Kabul, Asharq Al-Awsat- In this interview, Asharq Al-Awsat speaks to the Second Vice-President of Afghanistan, Mohammed Karim Khalili about the recent presidential elections and the future of the Afghan state.
Q) Did you visit the Shia parts of Afghanistan such as Bamyan, Herat, Mazari Sharif, and areas west of the capital Kabul with President Karzai? Have the Hazaras become a rising power in Afghan politics today?
A) I didn’t visit all [those] places with President Karzai, but during the weeks of the election campaign I visited most Shia regions and cities myself to rally support for President Karzai. [The people in these areas] had demands because many of their basic rights are not being granted even today. In west Kabul for example people are living without electricity. However, in spite of all of this, I can confirm that most Hezara Shia Afghans voted for President Karzai, and the regions where there are [many] Shia such as Mazari Sharif and Bamyan have been suffering from poverty and marginalization for many years. According to official censuses around 6 million Afghans live below the poverty line and we are striving towards ending the suffering. But praise be to God, this nation succeeded despite the pressures imposed upon it, such as by expelling the Russians and the fall of the former Soviet Union, and it also succeeded in eliminating the Taliban. The Shia today have a political role that they didn’t have before, [for example] I’m here today in front of you as the Vice President of the state.
Q) How do you respond to rumors about the former US Ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad having an important role in influencing Afghan figures to vote for President Karzai and that he will have a future role in Afghan politics?
A) There have been rumors about Khalilzad entering the Afghan political scene and I have heard these rumors [that he will become] the chief executive officer of the Afghan government. However, in accordance with the Afghan constitution, there is no such position.
Q) Did the United States have a preferred presidential candidate?
A) No, the United States did not have a favorite; in fact, the Americans have been neutral since the beginning of the election campaigns. They emphasized that they respect the votes and the wishes of the Afghan people and the Americans always said that they are not supporting a specific candidate and that they want to create a suitable atmosphere for the Afghan people to vote for whoever they want with complete democracy.
Q) What is your response to rumors that the presidential elections were rigged?
A) These are the kind of rumors that are spread in developing countries. You won’t find ideal elections [being held] in these countries. Yes there were some violations, but they did not have any effect on the election results in general. Those who lose in the elections must always find something to talk about i.e. something to blame.
Q) What is your assessment of Iranian-Afghan ties and of what is being said about the existence of Husseiniyas and Iranian cultural centers in Hazara areas of the country?
A) We seek good, neighborly ties with the neighboring countries; we are not hearing anything about direct Iranian infiltration in Afghan cities. Afghan intelligence services have not informed us of Iran increasing its influence in our lands, and the US military forces that are present in Afghanistan are vigilant of Iranian activity and we will not allow Iran to have an influence. There has been more progress in economic cooperation in particular during the tenure of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a number of projects were completed during his first presidential term such as the railway line between Mashhad and Herat, and the energy project in Kabul and a number of other projects.
Q) What about Afghanistan’s ties with Arab states?
A) Our ties with the Arab states are getting better and better, especially with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and we aim to improve them even more. The United Arab Emirates for example helped establish the Zabul Road project and Saudi Arabia gave [Afghanistan] over 200 million dollars. Even though our political ties with the Arab world are excellent, we cannot say the same about economic ties. Perhaps the security situation is one of the main reasons that the Arab world does not want to invest in Afghanistan at present.
Q) What is your assessment of the dialogue that was held with the Taliban that have taken place so far between representatives from the Afghan state and leading figures of the Taliban?
A) There were some dialogue sessions with the Taliban; some took place in Saudi Arabia with the endorsement of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, and other sessions were held in other places despite the denial of this by their spokesman, which confirms that they are not serious about peace and dialogue. There will be no peace in Afghanistan except under the auspices of Saudi Arabia because it is the heart of the Islamic world.
Q) Do you believe that there are moderate elements within the Taliban with whom talks can be held?
A) We are yet to see these. There are no indications that there are moderate elements within the Taliban thinking about stability and security in this country.
Q) Are you satisfied with the situation in Afghanistan today eight years after the fall of the Taliban?
A) I’m not completely satisfied, but there are many efforts being made with the help of the international community, which has not abandoned Afghanistan.
Q) What do you hope to achieve in Afghanistan in the next five years?
A) [I hope that] the new administration is successful in combating widespread poverty and confronting the Taliban and laying the foundations for stability and security in Afghanistan and eliminating the problems of rampant corruption in the government and local administrations and to put a successful plan in place to confront the problem of the cultivation of drugs in the Helmand Province and Uruzgan and Lashkagar in the south, because it has been proven that the biggest connection between the drug trade and the Taliban movement and terrorism is in the Helmand Province, more so than in any other place in Afghanistan and that the Taliban movement, which prohibited drugs before its fall, is the one benefiting from the cultivation and smuggling of drugs. We must remember that Afghanistan is a poor state that has spent around three decades engaged in war and it is one of the poorest countries in the world and the poorest country in the Islamic world. So Afghanistan has been experiencing destruction for the past thirty years and it needs strong government institutions and a major reconstruction project and these will take time.