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Delhi must engage with Taliban, oppose U.S.-Pak deal outside Kabul: Hamid Karzai

By Suhasini Haidar-Wary of deals on Afghanistan between the U.S. and Pakistan, the former President urges India to seek an end to violence by speaking to all stakeholders

More than four years after demitting office, former President Hamid Karzai remains a key figure in Afghan politics. During a recent visit to Delhi for official meetings, Mr. Karzai said India must reconsider its refusal to deal directly with the Taliban, given that the insurgent group was an important stakeholder in the future of Afghanistan.

You met External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and briefly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Do you feel India’s position on Afghanistan has changed?

Our expectation is that India should always have its own policy towards Afghanistan, not as a part of anyone else’s. The United States has suddenly begun to speak of peace and reconciliation efforts and the need to engage with the Taliban and re-engage with Pakistan.

We want an Afghanistan that is friendly with Pakistan, but one that is sovereign of Pakistan’s influence. In other words, we would help the U.S. for peace in Afghanistan, but equally make it clear that we want no deals on Afghanistan between the U.S. and Pakistan and we hope that India will make that clear as well. Help us gain peace, and be sovereign.

What do you mean by India’s own course in Afghanistan? What role can it play within the parameters that it will not engage the Taliban directly, nor extend security assistance like troops etc. beyond current levels?

India can play a role at different levels at the same time. We understand its position to engage with the government of the day in Kabul. But India is also a friend of the Afghan people, and the Taliban are part of the Afghan people. They are a part of the reality. My proposal to India is that they must engage with the Taliban, as well as the government. Tomorrow if through a peace deal, the Taliban becomes a part of the government, then India will have to deal with them.

When you ask India to talk to the Taliban, aren’t you saying that an insurgent group should be equated with the state?

No, what I mean is that India should be seeking an end to violence in Afghanistan, and how can you do that without speaking to all the stakeholders? Unfortunately, the reality is that the government is not the only

[stakeholder]

.

Unlike India, the United States has been fighting the Taliban, and waging war within Afghanistan because it says it is fighting the Taliban. But today the United States wants to talk to the Taliban.

India has never fought the Taliban; there has been no direct conflict with the Taliban. Therefore, what I am saying is that India should talk to Afghans amongst whom the Taliban are a part. That’s what India should have done a long time ago.

Your visit [to Delhi] coincided with that of U.S. Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who briefed the government on Washington’s talks with the Taliban and you met him too. Do you believe that the U.S. has discarded its South Asia policy announced in August 2017?

Of course, it has been discarded, and I am glad it has been discarded. That policy announced in 2017 was one of escalating the conflict and making war in Afghanistan; and I stood up against it even then. I support their initiative for peace and the appointment of Ambassador Khalilzad, so long as the distinctions are clearly made between peace, and deals with a foreign country [Pakistan] on Afghanistan, which is not acceptable to our sovereignty.

You mean between the U.S. and Pakistan…The new government in Islamabad has reached out to the Afghan government — do you think it would be prepared to give up that influence?

Pakistan will not willingly give up the control or influence it has, but it is for the Afghan people not to allow a foreign country to influence us. We have been the victims of the deal concocted between the U.S. and Pakistan during the Soviet invasion, which led to the creation and sustenance of extremist groups here. Pakistan’s actions against Afghan traditions and values still continue, and they must be stopped from wielding that power over the people.

Do you think U.S. troops will be pulled out?

The U.S. remains intent on keeping bases in Afghanistan, but this is something that can only be granted to them through a legitimate forum. That forum is the Loya Jirga (Grand council of representatives), and it should be convinced that Americans want to stay on to keep peace in Afghanistan. We don’t want the bases used for war-making. The American presence and bases should be a factor of stability and not for war, as we have seen.

What about the worry that the peace process would mean rolling back many of the freedoms Afghans have gained post-Taliban, especially for women?

We must never allow that. My point is that the focus should be on the outcome of the peace talks and the gains from that rather than the tokenism of how many women are in the process. A strong presence will be judged by the outcome of the talks.

Do you think the presidential elections will be — can be — held this year?

Right now, the circumstances are extremely difficult, judging by the confusion over the parliamentary elections. What we need is stability and return of the peace before the elections.

The process could mean there will be a Loya Jirga first, or an international conference like the one in Bonn in 2001 that decides the way forward with international and regional guarantees that no deal will be done between foreign powers on Afghanistan. And this could then be ratified by the Loya Jirga. It is necessary that we, the Afghan people, determine our future and regain the ownership of our country.

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