Kabul: The Taliban should avoid going on a rampage that leads to ‘urban warfare’ and the only solution forward will be to hold elections, said Afghanistan’s former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
Speaking to ThePrint exclusively at his Kabul office Sunday as the Taliban made its way into the Afghan capital and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, Hekmatyar — now a powerful voice — said that the US’s entry into Afghanistan, the waging of war and its haphazard exit, were all a “blunder”.
With Ghani and his deputy Amrullah Saleh fleeing to Tajikistan, former President Hamid Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah and Hekmatyar together created a committee to oversee a smooth transition of power to the Taliban.
“Our advice to Taliban previously and even now is to avoid urban warfare as that has a huge cost with regards to human casualties, infrastructure, and even now we urge them to not march on to the capital. I think the only solution forward is to sit and discuss the formation of a transitional government,” said the leader of Hezb-e-Islami party.
“The only way forward would be elections … We should make an impartial transitional government who are made of people who have a good reputation and who have not been into fighting and killing in the past 20 years,” he added.
Once a dreaded figure in this country, earning the monicker the ‘Butcher of Kabul’, Hekmatyar had contested the 2019 presidential election in which Ghani had emerged victorious. Now, an influential Afghan political leader, he claimed the presidential election was “fraudulent” and that he and his party were batting for “transparent elections”.
“They were a sham … Nobody was elected through ballots … Neither war not fraudulent elections should be your path to power,” he said.
‘Taliban takeover shows Ghani govt unpopular among people’
On how the Taliban managed to gain control of Afghanistan with such lightning speed, claiming province after province and districts after districts, Hekmatyar squarely blamed the Ghani government for its failure in governance.
“The provinces, cities and districts fell one after the other like dominos without much resistance because nobody liked the (Ghani) regime. This shows that no one was willing to invest or puts its stake on the state. On the other hand, we had local population rising up and taking over territory and swearing allegiance to the Taliban. All goes to show the unpopularity of the regime and the failure of their governance.”
“The reality is that the Taliban didn’t move from the south to the north. These were local fighters that came up in every province and upset the system here. We saw that in the house of Dostum when it captured, it was the Uzbeks capturing it; in Badakshan, the Badakshanis are the ones fighting the local provinces and the reality is that these people who had seen the worst of the government, they were tired of the government and chose the first possible, viable alternative,” he added.
“All that we were doing was trying to avoid the war-mongers and those who want to monopolise power and we wanted to move towards a peaceful settlement for Afghanistan. Had they (Ghani government) paid heed, we would not be in the situation that we are in right now. Today, the Taliban controls everything, and had they (the government) acted on time … this would not have happened had they listened to us.”
‘America’s entry, exit – both a blunder’
The collapse of the Ghani government, which Sunday surrendered to the Taliban as they took over the Arg Presidential Palace, was “predictable” and “expected”.
“I had warned them not to repeat the same mistake … I told them they will eventually walk away with their heads bowed down and that’s exactly what happened,” Hekmatyar said.
On the US’ hasty and messed-up troops withdrawal, the Afghan leader said the US extracted their troops only to send them back again.
“Their coming to Afghanistan was a blunder and then the way they went out was a blunder, and now we have seen them come back again, which just goes to prove the point that their withdrawal was a mistake to begin with,” he stressed.
Highlighting that prior to their withdrawal, had the US done their homework and forced parties, especially the Afghan government, to agree to certain principles of transfer of power of a transitional government, of a ceasefire and so on, it would have made life much easier. “But they withdrew without a plan in place for Afghanistan.”
He also said that the US only believed in putting those people in power whom they deemed fit without realising their backgrounds.
“They never invested in or supported the popular figures. The US made a mistake within Afghanistan that they invested in people who were not popular locally … The major reason behind the collapse of the government, the defeat of the NATO allies is investment in unpopular figures,” he pointed out.
‘Delhi, Islamabad shouldn’t bring their rivalry into Afghanistan’
According to Hekmatyar, India and Pakistan should keep their rivalries aside and ensure it doesn’t spill over into Afghanistan.
“Unfortunately, if you look at history that has happened time and time again, we have always asked our neighbours, close and far, to stand by the Afghan people and not side with the imperialists,” he said.
“Knowing India’s colonial history and what it had suffered, the Afghan people expected India to stand by freedom fighters rather than by Soviet Union, which is who India chose to side with,” he said.
“When the NATO forces invaded, we saw India and Pakistan both side with NATO in this fight … We obviously have our complaint against that stance that both countries took,” he said.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)