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SOURCE: THE HINDU

The former Afghanistan President says, “Ceasefire is a demand of an overwhelming majority of Afghan people, especially Afghan mothers. This goes to both sides of the talks to the government side and to the Taliban side.”

India should engage with the Taliban and fully support the peace process, says former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. In an interview to The Hindu, Mr. Karzai, who remains involved in the process, spoke of his hopes from the Intra Afghan negotiations that began in Doha this month, and the future of Afghanistan as the US plans to pull out troops.

What is your sense of how the talks so far are progressing?
We are very happy that the talks began. This is something that Afghan people have been waiting for such a long, long time an end to the suffering and to the return of peace. And I’m also very glad that that India participated in these talks, and that the Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Jaishankar, spoke and spoke well at that occasion. The talks so far, are going on well, it’s a difficult process. But the launch was good. And the proceedings so far have been good enough for us to hope for a good outcome.

All right. And yet, when the Leadership Council team overseeing negotiations was actually announced by President Ashraf Ghani, you yourself declined to be a part of it. Why was that?
I had 14 years in office, for me to continue to be or again be part of officialdom is not good. I don’t see it as appropriate. I believe I can play a much better role and much more positive role as a citizen to be in the service of the peace process, as I was in the past.

Given India’s participation in the process, do think the next step should be for India to directly engage with the Taliban, a group India has never recognised?
The Taliban are Afghans. They are part of the part of our country and Afghan people. They are fully members of our society and of our polity. India is a friend of Afghanistan and a historic friend of Afghanistan. It’s appropriate for a friend of Afghanistan, like India to be in contact and in touch and in engagement with the entire Afghan polity and all the political views and groups in the country. For that reason, yes, it is good for India to be in touch with the Taliban. And for that reason, also, it is extremely important for India to be fully on board and in support of the peace process. So, India’s presence is imperative, and we welcome it.

Do you think it is too late that India took too long to perhaps join this process, it was the last outlier, in a sense.
Where India is welcome to be part of this significantly important national process for the Afghan people. It’s not too late. They’ve joined at the right time, at the launch of the peace process, and that’s welcomed.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar said in his speech that the outcome of the talks cannot come at the cost of the progress made in Afghanistan on the Constitution, the democratic process in elections, role of women and rights of minorities….
The priority for the Afghan people is a peaceful sovereign Afghanistan that does not see interference from its neighbours or from abroad. Towards that the Taliban and us have similar views. We met last year in Moscow, and their desire for peace was as intense and as deep as ours and their desire for a sovereign Afghanistan equally strong and good and desire for Afghanistan that should be engaging properly with our friends and neighbours equally, as good as ours. Now for the life within Afghanistan, as to how we should live our life as Afghans, yes, there are differences in interpretations of things. But there are some fundamentals on which, as we found out in Moscow, there will not be serious disagreements. And if there are any disagreements, they will be resolvable, and I’m sure they will be resolved. The right of the Afghan woman to educate, the right of the Afghan society to be able to participate in politics, to vote, the right of the country to progress, education and the foundations of a stable democratic state. We don’t want Afghanistan to be taken backwards.

The purpose of the peace process is to make Afghanistan better, and you cannot be better if you go backwards. And I’m sure that on certain principles, the foundations on which the future of a better Afghanistan can be built would not be disputed by the Taliban. They belong to this country, they’ve suffered like we have suffered, seen their families get killed, experienced deprivation. I believe in spite of the difficulties that we may face during talks, we will eventually agree on a common vision for Afghanistan. And then, that common vision must be given the approval of the Afghan people through a Loya Jirga.

And yet, we don’t see the Taliban willing yet to announce a comprehensive ceasefire, even though the talks have begun. Why is that?
Ceasefire is a demand of an overwhelming majority of Afghan people, especially Afghan mothers. This goes to both sides of the talks to the government side and to the Taliban side. We hope that both sides will recognize that every day, the blood that is shed is that of our children, and the country is losing as a result.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was at the Pakistan Army Headquarters last week to discuss this, and the message that seemed to go out is that the Pakistani military, which has funded and trained and given shelter to the Taliban still holds a real sway over this peace process…
Pakistan and the United States are the two countries who have immense role in determining peace in Afghanistan or in causing war and suffering to the Afghan people. I hope that our brothers in Pakistan will see their future in a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan. And time has proven, that if we are suffering, that suffering will also go to Pakistan and to our other neighbours. I hope this recognition has arrived there. And I hope, based on this recognition, Pakistan will now engage in a civilized tradition with the Afghan people, not one through the use of extremism or other warlike means.

If the US does pull out its troops, the concern is that we will see is Pakistan having a greater role in Kabul, just as it as it did in 1996. Do you think that the situation still remains?
Well, we hope the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan will be one that will bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, and not the opposite of it. One that’s responsible and done sensibly. And we also hope that Pakistan will recognize that no amount of pressure or interference or the use of extremist means or methods that are violent will bring Pakistan to the realization of its interest in Afghanistan. No, we will not allow Afghanistan to be influenced by any country. That’s not our nature. So, I hope, Pakistan, brother and neighbour recognizes that the US presence or the US absence from Afghanistan, will not mean an opportunity lost or gained for Pakistan. Afghanistan will remain and will keep struggling and sacrificing for its sovereignty and independence.

Do you think there will be a full troops withdrawal if the Intra Afghan negotiations are successful?
The United States has said that it will reduce its military presence in Afghanistan considerably and bring it down to more than just a couple of thousand troops. But the analysis has also said that that it intends to retain some form of presence in Afghanistan, which should mean intelligence and assistance to Afghan forces in training.

Do you think the US election results in November would change that policy towards Afghanistan in anyway?
No, I don’t think the elections in November will make any difference to the US policy towards Afghanistan. US has set its policy for Afghanistan, they’ve been following this path continuously, the same way for as long as I remember. So that will not bring about change.

Do you think that the regional powers, Russia, China, Iran, India, and Pakistan are going to play a larger role in Afghanistan, what is the kind of role you would like to see them play?
We are keenly observing what will happen, if the United States withdraws completely, if it doesn’t keep a positive interest in Afghanistan, and we are left alone in the region. The best for us is an Afghanistan where our neighbours and friends and allies are cooperating rather than competing with each other.

The best for us is to let our brothers and sisters in Pakistan know that Afghanistan cannot be interfered or taken over, no matter how much is done. Iran has been a good neighbour with us. Russia is a superpower and a great old ally and friend of Afghanistan and India is the same way. China is our neighbour and a great country, and has been friendly with Afghanistan, we will be seeking a cooperative environment among our neighbours and regional powers, and specially in relation to Afghanistan.

Is the question of foreign troops in Afghanistan a closed chapter now?
Preferably that should be a closed chapter, but you never know about the future. The Afghan people definitely don’t want foreign troops in our country, but Afghan people at the same time want to have a sovereign and stable Afghanistan and will do all they can to make that. happen.