‘We will continue to hold discussions with India on defence cooperation’

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 08, 2018

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. - Photo: Ramesh Sharma

India has always been a willing partner, says Afghanistan’s Chief Executive

Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who was here last week to inaugurate the India-Afghanistan trade show, has said that the country will continue to raise its military and defence needs with India, while India has made it clear it will not be sending its troops to fight ‘War on Terror’ there.

In an interview with BusinessLine, Abdullah said US now recognises India’s contribution towards rebuilding the war-torn country as enumerated in its Afghanistan policy. Excerpts:

What did you discuss with Prime Minister Narendra Modi?

PM Modi’s attitude towards Afghanistan has been to find out what are the other priorities of Afghanistan and find out ways to help. We discussed the challenge of terrorism and better utilisation of Chahabahar, which is for the future of South Asia, Central Asia, Afghanistan and including Iran. Once Chahabahar is operationalised, we will start shipments of wheat. India has done its part and helped us building that road which connects the Iranian border to our Ring Road. Full operationalisation will take time but it is in the interest of all.

India has made it clear that it will not send its troops there while it will increase humanitarian and economic aid to Afghanistan …

I don’t think the issue of sending Indian troops was asked. India’s support for our military and security cooperation has been there earlier in the scope of the strategic partnership which is very broad. Based on the needs of Afghanistan, India has always responded on time. You have given us copters, the spare parts have been promised, you are training our military personnel, officers and in many other areas.

So, what else are you seeking from India in terms of defence armaments?

Our needs have been raised at the security level. We will continue discussions on that. Afghanistan has needs on those areas and India has been a willing partner to contribute. The scope is not limited and these discussions have been underway throughout.

You were quite hopeful of the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan trade corridor pact when you last came to India …

At this stage we are focused on bilateral agreements. There is impediment on land transit and that is a reality. It might remain that way even our wishes remain different. We hope that one day we will have full connectivity through land.

Do you think the Afghanistan-India air freight corridor is a sustainable proposition?

There are a few impediments and some concerns of the Afghan traders have to be addressed such as strict food safety conditions here or environmental concerns. Afghan traders have to be better prepared to meet those regulations. There is a need to bring more awareness in the business community about these things. Then the operation will be smoother than what it is now.

What are your views on US’ new Afghanistan policy, vis-à-vis their ties with Pakistan?

The fact that the condition is fact-based and not time-bound that will give a sense of certainty and assurance. In regional aspect it seeks a greater role for India, which is already playing a pre-eminent role in the stabilisation of the country. And that is now recognised by US.

Is it not ironical that it is the same US which is providing aid to you, was the one that started the ‘War on Terror’, which continues till this day, that destabilised your economy?

Terror cannot be wished away. The war on terror had started before the US started engaging with Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan were fighting against terrorist groups and Al-Qaeda was active in Afghanistan prior to September 11. And it is not limited to this region only, it is in other parts of the world as well. And the fact that it was ignored for a long time that gave terrorists the longevity that you see today. That’s the reality. As long as terrorist groups are able to find sanctuaries outside then they might continue to live longer. So this has also been addressed in the South Asia Policy (of the US). Hopefully, this will be addressed by all countries in the region.

US’ decision to keep NATO troops there and not withdraw it …

That’s why I said it is not time-bound. They have said they will keep their military support there in Afghanistan based on conditions, which means that if they see the country stabilising then they will see other options and that is also a strong message to the terrorist groups. It is also a message for us. We need to utilise the opportunity to address our challenges in the best way possible.

What happened to the process of bringing Taliban on the negotiating table and India being party to it?

We have not seen the results out of that. Our call for the Taliban to come to the negotiating table will continue. The sooner they come to that reality that they need to do so and give up their links with the terrorist networks, they need to come and talk, it will be better for the country.

Will the Trump administration allow this to happen?

As a matter of principle they are supportive of that but at the same time they have said that they want to create better security conditions on the ground so that the Taliban cannot come back militarily but rather they would come for negotiations.

And how do you view the role played by China and Russia in the entire saga?

Russia’s reading of the situation is that they consider Daesh as the main threat. There is no doubt that the original Taliban is mainly from this region but their composition is from all around the region and beyond the region. So there is slight difference in the description of the threat. Daesh might be a bigger threat in Iraq and Syria but the situation in Afghanistan is such only because the Taliban has destabilised Afghanistan and created space for other terrorist groups, including Daesh and other terrorist organisation from the region. To help one in order to defeat another is not the answer. We need to work on it with Russia.

With China we have good relations. As far as terrorism is concerned, the terrorists which are threatening China’s stability ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement) are also part of that conglomerate that are operating in Afghanistan.

Published on October 02, 2017

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