The United States and the Taliban are set to sign a long-sought deal in Doha on Saturday that would see the two foes agree to the withdrawal of thousands of US troops from Afghanistan in return for insurgent guarantees. India will attend the landmark event of the long-sought peace deal as an "observer".
As Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla travels to Kabul to convey India's support to the agreement, CNN-News18 talks to Nazar Mohammed Mutmaeen, Taliban sympathiser and political analyst, about the future of Taliban, its relationship with Al-Qaeda and India’s role in the Afghan region. Edited Excerpts:
The US is set to sign a peace deal with the Taliban on February 29. How does Taliban view this move?
Since one year this negotiation started and finally they agreed to sign the peace agreement on February 29. Both sides wanted this to end in Afghanistan. This was a long war in the history of America and led to too many casualties in Afghanistan. The Afghan community and Taliban are looking forward to signing the agreement.
What is your take on the relationship between Pakistan and Taliban?
The media is reporting regarding the close relationship between Taliban and Pakistan. Actually, we share our border with Pakistan and there is the Durand Line conflict between Pakistan and Afghanistan. There has been a problem between Pakistan and Afghan people since a long time. In 2007, Pakistan security forces arrested Obaidullah Akhund, who was the Defence Minister under the Taliban government in Afghanistan. He was later killed by Pakistan. Next, they arrested the deputy leader of Taliban. For 10 years, Ustad Yasar, a famous Taliban leader, was kept in a prison and no one knows if he is alive or was killed. Actually, there is a deal between Pakistan and Taliban. Pakistan needs something and Taliban also needs to live in Durand Line and Pakistani refugee camps. But Pakistan is trying to get privileges by using Taliban.
Reports in some countries claim that Pakistan has control of Taliban but these reports are completely wrong. Taliban shows its independence because it had a one-year long talk with America in Qatar … in Taliban offices in Qatar. Pakistan tried its best to hold a peace negotiation with America but Taliban didn't accept. It meant that Taliban is independent but there is a relation which it would like to have with Pakistan, Iran, China, central Asia and India as well. But it doesn't mean Taliban is very close to Pakistan. We have millions of refugees in Pakistan, but it doesn't mean there is control over Taliban.
Are you saying that this is the only working relationship between Taliban and Pakistan?
Actually, the relationship between Taliban and Pakistan is similar to the one between Taliban and Iran. It is the same as Taliban and other neighbouring countries. For example, media reported that Taliban received funds from Iran and that Afghanistan has places in Pakistan. But in reality, I know that Taliban is living in refugee camps in Durand Line. We have a big Durand Line and it is a problematic area with Pakistan. The Afghanistan government signed a pact related to Durand land but the Afghan community didn't accept. I would say, there will be a deal between Taliban and Pakistan…the same kind of deal that took place between Iran and Taliban, Russia and Taliban and China and Taliban. We hope that in the future India and Taliban will also have good relations.
The peace deal was a long pending desire of the US and Taliban both. How do you see the future of Taliban? Will they join the government given the fact that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s oath is already delayed?
Taliban rejected the government of President Ashraf Ghani and before that it rejected the government of President Hamid Karzai. Taliban is seeing that it’s installed by the United States. I know that Taliban will not gel or share power with the present government in Afghanistan, but would like to have a united government in Afghanistan and (they would want that) tribal leaders and political leaders share the power. But it doesn’t mean Taliban would accept the present government. However, it will talk about the upcoming government, the system of the government, who will be the leader and the structure of the government -- republic or Islamic republic. They will discuss all of this with Afghan politicians but not gel with the present government.
How do you see the role of India, which is an important ally in the region? Do you see a good relationship between India and Taliban in the days to come?
I hope India will repair its relations with Taliban. In the past, India did not try to have a good relation with the Taliban regime. In the last 19 years, America attacked us and India was not willing to have a relationship with Taliban. The present Afghanistan government is installed by the US and people do not support it. I think India should review or read the history of Afghanistan. For example, during the communist regime, India supported the Mohammad Najibullah government in Afghanistan. They had a problem with Mujahideen. Historically, India has not shared good relations with the Pashtun people in the south. A majority of people in Taliban are Pashtun and India has this concern that Taliban is close to Pakistan but it is not true. We have the problem of Durand Line with Pakistan.
If India again ignores the good relationship with the Afghan community and Pashtun people, and if it supports the present government of President Ghani, it will lose, just like it did the last time during the communist regime. For 18 years, they supported the insult by the US to the Afghan government. So finally they lost. So it’s better that India does a review of how to have a good relationship with the Afghan community but not with the government. Actually, since 14 years there was no representative in Afghanistan. Yes, Taliban came to power and Afghan community supported but it was a communist regime and it was not representative of the Afghan people. But India supported it.
India abrogated Article 370 last year and Pakistan has been involved in anti-India activities for a long time. Do you maintain that it’s India’s internal matter and Pakistan should avoid anything against India?
We know there are problems between Pakistan and India...some incidents have happened in the past. We know India will not view or compare the Afghan community, Taliban or Pashtun people from the point of view of Pakistan. We share our border with Pakistan and also have the Durand Line problem with them, but are culturally very close to India. There is a large population of Muslims in India and we would like to have good relations with India in the future. But if India continues to view Afghanistan from the view of Pakistan, I think it will not be workable. We do not want to involve ourselves in problems that Pakistan and India face or create an issue between the two countries. We would like to have good relations will all neighbourhood countries.
Are you maintaining that abrogation of Article 370 is purely an internal matter of India?
The Afghan community would like to have good relations with all neighbouring countries. We hope that Pakistan and India resolve their problems. But their problems are their own and do not belong to Afghanistan.
What do you have to say about the relationship between Al-Qaeda and Taliban?
When the US attacked Afghanistan, all Arabs left the country and went to Pakistan and Iran. Those who went to Pakistan were captured by the police and security forces and handed over to the US. In the last 18 years, (there have been) no major Arab Mujahideen in Afghanistan as they all went to Pakistan. As there is going to be a peace agreement between Taliban in US, Taliban will now guarantee to the neighbouring countries and the US that there will be no threat from the Al-Qaeda and Islamic groups. So, as far as I know, there is no Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Taliban will not allow anyone to threaten the neighbouring countries.
Can you assure us that Taliban will not attack India or support any activity against India?
The Afghan politicians and groups have problems with the US, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Pakistan and Iran. India is located a little far from Afghanistan and Taliban will not attack for the benefit of India. I hope Taliban resolves its own problems with Afghan politicians.