Abdul Hakim Mujahid

The Diplomat’s Sanjay Kumar spoke with Abdul Hakim Mujahid, former Taliban representative to the UN and now deputy chair of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, about the past, present and future of his country.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid
Abdul Hakim Mujahid

Circa 1998

Credit: Reuters

He was a member of the Taliban until 2010. He was the Taliban’s representative in Islamabad and the UN while it held power in Afghanistan between 1996 to 2001. Abdul Hakim Mujahid is now deputy chairman of the High Peace Council (HPC), a body created by Afghan President Hamid Karzai more than three years ago to engage the insurgent groups in talks in a bid to bring peace to a nation weary from decades of strife.

Until 2001, Mujahid was the sole international face of the regime in Kandahar, the Taliban’s headquarters between 1996 to 2001. According to some reports, after 9/11 he wrote to the Taliban government in Kandahar, condemning the attack. When the Taliban leadership refused to issue a public condemnation, Mujahid did so himself.

A couple of years ago, The Australian newspaper wrote that “Mujahid still believes a single letter of condemnation from one of the world’s most reviled regimes may have saved Afghanistan from the U.S. invasion that followed, and the subsequent decade-long conflict that has concurrently beggared a nation and built a clique of crony billionaires.”

Mujahid still feels bitter about the war that started in Afghanistan in 2001. In an interview with The Diplomat’s Sanjay Kumar, the bearded veteran of many wars rues the intervention of the Western powers in his country and calls the military attack “unnecessary,” bringing only destruction and misery to the people of Afghanistan.

How would you describe the present situation in Afghanistan?

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There is complete chaos all around. There is no clarity in the thinking of the major powers and the regional players so far as Afghanistan is concerned. The United States is demanding one thing, it is looking for some goal. The countries of the region are demanding something else. The people in Afghanistan are saying something else. I don’t see any clarity, any hope. I cannot predict what is going to happen in the country in the near or distant future.

What are your thoughts about the war that started in 2001? How do you look at it? Was the war a necessity? Could you justify it? After witnessing the war for 12 years do you think the situation in 2001 could have been managed differently?

The reality on the ground is that there is no winner in Afghanistan so far. The war in 2001 was unnecessary, there was no reason for interfering in the internal affairs of Afghanistan and I don’t know why the U.S. was in a hurry to intervene in Afghanistan. After 12 years the U.S., Western countries and NATO allies could not do anything in Afghanistan except destruction and more destruction. They violated all international treaties, they violated all the clauses of the United Nations. They took the people of Afghanistan for granted and kept on heaping abuse on the citizens of this landlocked country in the name of fighting terrorism. They could not bring any kind of normalcy to this country. They gave false hope to the people of my country but their real agenda was not honest. They played with the sentiments of the people of this poor country. There is nothing to celebrate. There is no achievement to cite. What I see is misery all around and a state of hopelessness.

What do you think about  peace process? Why hasn’t it been able to make any headway?

This is a dark future I see. It totally depends, as Karzai says, on the cooperation of the United States and the Pakistani authorities. If they don’t  incorporate the peace process in their agenda they will continue to perpetuate the crisis in Kabul which will not be to the benefit of the people of Afghanistan and will create further instability in the region. We are helpless. We want peace but the powers and players in the region are not interested in that. I just see dark clouds and no hope if the situation continues like this.

How open you are to the idea of talks with Taliban for a peaceful future of Afghanistan?

The Taliban clearly rejects talks with the government of Afghanistan and High Peace Council, which was formed to negotiate peace with armed groups. Their policy is clear. They don’t like  to engage with us. At the same time they don’t show any political clarity, what they want in Afghanistan – this is the major problem I think.

What do you think about the role of Pakistan in perpetuating peace in Afghanistan? Do you think there can be stability in your country if Pakistan wants it?

My president has always maintained that it is the duty of the U.S. and the Pakistani authorities to bring peace in Afghanistan. Islamabad is an important player in the region. If these two countries don’t cooperate then there is no hope in Afghanistan. Kabul on its own cannot ensure peace and security in the present situation.

What about the stand that Hamid Karzai has taken on the issue of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA)? How do you justify what many call his adamant stand on the BSA?

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All the conditions that my president is talking about before signing the bilateral security agreement are correct, because without stopping the military operation and the searches of the houses of people, signing the BSA will not be in the interests of the people of Afghanistan. The BSA might be a necessity for Afghanistan but we want to make it very clear to the United States that the future presence of foreign troops will not mean house searches and fighting. America will have to facilitate peace before it thinks about having a long-term presence in the country.

Imagine a situation where after 2014 there are no foreign troops in Afghanistan. Many analysts say there will be the same chaos and uncertainty Afghanistan saw after the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989.

If there is no agreement between the armed opposition and the government of Afghanistan I think the situation will be repeated. We are witness to the fact that the country plunged into civil war after the Soviet  withdrawal. This is a major fear. Therefore, the president of Afghanistan is insisting that the United States and regional countries cooperate and bring peace to the country before 2014, and then the signing of the  BSA will have a greater relevance.

What role do you think India can play or is playing in stabilizing Afghanistan?

So far the role of India has been very positive. It has been cooperating with Afghanistan very well. India is working for the reconstruction of Afghanistan. New Delhi  is considered a good friend of Kabul. Therefore, Afghanistan looks forward to India playing a positive role in stabilizing this war-torn country.

Why did you join the Taliban in the 1990s and what was your experience working with that regime?

The only reason and the only goal for me in 1994 was to end the total chaos and insecurity in all the provinces of the country. The moment the Taliban was formed there was one sacred goal: bring peace and security to the country. My party and I, and all commanders and important figures in the Taliban, joined in this sacred goal of bringing peace and security in Afghanistan. That was the only reason I joined the Taliban. In practice, we brought peace to 95 percent of Afghanistan. We also eradicated the cultivation of narcotics in most of the country. These were important goals. My association with the Taliban was for a larger mission of seeing my country become a stable and peaceful area.

Are you disappointed that the Taliban regime was removed by the international community?

I think had the United States and the NATO forces cooperated with the Taliban government economically and politically we could have brought a better result for Afghanistan. The military intervention brought destruction in Afghanistan, no reconstruction.

What future do you now see in Afghanistan?

There can be no peace and security in Afghanistan unless there is an agreement between the government and the armed opposition. If the crisis continues it will not benefit the people of Afghanistan and the people of the region in the long term.

What are your thoughts on the division in the Taliban between the Pakistan Taliban and the Afghan Taliban. Are they working at cross purposes or are they together in their fight ?

Both have different agendas. The Taliban in Afghanistan is confined within the border of Afghanistan and they have their own mission and goal. The Taliban in Pakistan have their own agenda and I don’t think they have a shared agenda or objective with their counterpart across the border. The popular perception in Afghanistan is that the Taliban on the other side of the Durand Line is responsible for much of the violence in Afghanistan and they are not for a peaceful settlement. Their goal is not in consonance with the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan.

What role do you see for yourself in a future Afghanistan?

My only desire, and the only desire of those who work for me, is to bring peace and security to this country. We will try to arbiter a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan. Without peace in Afghanistan we will not gain anything, even if we spend millions of dollars. These dollars will be wasted, and have been wasted, without a peaceful Afghanistan and I will keep working for that noble cause in my country.