The Taliban and leading political groups in Afghanistan have agreed in principle to hold intra-Afghan peace talks at a neutral venue, preferably in Turkey.
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a veteran Mujahideen leader, presidential candidate and head of the Hezb-e-Islami party, disclosed this to Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview as invigorated yet delicate peace talks in Afghanistan face gridlock after the warring parties failed to choose a cease-fire and reduction in violence as a way forward.
Sources privy to the developments told Anadolu Agency the Taliban are reluctant to give up their main leverage, violence, in these talks and are only inclined towards a ‘reduction in violence’ with little or no explanation of what this would amount to. The Afghan government, however, is standing firm on its demand for an all-out cease-fire ahead of the resumption of a formal peace conference.
Anadolu Agency: The U.S. seems to be inching closer to a deal with the Taliban. Don't you think the internal divisions among Afghan politicians are weakening their stance for peace on their terms?
Hekmatyar: Ideally, we would have liked and have advised the Taliban to address the matter among each other without any foreign meddling. Anyhow, we welcome the U.S.-Taliban talks and if they manage to resolve their internal problems and reach a deal. We believe the U.S. is under pressure on the battlefront, internationally and domestically. Its diplomats and soldiers too are tired of the war. I agree with their President, Donald Trump, who called the war in Afghanistan a joke since they (Americans) achieved no objectives from it apart from the financial losses and losses of lives.
Now they seem determined to leave. So if they have decided to [pull out] their solders in line with a proper timetable, and it is going to be a complete withdrawal of troops, we welcome it. However, if there are ambiguities and an agreement (between the U.S. and the Taliban) which allows some troops to stay, or it is an agreement dictating terms about the future set-up in Afghanistan, we would not accept it.
If the issue of compensation to the war victims is not addressed in the deal, the issues of some three million internally displaced persons, some six million refugees, residential homes destroyed in bombings, innocent people imprisoned, injured, all these war losses are not compensated, we would oppose and resist such a deal.
AA: You sound optimistic about the proposed deal.
Hekmatyar: A deal only between the U.S. and the Taliban cannot address the Afghan conflict. All groups need to sit tighter and promise not to repeat the deadly mistakes of the past, not to seek foreign support against each other.
For the future of Afghanistan, there should be no talks with the outsiders, including the U.S. No foreign country should dictate to us on foreign policy.
AA: Don’t you fear in such a scenario that Afghanistan would return to the era of (former Afghan President Mohammad) Najibullah, when a leadership and governance vacuum led to civil war among different Afghan groups?
Hekmatyar: Afghanistan has been destroyed by foreign meddling. They have not helped rebuild it. In the past, it was the Soviet Union, and now it is NATO. The foreign presence has not brought any stability, but we continue to see war, bombing, killings in their presence as well as drug addiction and poverty. That is why we stress that Afghans should agree internally on intra-Afghan talks, a cease-fire and elections.
AA: Will the Taliban agree with you?
Hekmatyar: We expect and hope they would, as they claim to be fighting for the Afghans, not foreigners, and for Islam. The Taliban have agreed on this with us (privately), for an interim setup (to oversee intra-Afghan talks and elections). We have also agreed on this among the rest of the political groups with which we fought in the past. I discussed it yesterday with (former Afghan President Hamid) Karzai as well. Our suggestion is, and they all agreed that a neutral country should host intra-Afghan peace talks.
AA: There are reports that Germany has offered to host the talks.
Hekmatyar: Germany has been fighting alongside the Americans and the U.K. with the third largest army in Afghanistan after these two. Bonn city is where the basis of this conflict was laid with the maiden conference. Our suggestion is and we want Turkey to host talks between the Taliban and Afghan political groups. We have shared this idea with Karzai. He agreed. I see no political party opposing it.
But we are waiting for the Taliban’s formal announcement. They have in principle agreed but are waiting to first sign a deal with the U.S.
AA: On the regional front, Afghanistan is surrounded by neighbors like Iran and Pakistan and China, who are often at odds with Kabul’s main backer the U.S. How do you see the latest dynamics of the unfolding situation?
Hekmatyar: Last month, we saw the Taliban take responsibility for downing a U.S. plane in Ghazni (province). We have no reason to doubt it. But we know that the Taliban has no means to hit this plane, which was flying at a height of some 24,000 feet above the ground. There are no resources present with the Taliban or even the Afghan government to hit a plane at such a height.
Only a Stinger sort of missile or even more than that is required to hit a plane at such height. Another thing to note here is that no Afghan institution…or even the U.S. said anything about it initially, but the Iranians announced the downing of the plane.
The plane was indeed downed, and it was revenge (by Iran) for the killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
AA: Do you share the fears of many Afghans who think that with the return of the Taliban, democracy and human rights would be undermined?
Hekmatyar: Under so-called democracy in the past 19 years, we’ve continued to see bloodshed, 1.5 million drug addicts, a corrupt government, millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. The foreigners themselves are saying that 50% of the aid money gets stolen. So we see no positive gains of such a democracy in Afghanistan. It has not helped with nurturing political parties, the system of governance, but destroyed whatever political system and parties we had.
Five members of my extended family were killed in Kunduz province last week travelling in a car away from the conflict zone, returning from a funeral. There were two elderly men, women and a child. Is this the ‘human rights’ they are talking about?
AA: The presidential elections held in September last year are to deliver a final result. What are the reasons and impacts on the situation in Afghanistan?
Hekmatyar: The elections were marred by widespread rigging, very low public participation and in the presence as well as influence of foreign troops. Our election campaign was the topmost; we had the largest and most inclusive political rallies.
How can we acknowledge that out of a population of 35 million, only around 1.5 million, i.e. 4%, participated and their votes were divided among 17 candidates? Primary results show the winning candidate (incumbent President Ashraf Ghani) got around 900,000 votes, with 300,000 suspected votes. With such a result, how can a president control the complex situation in Afghanistan?
It is very likely that the election commission will nullify some votes and there will be a second round. But under the current government, a second round is not acceptable to us. We want fresh polls under an interim government where the president is not a candidate.
In the end, I have a message for the Turkish people: the Afghans love you, your bright past, and we expect you to revive the past glory and your role. Other Muslim countries have turned into bases of foreigners. The Arabs are divided and they have lost their past glory and prestige. We pray for the success of the Turkish people and their president.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.