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'Help us fight the war in Afghanistan'

Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali. File photo

Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali. File photo

Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, talks to Suhasini Haidar of The Hindu. Excerpts…

Events in Iraq are unfolding quickly with ISIS militants taking over major cities. The worry is that a similar kind of takeover could happen in Afghanistan once the U.S. completes its pullout there….

Ambassador Abdali: It’s very unfortunate to see a brother country in our region suffering as we have suffered. Given our own experience, we feel very hurt to see Iraq once again facing the phenomenon the whole region has suffered from. But Iraq and Afghanistan are different. If you go back in history, the situation developed differently. In Afghanistan we had the Soviets, then the ideology that was evolved to fight the Soviets. Later that turned into a proxy tool used for different purpose than for the one to defeat communism. Yes terrorism as a whole is terrorism, but we have to look at the sources of that terror. Also the problem is not sectarian in Afghanistan, whereas in Iraq, that is the problem. Afghanistan has proxy militancy, and it’s quite clear where that comes from.

The reason I make the comparison is that this month the al Qaeda put out a video in London calling Syria and Iraq the ‘new Afghanistan’. Isn’t that the worry?

Since I’ve arrived as Ambassador here that is exactly what I have been warning India about. As close friends we look at India as we look at our own country, and we’ve been speaking of how militants are targeting both India and Afghanistan. For example, Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is known for targeting Indian interests, but it also targets Afghanistan all the time.

President Hamid Karzai has blamed the LeT for the attack on the Herat consulate. Is there more evidence that Afghanistan has shared with India?

What’s important is to know that the LeT is behind the attack. We know its source, its strength, the goals it is pursuing, so our intelligence agencies together along with Western agencies say that it was LeT. LeT is known. There is no need to go into details, we should just act. We should take all precautionary measures, and that needs full cooperation.

Cooperation with whom? You are suggesting this is part of a proxy militancy coming from Pakistan. Was the attack planned in Pakistan?

There is no ambiguity about the headquarters of LeT. We know where it comes from. Instead of looking where the attacks are coming from, we must see how to tackle them through planning a result-oriented strategy. That would mean defending ourselves. If we have a strong army, a strong police, strong institutional structures in Afghanistan and along with that full cooperation from India on all areas to deal with India and Afghanistan being attacked together. That would mean defence. I don’t think we have the right defences at this point. Unfortunately, we only wake up when they attack. We should be pre-emptive and proactive. I am glad to see the new Prime Minister, Mr. Modi, say “zero tolerance for terrorism”, but that’s a big word. It will need action and cooperation.

…The problem is we are being selective in fighting terror.

Who is being selective?

Well when you speak of the Herat attack and LeT, you know where the threat is coming from. Pakistan has now started a new offensive in Waziristan. That’s commendable, but they should be taking steps against all kind of Taliban, all kind of terrorists. The reason we have not succeeded is because they are fighting those they don’t like, but not those whom they like.

Is there an ISI hand in the Herat attack?

When the Kabul attack happened in 2008, the first words came from the U.S., saying that the attack had come from the LeT, and who they were controlled by. We all know who supports the LeT and where their leaders live. I don’t need to say more.

When President Karzai visited Delhi he said “Afghanistan needs India’s support for its security”. What specifically was he asking for?

We are very grateful for what India has done so far. India has gone out of its way to help us because Afghanistan and India share so much together. I clearly see the constraints to helping us. But India should also be clear what the goal of this assistance is? Help for what? The goal should be a more secure future for us both. It wasn’t a small decision for Afghanistan to sign India as its first strategic partner, given the geopolitical situation that surrounds Afghanistan. We took that decision because we wanted to secure our future together. Now that future needs tough decisions, needs risky decisions. We have a lot of economic relations being built. But before going to economic integration, the region will need security. The basics are security. Look at TAPI - the pipeline has to go through Afghanistan. How can you have it without security? Security is a pre-requisite. We require more training, more equipment, more intelligence.

Does your request also include a request for Indian troops?

No, there is no need for foreign troops in Afghanistan. But there are many other ways you can help. Help us fight the war in Afghanistan. Help the troops to be responsible. They can manage against the enemy better than the 100,000 plus foreign troops who have been there.

Are you hopeful, given President Karzai’s discussion with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, that India will provide all that he has asked for? In the past, India has denied Afghanistan tanks, helicopters, ground vehicles….

I am hopeful, but I want to talk about the irritants in that relationship. Clearly, India wants Afghanistan to be safe and secure. But something comes in the way. I don’t think that’s right. If a third country, like Pakistan, is unhappy to see Afghanistan getting military support from India, I have just one question -- are we arming the Afghan army to fight one country? A neighbour? No? Why are we an exception in the region when everyone wants a strong army and police? Why shouldn’t Afghanistan? The objective is very clear. Afghanistan should be safe and secure for other countries in the region to be safe and secure. I think there is nothing wrong for India to do whatever it can to support Afghanistan. It is Afghanistan seeking that assistance – not India giving it to us.

Everybody says we should fight terrorism. Who is not? So if somebody is not happy with us getting that assistance, there is something wrong with them. We are seeking assistance from the U.S., NATO, all other countries, including China and Russia. So what is wrong with us asking India? If they feel India is using us in order to push arms against them, they are most welcome to come and prove it. I hope the two new governments, the one sworn-in in India, and the one soon to come in Afghanistan, will both understand that business as usual between both countries will only hurt us. We must act, and the only way it can be done is if we step up our strategic cooperation.

In Afghanistan, the elections were just coming to a close and now the frontrunner, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, is alleging there’s been rigging in the second round. Will the elections be countermanded?

Afghanistan has always been democratic -- maybe not the way Western countries define it, but through Jirgas and high councils. We’ve always defined the country through consultative mechanisms. Certainly we are still immature on going through elections, our new democratic process. There could have been some irregularities, but I have no worries. I see this as a temporary situation. President Karzai is in touch with both contenders and people are watching closely. I am confident that they will show the patience to let the process get completed. The people of Afghanistan will not go back to the old years, they will find a resolution to this situation.

Despite the Taliban threats, and even the fact that they chopped the fingers of people who came out to vote, they were unable to stop the election process. Is that because they’re lying low, or are simply not as effective?

We are not the Afghanistan of 2001 or 05, 06, 07. We are in 2014. That is an Afghanistan with remarkable achievements, with a strong army and police. The two peaceful elections we have had are a testimony to a “different” Afghanistan. It has crossed the turning point. The message should go to the enemies and the friends, there is no going back to the days before 2001.

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Printable version | Jun 24, 2022 7:41:46 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national//article60386312.ece