An exclusive interview with Mohammad Karim Khalili
Mohammad Karim Khalili, Chairman of the High Peace Council, says that Taliban leadership was interested in peace talks with the government without offering any preconditions when he started contacting with them as he took the office in June 2017. He said in an interview with the Afghanistan Times that government’s inattention to the event, made Taliban adopt tougher stance in talks such as conditions.
But in recent eras, well, we certainly got experiences from the beginning. We did not get saved from the war, but we were inside the war. During this 18 years, it could not be fair that the US or Europe expect us, but this is a hope to represent people and their will as much as possible. We had some weakness from the beginning, but it increased since last year especially during the parliament elections which is really a pity, and I would like to frankly say that people’s turnout was very poor in that election. There were mostly other issues in different forms, particularly in Kabul, where even the members of election commission say they were not aware and heard it from radios and televisions about the results of Kabul polls. Who controls the Kabul Radio TV station? It is clear. Who gave the news? It is clear and it is also clear and everybody saw how the results were announced. We pay respect to all the candidates, we do not intend to disgrace, but this is the fact that has happened.
Now at the presidential election, people want a president to serve them, come through their votes, not through…, but which election? This is the point. I said this to the foreigners too, which election? The election we passed last year or the one with the will of people? This is a question that unfortunately, I did not find an answer for this.
AT: Are you still concerned for the upcoming elections as you were in the last polls?
Of course, I am even more concerned, more concerned about the transparency of the elections because the election commission is facing bunches of problems. So, I am concerned if the result of elections leads us to a new crisis.
AT: Considering all your concerns and experiences from 2014 presidential election, what encouraged you to support one of the candidates and to be engaged in the September polls?
Well, when you are in Afghanistan and when there is a busy election time, we can’t refuse our engagement. Yes, we are engaged and interested in the events. We are working to help electoral weak points reduce by getting close to the race date, so the people can take part and reach what they want.
AT: What is more important for the people of Afghanistan at this time?, Elections or peace?
I clarified my opinion. I have said this to foreigners, Afghans and the High Peace Council that we are losing at least 200 of our youth on daily basis. This is a figure provided by the government. 200 Afghans, 200 youth and 200 Muslims from the two sides fall to the ground. The biggest resource for a nation is its people, especially its youth. We lose tens and even hundreds of our human resources, in addition to its other consequences.
For us, this is a priority to prevent the death of our youth if we can. The Almighty God says in the Holy Koran that if a human being is killed without sin, it equals the death of all human beings, and if we rescue one human, it is equal with rescuing all the human society. Why should we lose 200 youth pre-day?
If we can gain the peace that the other side also believes so, I give priority to peace.
AT: Do you think we will achieve peace ahead of elections?
I can’t say about its time. We have been long sidelined and this is a reality. We are interested in peace from any canal and we support it. This has been my viewpoint in the High Peace Council, through Khalilzad, through regional meetings and through the government. When His Excellency the president formed a consultative board for negotiations, I told him: “a blind only wants a pair of eyes”. And I added that we want peace in Afghanistan and it doesn’t matter who works for peace, whether the peace council or another body. I said we want peace and we support it, from any canal. So, I told all my dear colleagues in the High Peace Council to work very accurately to not make even the least obstacle even if we are marginalized. This is my opinion and we had and have great achievements that I will speak about that later.
AT: Sir, you had participated in the intra-Afghan talks with Taliban representatives in Moscow. How did you find them? Do they believe in peace?
Let me mention two points: I decided to write a letter to Taliban leadership after a few months that I started my job as the High Peace Council chairman after consulting with the President, because I didn’t want to do anything without consulting him. His Excellency President read my letter and agreed with my decision as an initiative. I sent the letter and received the response a few months later from Taliban Leader, Maulavi Haibatullah Akhundzada. Letter exchange between us was an initiative in the history of the high peace council and I would like to thank Akhundzada for replying my letter. He mentioned my name in his letter and then a person from Hazara ethnicity chairs the peace council. Akhundzada had said in his letter that Taliban also believe war is not the solution, and that negotiation is a solution and the two sides need to remove a distrust space. We formed two commissions:
A five-member commission for ceasefire that was led by Mullah Yaqoob, son of Taliban’s late leader Mullah Omar. Another commission for evaluating of prisoners’ condition and work for their release that Mullah Nooruddin Torabi was its head.
These two commissions, he had said, should start work inside Afghanistan and far from media eyes. He had also written about easing relationships with Pakistan and that the matter should be shared with President Ghani.
I took the letter to President Ghani, he said that he needed 20 days to respond the letter. A man from Taliban came to me and said that their delegation led by Maulavi Sarraji was waiting for me in Helmand.
Taliban did not say that they wouldn’t hold talks with the government. They did not say anything about their preconditions. Everything from their side was OK, but we failed to use the opportunity in Kabul. Mr. President’s response was not prepared not in 20 days, but even in one year. Mr. President also let the chief executive know about that, and so vice president was informed. We didn’t have anything for the video messages we received from Mullah Torabi for accurate work on prisoner commission. I mean that Taliban at that time never said they had preconditions and were completely and openly ready. The Taliban leadership office conveyed the letter, but when we met in Moscow on the occasion of 100th year of Afghan-Russia diplomatic relationship, Taliban’s representatives had brief speeches. Then they said that as Mr. Khalili is chairing the peace council, so he is a government man and the ambassador of Afghanistan had spoken, so no roundtable discussion was held. Then I called on Mr. Karzai (former president) to hold a meeting by few representatives from the two sides and release a joint statement. This was the least thing we could do. The two sides could not agree on a statement in their eight-hour negotiation. The statement they prepared was very tough and explained Taliban’s higher stance and they were trying to restore their Emirate. The statement was unacceptable by Kabul delegation. Then they prepared another and shorter statement and sat again for another talks with Mr. Karzai, but I didn’t attend as I was seen by them a government man. Later, their representatives came to my room and apologized and said that ‘you are our respectful friend and we have no problem with you’. They said that they a technical problem with the government, but the media miscalculated their words. Then we held an almost hour-long negotiation and I told Taliban that their acts were just against what was written in their leader’s letter. I told them that their leader seemed very open for unconditional negotiations, but they had conditions.
AT: What do you think of Taliban’s view for the election? Do they believe in elections?
I am still in relations with Taliban movement and this is a friendly relation, as I started my job in the peace council with an impartial approach. I told His Excellency President that I would work as a judge to look at the war parties without any partiality even one side is government and the second one Taliban. I said that a body working for peace, should not be partial.
This was my stance and I have usually said that Taliban paid respect to this approach of the high peace council, thus our relation is good and we are in touch. The government is a separate matter.
AT: The general opinion says that the government doesn’t believe in peace. Why does the government make obstacles and why doesn’t want the process to go ahead?
Khalili: I haven’t said about challenges in this period of time and why we couldn’t use the chance? Mullah Mottaqi had also said the reasons of Taliban’s reluctance to hold talks with the government. He said that Taliban provided an opportunity, but the government could not use that, because the government was unauthorized and Taliban needed to sit with the lord of Kabul government to resolve all problems. But, I have not yet said these words. This question should be asked the government.
AT: What will happen to the peace process if election is held?
I had a meeting with the US deputy foreign secretary a few days back in Kabul and told him that it was very difficult to hold election and gain peace in a couple of months. I told him a Farsi proverb ‘it is impossible to hold two watermelons by one hand’, that means holding election and trying for peace achievement is impossible at the same time. They have now agreed on peace, if we go to election, they will need to wait which is unacceptable for them and we will be witnessing war and bloodshed for another five years. These are questions that I haven’t found answers for them.
AT: What does the State Ministry for Peace mean formed besides the High Peace Council?
The government is responsible to answer this question. I have lots of words in this regard and will say at a proper time. It is too early to comment about that.
AT: How does the peace council sees a post-peace Afghanistan?
People are scared from Taliban. But I have frequently said in indirect touches with Taliban (I haven’t had direct contacts with them) that today’s Afghanistan is not the Afghanistan of 20 years ago, so Taliban movement should not think of their Emirate be restored, because this is not the resolve. We also need to accept this reality that there is powerful opposition body and the rate of insecurity goes up every day. They do not want to give up, and we should not expect them to surrender and they should not either expect us to accept their Emirate. So, we need a fair, justice and wisely resolve.
AT: Do we have some common things to help up us gain a peace with honor?
I think yes, we are all Afghans and we should accept that they (Taliban) have their Afghan prides and I would like to frankly say that they are also suffering from this condition because they are in abroad. This is naturally and everybody instead of them suffers. I think we should probe and study the facts to reach a solution. The fact is that they are also Afghans and we should not lose 200 youth per day. Let’s find a solution.
AT: Do you have any message to the government, the US and international community?
I believe in the peace priority. Of course, election is a valuable way to democracy and people never ignore that. I mean an election that really represents people’s determination, not an election by name and without people’s participation. Let me say that 40 per cent of the votes went missing in this Police District 6 in the last year’s parliamentary election, and nobody is responsible. 25 per cent of votes were missing in the Police District 13. Where are these votes? We don’t want this type of election.
But it needs very elegance to run election and peace efforts unanimously and without touch. I told the US undersecretary of state that if the negotiations are in critic point, the peace should not be victim of election. It will be very hard to compensate if we victimize peace efforts to elections. If the peace talks take long time, then we should not postpone people’s will (election), but only a transparent one.