As Afghanistan gears up for its presidential election on September 28, its vice-presidential candidate Amrullah Saleh has said that not only do Afghans see Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a friend, they are grateful to him for his “solid stand on terrorism”.
In an exclusive interview to CNN-News18’s Manoj Gupta, Saleh — a former interior minister and chief of the National Directorate of Security — supported India’s move of abrogating provisions of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir and accused Pakistan of taking revenge from Afghans after “its quest to reach parity with India failed”.
Edited excerpts from the conversation:
Afghanistan is heading for elections on one side and peace talks on the other side. Do you think this will impact elections in some way?
No, the election will take place. These are two parallel processes and a mandated government can negotiate with the Taliban. So they will not cross each other.
Why do you think the two issues will not cross each other?
Because the election is scheduled to take place in the next three weeks and will refresh the mandate of the government. It will elect a mandated president who will negotiate on behalf of the republic. Therefore, the peace process and the election are not against each other, they complement each other.
If peace talks are concluded, can Taliban become a part of active politics? And will the regional equations also change then?
Taliban was offered to become a mainstream political movement a long time ago, but it has been reluctant and refusing to give up violence, denounce violence and become a political force, because they know they can't compete in the elections. They know they cannot win a seat. That is why, it has been extremely difficult to convince them to resort to normal politics. Will their inclusion in the political system of Afghanistan bring change? Of course, it will. But the absorption capacity of the republic is massive and it will not shatter the structure of the republic.
Do you think this time Taliban will be different from the Taliban of the 1990s?
They try not to be different, but (today) they are much weaker than in the nineties. And their weakness includes a lack of political manifest. They have not presented any political programme or strategy to the people of Afghanistan. Their leadership remains stagnant in old and outdated ideas and ideologies. Afghanistan has changed massively and the members of Taliban have not been able to see that change, realise that change; either adjust themselves or provide new message to the society. So, therefore, they are much weaker politically, even defeated politically, than in the nineties.
How do you see India’s role in the new Afghanistan at a time when United States troops are withdrawing, peace process is going on and there will be international pressure on Afghanistan to maintain good relations with Pakistan?
We see India as a very solid ally of the Afghan people, of the Afghan government. We work very closely with India on various issues, including various scenarios and eventualities. So India's role in Afghanistan, with peace or without peace, will keep growing as India is growing itself, just as Afghanistan's vitality and viability as a partner with India is growing. We see a larger role in India, for India, in Afghanistan in any scenario.
Pakistan is a hub of terror factories and we have a confirmed report that Jaish-e-Mohammad is training people for both Kashmir and Afghanistan. Does this worry you?
You see, Taliban is the main group that has provided platform for other terrorist groups. Once we mitigate the risk of the Taliban, fighting other groups will become much easier. Are we concerned? We have been concerned about all terrorist groups, including Jaish-e-Mohammed, but to pinpoint it as the main danger to Afghanistan? I would say, no.
Recent reports suggest that Pakistan is also sponsoring the ISIS movement in this region. What is your take on that?
Some of the ISIS activists captured by our security forces do admit to having received financial transaction and weapon-training from Pakistan. When our government has monitored their communications, they communicate a lot to Pakistan and the main branch of the Daish ISIS Khorasan, which was active, and is still active to some degree in our eastern region, has a very functioning channel of communication by road and by other means to Pakistan. Therefore, the amount of hard and circumstantial evidence suggesting the linkage with Pakistan is there.
Mass killings keep taking place in Afghanistan from time to time, like recently almost 70 people were killed after a bomb exploded at a wedding hall. Where are these explosives coming from?
It's up to our agencies to respond, but based on my historical experience there are two types of explosives that are used in Afghanistan: one is homemade and is prepared from a fertiliser which is banned in Afghanistan. This fertiliser is produced in Pakistan, but then there are military grade explosives like C4, HDM and TNTs, and they come from Pakistan.
Have you raised this issue in an international forum?
By the international community if you mean western governments, they have intelligence and military presence. They sometimes know more about the origin of terrorism and insurgency in our country than I do. Despite that, we continuously share our views with them. They echo our concern and findings. But when it comes to tackling the issue of Pakistan as a terrorist-sponsoring state, well, then it becomes global politics and we have not seen hard action.
But despite the US being aware of the concerns India and Afghanistan have been raising, why is there no hard action against Pakistan?
That, I don't know… that you must ask the United States.
In a historic move, India has amended 72-year-old Article 370 to curb terrorism in Kashmir which is coming from Pakistan. What is your opinion on that?
In our view, India is one country, one territory. India is one entity and that includes Kashmir. So India’s move of abrogating provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution with regards to Kashmir, we see it as a purely internal matter. We do not see it as an issue or a factor that should trigger a reaction from the outside world. And we have stood against the notion emanating from Pakistan to link Kashmir with Afghanistan. We have said that Pakistan better resolve its dispute with India, and not necessarily escalate it to rest of the region. (Pakistan tries) to take revenge from innocent Afghans because its quest to reach parity with India has failed. It looks at us as a soft target to take revenge. That is inhumane and that is terrorism, and we have been resisting it. But as far as the internal politics of India is concerned, how it wants to govern Kashmir is up to it.
How do you see Afghanistan elections in 2019?
They will take place and there will be a good turnout. Afghans will come out in big numbers to determine their political future.
Are you confident of your victory?
Yes, I am confident.
Any message for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
We remain grateful to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his principled, solid stand on terrorism, narcotics and in tackling regional issues. He's a man of principles and Afghans consider him a friend. We see him as a factor of stability in the region. And our message to him is, engage more with Afghanistan. Let your government engage more and more with Afghanistan. Let this partnership truly become a firm and solid pillar of stability for both our countries and for the region.