The Ambassador of Afghanistan to India, Ambassador Shaida Mohammad Abdali, speaks to National Herald on Kabul's expectations from Donald Trump administration's Af-Pak policy, how he wants India to have a bigger say in the Afghan peace process and the tensions between India and China.
What’s Afghanistan’s expectations out of Donald Trump administration's South Asia strategy? Do you support India playing a bigger role in Afghanistan?
I am glad President Donald Trump is asking some serious questions. It is very sensible to ask what has gone wrong. Why is it that even after 16 years, the situation in Afghanistan hasn’t improved? On the other hand, it is deteriorating.
The way forward is how we could tackle the question of terrorism in a different way. The strategy has to be different from the way we have dealt with this question in the past. We can obviously see that things haven’t worked out in the past. The situation has deteriorated because of lack of consistent effort and a coherent strategy.
I am glad that the US is finally counting on good and genuine partners such as India. We welcome a bigger role for India and other countries in the region who want to genuinely contribute to the Afghan peace process.
We wish that previous American administrations had acted the same way and searched for good partners, which genuinely cared for the Afghan peace process. Had they been involved, I am sure things would have been different. But it is never too late.
We have lost things which may have been result-oriented. But now as the US is asking countries around the world and in this region, particularly India, to do more in the region, we welcome this. We hope that US and India, in collaboration with others, will garner support, from countries in the region and around the world. We hope that the situation in Afghanistan could be reversed, which, at the moment, is not going in the right direction.
Why haven’t we been able to conclude the war in Afghanistan, which is already into its sixteenth year?
There are a number of reasons. According to me, the primary reason is the inconsistency in strategy. Policies have mostly been date-driven and calendar-driven. Changes have been made every now and then. That’s why the strategy couldn’t take us out of the difficult situation. And that is why I think that the current US President is asking these questions.
Despite billions of dollars having gone into the Afghan War, the results are not visible on the ground. Instead of improving, things have been getting worse. That’s precisely why we expect our international friends, mainly the US and India, to collaborate more closely in Afghanistan.
We have to go back to the most fundamental question. Is the question of Afghanistan just for Afghanistan or is it a case for the entire world? Yes, we Afghans own this. But we shouldn’t forget that this is the situation the whole world should be worried about. We shouldn’t forget that the international community got involved in Afghanistan because of the spillover effects of what was happening in Afghanistan.
Let me be frank. Terrorism in our country has been coming from one country and that is Pakistan. That always has been an issue of friction among international partners. You cannot succeed if you focus on the War on Terrorism within Afghanistan. We have been victims of terrorism. In our case, it has been coming from the neighbourhood.
So coming back to the question as to why we haven’t succeeded yet in concluding the Afghan War, the answer is that we haven’t focussed on sanctuaries of terrorism, the supporting network of terrorism and sources of terrorism. The international strategy has so far focussed on the country that has rather been a victim of terrorism. We have been fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan, without focussing on the terrorism's epicentre. And if we persist with this strategy, we won’t succeed. If we continue to focus on fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan and not look at places where they are being nurtured and supported, brainwashed and indoctrinated, we will continue to fail.
Why is insurgency gaining ground in Afghanistan again? There was a brief lull in between but going by recent reports in the Afghan media, the Taliban is again making a comeback.
It is clear. The sanctuaries continue to exist for the Taliban. Their support network is very important when you talk about insurgency. In the traditional sense, insurgency is a home-grown problem. But in the context of Afghanistan, it is not a home-grown problem, which our friends in the international community should realise. This is a politically motivated insurgency. We are rather facing a declared war. All these terrorist groups, namely the Taliban and ISIS, have state support. The reason it exists, or the reason it continues, is because we haven’t been able to address this very basic question, which is why that state support for terrorism continues to exist. We know which state is doing it, but we haven’t been able to stop them from doing it and that is the big question.
We hope that all the countries in the region, including India, come together in framing a comprehensive strategy. The countries that continue to support terrorist organisations have to be confronted. Such states shouldn’t be given space anymore.
I must also point out here that the road to peace in Afghanistan passes through Pakistan. Only if Pakistan cooperates, will we be able to find a solution to the longstanding war in Afghanistan.
Do you feel that differences between major international powers on different issues are hampering cooperation in Afghanistan? For instance, there has been friction between India and China. Beijing has been consistently blocking India’s attempts at the UN to sanction certain terror organisations and individuals located in Pakistan. US and Russia have their own differences. How are these rivalries playing out in the context of Afghanistan?
Certainly, it is hampering cooperation in Afghanistan. The whole world community should set their differences aside in this fight against terrorism. The countries in the region and the world have to engage with one another for maintaining peace in the region and the entire world. Unfortunately, the united face presented by the world when the Afghan War began no longer exists. We didn’t continue with it.
That is why we have to go back to the fundamental question and the most important objective of why a peaceful and stable Afghanistan is important. Countries that are supporting terrorism as foreign policy tool are following a very narrow-minded approach. Terrorism has spared no country in the region. Terror groups consistently strike Afghanistan, then there have been attacks in Iran. We have seen terrorist attacks in China and Russia for that matter. Which country has been spared? Therefore, we hope that the countries will learn their lesson. The use of terrorism is going to help nobody. It serves nobody’s interest. In the short term, it may serve some interests but in the longer run, terrorism is an enemy of everyone.
Recent news reports show how the Taliban and Daesh are clubbing resources and working with each other. Some countries have been thinking that Daesh is more dangerous than the Taliban and we should use this thing to our advantage. However, Afghanistan has always been opposed to making this kind of distinction. We say that terrorism in all forms should be fought against. We should also never forget that it was the Taliban that provided sanctuary to Al-Qaeda. Can anyone guarantee that such terrorist groups will not carry out something similar?
How does Afghanistan expect to balance its ties between India and China, with both countries having a major role to play in Afghanistan? The countries don't see eye to eye on many issues and then there is the on-going border standoff.
We respect our neighbours. We do want our neighbours to collaborate among themselves and more importantly, to collaborate on Afghanistan. What bothers us the most is why we lack this unity in Afghanistan. The stakes for everyone are the same. Every country aspires to a stable and peaceful region. I am sure nobody wants the region to be unstable.
There is no doubt that differences will remain between major powers. It is not a new thing for our region. Differences between countries exists in other regions too. There are trade disputes between countries in the West too. But they don’t let these differences hamper collaboration in other areas.
I sincerely hope that China and India will find a way out, because we don’t want any more tension in our already troubled region.
What are your expectations from the Indian government? How could the two nations develop better trade ties in face of challenges that Afghanistan faces in terms of access to seaports of Pakistan?
The relationship between India and Afghanistan has stood the test of time. Our relationship keeps strengthening. Ours is a very comprehensive and strategic partnership. We are consistently working on finding other routes to the sea. In that context, the port of Chahbahar in Iran is very important. We have already signed a bilateral transit trade agreement. Yes, we need a lot more in terms of infrastructure and trade.
We are hopeful that this would happen in the near future. We then also have a trade route through Wagah, which is helping the economies of all three nations, including that of Pakistan. We also have an air corridor. So, we are on the lookout for any alternative that will help expand our trade ties with India and the broader world, which is in the interest of Afghanistan.
But having said that, there are several challenges that we are facing at present in terms of connectivity. Our farmers in Afghanistan are not able to transport their food to other countries because of lack of cargo facilities. We are searching for more facilities.
We are eagerly looking for more parties to join the air corridors. Currently, we only have Haryana which is participating in this air corridor. The plan is to not only connect Kabul to Indian cities, but we are looking to even connect our regional cities.