Nasim Zehra: Mr. President when you came to power after the Bonn Agreement skeptics and observers said here is a president brought in by the Americans and that alone is his legitimacy. Two years down the road many Afghans talk of you as "a gift from God" and there is increased support for you within the region too. What explains this change in two years , what have you done.
President: Before the September 11 tragedy, many years before that I was busy in the struggle against the talibaan, against terrorism, some people know that but lots of people don’t know that so my coming to Afghanistan was not sudden. It was not done entirely by the US, we should not say that the US did not help ,the US people helped tremendously to help the Afghan people to get rid of the talibaan, remove terrorism and then help the political system and the government help establish in Afghanistan. .The other means of help in this regard was the Bonn process, the Afghans and the international community and the efforts of His Excellency Mr. Brahimi , the UN so , so the coming to Afghanistan , coming to government was not sudden, t had history behind it, in that history I definitely had some role What happened in two years that passed I can simply say that I worked as an Afghan in an Afghan environment with support of the international community and the United States. And we were lucky at that time as Afghan people to have the national will in Afghanistan, have the platform for change, for transformation for better lives and have the assistance t of the international community in particular of the US and of the neighbors as an impetus as a helper along that.
Nasim Zehra: The Loi Jirga which ended on January 4 seemed to be the turning point in the political scene. What made it a success? There was a lot of concerns expressed about it ?
President: Yes there was. The international community especially was very concerned. It did not understand the dynamic of the Afghan society .They thought people will not resist, they will fight and they will not participate in the elections of the Loi Jirga, that the turn out will not be alright ,they were concerned about the Southern region of Afghanistan where the talibaan had more activities, where terrorism had more activity,they feared people will not be able to go and participate but it turned out to be the other way around. In Khost which is the province bordering Pakistan had 95% of their people registered. Taluqan more eastern Afghanistan had 92% and the participation of people in the elections to the Loi Jirga was 80 to 85%. So that was a massive turn out for partipation in the elections. And I knew before the Loi Jirga this would succeed. And let me go back to my original statement, the successs of the Loi Jirga was because of the immense desire of the Afghan people to have a law for themselves, to have a constitution for themselves. When the Loi Jirga got delayed beyond the 12 day , people started really expressing concern and started calling on the members that they have a national job, that they should finish on time. The success of the Loi Jirga was because of the desire in the Afghan people to have a state governed by law , a Constitution , under the commission of each member of the Loi Jirga that they have a responsibility towards the people, towards the whole nation A sense of participation , a sense of recognition by all members of the Loi Jirga, they had a demand that their rights be accommodated
Nasim Zehra: There were two elements that came out of the Loi Jirga ; one those who believe in a strong center and those who believe in a greater autonomy for the provinces and two linked to that the relevance of ethnicity for example to you got overwhelming support from the Pushtun groups. How do you deal with this two-fold challenge as you move along to construct the Afghan state and advance politically?
President: The pressure of provincialism was there but the majority of the members of the Loi Jirga definitely wanted the presidential but people of Afghanistan have suffered for thirty years of warfare and misery and they now believe they should have a system in which they participate directly a Presidential system in which each person vote directly who has the voting age. So that they have a sense of participation and can vote directly for a president who represents them directly and in one Center. And there were those who wanted a stronger parliament so that the regime or the government for any reason under pressure does not becomes dictatorial. So there was a voice for a parliament and that was given credence by the members of the Loi Jirga so they have a presidential system where the President is directly elected and a parliament which is strong but which the president cannot dissolve so there was a compromise reached of having an Executive chosen directly by the people, parliament also chosen directly by the people which would not be not dissolved by the executive or by President.
Now the question of ethnicity , ethnicity is everywhere, it is also there in Afghanistan but the overall sense is there for Afghan patriotism. All the people of Afghanistan have given sacrifices for this country, all the people of Afghanistan have given their life for this country but people wanted their own concerns addressed, people wanted particular linguistic issues addressed ,that was legitimate it was discussed in the Loi Jirga and from from the Loi Loi Jirga emerged a wiser, stronger and an outstanding nation.
Nasim Zehra: The next big challenge is of deweaponization, demobilization and reintegration , an initiative that has formally been launched now, observers of Afghan affairs comment that there has been a U-turn in Kabul’s policy on the commanders, first they were used to fight the talibaan , now the policy is to weaken the commanders and therefore given this and given the fact that deweaponisation of Kabul has not taken place that there are certain groups that are ascendant in Kabul that will make the process of demilitarization difficult and will also make it difficult for Kabul to get the support of the commanders. How would you respond to that?
President: Demilitarization or the DDR which is disarmament and reintegration into the Afghan society is a process that has the unbelievable backing of the Afghan people. The Afghan people se their future and of their legitimate government in the disarmament of the unofficial irresponsible armed groups. Those who legitimately fought as Afghan defense forces will be there. Those who function as militias as little fiefdoms the Afghan people have suffered because of them so they want it addressed .This is the single-most important question asked of me everyday by the Afghan people. The question of the DDR of demobilization, of reintegration is on the top of the agenda of the Afghan people and we will have to address it regardless of where it is and who it is. The question of the removal of forces from Kabul it is being discussed, some of it has been moved, a lot of it has been brought outside, that process is going on.
Nasim Zehra: When you came into power initially you talked of national reconciliation, you repeated that recently and also talked of engaging with the moderate talibaans which was supported by some and criticized by some . How do you see that initial approach .Are you likely to move in that direction before the June elections. Many see you as a man of vision you understand political stability is critical and taking everybody along is critical ?
President: Regarding the talibaan my position from the very first day even before they were defeated , even before their removal from here, when I was in the mountains of Central Afghanistan my position was that there are those who have committed crimes in this movement against the Afghan people, against humanity as a whole . There are thousands of others who are for this country who are part of this society who have committed no wrong. Therefore those who have committed no crimes there is still hope they can go to their villages lead a normal life.Those who committed crimes in my opinion do not go beyond a hundred people those are the ones we cannot accept. And if they come they should be taken and tried for crimes so that others ,thousands of others who are ordinary talibaans, who had even high posts in the talibaan administration but if they did not crime they are welcome to return.
Nasim Zehra: Apparently some of these talibaan wanted to engage with you and be part of your political set up.
President: They should come forward they should talk to us. Some of them have written to us. Mulla Wakeel Ahmad has written me a letter, a nice letter . He has written what his thinking his about Afghanistan which is quite reasonable. He has asked me to meet with me I am considering that proposal. I have sent some of my people to talk to him twice and I will also consider to meet with him in the coming days.
Nasim Zehra: The issue of ‘religious fundamentalism and extremism , we hear of it in our country too. How real are these two issues the problem how much of these are outcomes of certain political situations whether it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan whether it was the response in terms of an international jihad funded by State department, CIA and ISI involvement. The question is whether we should be talking of rule of law, resurrecting a credible state and constructing an effective administrative structure rather than fighting fundamentalism and religious extremism what serves to unite nations and not unite? President: Religious extremism is one thing and fundamentalism is something else .I am a fundamentalist myself I believe in the fundamentals of Islam. I am a Muslim and I accept the fundamentals of this religion so I am a fundamentalist. But extremism is something else, radicalism is something else. Islam is a religion that advocates the middle way, it advocates moderation. Extremism and radicalism don’t go with the spirit of Islam. We as Muslims are dictated by the decrees of the sayings of our religion in moderation in our behaviour, in our talks in our lives. Of curse we believe in these fundamentals so we are fundamentalists. Extremism specially in our societies in Pakistan, in Afghanistan it really has no place in my people because whatc people practice on a daily basis is a tremendous sense of accommodation and moderation. There is no bias, if there is no bias you are not an extremist. There is no prejudice against others , against other religions against other societies. By temperament and then by the fact of the teachings of our religion we are moderate and believers of justice. Now to use religion and the slogan for political purposes that is what I consider very wrong. That is what extremists are doing against religion, that is misuse of Islam, that has hurt Islam and the Muslims all over the world and in Afghanistan and in Pakistan I am strongly against it.
Nasim Zehra: But isn’t this a logical progression from where we started in the late seventies using religion ,the state of certain foreign countries including United States using religion as a mobilizing force for national security objectives ?
President: That is wrong
Nasim Zehra: It was wrong?
President: It was wrong like hell. It caused tremendous harm to the world ,it caused tremendous harm to the Muslims and we have seen in Afghanistan how it hurt people how it hurts society .The arrival of the talibaan, the promotion of extremist religious parties in the year’s of jihad has produced all these results. It has hurt us, hurt the rest of the world.
Nasim Zehra: How critical is the arrest of Mulla Umar and Osaama Bin Ladin for Afghan national interest?
President: Incase of mulla umar he has committed horrible crimes under his rule thousands of Afghans were murdered and killed , so much was destroyed and life became hell. Afghanistan was held back, Afghanistan was turned into a country of the middle ages. Incase of Osaama he perpetrated the same crimes together with Mulla Umar in Afghanistan and he committed crimes in the rest of the world and killed innocent people everywhere, in the US,in the Arab world in other parts of the world therefore for me they are criminals, they have to be arrested and have to face justice.
Nasim Zehra: As far the Afghan elections are concerned there are two options , the Bonn Agreement option which says elections must be held by June 2004 and the Afghan Constitution option which states that election dates must be announced by June 2004. Which one are you likely to exercise?
President: June of 2004 becomes the month for the holding of the elections or for the date of the elections. A massive exercise has begun to register voters . This exercise was delayed a bit because of the Loi Jirga, partly because of lack of funds but now the UN has given us a plan to launch a major voter registration program between April-May in the whole of the country by using almost 30,000 people to register citizens of Afghanistan about 8 million by that time. So if we succeed in this massive exercise we will definitely have elections in July, I don’t think we can have them in June. But if for some reason we fail to reach that 10million mark we will have to ask ourselves whether it is legitimate to hold the elections without registering the voters eligible to vote. It is difficult for us to say now if we can have elections in June or July but we are targeting that date. That is our effort but in two months time we will definitely tell you exactly June or July but the objective the intention, the effort is for July or June.
Nasim Zehra: Would you agree that the Afghan nation has taken a U-turn on a very fundamental nature of the Afghan people, that of not accepting foreign rule, external intervention and external presence ? So the Afghan people have moved away radically from what was their long held trait ?
President: That’s a very good question. When I was working as a talibaan in 1995-…
Nasim Zehra: As a talibaan?
President: Yes I was a great supporter of the talibaan in the beginning of their movement but then I turned from their movement end of 1995 for reasons that you very well know and went against them openly in 1996-97 and I began to organize a movement of the Loi Jirga together with my likes like Mulla Abdul Haq and others. This movement began and all along through the years of the strugglewhen I would consult with the Afghan chiefs and clergy and I would say we should launch a struggle against the talibaan , they would all tell me Hamid do you have support of the United States , do you have support of the international community then if I said yes they would say fine we will help you and if I said no they would say this effort is going to fail. And when I came to Afghanistan, the first consultation that I had on the fouth night of my arrival in Urazgaan I called the clergy and the tribal chiefs and the question they asked me do you have the backing of the United states and I said yes then they said fine now we can proceed. The Afghans were extremely pragmatic. A year before September 11 , they were clear that without the help of the international community we would not be able to liberate this country.
Nasim Zehra: Now to Pakistan–”Afghan relations. Can you indicate three positive developments that have taken place in Pakistan-Afghan relations in the last six months?
President: Well the first tremendous development in Pakistan-Afghanistan relations is in the area of trade. Prime Minister Jamali and Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz told me that Pakistan’s exports to Afghanistan were now over 620million dollars. Afghanistan’s exports were something like 50million dollars and maybe about 100 million dollars counting the unofficial as well. This is trade is marvelous and it is in favor of Pakistan. The second thing is the Pakistani efforts against extremism and terrorism on the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Nasim Zehra: Are you now satisfied on this score ?
President: I am satisfied at what is happening there but I waiting to see the results of that in Afghanistan as well and if produces more results it will add to the success of the operation and to absolutely brotherly relations between the two countries. The third positive thing is that President Musharraf is making very welcome statements about Afghanistan, the fact that he addressed the National Defence College in Islamabad and he told the military officers there that yes everything that happens in Afghanistan is not because of us but part of it was because of us. It is a welcome statement, something that we appreciate. This shows to us a sense of realism in the efforts. The two countries are brothers and this is the way to go forward.
Nasim Zehra: Do you also agree with the other part of General Musharraf’s statement that there are other internal issues in the South and east of Afghanistan which are not of Pakistan’s creation ?
President: Definitely. There is the question of war lordism, of law and order, the question of the inefficiency of the Afghan security apparatus, that is all out there but that doesn’t bother us. What bothers us is the question of terrorism that is effecting a lot of countries and we would like to address it with our Pakistani brothers.
Nasim Zehra: Would you say that the government of Pakistan has facilitated the strengthening of your government ?
President: Of course. That Pakistan decided not to back the talibaan, that was one major step, that they participated in the Bonn talks and encouraged that was a major step, the fact that Pakistan facilitated operations along the Pakistani Afghan borders to fight terrorism , the fact there is this massive movement of people between us and the encouragement of the government of Pakistan because of which a lot of positive things have happened in Afghanistan and in North-West . No we are not blind to that.
Nasim Zehra: What are the indications that the sentiments you express for Pakistan and the efforts that you are taking place for improving Pakistan-Afghan relations are shared by everybody in your cabinet?
President: In Afghanistan, the desire to have friendly, brotherly and sisterly relations with Pakistan, exists in every Afghan. The fact that Pakistan gave refuge to millions of Afghans , to myself, to others for so many years, for three decades, that will never be forgotten. This in embedded in the history, in the memory of Afghan people and in the most pleasant manner that you can imagine. The desire for massive friendly relations is there as a necessity for Afghanistan , as a necessity for Pakistan as well for prosperity as well for good economic opportunities and good economic conditions for the two countries. There is the question of terrorism and of extremism and this is something one cannot address alone and that in that we need the brotherhood and cooperation of Pakistan. Meanwhile every Afghan recognizes and appreciates what Pakistan has done , what Pakistan can do. The prospects of relations with Pakistan are visible clear and vivid in our minds.
Nasim Zehra: What in your view are Pakistan’s genuine security concerns vis a vis Afghanistan?
President: Pakistan has a very legitimate concern that it should be secure and with respect to Afghanistan Afghanistan should not become a threat. Like wise it is Afghanistan’s legitimate concern that it is not threatened by Pakistan from elements there or Pakistan by elements in Afghanistan .That concern we understand and that assurance we give to Pakistan very very categorically. No elements in Afghanistan or no foreign elements within Afghanistan will ever be allowed to use our soil against Paksitan. We would find that directly against the interest of this country, of Afghanistan, so we are not going to allow it.
Nasim Zehra: Trust as an element in the relationship of two countries is very critical It provides room for the two to make mistakes without necessarily seriously straining the relationship ? Is this trust factor there between the Pakistan-Afghan governments relations so that we will not misread each other’s intentions and motives ?
President: That is very important. The basic trust between societies is there , the Pakistan nation and the Afghan nation trust each other a lot. But between the institutions the trust is a little less than it should be. In that respect we should build in our efforts to have to have a relationship on one platform, at one level , in the benefit of . And that is what we are working towards. NZ: Good luck in your efforts. Thank you Mr. President.