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‘The people want peace'
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 18 - 04 - 2019

How do you evaluate the peace process that is currently underway in Afghanistan?
The reality is that the war is unfortunately continuing. There have been 40 years of war in this country, and there is no doubt that the majority of people want peace. At the same time, they do not want the Talibanisation of the country.
The US has started negotiations with the Taliban, and we welcome those, though there are issues with the Taliban including their relations with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations that will need to be discussed with the US. The second main point is the Taliban's demand for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and their view that the next step should be negotiations between all Afghans. However, what is going on at the moment are not negotiations: what we are seeing are people from two sides catching up with each other and exchanging ideas and so on. I suggest that we appoint delegations from inside government and outside government and set up a Reconciliation Council.
A first meeting of such a council took place recently, and though I was not able to attend, it was at my suggestion. The idea was that we should all meet, government and non-government, former president and everyone, in order to define the things we can accept and the things we cannot accept and the procedures to be followed. We need to present a unified position towards the Taliban so the Taliban will not have the excuse that its interlocutors are not representative.
Another tricky development is that we have elections soon, and there are only a few months left for this government, so we have to act in the way that is needed. This makes it all the more important that we have an inclusive approach through this Reconciliation Council. To start the negotiations with the Taliban, which we haven't started yet, we need an inclusive team to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table. The main thing for us is of course peace, though we emphasise that we should not lose sight of the elections.

Do you think that the elections will still take place in September?
I hope they are not delayed. If there is an agreement, a sort of package agreed between us and the Taliban, before September this would be the main thing because the negotiations have not started yet, and it will be difficult to reach an agreement before September. But the point is that we should work on the elections even before the negotiations start.

The Taliban are suffering more causalities than government forces at the moment. Do you have figures that you can share with us?
There is serious fighting underway even as we speak. The Taliban are hoping that they can come back to Kabul and fight and also hope that they can take other cities in Afghanistan. People say that we haven't succeeded in defeating the Taliban, but that is not the case. There is a sort of stalemate at the moment, and the ideology of the Taliban is being defeated. That's why I am not concerned if tomorrow there is an arrangement and at the end of it we have elections and the Taliban also participate in the elections. I have no worries about that because they will not have the support of the people in them. There is absolutely no chance of that.

How do you see your own chances?
The 2009 and 2014 elections were difficult, and in our part of the world if you are not satisfied with a result you have to take action. I didn't do that because I didn't want to put the country at risk. This time I have a stronger coalition behind me than in 2014.
I thought at one time that I would not stand this time round, because it would be three times – the first in 2009, the second in 2014, and now this year. But three days before the registration of the candidates the first party came to me, and then two others, asking me to run. I decided on the last day of registration to be a candidate… and I believe I will win, though regardless of who gets the numbers to do so the elections will serve as the foundation for stability in our country.

What about neighbouring countries like Pakistan, Iran and Russia? What efforts are they making to achieve peace in Afghanistan?
When it comes to Pakistan, it's different from the other countries since the Taliban have influence in that country, and we expect Pakistan to put pressure on the Taliban to come to the negotiating table to solve the crisis. Pakistan has a closer relation with the Taliban than any other. The Taliban are talking to the Americans, which was likely to happen from the beginning, and we expect them to seriously and genuinely support the peace process. If they don't talk, if they don't negotiate, and if they don't come to an understanding, they won't have any support.

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