“We expect India to engage in Afghan peace talks”
”The Afghan government has been emphasising that there needs to be a regional consensus around the peace talks. Our President has been travelling to the region to form a consensus. For, our President believes that in order to achieve a just and sustainable peace, we need national, regional and international consensus. President Ghani travelled to Pakistan recently, where he discussed issues of peace, regional security and regional connectivity,” says Tahir Qadiry , Chargé d’Affaires of Islamic republic of Afghanistan, in an exclusive interview with Ravi Mishra.
Recently the US President Donald Trump said that India has built only a library ( Afghan Parliament) in Afghanistan. It is not doing much. What would you say on this issue?
Well, as the representative of the Afghan government here in India, I can say with confidence that India has contributed a lot to Afghanistan. It has contributed assistance worth more than $ 3 billion post-Taliban era. Since India believes in Afghanistan’s democracy, it built the house of Parliament. It built vital infrastructure project, the Salma water dam, as India wants to see a prosperous Afghanistan. It built two cricket stadiums, one in southern Kandahar and the other in northern Mazaar-e Sharif.
India has also has funded many other projects such as clinics, dormitories, roads, etc. Providing education to a nation is the biggest gift. The Indian government gives 1,000 scholarships every year for Afghan students. We have got a bright dynamic generation studying in India. Many of them, who have returned to Afghanistan, have taken up very big responsibilities and are working on senior positions..
India has designed its projects in Afghanistan in a way that has won the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. Thus, India has been the biggest regional donor and Afghans really appreciate its generous aid.
What would you say on the Afghan peace process? Because in Moscow it didn’t work, and recently, a meeting was organised in Doha on this.
The international community, led by the United States, has been making its best efforts to restore peace in Afghanistan. They are looking for a political settlement with the Taliban. Afghans also want lasting peace. Our government has also called for an Afghan-led, Afghan-controlled and Afghan-owned peace process. His Excellency our President convened Loya Jirga (a grand assembly) in late April this year. As a result, more than 3,000 people from different walks of society from across Afghanistan attended it. The assembly prepared a roadmap for the peace talks, where they also drew redlines for the negotiation. Yes, efforts are also being made by different countries. The Afghan fovernment strives to make a regional coalition, which would support the stance of the Afghan government in the peace process. Our stanc is quite clear–we want the Afghan Constitution to be upheld, the gains of the past 18 years should be preserved, particularly the human and women’s rights must be protected.
So can we expect any result?
Hopefully yes. Why not! Because, in the past, we witnessed other militant groups also joining the Afghan government. If the Taliban accept the demands of Afghans and the Afghan government, I think there is a possibility of a political settlement. We have gained a lot over the last 18 years. We have gained freedom of expression, women’s rights, human rights, infrastructure development, technology, and a new generation has emerged. Our demands are that these gains must be preserved. So, if any party endorses such popular demands the Afghan government will welcome that.
Pakistan has continuously been supporting terrorist groups, which is harming both India and Afghanistan. So, is there a role for Pakistan in this peace process?
The Afghan government has been emphasising that there needs to be a regional consensus around the peace talks. Our President has been travelling to the region to form a consensus. For, our President believes that in order to achieve a just and sustainable peace, we need national, regional and international consensus. President Ghani travelled to Pakistan recently, where he discussed issues of peace, regional security and regional connectivity.
Do you think the US sanction on Iran is affecting India-Afghanistan trade, especially the Chabahar port?
Well, we are following Chabahar very closely. Chabahar is one of the dream projects and as PM Modi calls it a “Game Changer” for the three countries, i.e. India, Afghanistan, and Iran. There has been a decline in the budget from the Indian side. But we are in touch with our Indian counterparts, who have reassured us that if required, they can increase the budget. From the Afghanistan side as well, there is a commitment in this regard.. Afghanistan has exported goods worth $ 2 million through Chabahar. We are in talks with different companies and businesses to attract more investment there. It is to be noted that Afghanistan is now no more a land-locked country, but a land-bridged country. We are now connected to the world through multiple routes.
The most important thing is that Chabahar has been exempted from the sanction. So, steadily imports and exports are happening through Chabahar.
How is India helping the Afghan forces?
India has been helping the Afghan military in many ways. Many of our security forces are trained in different Indian military academies, where they get professional training and return to Afghanistan with rich experience. In addition to this, India has been providing helicopters to Afghanistan.
What does the Afghan government expect from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his second tenure?
As a brotherly country, we see India as our best friend in the region. PM Narendra Modi is a close friend of our President Ashraf Ghani. We expect from Prime Minister Modi to engage more with Afghanistan in the political, diplomatic, social, cultural, economic and strategic partnerships. We have common concerns. As India is in a good position today, we expect more cooperation in various fields.
Last but not least, Afghans share hearts with their Indian brothers and sisters. As the peace talks are underway, we expect India to actively get engaged and support the position of the people of Afghanistan and the government in a more tangible way. We expect India to remain engaged on major regional and international conferences that decide the future of Afghanistan.
The election will be held in Afghanistan soon. What is the development on this issue?
As peace talks are underway, the Afghan government is firmly committed to holding the presidential elections on time. The government of Afghanistan has already brought bold and substantive reforms in the electoral commission. The elections are set for September this year.