India needs to correct the perception that it is too worried about Pakistan’s backlash to assist Afghanistan in defence cooperation, says the Afghan Ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, who has just published a book, Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift (Pentagon Press), on the region. Excerpts from an interview:
It is very unusual, even unprecedented, for a sitting Ambassador to write a book about the issues which confront him on a daily basis. What prompted you to do so?
I knew all along that this was a very unusual thing I am doing, but [I did so] because we are in very unusual circumstances… the region, the country, all of us are in a very precarious situation. Therefore, one should do precarious stuff in order to achieve a goal and find a solution to a problem that we are all trying our best to solve. Secondly, we are facing another problem as a region: we count too much on outsiders to find a solution for us. We ask the Indian media too: why do you use foreign sources for our stories? So, I thought, let’s begin whatever we do in our little capacity here.
You say that you don’t see any good future for the country and the region unless India and Pakistan are able to resolve their differences. Is it just about India and Pakistan getting together?
The existing paradigm is detrimental to the interests, whether it is of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or India, or the wider region, and that is why I have suggested a paradigm shift. For example, let us take Russia. What hasn’t Russia done to Afghanistan? It invaded Afghanistan, and today we are friends. This is because they are responding with the cooperation we are seeking from them, they are responding to our interests. So this is an example that no one should fear either from Afghanistan or from any other country whatever that country has done in the past. We must put the past behind and move forward.
Recently, the former chief of Afghanistan’s main intelligence agency, Rahmatullah Nabil, released documents showing links between the Pakistani military and the Haqqani group and the Taliban. How do you move on if you are speaking with Pakistan on the one hand while it might be acting against you militarily on the other?
I think there is no dispute over the ground realities which are doublespeak, which is saying one thing and doing something else. The thing is we have to think about is how we can work together to change what it is today. Whatever documents you have seen leaked in the media, although they have not been authenticated, didn’t surprise me at all because I know that’s what’s been going on for many years.
You’re essentially saying Pakistan controls the Taliban. In your book you have called it a policy of self-immolation. Can you explain this?
It is something like self-demolition. If you see the use of terrorism, if this had been useful for some in the past. Today it is not that useful. It is, at the same time, inflicting a cost on the perpetrator as well. It is not merely the victim who is being affected by terrorism being exported. It is also the places where terrorism is nurtured, indoctrinated, financed, and supported. Therefore, I have been sincere in whatever I have written about Pakistan — that we don’t want any neighbour, including Pakistan, to be in trouble.
Isn’t that repeating the same narrative we’ve heard for 15-20 years that if Pakistan changes its behaviour, we might see a difference in the region?
I think this repetition will not last for long because you can see now that the whole world is fed up with things. You recently witnessed for the first time the U.S. Congress hearing (on Pakistan being a friend or foe)… So we hope that the narrative that has been there for decades is not going to be acceptable for the region, for Afghanistan and the international community — and Pakistan will change it, for the sake of themselves, the world community, and Afghanistan.
India shares all of Afghanistan’s concerns when it comes to terrorism emanating from Pakistan’s soil. Yet, you say that India has followed a policy of ‘Pakistan First’ when it comes to the relationship.
I put this on purpose because at times I have felt that there is a perception [in Afghanistan] that India may not go that far when it comes to Afghanistan’s quest for certain things, including defence. To be frank, at times requests have been delayed for too long, and then ultimately some perception was created that India doesn’t do it [because of] neighbours like Pakistan. I hope that this perception is addressed by the cooperation that is required between our two governments in various fields including defence cooperation. We also, at the same time, understand India’s limits in whatever capacity it can help Afghanistan. But we are extremely grateful, India has done a lot. We know it’s a donor country. It has done things which one could never believe it could do with Afghanistan. The last two visits of the Prime Minister were received very well in Afghanistan — the Salma Dam, the Parliament building, and many new projects that are in the pipeline.
Recently, the former envoy from the U.S., Zalmay Khalilzad, said that if Afghanistan needs more security, it may be time for India to step in. Is that something the Afghan government feels is needed?
Afghanistan is fortunately building its own capacity, its own Army. As you know, troops are being withdrawn from Afghanistan based on the Afghan capacity that we’re building in Afghanistan. So India’s assistance in Afghanistan is of course clear, but we don’t need boots on the ground. Of course, we don’t want to bring back boots from outside. We need to strengthen our own boots, and we’re doing it right now.
Keywords: Afghanistan-Pakistan-India: A Paradigm Shift, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, Indo-Pak relations