Abdullah Abdullah was appointed foreign minister of Afghanistan following the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001, a position he retained till March 2006. A Tajik-Pashtun and doctor by profession, Abdullah is better known for his membership of Northern Alliance which had collaborated with the invading foreign forces in delivering a death-blow to the Taliban regime in the aftermath of 9/11. Today, when the Taliban is regrouping and coming close to Kabul, he is leading a crucial talks, a Jirga, to thrash out modalities for engaging the Taliban and other warring factions to end the seven-year-old bloody insurgency. In an exclusive interview to Syed Nazakat of THE WEEK he talks about what are the greatest failures of the war on terrorism have been, what the prospects for Afghanistan are now, and the role of Pakistan in contributing to the deteriorating security situation in the region.
Q. How do you see the present situation in Afghanistan.
A. The security situation is deterioting. The Taliban are in control of many areas. Not only that they are threatening the rest of the areas and I fear if we don’t stop them they will regain the control in Afghanistan. And the problem is that the Pakistan equates the Taliban opposition with the Pashtuns’ opposition to the government which is not the case. The Taliban want the establishment of an Islamic Emirate where Taliban from all around the world could take part, and would extend far beyond Afghanistan boundaries. This is not what Pashtuns in Afghanistan would like to see. Taliban still receives support outside Afghanistan and their leaders continue to enjoy protection outside the country. So after a situation where the Taliban had lost all their bases inside the country, we see an escalation in the situation within Afghanistan.
Q. You are saying the Taliban still receives support from outside. Where do you think they receive support from?
A. Their leaders-almost all of them-are based in Pakistan. And they get recruits there. There are some camps there. This has been the case for quite some time now.
Q. And you believe that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are also in Pakistan?
A. Yes, that is what we think.
Q. Recently President Hamid Karzai said that that he is ready to give amnesty to Mulla Omar if he agrees to lay down his arms. What is your position on that?
A. He is a war criminal. He is responsibly for all the bloodshed in Afghanistan. How come we forgive him. Mr. Karzi’s statement was strange and I fear his double talk is going to divide our people. We have made our position known both in this region as well at international forums that these people should be brought to justice.
Q. You defeated Taliban in 2001 and today we are seeing them everywhere in Afghanistan running parrllel government. What went wrong in the fight against Taliban?
A. There are many factors which helped Taliban to regian control in mnay areas in Afghanistn after their fall in 2001. As far as the regional factor is concerned, the fact that Taliban leaders as well as their commanders receive support from outside the country has been a very critical point. In Afghanistan I think there are some factors: weak government institutions in the regions where the Taliban are operating, the absence of reconstruction programs, employment, job opportunities and all that, or very little in those areas in any case. The issue of narcotics is another problem. Sometimes, of course, collateral damage is to blame, because of the bombardment and operations of the coalition forces have killed many civilians which brought common people against the government.
Q. When the United States began this war in Afghanistan in 2001 they neither committed enough troops, nor did they stay focused long enough, because less than two years later they had invaded Iraq. Do you think that if their focus had been exclusively on Afghanistan things might have turned out differently?
A. Yes, Iraq was a distraction, what happened in Iraq and the shift of focus which happened as a result of that. The Taliban lost control of Afghanistan so quickly. That was because of their lack of popularity. At the beginning there were a few hundred or a few dozen American Special Forces when the Taliban were kicked out of the country. Then they went to Pakistan and they found sanctuary there-the Taliban and Al Qaeda. It took them time to establish themselves back there and that coincided with political developments within Pakistan where the MMA [the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal] was in an alliance with the establishment in Pakistan. So they helped their friends back home.
Q. But in your view the most important thing that was overlooked right from the beginning was the complicity of Pakistan in the maintenance and, one could even say, the resurrection of the Taliban from the outset.
A. Yes, that is true. Right from the beginning, while Pakistan was helping the coalition forces and the Americans to track and find Al Qaeda, or the Arab and foreign Al Qaeda, when it came to Taliban, they used to make a very clear distinction. They treated Taliban as an asset. We were trying to convince them that Taliban would become the first threat against the statehood of Pakistan if they would succeeded fully in Afghanistan. They didnot listen to us and today they are facing a serious trouble in their own country.
Q. Many Afghan leaders saying that the presence of foreign troops is disturbing the whole Afghan life style. Do you think it it time for foreign troops to leave Afghanistan?
A. We are living in a mess in Afghanistan. The security sictuation has deterioted to such a extent that we are unable even to protect people in Kabul. I fear if the foreign troops leave the country, the Taliban could take control of the whole Afghanistan. I undersatdn why there are concerns bout the presence of foreign troops particularly about the US troops, but this is not the time for pull out. I don’t support the permenant diployment of foreign troops or their bases in the country but right now our prioty is to fight Taliban.
Q. A. How do you describe Afghanistan’s relationship with India, especially in the light of Pakistan’s role in the creation of Taliban?
A. Our relations with India is based on mutual respect and the recognition of our mutual interests. This includes non-interference. India has no agenda in Afghanistan. It is helping in the rebuilding of our country which has stregthen our bilateral relations.
Q. Was that something which irrettes Pakistan.
A. I cannot commit on that. Paksitan is having problems if we come close to India.
Q. But you are also heading an Afghan delegation which is trying to reconcialiate with Taliban. Is there any progress on that.
A. That was a crucial meeting and we sat across people from Pakistan side and discussed how to win peace. That aim of the whole jirga meet is to
Q. What are your worst fear about Afghanistan?
A. I have a lot of concerns today that were not there seven years ago. The biggest is about the return of Taliban. But still I think we have good opportunities when it comes to fighting terrorism: sincere and serious cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the key answer.