Farid Mamundzay: ‘Element of fear…if no help, will head back to mid-90s’

The situation is difficult, dire and problematic. We see conflict in 150 districts. In some of the districts, some of the district centers have fallen into the hands of the Taliban.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to India, Farid Mamundzay, speaks to Shubhajit Roy on the expectations from the Indian government and roles played by other countries for a solution in the war-torn nation. Excerpts:

How is the security situation in Afghanistan, as we see reports of Taliban advancing towards major cities in the country?

The situation is difficult, dire and problematic. We see conflict in 150 districts. In some of the districts, some of the district centers have fallen into the hands of the Taliban. Over 3,600 people have been killed in the past 10 weeks alone. 200,000 people have been displaced internally in the country. We are faced with economic hardship. The COVID lockdowns and the COVID crisis had made deteriorating life even more jeopardized for the general public. We are going through a very difficult time. On top of that, we have the withdrawal of international forces going on which would complete by the end of August. Our forces are doing an incredible job to ensure the safety and security of the country and people, and its people. But of course, we would require international assistance and support to make them capable enough to take on terrorist groups.

The Indian government evacuated its Indian officials and staffers from the consulate in Kandahar. What was the reason?

We constantly monitor the situation and we share regular updates with all those diplomatic missions present in Afghanistan, including the Indian mission, and the presence of their nationals is something that needs to be decided by the government themselves, by the diplomatic missions themselves. So we conducted assessments which showed that security was an issue in those major cities, Kandahar and Herat. And as a result, the decision was taken. With Mazhar-e-Sharif, our assessments currently show that security is not a major challenge, security is not a major threat at this stage, it’s not an issue of great concern at this stage, so we can continue with business as usual in Mazhar-e-Sharif. But of course, if the situation begins to deteriorate, then we may get to a stage where we would have to evacuate there as well.

Were there any specific threats against Indian consulate or officials in Kandahar?

We have not come across any specific threat in Kandahar or in Herat, per se, but the general security conditions are fluid. And in order to avoid any potential catastrophe in one way or another, to either the property or personnel of the mission is something that we would want to avoid. In evacuating the Indians, that is something that would ensure avoiding those unwanted catastrophes.

Is Afghanistan going back to the turbulent times of the mid-90s era, when the Taliban took control?

Yes, there is an element of fear that exists among ordinary Afghans. That, should we not be assisted, should we not be supported to the level where we would be fully capable of securing Afghanistan and combat Taliban, we would certainly be heading back to that direction.

India has started engaging with the Taliban, in a departure from the past. What can you tell us about those engagements and what would you want the Indian side to convey to the Taliban?

Taliban are Afghans. Today or tomorrow, they will talk to us. They will talk to the Afghan people and Afghan government. And we want the Taliban to let go of violence, cut ties with international terrorist groups, and become part of the mainstream polity of the country in a peaceful manner, in a peaceful way. Engagement of India with the Taliban is something that we cannot officially confirm at this stage. But of course, strong messages from India would certainly help convey messages of cutting ties with regional terrorist groups. Messages that India would continue to support Afghanistan, should Taliban become part of the mainstream society again. India would continue to assist Afghanistan in education, politically, diplomatically. Those would go a long way, I hope with the Taliban. Taliban would realise that, should they let go of violence, should they become part of the mainstream society, India would continue to partner with Afghanistan. So those are some of the messages that the Indian government can send to the Taliban.

When you talk about regional terrorist groups, do you mean Pakistan-based terrorist groups, which targets India as well?

India is a responsible international player and is a major regional power. India has several responsibilities. It is in everybody’s interest to have no terrorist groups. Be it X-based or Y-based. Terrorism harms everyone. As a member of the UN Security Council, India has international responsibilities. So, whatever terrorist groups there are in the country, India’s responsibility would be to tell the Taliban to cut ties with all terrorist groups, not only regional terrorist groups. Yes, the regional ones will certainly ensure India’s immediate security interest. But if there are terrorists elsewhere in the world, that will still harm India’s interest, directly or indirectly. So, it is in everybody’s interest — it is in India’s interest, Afghanistan’s interest, many countries in the region and beyond this region, to have no terrorists in Afghanistan.

Does the tension between India and Pakistan spill over to Afghanistan?

I don’t have any qualified opinion. You have to ask respective officials of both countries. We would ideally not want Afghanistan to be associated with the issues between India and Pakistan, or issues related to Kashmir. As an independent and sovereign nation, we want our affairs and issues to be treated independently, away from the politics of the region and away from the security crisis of Kashmir. This has been our constant request. And we would want that to be honoured.

How much influence do you think Pakistan holds in what’s happening in Afghanistan?

Well, Afghan people are to a large extent, independent, they decide for themselves. But Pakistan holds a considerable amount of influence and leverage with Taliban who again are part of Afghan society. And our requests to Pakistan have always been to use, and productively utilize their influence to bring Taliban to the negotiating table, to make them agree to a process which would make this region prosper. We understand that Pakistan may not fully control the Taliban, but they have good influence over them. And that influence should be used for, at least, on making this region peaceful and prosperous.

With the US’ withdrawal and vacating the space, how do you see China and Russia’s role in Afghanistan?

We are pleased with the role played by any country that helps Afghan government and Afghan people. As major powers in the region and globally, and as members of the UN Security Council, both Russia and China can put a lot of pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table. We seek no military support from the major countries in the region, as long as Taliban agree to come to the negotiating table. So should we have the Taliban’s presence for a peaceful process, which ensures our peace, we then do not require a lot of military assistance. So China and Russia can play a very productive role. And we would ideally want them to do more for the Afghan people, to put the required diplomatic and political pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

And, what about Saudi Arabia and UAE, what is the kind of role they are playing?

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both countries have been very constructive, very productive. Recently, we held the Ulema Shura, the Ulema conference in Saudi Arabia which denounced violence through the fatwa — that violence has no justification in Afghanistan, no religious justification, no Islamic justification in Afghanistan, and Taliban should put an end to it. That was a very big statement coming from the Holy city of Mecca to the Taliban who follow the same school of theology. Saudi Arabia has been a great supporter of Afghan Governments and people and has always. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been great supporters of Afghan people and Afghan government. We have very big diaspora communities in both countries and we would want them to continue engaging in a way which would put an end to the misery of Afghan public, to the lives of Afghan public.

India has invested billions of dollars on development projects in Afghanistan. Do you think the gains from those projects are now at risk?

India’s investment has been in two areas — the soft infrastructure which has been education, and the hard infrastructure which has been roads, buildings. And both kinds of infrastructure, maybe at risk, if the security conditions deteriorate further. With the deterioration and worsening security situation, we fear that we would see destruction of both assets — the human assets, and the physical assets in the form of buildings, roads and dams.

Would you request India to give more support in terms of military infrastructure, especially air support, after the US exit?

We have not yet officially requested India for any military assistance that we have received from NATO forces, and then we have received from the US forces. They are sufficient enough. We have the capacity of utilizing those resources and assets. Should we require more assistance, yes, we will certainly be seeking assistance from India. But as of right now, there are no such requests from our side to the Indian government.

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