Kabul seeks support for peace, says Shaida Abdali
Afghanistan is seeking India’s support for its peace process, as well as for military hardware like helicopters, says Ambassador to India Dr. Shaida Abdali, ahead of President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Delhi and talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday.
President Ghani arrives in Delhi for just a day, what are the outcomes expected from the visit?
Afghanistan and India are strategic partners and according to the SPA, there is a particular clause on regular strategic consultations between the two countries. Afghanistan is currently facing a very critical time in all respects, and we certainly need to sit down with all our friends and strategic partners like India to discuss how to deal with terrorism and security issues that ultimately affect all of us. This is a day-long visit, but we expect it to be productive.
Afghanistan has spoken to India about the need for more military hardware, after four helicopters that were gifted to Afghanistan in 2015. Has there been any movement on that request?
Well, later this year we hope to hold the Strategic Partnership Council meeting (headed by the Foreign Ministers) in Kabul to discuss the progress made and decisions taken by both countries. With regard to defence and security, we understand India’s limits in terms of what it can do to help Afghan security forces. But we have received defence equipment and have asked for more. We have recently signed a MoU that aims to deliver another four helicopters to Afghanistan, and we hope they will come to us in the near future, procured by India from Belarus.
Currently Afghanistan is transitioning from Soviet-era equipment to the NATO-system of equipment and for the short term of transition, as we wait for about 200 U.S. made helicopters including Apaches that we will get by 2022, we need India’s help to fill the gap. Our technical and security teams have been meeting and I am optimistic that more will happen as Indian security teams assess Afghanistan’s needs.
Can India do more? Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale was in Afghanistan for SPA consultations. Did the two sides discuss other ways Delhi can step up given recent challenges like the siege of Ghazni, which saw more than 100 Afghan security forces killed?
We discussed peace and security issues, and also the development projects India is funding in Afghanistan. Certainly, Afghanistan is going through a tough period. The attack in Ghazni was particularly big, but our forces were able to deal with the situation. But the damage was huge; we lost many lives, and saw the destruction of parts of the city. This has a regional dimension as we are dealing with terrorists who come from outside. We discussed a more wholesome approach through the Heart of Asia process and the Istanbul process, which would encourage regional players to help fight terror. In the trilateral talks we discussed completion of the Chabahar port project with Iran, which we hope the U.S. will back, as these are our common objectives: to build Afghanistan economically and to give us alternative access to trade.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Qureshi was also in Kabul, and met President Ghani over the weekend. Is there any indication that the new government in Pakistan will change its policies?
It is a hope, but not a reality so far. As an Afghan, I would say if we continue to suffer terrorism on the ground, then there is no change in [Pakistan’s] policy in terms of cross border terrorism. Many Pakistani bodies were taken back from Ghazni and were part of the militants and no one can deny the situation. These terrorists don’t fly in, or land in our airports. They come over the border on foot or by vehicle. We hope that the new government of PM Imran Khan will work for a stable Afghanistan. A new Pakistan would mean a new policy that will help us return to peace.
The U.S. is in talks with the Taliban, Russia has begun a process and Kabul is making efforts to bring the Taliban to the table. What should India’s position be, given that traditionally, India has opposed being part of talks with the Taliban?
Afghanistan seeks India’s support for a genuine Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. I hope that the process we have launched is not manipulated by other players in the region, and the Kabul process is supported.
Will elections go ahead as planned — the parliamentary elections due next month and the presidential elections in April 2019?
Obviously, things are not as good as we would have wished ahead of elections. The legitimacy and credibility of elections is dependent on the people’s participation. We are trying our best to create the right environment, and we hope to see success in our peace process. Our dialogue with Pakistan and the Taliban is critical for elections in Afghanistan.
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