements claiming Daesh making Afghanistan as its base are not factual. They are intended by some vested interests to give an excuse to foreign powers to stay in the country and sabotage talks.
AA: What has been the role of Turkey in Afghanistan. How effective it has been to maintain peace in the country?
FHW: Turkey is one the country that has helped Afghanistan without any geo-political interest and without engaging in any turf war. Afghans rely mostly on Turkey and consider Turkey to be one and only true, best friend. Turkey initiated Istanbul Process in 2011, which later became the Heart of Asia Conference, bringing together 15 countries for the development of Afghanistan. Turkey’s development assistance program for Afghanistan amounting to $1.1 billion currently is one of the largest assistance programs towards a country. We want Ankara to play a more active role in building Afghanistan and also in the peace process. Almost all groups in Afghanistan believe Turkey is a dependable partner. (AA)