[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the 2009 presidential elections be held as scheduled?
[Khalili] We are all endeavoring, God willing, to hold the elections as scheduled. If there were any obstructions or postponement, it might be for two or three months; if goodwill prevails, the elections will be held as scheduled.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you going to stand by President Karzai at the next presidential elections, or you have another option?
[Khalili] I have not made my mind up yet, I shall decide when the time comes. The important thing is that the election be held next year.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What have you done for the central regions of the Shiaa, given that you are their representative at the presidential level?
[Khalili] Afghanistan is a very poor country; it has been through three decades of continuous war and it is one of the poorest countries in the Islamic world. Moreover, Afghanistan has been destroyed over the past 30 years. It needs strong government institutions and it needs a huge reconstruction process; and that takes time. The regions with a concentration of Shiites, such as Mazar-e Sharif and Bamian, have been suffering from poverty and marginalization for years. According to official statistics, more than 6 million Afghanis live below the poverty line. We are trying to alleviate the people’s sufferings as a whole. However, thank God, the people were victorious, in spite of all the pressure they came under, in driving the Russians out and in precipitating the fall of the Soviet Union. They have also succeeded in defeating the Taliban. The Shiaa has at present a political stake that it did not have before, and I am a vice-president. Many efforts have been made to alleviate the sufferings of the Shiaa. There is the road between Kabul and Bamian, and there is another road between Bamian and Mazar- e Sharif; work on the latter road will begin shortly. We have also built schools, hospitals, and health centers in cities and villages that have been suffering from poverty and marginalization, and we are looking forward to more and better things for our people as a whole, not just for the Shiaa.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you happy with the present situation on the streets of Afghanistan?
[Khalili] No, not entirely; but an effort is being made thanks to the aid of the international community, which has not left Afghanistan in the lurch.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] According to published figures $45 billion has been spent on security and stability in Afghanistan in the last five years, yet what we see on the ground is entirely different.
[Khalili] As far as I am aware, most of the financial aid that has come from the coalition states has not been delivered to the government. We have received only a small amount and we are not responsible for the sources of expenditure, so we do not know how that money has been spent.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where do the Taliban draw their strength from?
[Khalili] I took part in the jihad war against the Russians. Even though they were a superpower, they found it difficult to defeat the mojahedin in 14 years, and that is because we waged a guerrilla war against them. And sure enough, the mojahedin managed to defeat the Russians in the end and to drive them out of Afghanistan. The Taliban today are a small splinter group and they will vanish, God permitting. They take shelter among unarmed civilians and bring ruin and destruction down on them. Regarding the Taliban’s health, it is attributable to the fact that they receive finance and training from outside Afghanistan; not from states, but from groups in neighboring countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you believe that the foreign forces will one day leave Afghanistan?
[Khalili] Once security and stability prevail, and the terrorist flames of war and sedition have been extinguished, the foreign forces will have no excuse for staying on in our country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Can you comment on allegations that state Afghanistan is in the grip of the worst administrative corruption?
[Khalili] Administrative corruption is present in every country in the world, but I have to admit that the degree of administrative corruption in Afghanistan is high. I believe that the ongoing and widespread administrative corruption in the corridors of government is giving the Taliban a new lease on life. However, the government is determined to fight this plague by all possible means. It will take some time to eradicate the corrupt on earth, because some of them occupy high places in government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are your thoughts regarding a US intelligence report claiming that President Karzai’s government controls only 30% of Afghanistan?
[Khalili] I have heard about this report, but I believe it to be untrue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If President Hamid Karzai were to run for another term in the next presidential elections, do you think he would win?
[Khalili] I believe that he would win, because he is popular and because the people love him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your comment on the fact that the Afghans abstained from growing opium after the fatwa issued by Mullah Omar during Taliban rule banning the crop; while at present, the heroin produced in Helmand province alone amounts to almost 50% of the world’s overall production of heroin?
[Khalili] This is a very complicated matter: There are farmers who could not find an alternative; there is terrorism and the drug mafia, both of which help drug smuggling to flourish; and there are shared interests between the latter and the Taliban, who benefit from the growing of opium and from the trade in heroin. Yes, they did prohibit the growing of opium when they were in government, but today they are the main beneficiaries from drug smuggling. I can assure you that I am telling the truth when I say that the war on drugs and the war on terrorism are two sides of the same coin. And as long as terrorism continues to threaten our lives, opium growing will continue. For hundreds of years irrigation canals used to bring water to the fields and orchards and to produce a profitable agricultural harvest, but the irrigation system has fallen apart as a result of the conflict.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you happy with the coalition forces’ performance in Afghanistan?
[Khalili] The Afghan forces and the coalition forces are working toward a shared goal, which is the restoration of peace and security in the country. Under the Taliban the people suffered from cruelty and from hardship, and life became more difficult as they prohibited education for girls and the means for living a respectable life. I have to say that the foreign forces are taking part in the reconstruction and restoration of security and stability to the Afghan streets. There are more than 6 million pupils in school. There is development, and there is a joint effort to restore security to our country, which is the crucial issue on which we are focusing. The foreign forces’ mission is to give prominence to the values of stability and security; to provide assistance in the long-term reconstruction of the country; and to contain the opium industry, working in conjunction with the Afghan forces that they are helping to develop; as well as training the Afghan police force.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Before I entered your office to conduct this interview, I learned that the education minister was in your office. Could you tell us how many schools the Taliban have burned?
[Khalili] The Taliban have burned hundreds of schools in the towns and villages of the southern and eastern provinces of Afghanistan. It is a form of pressure that they practice against unarmed civilians. They want to put the clock back in time.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a message that you would like to send to the Islamic world?
[Khalili] Both we and the Islamic world are busy coping with problems and with disasters. We call on the Muslim world to be of one mind and one word regarding the circumstances that it is experiencing. If we united our world, we could resolve many of the problems facing us on the international level. I call on the Arab world to be attentive to what is going on in Afghanistan. We are satisfied with what they are offering their brothers in religion, but we still need more in the field of health, of the economy, and of education. There is a great deal of poverty in most provinces. There is a report in the council of ministers, that tells us that 13 provinces are suffering from problems with public life and from a high poverty rate: provinces such as, Badakhshan, Bamian Faryab, Badghish, and Zabol. At the same time, we strongly desire to enjoy better relations with our Arab brothers; and this, for a whole host of reasons: Our religion is one, our values are one, and we are brothers with the same aspirations. The Arabs in general and Saudi Arabia in particular are especially esteemed in Afghanistan, since the heart of Islam is in Saudi Arabia. The Afghan people’s feelings of love, of kindness, and of affection toward their Arab and Muslim brothers, especially toward our brothers in Saudi Arabia, are feelings that are a product of centuries of common faith and belief.