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Rising from the Rubble (Q & A Masood Khalili)

Rising from the Rubble (Q & A Masood Khalili)

Publication: The Times of India
Date: December 18, 2001

On December 22, Afghanistan's interim government will take office. One of its key men, the Afghan ambassador to India, Masood Khalili, will, however, not be there to see it. Khalili, who was badly injured in the blast which claimed the life of Commander Masood, is still recovering from his injuries. A key player in the Northern Alliance in the past, he continues to play an important role even from New Delhi. Here he speaks with Aunohita Mojumdar of his hopes and anxieties for his war-ravaged country:

Q. Can you give us an overview - how do you see the situation in Afghanistan evolving over the next one year?
A. Thank God I am not talking now militarily because militarily, things are settling down. Also, I am very glad to see that the generals who won the war are becoming heroes to win peace. After a very long time I am talking less on the military situation and concentrating on the political. We agreed mainly on one thing in Bonn - that we should have three phases in front of us - interim, transitional and fully representative.

The first one begins on the 22nd of this month. It will be a long road, a difficult road, at the end of which I see people of Afghanistan not with Kalashnikovs in their hands but other tools - I hear not the noise of tanks but trucks. The 22nd will be the beginning of that. An administration headed by a known young Pashtun who has been part of us while we were battling the Soviets and also people from different ethnic groups and different areas of Afghanistan.

I hope and pray that our neighbours, especially Pakistan, do not try to follow the same strategy that they were following during the past 10 years. In the period of two years of transitional government we will have also a lot of work for foundation and reconstruction of Afghanistan. Not just buildings, roads, gardens, factories but also education, culture, customs which have been unfortunately either destroyed or mingled with other alien cultures - Taliban culture, communist culture, ultra right, ultra left.

Luckily the world, including America - rather, the world with America on the top - has promised that they will not abandon Afghanistan and that they will not just participate but initiate the reconstruction of this country. This will be the beginning of eradication of poverty which was one of the most important causes of what we saw in Afghanistan in the last 10 or 12 years.

Bonn gave a hope to common people in Afghanistan, to the regional countries and even to the world community. The Northern Alliance was indeed very much hoping to choose the road of peace rather than stick to power. We told our representatives think of the people, the poor, before thinking of power. You might, have seen people in Afghanistan are so poor, so desperate.

Q. You spoke of America promising it would not abandon Afghanistan. But don't you think this reliance on an external power would be negative in the long run? Or do you think there is no option right now?
A. No. We think America does not have a direct interest in Afghanistan. America found abandoning Afghanistan in 1992 created hell not just in Afghanistan but created September 11 which was a catastrophe for the superpower. It became a harbour of terrorists, Osama bin Laden and thousands of Pakistani and Arab extremists and non-Arabs. They were not just enemies of the people of Afghanistan but were enemies of the US and West, too.

That is why when Americans told us that America would like to fight against terrorists in Afghanistan, we accepted. This is not against our religion, not against the Afghanistan people and they told us they will not abandon Afghanistan. They will reconstruct, they will try to eradicated poverty which is also useful for them and for the region. This is not reliance on external power or sticking to power and just running to Kabul capturing it and keeping it because of an external power. So we are two countries - the richest country of the world and the poorest country of the world - look, we need each other - call it a miracle, call it revenge of Commander Masood by God.

Not just the richest community, terrorists knocked on the door of everyone in the last six years. India cannot forget Kathmandu or Kandahar; it cannot forget participation of terrorists in Kargil.

Q. You said you hoped Pakistan would not play the same role. What is the guarantee that they will not? Is this based on some concrete assurance?
A. If the seriousness of the UN, the SC, America, other Western countries and regional seriousness cannot be the guarantee, why not call Pakistan a superpower?

Q. Do you think the current arrangement will be politically stable?
A. You cannot rule out political instability in a country where there have been political difficulties for 23 years with different ethnic groups, different political parties, where 95 per cent are uneducated and poor. There may be problems but they are not impossible to solve.

Q. What about the senior leaders who are not participating in the power structure? Like Rabbani and Dostum?
A. We have not sidelined them. Rabbani chose the names and number of the delegation. He may have some difference of opinion but he has not been sidelined. Dostum's representative was there. Yes, he has some problems over the portfolios; we talked to him, he is still in the administration. We do not overrule criticism or differences.

Q. What about Karzai? There are reports of his unhappiness with the visits of senior leaders to India.
A. Karzai has been in touch with us over the past five years. He is a moderate person. I do not think he would criticise the visits of Qanooni and Abdullah. He understands global politics very well.

Q. Do you see Afghanistan having to play a balancing act between India and Pakistan?
A. We should indeed be careful about the whole region because regional politics has been important and any government in Afghanistan should be very careful about regional politics. We are the gateway of Asia, the crossroads, the countries are important individually and collectively. We must respect the legitimate rights of every neighbour and reject the illegitimate 'right' of every neighbour. The NA knows the importance of non-alignment the NA has never played double alignment.

Q. What about the military force under the UN? What should be the composition?
A. We leave it to the UN, if it is needed, if it is useful. The UN is clever enough.

Q. What role do you see for India in the reconstruction?
A. It stands very tall, in reconstruction, education.

Q. Why have you identified India for help in education?
A. Because it is free, secular, promoting values of liberty, and democracy and produces thousands in every field, even in social sciences. It's cheaper. We five in the same cultural zone, we will not feel very foreign. If we work on education now we will have rebuilt Afghanistan by 2025.

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