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Fifth column

January 26, 2020

An Afghan perspective

Opinion

January 26, 2020

As the US is trying to wind up its longest-ever war in Afghanistan by entering into a peace agreement with the Taliban, there are voices within India sounding alarm that it would strengthen Pakistan in the region.

Some of them are even claiming that this would fuel Islamic extremism and what they call terrorism; a claim even advanced by some fringe Kashmir groups for reasons largely unknown. Such a prospect is faulty in a sense that the Kashmir issue and the public rebellion of Kashmiris are far older than the on-going Afghan crisis of the last three-decades. Besides, it takes a patronising view of Afghans and undermines the notion of their agency.

In the past, despite Pakistan’s attempts to bring around the Afghan groups to support or supplement its position on certain issues, Afghans have shown resilience and autonomous character and never remained wedded to Pakistan’s narrative or position towards India or Kashmir.

In a recent conversation with a senior Afghan leader from the Hizb-e-Islami, it was clear that the Afghan leadership, including from groups that were traditionally seen close to Pakistan, want to pursue their own independent policy in the region irrespective of the Pakistani position on issues like Kashmir.

Dr Fazlul Hadi Wazeen is one of the senior leaders of the Hizb-e-Islami, headed by former Afghan premier and mujahidin leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Before the rise of the Taliban, Hizb-e-Islami was the largest political and mujahideen organisation of the Afghans and remains a potent political force.

In the recently concluded presidential elections Wazeen contested for the post of first vice president for his party while Hekmatyar was the presidential candidate. He has remained an active member of his party since his student days and participated in the anti-Soviet struggle. In addition to his combat role, he edited two Arabic publications for his party – a monthly and a weekly newspaper – mainly catering to an Arab audience. He also oversaw the development of school curriculum in the areas held by the Islamist fighters.

After the Soviet withdrawal, he joined the government but as the internecine fighting turned into a full-fledged civil war he withdrew and took refuge in academics. He taught at various universities in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the recent past, he worked as a senior advisor for education for the Kabul government.

Last year he left the job to participate in the elections. Wazeen is a PhD in Islamic Studies, and was educated in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. He has travelled widely in various countries in Europe, South Asia and the Middle East. Last year, he spent two weeks in New Delhi to attend a workshop on education. He was impressed by the progress and development of the Indian capital city and fascinated by the Metro rail system. Here’s a Q&A I conducted with him:

Q: How do you view the Kashmir problem?

A: Our position is that all the conflicts in the region or internationally should be solved peacefully. It could be resolved in the light of the UN resolutions, regional mechanisms, bilateral agreements, and the will of the people through a peaceful and mutually acceptable way. Kashmiris should be given their right to self-determination which is a very important and basic human right. Imposing unilateral solutions would not solve anything. The non-resolution of Kashmir is endangering the peace and security of the whole world. We are frightened that if this problem remains unsolved, it could lead to a very destructive war that could create a humanitarian disaster beyond the borders of these countries. As Afghans, we are very worried because we have seen the destructions of war. Therefore, we hope and want a peaceful Kashmir as it is necessary for peace in the region.

Q: In the early 1990s, when the pro-freedom insurgency in Kashmir started, it was rumoured that militants from the Hizb-e-Islami were coming in aid of the locals. Has your position changed now?

A: There is no truth in such allegations. Hizb-e-Islami and even other mujahideen groups are committed that our jihad would remain limited to Afghanistan. Nobody wants to export it to anywhere else. Since our jihad against the Soviets, no organisation has actively pursued a policy to send our fighters elsewhere. The focus of our resistance has remained within Afghanistan and it shall remain so.

Q: Some within India are against the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as they see it as a dangerous development.

A; Peace in Afghanistan and the withdrawal of the US forces are in the interest of the whole region. Nobody should be worried about this as we plan to have good relations with everyone. It would create chances for intra-Afghan dialogue and economic development.

Besides, no country would allow foreign forces on its soil as it is not acceptable to the people. As long as the foreign forces remain in Afghanistan they would fuel instability and remain a trigger for war. The Americans are saying themselves that they cannot win this war and even President Trump has acknowledged this publicly. However, we want that the withdrawal must be orderly and in accordance with a definitive timetable.

Q: There is clamour in India that if the Taliban come back to power, they will come to Kashmir and create problems for India.

A: If such stories are appearing in the media, one would not be that worried. But if think tanks are advancing such a conjecture, it is extremely sad. Our position is that Afghanistan will not pose danger to any country. We are a peaceful country and want to remain in peace with every country. We want to have mutually peaceful and respectful relations with India, Pakistan, Iran and other countries.

However, we will not allow anyone to interfere in our internal matters. If there is no interference into the Afghan affairs, the country could prove a very good neighbour. A peaceful Afghanistan, a stable Afghanistan and a prosperous Afghanistan is in the benefit of everyone in the region. Peace in Afghanistan will benefit everyone – it will enhance the chances of mutually beneficial trade and development – and help in defeating radicalism from the region.

Twitter: @murtaza_shibli