Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai remains an important and influential figure in Kabul, and a fierce proponent for a stronger Indian presence in the country. In New Delhi this week, he spoke to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar about the attack on the Indian mission in Jalalabad, as well as talks with the Taliban, which are expected later this month or in April.
Q.The attack on the Indian consulate in Jalabad comes after a series of other attacks on Indian missions in Afghanistan. Who, according to you is behind this?
Hamid Karzai: Unfortunately yes. For a very long time now, this has been a trend. What is there in the relationship between India and Afghanistan that would irk someone so much that they would come and attack the Indian consulates, or attack Afghanistan. Afghanistan preserves its right to engage in the foreign policy it desires, therefore no matter how many attacks on us, and no matter how much the sacrifice that we give, we will determine our own course in our foreign policy. Nothing will deter us.
Q.You say it has been a trend, it’s a trend particularly on the rise since you had visited for PM Modi’s inauguration in May 2014. Who do you blame for these attacks on Indian missions?
Hamid Karzai: Unfortunately, the truth is that these attacks are coming to us not only on Indian consulates, but Afghan schools, civilians, every aspect of our life. Each of those attacks have originated from across the border, from neighbouring Pakistan. That’s where the origin of this trouble is: the Lashkar e Toiba is from there, the Lashkar e Jhangvi, Jaish e Mohammad, all these outfits are from Pakistan. So the sanctuaries, the training grounds, the financial factors and the motivating factors are all inside Pakistan, and come across the border. We have no other problem with Pakistan in this regard other than the fact that the radicalisation and the militancy that comes to us from there. We have tried to shy away from pointing fingers and saying who is responsible. But that can’t be done. The whole world knows, even the people in Pakistan suffer.
- But the groups are not the same…the ones that attack Indian missions in Afghanistan or those that attack targets in Pakistan, or Afghanistan?
Hamid Karzai: Well they all originate in Pakistan, whether they attack anyone. There will never be an Afghan motivated, Afghan financed attack on Indian interests in Afghanistan. There never was and there can never be, because India is seen as the greatest friend of Afghanistan, historically and today. All surveys show India as the first friend for the people, and you don’t attack trends.
Q.This is the 3rd such attack this year….do you think there is a link to India’s decision to transfer four helicopters to Afghanistan in December 2015?
Hamid Karzai: Well the helicopters were provided when PM Modi visited Kabul in December. But I don’t think the attack is linked to any one specific decision by India. They are simply attacking India’s presence in Afghanistan, whenever they get the opportunity. The whole spectrum of the India-Afghan relations, the relationship itself is the target of the attacks.
- But there have been specific links too, the messages left by terrorists in both the attack in Mazar I Sharif and the attack in Pathankot said they belonged to Jaish e Mohammad, invoked Afzal Guru hanging….
Hamid Karzai: The attack in Afghanistan on India’s presence in Afghanistan and its engagement with Afghanistan. And on the confluence of interests between them. These are under attack. These bring benefits to Afghanistan’s goods, trade, education, enhanced strength. So basically we are both under attack. At the same time, whenever there is an attempt to better India-Pakistan ties there is an attack as well. When PM Modi went to Lahore, soon we saw Pathankot attack, and this has always happened. Those are attacks on India-Pakistan rapprochement.
- What would you say to those who say the answer is not to engage Pakistan and not to enhance India’s presence in Afghanistan….
Hamid Karzai: That means India is running away from itself. India must pursue friendship with Pakistan, and I hope Pakistan reciprocates. PM Sharif is definitely keen to better relations, and Afghanistan would benefit from that. India cannot retreat from Afghanistan, and in any case we won’t let India retreat from Afghanistan, we will keep you held there (Laughs).
- Do you think India should increase its security presence, then? During these attacks we saw Indian Security forces and Afghan security forces fighting side by side. Is there a need for more cooperation on the ground, more Indian security for example, to help Afghan forces?
Hamid Karzai: There are no security forces on the ground in Afghanistan. Those ITBP personnel, CISF personnel are protecting Indian interests there. So, it is natural they would respond. But there are no Indian forces in the country like ISAF, that is not the case right now.
- This weekend marks the next round of quadrilateral talks in Pakistan to try and restart reconciliation dialogue with the Taliban. What are your expectations?
Hamid Karzai: Peace is what we need in Afghanistan, and we support that. But we want this peace process where the 4 countries are talking: U.S., China and Pakistan to focus on the process in a manner that we get results. Those results will only come if all the countries in the region are on board. So Iran, an extremely important neighbour is upset with Afghanistan. Lets look at it this way…having this quadrilateral dialogue implies that the problem for Afghanistan is external, then there are other external players as well who are important. Iran is the first, then India and Russia. They are all close friends and neighbours, so I hope the talks would include them.
Q.Then do you think it is a mistake to go ahead with the talks as they are? Earlier you had also said that you would not talk unless the Taliban gave up violence, accepted the constitution, it must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led. Yet we see none of these conditions met, and the process continuing to take place in Pakistan…
Hamid Karzai: None of these have happened so far, and there has been no real talks between Afghans themselves. If this was an internal problem then we, the Afghans should be talking. If there are other powers talking then clearly the problem comes from external factors. We welcome the current process, but we want it to be inclusive, result oriented and should lead to an Afghan to Afghan talks, not a foreign process.
Q.How realistic is that? There have been differences within President Ghani’s government over the kind of influence Pakistan should wield over these talks. Are you hopeful of Afghan to Afghan talks being held?
Hamid Karzai: As an Afghan, what option do we have?
- Surely the purpose of allowing these talks should have given you some hope?
Hamid Karzai: We have no other hope for peace. Which is what forces us to accept a condition we are unhappy with us. Of course we aren’t happy that these talks aren’t being held in Afghanistan.
- Isn’t this a way for the Taliban to play for time, another year, when international forces pull out and they won’t need to be in talks to control Afghanistan….
Hamid Karzai: I come back to my point, if it is just about Afghans needing to talk to Afghans, then eventually it will happen. But if external forces are responsible for the turmoil in Afghan then those forces will not agree to peace until they have achieved their own ends. In this case there are two such powers: U.S. and Pakistan. When both reach their objectives we will have peace, not till then.
Q.China is also a part of the talks…why was it necessary ?
Hamid Karzai: China is a great friend of Pakistan, and has no differences we know with the U.S. on Afghanistan. We have no objection to China in the talks. We believe China has an influence on Pakistan, and we hope it will exercise that influence to bring peace in Afghanistan.
- Are you yourself involved in these talks or would you like to be?
Hamid Karzai: I am a citizen of Afghanistan, My children live and I am raising them in Afghanistan…so that is what I seek for my country. But I am not a part of the process at present, but I am a supporter of this process and I want it to bear results.
- You spoke at the Raisina dialogue of the need for ‘positive symmetry’ between India and China to enhance connectivity in the region. However at present they have rival plans for connectivity…do you see any chance of them coming together as you say?
Hamid Karzai: When I became President, I knew that our relations with India would immediately improve and India would come to help Afghanistan, which it did. We are grateful for the $2 billion dollars India committed, the power projects, the Salma dam, the Parliament and so many other projects in the past decade and a half. I wanted to engage China in a different way, to create a balance in the region of a different sort. We want to keep that relationship. China’s OBOR is an immensely important project for Afghanistan, but India’s connect Central Asia programme is also extremely important, because it can only go through Afghanistan. So it is a boon for prosperity in Afghanistan, but only if Pakistan, which is preventing access between India and Afghanistan allows it. So we are hoping China will bring Pakistan to a more amenable relationship with Afghanistan and with India. This is what I mean by positive symmetry, that is needed between India and China. If that wont happen, it will be very very difficult for us. (The Hindu)