By Suhasini Haidar-Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai says U.S’s South Asia policy has been a disappointment as it hasn’t backed it up with action against terrorist safe havens in Pakistan
Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who hosted a banquet for him, attended by NSA Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar, on Saturday. In an exclusive interview to The Hindu during his visit to Delhi, Mr. Karzai, who holds no office but remains a powerful figure in Afghanistan, says the U.S’s South Asia policy has been a disappointment as it hasn’t backed it up with action against terrorist safe havens in Pakistan.
What brings you to India at this time?
I came at the invitation of the Honourable Prime Minister of India, who extended me hospitality for which I am very grateful. Our conversation was an affirmation of India’s affection and goodwill towards Afghanistan. We discussed all issues of relevance in South Asia, including the war against terrorism and extremism. And how best India can cooperate with Afghanistan to achieve peace and lasting stability.
It is also your first visit since the U.S announced its South Asia policy for Afghanistan which includes a larger role for India and tougher talk on Pakistan. Four months later, how would you assess the success of President Donald Trump’s policy, which India welcomed?
India’s support to President Trump’s policy on Afghanistan, from what I have gathered, is based on realism. What is important is to see action based on this policy that addresses the place where terrorism emanates from. The U.S policy on Afghanistan must bring salvation to the people of Afghanistan from terrorism that is responsible for their misery.
Afghans welcomed foreign forces because they wanted this, but while the U.S policy [post 9/11] was successful, it then faltered. So now Afghans say our expectations are clear. We don’t want war, and we don’t want U.S planes bombing our people, and we want the U.S to address the extremist problem at its roots.
When it comes to addressing the roots, the U.S has made very tough pronouncements on Pakistan’s support to terror groups. Should India and Afghanistan remain hopeful that there will be also be some action from the U.S?
This is an area of the greatest disappointment in U.S-Afghan relations. We have heard these words over the past 16 years, repeatedly from the U.S on terror sanctuaries within Pakistan. But we also see the U.S talking of Pakistan as an ally, and being protective of Pakistan. During my tenure, U.S officials called the Haqqani network the “veritable arm” of ISI. But what has happened? Now too, they pointed fingers at Pakistan and then within months they gave them another $ 750 million in appreciation of their fight against terrorism. We have no ill-will towards U.S, or Pakistan. One is our partner, the other our neighbour. But we all know how U.S and Pakistan came together to fund extremist groups in the 1980s during Soviet times. They have long been bedfellows on this policy.
Does that policy continue?
Absolutely, it continues. They can have any policy and partnership between them, but if the objective is to fight extremism, then there must be real action from the U.S and Pakistan against those groups.
Russia has taken a greater role in Afghanistan more recently, which gives rise to concerns that Afghanistan will once again become an area of contestation between global powers. Are those concerns valid?
Look, after 9/11, the U.S’s initial success in Afghanistan was because they had global backing, from Russia, China, Iran, India, Europe and Japan which lasted many years. One must ask, what has gone wrong now that Russia no longer sees the U.S as fighting terror? How has D’aesh increased its presence on the U.S’s watch in Afghanistan? Naturally all these countries are concerned. This U.S-Russia rivalry is not a political rivalry; it is concerned about the growth of extremism despite U.S’s stated commitment to fight extremism. It is for the U.S to explain, how with all that manpower and so much fighting and loss of life over 15 years, there is more terrorism in Afghanistan today? In 2012, U.S General Allen told me there were just 80 Al Qaeda fighters left in Afghanistan. In 2013, General Dunford told me there were less than 40, and that there was no other [foreign] group. What happened that less than 40 foreign fighters mushroomed into more than 20 terrorist groups in the country, and we saw the massive influx of D’aesh? Did they fall from the sky, quite literally? The U.S and Pakistan must explain, as they were allies during this time.
You are no longer in the government, you have even been critical of the [Ashraf] Ghani government at times, and you are seen as anti-American. What is the message from your visit here, which will spark speculation on what it means for Indian policy?
India is a traditional friend, and the most favoured country for Afghans. I go around the world and meet with leaders: I was with President Rouhani in Tehran and was received by President Putin in Russia, and by the Chinese leadership. India is of course more hospitable given my old connection here. I am not Anti-American, but I do want to hold the U.S accountable in Afghanistan and responsible to our sovereignty. They must negotiate a new compact and terms of engagement for their presence in Afghanistan now. This is why I have been calling for the Loya Jirga to be convened, to re-legitimize the U.S presence. The more the U.S opposes this Jirga, the more Afghans with turn away from them.
Do you think India should rethink its support to the U.S South Asia policy then?
Oh very much so. This is what I have been saying. India is a country with a deep and fundamental relationship with Afghanistan, and one that has effectively fought terrorism. India has the right to ask the U.S questions on all these issues I have mentioned, and it must think and rethink its [support] in view of changes and developments in Afghanistan. (Thehindu)