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Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: Afghan Opposition Leader Abdullah Abdullah | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Dr Abdullah Abdullah, leader of the Afghan opposition and former presidential candidate, fears that the 2014 elections, which is scheduled to take place a few months prior to the end of the NATO combat mission and 10 years after the first election of President Hamid Karzai may be rigged. However, he pointed out that President Karzai has the opportunity to go down in history by overseeing free and fair elections, particularly since he will not run in the upcoming elections in accordance with the constitution.

Dr Abdullah is Karzai’s former foreign minister. He is an ophthalmologist full of hope that Afghanistan will rise again and erect the pillars of security and stability. He is in charge of the Massoud Charitable Foundation named after Commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, the late leader of the Northern Alliance who was assassinated two days prior to the September 2001 attacks and Abdullah’s mentor during the years of jihad against the Russians.

The following is the full text of the interview:

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you thinking of running in the upcoming presidential elections?

[Abdullah] The decision to run for the presidency is somewhat courageous; at the same time, I am waiting for the date of the election to be announced in accordance with the constitution. However, there are certain tactical problems related to the announcement of this date. We faced the same situation last time in 2009. According to the constitution, the scheduled date was 20 August 2009. This was the second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban regime following the US-led intervention in October 2001. However, due to the rain season in Afghanistan, it was not possible to hold the elections. In most of the country, the date could have been suitable; however, it was impossible to wage election campaigns and other logistics related to the elections in winter at that time. I hope consideration will be given to the tactical obstacles that may obstruct the upcoming elections and the final date will be set then. It is good that the date has been announced in accordance with the constitution. However, we are facing the same tactical problems that we faced in 2009. This was the reason why the 2009 elections were postponed for a few months. The consensus was that the elections could not be held. Furthermore, the participation of the voters was needed as well as equal opportunities to all the candidates.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you assess President Hamid Karzai’s legacy? What kind of an Afghan state is he leaving behind?

[Abdullah] I think that he has the opportunity to bolster his legacy by being a responsible leader between now and 2014 by supporting free and fair elections and the sovereignty of the law. In the remaining time, he can improve the image of his past legacy and his future. However, if he continues to focus on himself or his personal interests or the interests of a small group of individuals, this would mean, unfortunately, that he has missed the biggest opportunity for Afghanistan over the years, and this is how history would remember him.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the most important issues in the upcoming presidential election?

[Abdullah] The main challenges today are the sovereignty of the law, the security of the Afghan people, and, of course, raising their standard of living. These will be the pivotal issues at this stage. The primary priority in Afghanistan is the issue of moving forward toward self-sufficiency in security and economic affairs. We want to rescue our country from the dangers and pitfalls by working all together to find solutions to the problems that have accumulated over the years. We have been suffering from wars for 30 years; we want to build a new state based on justice and equality for all. We want to entrench the feelings of security among the Afghan people; all we lack is the feeling of safety and security. We want safety and security to return to the Muslim republic of Afghanistan, not like the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate but as a modern Islamic state where the citizens know their democratic rights and duties, where they believe in the rights of citizenship and peace with neighboring countries. In the other trench, the Taliban fighters are determined to fight; they are not prepared to engage in dialogue at all. The Taliban are not ready to sit at the dialogue table because this movement thinks they are militarily superior. Moreover, negotiations are counter to their ideology; they cannot engage in a dialogue to establish a democratic regime. The Taliban movement had rejected an offer for reconciliation as it clung to its demand for the withdrawal of the foreign forces first.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] In partnership with the United States, NATO has set the year 2014 as the final date to end their effective military presence in Afghanistan. Is this date realistic?

[Abdullah] What is being announced now is the withdrawal of most of the US forces from Afghanistan while stay behind to support the national army and national institutions in more training and technical support. However, I hope that the candidates have a stand at this stage unless the situation changes one way or the other. Perhaps that will be the case. It is important to specify the measures that may be taken from now until 2014 in order to raise the capabilities of the national institutions and exploit the opportunity as much as possible.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people believe that a presidential system like that of the United States does not suit Afghanistan. They think that a parliamentary system like Westminster in which the prime minister would be in charge of the executive power would be more suitable. What do you think?

[Abdullah] There is absolutely no doubt that every state will have a different model of a democratic system that suits its economic and social circumstances. There is no specific model to which I can point. At the same time, however, we believe that in the future and when time permits, the model would be changing the system to a parliamentary one and changing the election law. At present and in accordance with the current election law, the parties in Afghanistan do not have a role. Thus, our parties do not play any role in the parliament. They have an indirect role but it is not institutionalized. We hope there will be a change in the electoral system that would be somewhat decentralized and more separation of powers through having elected mayors and governors, for instance. This would provide the people the chance to participate instead of being indifferent and influenced by negative visions. Moreover, these are some of the aspects that would benefit Afghanistan. At the same time, however, the present challenge lies in those that are close to President Karzai who destroyed the democratic institutions and the sovereignty of the law and who says, at the same time, that a democratic system is not useful for Afghanistan.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Regarding security, do you think that Afghanistan is secure enough to hold presidential elections without any arrangement with the armed opposition, particularly the Taliban movement and Haqqani’s network?

[Abdullah] If you read the statements of Mullah Omar, the leader of the fundamentalist movement, on the occasion of the blessed Id al-Adha, you will find that he said that no negotiations can be held even after the withdrawal of the American forces from Afghanistan and the establishment of the “Islamic Republic”. This does not mean that no change has taken place on the position of any Afghan leader, at least the position of Mullah Omar who is the leader of the Taliban movement and the commander in chief of the Taliban movement. In 1994 or 1995, this was their stand. At that time, there were no foreign forces but they talked about the establishment of the “Islamic Republic” based on their own understanding. This was also their stand in 2002. We are now in 2012 and their position has not changed. No one enjoys the backing that they get. So, these two conditions have not changed. Therefore, I do not believe that basic changes will take place on the position of the Taliban movement in 2014. Naturally, any change in their position would be welcomed; reconciliation is based on understanding and negotiations between two sides. The Taliban have not shown any tangible steps in this direction and I do not see any signs in this direction.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Karzai’s re-election for a second term in 2009 was surrounded by wide charges of fraud and corruption. Regarding the degree of credibility of the upcoming election, do you think this will happen again?

[Abdullah] The elections will not be devoid of forgery; we are aware of our circumstances. I told the media in 2009 that if no forgery takes place, I will win. One of the problems was the absence of President Karzai’s political will to support and facilitate free and impartial elections. However, we will do our best to prepare the climate to hold better elections, but we are aware of the problems that we face in this regard.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] Afghanistan is the scene of a fierce competition among many foreign forces. While NATO is planning to withdraw, do you think that the regional powers, especially Russia, India, and Pakistan will have a bigger influence?

[Abdullah] This is different; some states have their own national interests in the region. However, if any neighboring state believes that Afghanistan’s weakness will be in its favor, it will, of course, seek to achieve its goals proceeding from this premise. But the majority of the states surrounding Afghanistan believe that their interests in Afghanistan would be served by having stability in Afghanistan and the establishment of a suitable rule in Afghanistan. But perhaps that there are some states that wish to select the system of rule in the capital, Kabul. We hope all the countries neighboring Afghanistan would learn from the past.

[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view the future of Afghanistan? Would you tell us a little about your charitable foundation?

[Abdullah] Regarding the future and despite the challenges, I still believe that good opportunities are looming in the horizon. The people are still faithful and patriotic. We have national resources and we have a young generation that is looking to the future, not the past. We have a state with a strong economic background. We also look forward to a new generation working for the establishment of a self-sufficient state standing on solid ground and not dependent on foreign support. Therefore, despite all the challenges facing us, I can see opportunities and I hope our people would be able to exploit these opportunities. Regarding my charitable work and the food relief institution where I am the secretary general, it is an outlet to provide educational programs, particularly in the rural areas of Afghanistan. There are libraries open to the public. Through education, we believe that we can educate the people and we can deal with the challenges in the long range. We also help the families stand on their own feet. We help the victims of war and the families of the martyrs.