New Delhi: India should engage with those Taliban leaders who are willing to reconcile, believe in the reintegration process and have faith in the Afghan constitutional democratic framework, Ambassador of Afghanistan to India Farid Mamundzay said.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, he also said Kabul will not fall into the hands of the Taliban as US troops leave, even though “intense fighting is going on” in some parts of the war-torn country. He added that Afghan security forces have been able to push the Taliban back and reclaim the provinces.
“We would welcome India’s messages to the Taliban — to cut ties with regional terrorist groups, to let violence go and to tell the Taliban to preserve the gains of the past 20 years and believe in a Constitutional democratic framework,” Mamundzay told ThePrint. “It (constitutional framework) is something we have developed in the past two decades of which we are proud of, giving every sect of our society a role and space, particularly focussing on women representation in the government, in parliament, in civil society, education and media.”
The envoy also said Afghan people would not want to “reverse the gains” their society has made in the past two decades.
“So we would want India’s strong messages to those Taliban elements who are reconcilable, who believe in the reintegration process back into Afghan society and hopefully become part of the mainstream political life,” he stressed.
Addressing a virtual seminar last week, Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani, Qatar’s special envoy for counter-terrorism and conflict resolution, had said Indian officials made a “quiet visit” to Doha, Qatar, to meet some Taliban leaders.
Regarding the statement, Mamundzay said the Afghan government was unable to verify it but added that India has always been a consistent supporter of an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process.
‘Defence, security cooperation with India’
Looking towards the future when all international troops completely exit Afghanistan, Mamundzay said Kabul would seek to enhance military-to-military cooperation with New Delhi.
He said India and Afghanistan are the only two South Asian countries that have a ‘Strategic Partnership Agreement’, signed in 2011.
“We expect India to continue supporting our security and defence organisations by providing us with the required technical assistance to train our officers,” he said. “(It is an area) where India has been very generous by providing opportunities to Afghan cadets in some of its finest military academies. We seek that assistance in the years to come for our security forces.”
Lauding India’s gifting of military choppers to Afghanistan, which he said have been “instrumental in providing the logistical and battle support”, Mamundzay said such initiatives should continue from New Delhi.
He, however, ruled out Afghanistan asking for Indian military troops to be posted there, adding that Kabul only seeks logistical, financial and technical assistance from New Delhi.
‘Taliban part of Afghan society’
The ambassador also said the Taliban is part of Afghan society and cannot be wished away. There are many within their ranks who want to integrate with a changed Afghanistan, which has witnessed a 20-year long war even as it underwent a democratic process, he said.
“Taliban is part of the Afghan society. We can’t overrule that. But those Taliban who believe in Afghan society, who believe in the Afghan way of life, those Taliban are the Taliban who are reconcilable, who can come back and integrate back to society, give something back to society in various ways and forms,” he said, adding that there are many like that.
While he did not name the Taliban leaders who he believes are ready for a peaceful transition, he added, “We certainly know those who believe in the progress of Afghan society, as opposed to where Taliban had left them 20-21 years ago. So there are certainly a number of people who want to integrate back into society.”
‘No justification for jihad or holy war after US, NATO troops leave’
According to the Afghan envoy, once international troops leave by 11 September, there will be no NATO or military prisons in Afghanistan and hence the Taliban will not be able to justify its ‘jihad’ or holy war.
“Since the international forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan, there is going to be no NATO or military prisons in Afghanistan, and there will be no justification for ‘jihad’ or holy war against Afghans, Afghan national army, Afghan security forces,” he said, adding that the war in Afghanistan is “not a war between Afghans”.
“It’s time for them to put an end to the bloodshed and adopt a peaceful way of living together and co-existence with all Afghans in peace and harmony,” he said.
‘Kabul will not fall to Taliban’
While Mamundzay admitted that violence has intensified in recent months in Afghanistan “because there is a belief on the part of the Taliban that they can militarily take over Afghanistan”, he said it will be “wrong” to assess that Kabul or Afghanistan “would fall into the hands of the Taliban”.
“I don’t think we’ll be in a situation in 6-12 months’ time where Kabul or Afghanistan would fall into the hands of the Taliban. I don’t think it’s a realistic assessment of the ground situation,” he said.
As violence continues in Afghanistan, intense fighting has already begun between Afghan security forces and the Taliban who have entered some key cities in the northern part of the country.
“A number of districts have fallen into Taliban hands and in the past five days, we have also taken a number of districts from the Taliban. So it’s a war in a number of those provinces, in a number of those districts. We don’t believe that Afghanistan will be taken over by the Taliban in six or twelve months. We don’t think that would be the case,” he said.
“No provincial capital has been taken by the Taliban in the past three, six or twelve months given the fact that there are 34 provinces,” Mamundzay said. “All strategic districts, all strategic provinces, all strategic locations of the country where we have a big population, places that are economically important to us and where there is national infrastructure, are all being protected by the Afghan security forces.”
‘New chapter’ with the US
Mamundzay said the recent visit to the US by the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who leads the High Council for National Reconciliation, was “to open and initiate a new chapter of partnership with the US” as well as other countries, especially the NATO members.
“We would require international support for the foreseeable future. This is an international war; this requires an international effort with more resources to the Afghan security forces for the next five to ten years,” he added.
In their first in-person meeting at the White House on 26 June, US President Joe Biden told Ghani and Abdullah that the US is going to “stick” with Afghanistan.
On the US’ exit from their country, Ghani said they are now looking at “stabilisation” in Afghanistan.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)