Mazar-e-Sharif: Old friend India should provide the assistance Afghanistan needs in its fight with the Taliban to prevent the war-torn country from becoming a safe haven again for terrorist organisations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), and al Qaeda, said Ata Mohammad Noor, the influential leader of the Jamiat-e-Islami party.
Speaking to ThePrint in an exclusive interview at his plush residence in the Balkh capital of Mazar-e-Sharif, Noor said New Delhi should assist the Ashraf Ghani government in Kabul and not “forget” Afghanistan at a time when it is engaged in a war with the Taliban.
Translating the interview was Noor’s son — Khalid Noor — a member of the Afghan Peace Negotiating Team and an alumnus of the UK’s Royal Sandhurst Royal Academy of Military Training.
“India is a friend of Afghanistan and we have been friends historically. Now that the Afghan government has asked for help and assistance, I expect our Indian friends should assist the government,” said Ata Noor, who was also the governor of Balkh province.
“If they don’t do that the situation in Afghanistan will also affect them, because IMU (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan) of Uzbekistan, al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, ETIM (Turkistan Islamic Movement) — all such international terrorist groups will become more active again and Afghanistan will become their safe haven.
“So it is very important for all regional countries, especially our Indian friends, to assist Afghanistan and in these difficult days we expect our allies to do some good.”
Noor’s comments come as the security situation in Afghanistan worsens, with the country’s forces pushing back against the Taliban as they make rapid advances amid the pullout of international troops.
The international forces arrived in Afghanistan in the aftermath of 9/11, and are set to leave the country by 31 August, at the end of a 20-year war on terror that has failed to secure peace for the war-torn nation.
Earlier this week, Afghan government forces backed by Noor managed to halt the Taliban’s onslaught on the holy city of Mazar-e-Sharif. Amid fears that the city could fall to the Taliban, India had shut its consulate there and evacuated diplomats and other Indian nationals this Tuesday.
Noor, who has fought the Taliban since its emergence, is regarded as a “long-standing friend of India”. As the governor of Balkh, in 2016, he had personally picked up a gun and rushed to defend the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif as it came under attack from terrorists.
“I personally went to the Indian consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif to defend them and that was my duty as a human being and that was for a country which has always helped Afghanistan throughout difficult times,” he said. “I do not regret my action.”
‘There will be a coalition against Taliban’
Sitting in front of a large painting of flowers in a gilded frame, Noor, dressed in army fatigues, said he understands why India had to shut down the consulate at Mazar-e-Sharif.
“There are also proxy wars and rivalries with India and they are under constant threat so they had to take certain decisions (in closing the consulate). I am not disappointed but I ask them not to forget Afghanistan,” he said.
On Wednesday, Noor, along with Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, former Vice-President, and Hazara strongman Mohammad Mohaqiq, held a meeting with President Ghani with the aim of defending northern Afghanistan, where Balkh lies, and resisting it from falling to the Taliban.
Many are seeing this meeting as a resurgence of the erstwhile northern alliance that fiercely fought the Taliban back in the 1990s, under Ahmad Shah Massoud.
Massoud’s assassination on 9 September 2001 by al Qaeda is described as the curtain-raiser for 9/11, which came two days later.
“There will be a coalition to defend Afghanistan against the Taliban,” Noor said, adding that he and his men are “committed to defend” Mazar, the fourth-largest city in Afghanistan.
“Our people are committed to defend the city, to fight against the Taliban, to fight against this dark-minded people who do not show any type of mercy to anyone, be it women or children, neither men, nor civilians, they only slaughter people, so it is our job and our duty to defend and to resist these people,” he said.
Last month, Noor had visited Doha, Qatar, as part of the Afghan negotiating team to bring about a peace pact with the Taliban under the intra-Afghan dialogue process, along with Afghanistan’s key peace negotiator Abdullah Abdullah.
US forces leaving ‘irresponsibly’
According to Noor, while the withdrawal of US troops was inevitable, the exit has been done in haste. He said they withdrew “irresponsibly” after fighting their ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan for 20 years.
“I consider myself as an independent, and someone who believes in freedom. And I do not want any foreign military forces to be in my country. However, two decades ago, the scenarios were different, the situation changed, and the UN made a decision to interfere, and that international forces should interfere, and so, when they came, we did not oppose and we saw the fighting against terrorism, extremism and all,” he said.
“So, after 20 years, our expectation was that they would, at least, before withdrawal, make sure that there is stability in this region, there is development in this country and rights of the people are guaranteed,” he added. “However, they did not wait for that, they did not see that but in fact they withdrew irresponsibly.”
A lot of districts have fallen to the Taliban “after the irresponsible withdrawal of the international forces, the American forces”, he said.
“Some provinces later on have also fallen. Of course, this impacts the Balkh province. We have also had certain problems in the last two months, we had fighting around Balkh, but in the last two days the fighting has been intense,” he said.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)