Interview

Former Afghan president Karzai: Pakistan demanded we reduce India's presence

Former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai. Photo: R.V. Moorthy   | Photo Credit: R_V_Moorthy

On his first visit to India since he demitted office, former Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai has attacked Pakistan for continuing to offer safe haven to Taliban and terror groups, and for demanding that India reduces its presence in Afghanistan. He also believes India, China and Afghanistan, who are victims of that terror, must work closer together. He was speaking to The Hindu’s Diplomatic and Strategic Affairs Editor Suhasini Haidar at Rashtrapati Bhawan, where he is staying as President Pranab Mukherjee’s guest.

As we look at the elections that have been completed, and the impending pullout of all international forces save a few, how worried are you for the future of Afghanistan?

I am not. I am confident, with one condition - that so long as the region puts itself together in defining and fighting terror. Internally in Afghanistan, I have no worries…you have seen the transition from one President to another, the elections that took place; we have passed all the hurdles that the international community was sure we wouldn’t.

Mullah Omar once said to the ISAF: you may have the watches, but we have the time. Are you worried that the Taliban will feel it is time to reclaim Kabul?

It comes back to the qualifier- if we fail to check the continued use of terrorism as an instrument by one of us, none of us will be stable. Not Afghanistan, not Pakistan that is affected by terrorism. The government of Pakistan must understand that extremism is not some tool to be used, and it will bite them back. Otherwise no one, not even India and China are safe. Look at the terrorism in Xinjiang. Who is raising the terrorists there? Someone must be giving them safe haven. So we must all come together in the region against all terrorism.

How about the Afghan Army itself…does it have the equipment and manpower and training to defend the country?

A: Well it has some. But it needs more; it needs to develop like an institution in the country like India has. And exactly like in India, it must be apolitical and in the service of the country and government. That is our vision, and for that vision, India is the country best positioned to train our Army and help us build it.

Exactly a year ago, you were in Delhi and spoke of a ‘laundry list’ of military equipment you requested from India. Are you disappointed they didn’t come through?

I wish they had been delivered right then when I had asked for them. But I am still hopeful that India will do this and deliver what we need to the new government.

As President, you gave a primacy to India. India was the country you visited regularly, the first strategic partner Afghanistan signed an agreement with. But your successor President Ghani has made his first visit abroad to China. Should India worry that Afghanistan’s focus has shifted?

It isn’t that. China and India are both great neighbours and great partner. India has moved forward in many ways to help with our reconstruction. India is not traditionally a donor country. But in Afghanistan’s case India gave us two billion dollars and trained thousands of Afghans. China has stepped up with support, and is as concerned about terrorism as India is. President Ghani’s visit was not to prioritise countries, but to attend the Heart of Asia conference.

His next visit was to Pakistan. You said the other days that you were naïve to think Pakistan would stop supporting the Taliban. Do you feel President Ghani is repeating your mistakes?

He has no option. We have no option as a people but to hope Pakistan will change ways. Our insecurity arises from the safe havens for terrorists that exist in Pakistan. So President Ghani has no option but to go to Pakistan and seek peace. When we say peace with the Taliban, we mean with Pakistan. It’s the same thing.

Do you also deal with China in order to help you deal with Pakistan?

Well China has tried to help. I have asked them many times to use their influence with Pakistan, and they will continue to help with that.

Do you think India needs to worry about the threats from al-Qaeda in India?

India, Afghanistan, China all suffer from terrorism emanating from the same source. We must be clear with our neighbour in Pakistan and tell them that while we feel for them for example when they lost precious lives in the bombing at Wagah, they must now start cooperating to fight all terror groups that threaten the region not just a few.

On the eve of your last visit to India for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration, there was an attack on Indian consulate in Herat. Are you now clear about who was responsible for that attack?

We were told by a major Western ally that this attack was planned in Pakistan. We have that report, and it is true. We believe it is true.

Did you take up that with Pakistan?

Our intelligence officials did. We passed on all our reports and discussed it with them.

Given that you believe there is no change in Pakistan’s policies, will attacks continue on Indian installations in Afghanistan? You have said that Pakistan put conditions in this regard, demanding that India’s presence be reduced in Afghanistan.

We will never compromise on our independence to choose our friends and will defend our territorial integrity. This demand was made at every leadership level (by Pakistan), it was raised regularly, and it was raised throughout my tenure.

Would you like to name the leader who demanded this from you?

Let’s not go into that detail. The crux of the matter is yes, the demand came from Pakistan to tell India to reduce its presence, and we said no to them.

I ask because former president Musharraf said recently that the proxy war in Afghanistan between India and Pakistan would continue….

Well I take exception to that. Why would Pakistan see a rivalry if another country is trying to help us? I would say if Pakistan sees Indian assistance to Afghanistan as a problem, then they should try and match that, help us, not turn it into a proxy war. It is really insulting that Musharraf thinks Afghanistan is only a battleground and that Pushtuns in Afghanistan would be used for a proxy war. It reveals their mindset and what they think of Afghanistan. How can leaders in our region be so disrespectful to us? We must grow more civilised.


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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 4:32:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/interview/former-afghan-president-karzai-pakistan-demanded-we-reduce-indias-presence/article6625342.ece

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