In an exclusive interaction with The Sunday Guardian, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghan ambassador to India, who was also the Deputy National Security Adviser to former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, and is pursuing his PhD from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said that Kabul’s biggest challenge was terrorism that was being supported by Pakistan, which he described as the main problem of the region too. Excerpts:
Q. What is the biggest challenge that Afghanistan is facing right now?
A. Terrorism. We are at the forefront of this. Given the situation of this region and the world over, everyone should be worried about the spread of terrorism, the way it is spreading from country to country, its sophistication is worrying. We hope that the terrorism that is affecting Afghanistan is seen by the countries surrounding it, as a phenomenon that can spread in any direction if it is not challenged. Currently, Afghanistan is lifting the burden to control terrorism single-headedly on its shoulder, but we do have partners and allies, including India, to help us in fighting terrorism and strengthening institutional capacities in Afghanistan, but we need more cooperation from the international community.
Afghanistan has been facing this problem for decades now. Countries of this region, particularly India and the world community, should come forward with a stronger unified approach to tackle terrorism accordingly. When I say accordingly, I mean that we need to take all necessary measures to tackle it. We need to make sure that the efforts to tackle terrorism and tackle the sanctuary of terrorism that exists just across the border remains consistent.
Q. You were also the Deputy National Security Advisor of Afghanistan and in that context, I want to know what evidence Afghanistan has to support its claim that Pakistan is exporting and supporting terrorism in Afghanistan?
A. I think it is no more an issue of evidences; it is now more about action to be taken (against Pakistan). The evidences are in abundance. There cannot be a bigger evidence than the killing of Osama Bin Laden and a number of other terrorist leaders inside Pakistan. I don’t think this is disputed any more even in Pakistan where you see a number of politicians openly speaking about the existence of terror groups in Pakistan. The Pakistan government has repeatedly promised their cooperation to bring the Taliban leaders to the negotiation table. It is an acknowledgment of the existence of Taliban leaders there. The world talks about it (the presence of terror groups in Pakistan), the US has recently talked about cutting aid to Pakistan because of lack of action against the terror groups. Now it is about making sure how Pakistan cooperates, not just for the sake of Afghanistan or India or the world community, but for itself as terrorism is a double-edged sword as we saw in the Peshawar and Quetta terror attacks.
Q. Do you think India’s contribution to the war on terror has been as per Afghanistan’s expectations?
A. India has been very generous all along and its contribution has been highly appreciated. The assistance we have received in various areas, including humanitarian, political, economic, educational and cultural in the context of the comprehensive 2011 deal that was signed between us has been great. But the scope to contribute more towards the stability and security of Afghanistan is certainly there. Especially when it comes to terrorism because terrorism is not just affecting Afghanistan, but India too. India enjoys a lot of goodwill in Afghanistan and we have a soft corner for India because of its generosity all these years. The room for more assistance towards achieving our common goal is there and we are optimistic about achieving it.
Q. You have been the ambassador here since 2012. In these four years, India saw a change of government at the Centre. What has been the difference between the approaches of the two (UPA-NDA governments) vis-à-vis Afghanistan?
A. The uniqueness of our relations is that we enjoy good relations with India, irrespective of any party. I have not heard anyone, be it BJP, Congress or any other political party, opposing the deepening of India’s ties with Afghanistan. This uniqueness transcends all political lines. The same holds true for Afghanistan, regardless of any government or leader, the ties between the two countries remain cordial and strong. But certainly the present government is trying very hard to help Afghanistan in the current situation and to end the terror situation in Afghanistan. I really admire PM Narendra Modi for his boldness and swift action in achieving better life, prosperity and security for Afghanistan, India and the whole region. I am really hopeful that under his leadership, things will become better. We have seen signs of India’s strong commitment towards Afghanistan which was evident by his two visits in six months. This demonstrates his personal commitment to Afghanistan. His actions and remarks that he made while he was in Kabul when he said that 1.25 billion people of India will always stand with people of Afghanistan was nationally applauded. For me, there cannot be a stronger statement and this will go a long way in ensuring a lasting relationship between the two countries. The government of PM Modi is doing much to see changes in Afghanistan.
Q. China has been making overtures to Afghanistan. This has raised concerns within certain sections in India. How do you see this development?
A. Every country has its own interest. All countries in this region have to work together. Yes, there may be issues between countries, but there is always possibility of achieving a goal that is common to all of us. Afghanistan’s location requires it to have friendly ties with all its neighbours. The relationship that we have with countries, including China, does not mean that our relation with India will be affected. But we do need to engage all the neighbours for peace, prosperity and stability in the region. Afghanistan, as you know, is suffering from terrorism and drugs and this is also affecting China. We both need to engage with each other to curb terrorism. We hope that we ensure a common platform between all regional countries, mainly China, Russia, India, Iran and Afghanistan.
A. Well, we also want to have Pakistan, but it should be based on its sincere campaign against terrorism. We do need to take along Pakistan with us, but for that there is a qualification and that qualification is to show its sincerity with everyone in this region against the war on terrorism. There is no doubt that Pakistan is one of the main problems right now. And it can also become a solution. If we have Pakistan genuinely with us in this war of terrorism, the roots of terrorism will dry up. Our vision is of a peaceful region, which will not come if one amongst us is not sincere and that is why we brought in China into the political process because of China’s relations with Pakistan, because of the influence it has on Pakistan. China-Afghanistan relations will never affect the relations that we have with India based on common goals.
Q. In the present scenario, when one sees the relationship between India-Pakistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan, what is the future of the TAPI pipeline?
A. The biggest challenge is terrorism, hence we say that we have common benefits if terrorism is ended in Afghanistan. Energy deficiency is prevalent all over the region, including Pakistan. India and TAPI will help the countries in dealing with it. It can only be fulfilled if the countries involved sincerely cooperate in dealing with terrorism in Afghanistan. For other projects like CHABAHAR transit agreement, CASA 1000, Silk-route to be realised, we need to have peace and security in Afghanistan. Pakistan needs to support any counter terror moves without playing any double game.
Q Right now it seems that Afghanistan is more concerned on what Pakistan does and what it doesn’t?
A. The problem of terrorism is not against one country. We are handling it, but when it comes to peace and security of the region, we cannot handle it single-handedly. Afghanistan will not compromise on its position that it remains a sovereign county with regards to its foreign policy, international relations and national issues and we will not compromise on them. We are capable, but our ability needs to be reinforced so that terrorism can be tackled more effectively. We have been fighting against terrorism for decades now and it has taken so long because we have single-handedly fought them. That’s why we are asking for more resources for our army, air force, international pressure on the sources of terrorism effectively and quickly. We will fight terrorism to our last man. We have sacrificed millions of people from the time of Soviet invasion till today. If Afghanistan is not supported, the problem of terrorism will spread all over.
We need support not just for the sake of Afghanistan; if Afghanistan goes back to disorder which happened in the past, we might have a similar consequence like 9/11. If that happens in Afghanistan today, it will be more lethal as terror networks have become more sophisticated and are spread all over. That realisation must be with all the countries to make and then come out with a precise strategy to counter terrorism.
Q. Taliban has been increasing its presence in the country. In that context, has the Afghanistan government sought presence of Indian forces in the country?
A. Afghanistan is not short of brave soldiers, we are short of ability enablers. Till one year ago, we had over 100 thousand foreign troops, now they have almost left. Foreign troops have almost left the country. Afghan National Security Forces do not have sophisticated weapons and air support; yet they have fought more effectively and did more damage to the terror network than what was done by the foreign troops. That means Afghanistan does not need foreign troops, they need equipment. The Afghan people defeated a superpower of the world (USSR), how cannot they defeat a few individuals coming from across the Durand Line? We need capacity in the form of air force and military hardware. We are grateful to India because of the help it has given us. We need to address the source of terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism. We will continue to seek peace, but we also need a stronger ANSF to fight the terrorists coming across from the Durand line.
Q. We have talked about enemies outside Afghanistan, but what about enemy within? Why has Afghanistan not been able to curb opium production and smuggling?
A. This is a part of the whole terror problem. Poppy production is taking place where the terrorists have influence and it does not happen where the government is in control. Poppy cultivation is happening mostly in south Afghanistan. Terrorists finance their activities through these cultivations and force innocent farmers to cultivate poppy. They put guns on the heads of the farmers and ask them to cultivate poppy or get killed. What you call enemy within is based on external sources. This year, the intensity on the war on terror has increased because they want to shift their entire infrastructure inside Afghanistan to show that poppy cultivation is being supported by Afghanistan, but they did not succeed. Afghanistan was never a drug producing country, we were leaders in agriculture and raisins.