A hasty US pull-out could plunge Afghanistan into a crisis, warns the incumbent head of Afghan High Peace Council Ustad Karim Khalili A senior Afghan leader who heads his own Hizbe Wahdat Islami party, Khalili accentuated the need for an equitable, inclusive, Afghan-led, and Afghan-owned peace in a wide-ranging Q&A session with The Truth International during his recent visit to Islamabad.
The horrific killings of ethnic Hazara coalminers in Balochistan were not only a loss to the Pakistani nation but also to the Afghans, said Khalili, who draws his clout in Afghan politics from the fact that his Shia Hazara ethnic party controls the Bami- yan province, as well as parts of its eight surrounding provinces in the mountainous Afghan heartland, called the Hazarajat.
A veteran of the Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union, Khalili served as Minister of Finance of Afghanistan in the Mujahideen government in the early 1990s. In 2002, he was appointed the vice president under President Hamid Karzai. He was Karzai’s running mate in the 2004 Afghan presidential election, eventually serving as his vice president until 2014. Given below is an abridged transcript of the conversation.
TTI: How do you view the recent rounds of talks between the Afghan government
and the Taliban in Doha?
UKK: You are well aware of the fact that Afghanistan has suffered from four decades
of bloodshed. The desire of the Afghan people as well as the world is now peace,
and this is a golden opportunity for peace. We insist on lasting and fair peace — a
peace inclusive of all ethnic groups and political parties. Indeed peace has to be
Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.
TTI: One of the top Taliban demands for peace in Afghanistan is complete withdrawal of US forces from the Afghan soil. What is your take on the matter?
UKK: I have been meeting with US Special Representative for Afghanistan Mr. Zalmay Khalilzad and I am aware of the peace accord between the US and Taliban. Based on that agreement, the US has to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by May this year. So if there is a positive outcome of these negotiations, if peace is achievable and if people of Afghanistan deem that peace is within reach and war is about to end, then absolutely the US forces have to fully pull out of Afghanistan and that is very natural. But if that is not the situation, I fear the withdrawal of US forces would plunge Afghanistan into another crisis.
TTI: Pakistan claims Afghan peace is in its national interest and that Pakistan will keep playing its role in the Afghan peace process. Your comments?
UKK: Friendly allies in the region have to help and support us in our pursuit of durable and fair peace. I extend my appreciations to the neighbouring countries, specifically Pakistan, for their support and contribution in resolving challenges that crop up during the Afghan peace negotiations.
TTI: Pakistan alleges India is hostile to the current Afghan peace process – and that India wants to sabotage the Afghan peace efforts for which New Delhi is actually backing spoilers within and outside the Afghan government, your take?
UKK: In fact we believe every single country of the region could play a significant role towards Afghan peace. We wish every country in the neighbourhood to play a positive role but in a situation where Afghan peace talks are just beginning, it’s premature to make judgements about different regional countries.
TTI: Being the leader of Hizbe Wahdat Islami Afghanistan which largely represents the Hazara community, how would you react to the recent killings of eleven Hazara miners in the Mach area of Balochistan that led to a weeklong protest turned sit-in at Quetta along with coffins of the dead?UKK: I understand that Hazara community is suffering not only in Pakistan but also in Afghanistan. They have been targeted in their educational institutions and inside their classrooms. They have been targeted during their weddings and they are passing through a very hard time. The Quetta incident was very horrific, it was not only a loss to the Pakistani nation but also to the Afghans, and this amply suggests we are sharing our blood besides other bonds. And I am really thankful to the Prime Minster Imran Khan and Army Chief Gen Qamar Bajwa for comforting the Hazara brothers and sisters.
TTI: During his recent visit to Pakistan, Hizbe Islami leader Gulbadin Hikmatyar flatly rejected negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban, and criticised President Ashraf Ghani, announced separate negotiations with the Taliban. How do you view this?
UKK: I would like to say there is freedom of speech. Everyone can have his or her own ideas and I respect that. We as a stakeholder are busy focusing on the peace negotiations right now.
TTI: How you think lasting Afghan peace can be achieved in the presence of spoilers and terror groups like TTP having safe harbour in Afghanistan – in addition to the anti-Pakistan mind-set?
UKK: I believe if we could reach an agreement with Taliban, the major part of
the challenge you mentioned would hopefully be resolved. However extremism would still be a challenge. I also admit there are certain groups and individuals who don’t want peace inside and outside Afghanistan but with the will of the Afghan nation, the countries of the region, and the world, the spoilers and terrorists can be defeated.
TTI: As chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council and former Vice President of Afghanistan, what are your findings about the people of Afghanistan?
UKK: The Afghan nation, whether under the control of the Afghan government or the Taliban, seeks peace. When I became chairman of Afghan High Peace Council, I reached out to every single province of the country, ethnic groups, civil society and the women. And we held conferences and conducted surveys, finding out that every Afghan individual demands peace, peace and peace.
TTI: Does President Ashraf Ghani’s negotiating team with Taliban have a Hazara representation?
UKK: Yes, the Afghan government’s negotiating team with Taliban comprises four representatives from the Hazara ethnic group.
TTI: Do you think Russia and China could play a significant role in ensuring durable peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region?
UKK: No doubt China is a common and an important friend of Pakistan and Afghanistan. China’s role in lasting Afghan peace has great significance. Similarly Russia is an important country in the neighbourhood. As I said every country of the region will finally be judged by its role and contribution towards a fair and inclusive Afghan peace and stability.
TTI: Pak-Afghan relations are often marred by distrust. Has this issue been discussed in your meetings with Pakistani government and military leadership?
UKK: I can tell you there is no discussion of any kind of distrust between our two countries, and I can tell you this has not been a subject of my meetings with Pakistani officials. In fact, we stressed on joining hands for peace and prosperity instead of indulging into a blame game.
TTI: Terror outfit ISIS has gained a strong foothold in Afghanistan. The group claimed the recent killings of Hazara miners in Balochistan. Why isn’t there any firm and resolute action against it in Afghanistan?
UKK: Let me tell you that ISIS is like cancer for Islamic countries, for Iraq, Syria and also for Afghanistan. It’s a sham and insult to the Muslims and this is a bloody phenomenon created and supported by some international elements. The ISIS has no space and support in Afghanistan, they didn’t have it, they don’t have it, and they won’t have it. Once the agreement is reached with the Taliban, I am sure we will get rid of this curse.