originally published on August 26, 2017 ,  Diplomatic Square

In conversation with Afghanistan’s Ambassador, Shaida Mohammad Abdali


When President George Bush sent his troops to Afghanistan to take out Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and other terrorists and dismantle the Al Qaida, the Taliban network, the United States led coalition rose to nearly 40 countries. President Hamid Karzai was elected the President of Afghanistan and the world’s most vicious terrorist Osama bin Laden and others  slipped into neighbouring Pakistan with their tail between their legs, living in safe houses near Abbotabad cantonment and other places with their many wives and children. All this while, while billions of tax payers’ dollars were being spent, thousands of military men and civilians were dying while Pakistan was counting the dollars it kept on receiving as charity from the United States for being an ally in the fight against terrorism.

In a recent conversation with Arunava Dasgupta, Diplomatic Square, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali speaks on the current situation in his country and the aspirations of the Afghan people and most importantly the’ terror’ that had virtually destroyed Afghanistan but not the will of the Afghan people who stood resolutely in this war against humanity.

Ambassador Shaida Mohammad Abdali is also the non-resident ambassador to Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives. Earlier, he served as the Deputy National Security Advisor to the former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. He graduated from NDU’s College of International Security Affairs in in 2008 and is one of the four new Inductees in NDU’s International Fellows Hall of Fame. On the table in the adjacent waiting room in his office lies his doctoral thesis that would make very good reading on the “Garden of Asia” as Afghanistan was once called.

D.S: It has been a long campaign in Afghanistan. What is the ground reality now?

Ambassador Abdali: The story is too long to describe what happened in Afghanistan, what we did earlier and what we are doing today but I will try to summarize. Unfortunately, Afghanistan has been suffering due to the conflict of interests, within the region and beyond, historically – and there are always some people when they talk in the context of Afghanistan, they perceive it to be an Afghan phenomenon, a home grown situation in which Afghanistan has been at war and suffered destruction for decades. But one thing very important to clarify is that we are actually the victims of the situation around us and it affects our internal peace and stability. From the number of conflicts that have taken place, beginning with the Soviet invasion to the consequent war and conflict of interest and ultimately leading to terrorism that caused 9/11, the subsequent coalition of force under America in Afghanistan – we are still struggling with the situation and we have not been able to bring it to the right place. Even today, Afghanistan continues to suffer because of global and regional powers, their divisions, multiplicity of interests and more so nowadays in the context of terrorism.

However, we are optimistic that we will overcome the situation eventually but the fact of the matter is that in the United States led war against terrorism, comprising many countries including those within the region, the adverse side is that we have not been able to achieve the goal that we had set forth 15 years ago. We did not achieve those goals because we were not able to put in place the right course of action, where countries involved would have a strategy that would ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan, and by extension, in the region and beyond.

But nowadays you can see debates. You can hear questions being asked as to what are the reasons that the global communities which had been engaged in Afghanistan have not achieved their mission, that is, to combat terrorism and restore peace in Afghanistan, thus ensuring that the whole world is peaceful. You can see these questions being asked by the US new administration – it has been the 7th month of the new US administration and you can see President Donald Trump rightfully asking these questions. It is very understandable because these are exactly the question we have been asking too! This is the question we have been asking our international partners that what are the reasons,  despite billions of dollars investment, hundreds of thousands troops used, with even now a sizeable amount of troops there,  we have still not been able to achieve our goals, rather we see setbacks in the war against terrorism.

We hope that from the lessons learnt in the last 15 years, we will find the answers. Clearly, is there a lack in the unity of intent, the unity of interest, the unity of the efforts and sincerity – the political will to fight terrorism? We hope we will be able to find the answers that will transform all of us towards putting forward a kind of strategy that will take us victoriously towards peace and stability in Afghanistan.

DS: President Trump made a remark yesterday also!

Ambassador Abdali: I think President Trump is right in saying that we will have to relook continuing with action that we have been taking and no one is presently happy with it. I am glad he is asking tough questions from his own government, his own officials to see what has gone wrong. I think that the answer to his questions, in my opinion, is that we have not been able to focus on the organizational structure of terrorism and its support network.

I think terrorism has two dimensions. One dimension is to fight terrorism which is to fight individuals and this is relatively easier but the other dimension is more crucial – the system behind, the state or the organization structure behind this terrorism. I hope we will focus on the two dimensions equally. Fight terrorism and more so the source and support network of terrorism, whether they are State or Not-State (actors).

DS: Afghans have been fiercely independent minded people and fought many a wars but in the ultimately analysis, have lost none. They may have been momentarily overpowered but they have struck back and defeated their enemies – the British fought 3 wars in Afghanistan and won none, the Soviets got into quick sand in Afghanistan and ultimately disintegrated. A senior journalist, now a Union Minister, had coined an expression for his magazine, “Simply unputdownable”. The Afghans appear somewhat similar – unputdownable.

Ambassador Abdali: What pains us very much is that some people think that the Afghans can be subjugated. I suggest they should read history and deal with the Afghan who can be never be subjugated. They should treat the Afghans as an equal partner, as a neighbour with equal rights and full sovereignty. Afghanistan must be given the opportunity to live in peace with all its neighbours. Unfortunately our neighbours think of converting Afghanistan into a client state, a satellite state – whatever.

DS: When Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected to power, Diplomatic Square had sought your opinion and you had responded by saying, “Our security and development needs will increase, and we naturally count on India’s leadership and commitment to assist Afghanistan”.  How far have you been satisfied with India’s response?

Ambassador Abdali: Indian and Afghan relations are based on a long term vision, it’s strategic. It is beyond governments, beyond whatever situation that you that may currently observe. Therefore, efforts have been on both sides deepening it further.

Our relations are centuries old. They are comprehensive and all embracing – culture, security, social, economic and political. We have a frame work that specifies our areas of cooperation and it has been worked out through elaborate mechanisms. There are delegations that are exchanged from time to time to discuss and review the different aspects of our relations.

Prime Minister Modi has been kind enough to announce $ 1 billion more assistance in addition to the $ 2 billion committed earlier. Currently, our concentration goes to the additional $ 1 billion, to categorize this amount for projects that we will generate and implement. This is one example of how we are working together but as you all know is the limit of this relationship is as high as the sky and as deep as the ocean. The vision of our two nations is to engage in further deepening the relationship and we are satisfied at the progress. Certainly, our desire is to do more than what we have done before.

D.S: India and Afghanistan, as Nations, have had emotional bonding. From Rabindra Nath Tagore’s Kabuliwallah to Bollywood films, one has never seen an Afghan being depicted as a villain which also reflects the Indian peoples opinion about the Afghans – that they are very trustworthy friends, never a villain or an enemy.

Ambassador Abdali: And this is what we feel about Indians too. All relations are built on reciprocity.

D.S:  People to people exchange is very important in the world today – of course, it is a little too early for tourism but there are other areas like education and healthcare which can bring young people to mingle with each other.

Ambassador Abdali: As I said earlier, we are doing a number of things to widen our relationship. If you think of trade, though it has not been smooth because of the disconnect that we have unfortunately, vis-à-vis Pakistan, where Afghan goods are not given the kind of access that we desire. It hurts our economy and theirs’ too!

But we are not totally depending on transit trading through Pakistan.  We have been trying to find out a consistent and alternative way for trading – Chabahar port is one of them. It is a generational achievement, a milestone that we have signed recently but it certainly needs efforts to build up infrastructure so that we can commence all our business and trading through Chabahar.

We recently launched an air-corridor for doing business. It is in its early stages and we are presently working with a number of other airlines to increase cargo facilities for Afghan traders in addition to our own airlines, the Ariana Afghan and the Kam Air.

In a nutshell as you referred earlier, our relation is very comprehensive. India is a soft power, especially when it comes to ensure that the building up of a strong state is through education, capacity building and training programmes. India is the most important destination for Afghans in its nation building efforts. We send thousands of students to study in India in different courses and presently, there would be between 15,000-16,000 Afghan students  in colleges all over India.

Additionally we are sending our students to short-term training programmes in different fields because Afghanistan is now post-conflict and our country needs reconstruction and skilled people. And part of that $ 1 billion that India has assisted us very kindly is being focused on capacity building. Thousands of skilled Afghan nationals have returned Afghanistan after being adequately trained in India to be engaged in reconstruction activities. We will continue to work on a number of areas with India and we want to buy whatever India can offer.

We have hundreds of Afghan army officers being trained in India and as a matter of fact, two weeks ago when I was at Dehra Dun, I met 40 cadets under training, the largest from any country at the Indian Military Academy which is a very prestigious institute. This is what we are working with India – to find the right ways and means that will enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet. India has been a steadfast partner in Afghanistan.

D.S: Nowadays, it is a pleasure to see pomegranate, cashew, grapes, melons and other fruits from Afghanistan in Indian markets. This means that there is increased agricultural production and employment generation. What is happening in the country side?

Ambassador Abdali: Traditionally, Afghanistan is an agriculture based society. Afghanistan used to send dry and fresh fruits, not only to India and the middle-east but to all parts of the world. We are currently trying to revive that culture by increasing fruit production. Afghan fruits are quite tasty and much sought-after. Recently, when we opened the air corridor, we did not imagine that the demand would be so high, the government was unable to fulfill the demand. This shows the agricultural strength of Afghanistan and how much fruits have come back to occupy centre stage.

Very recently I met an elderly gentleman who was associated with the 50 year old Indo-Afghanistan Chambers of Commerce. He told me the story of fresh fruits, how 100 trucks of grapes would come from Kabul daily to India through Wagah in the early 1970s. We hope that this will happen again and we would be able to send our fruits to India and rest of the world. Afghanistan’s agriculture remains vibrant.

D.S:  There is palpable tension in the high altitudes of the Himalayas. In the eventuality of a localized conflict or a full scale war, there may be players on Afghanistan’s borders to take advantage of the situation. Is Afghanistan in a state to protect itself?

Ambassador Abdali:  Unfortunately, we have in a state of war for decades, earlier with a superpower, then the Taliban and others. All these years, the reality is that there has been no organized army, no state institutions, but inspite of these shortcomings, we have been able to safeguard our borders. We have doing this for a very long time, and as you mentioned, the big powers like the British and later the Soviets and other aggressors.

If we were able to repel those big powers, be assured that we will remain resilient and stand up to any foreign aggression and Afghanistan will continue to exist – a country with 5000 years of history. And those dream that Afghanistan will become a country in their service should just read history. They should desist from pursuing their futile exercise of interfering in Afghanistan, trying to destabilize Afghanistan because that will never happen.

Afghans do not like to be in this perpetual state of war, because we are not born as a war mongering race but should the challenge arise, we become warriors. We have repelled and will repel foreign aggression, whatever be the size of their force. God willing, Afghanistan will so become the Garden of Asia with a vibrant society with a vibrant culture and people.

D.S: Former Indian PM Atal Behari Vajpayee once said that when he was the foreign minister of India, he had visited Afghanistan. He requested his counterpart that he would like to visit Ghazni because of its historical implications. In Ghazni, he was lodged in a hotel named Hotel Kanishka – Vajpayee was completely surprised and asked his counterpart about the name of the hotel. The Afghan foreign minister replied, “Why, he was our ancestor”. Continuing Vajpayee said, “But Afghanistan today is an Islamic country”. The minister’s replied, “Indeed, we are a muslim country but we cannot deny our ancestors and their greatness”. Thereupon, Vajpayee remarked quite emotionally, “I could understand. The Afghans have over the years changed the way they pray to the Almighty but they have not changed their culture, their heritage. They remain Afghans”. Comments please!

Ambassador Abdali: Yes, religions may change but values do not. Afghanistan historically has been the centre of civilization and shared values. Every corner of Afghanistan spells out a specific history. From the era of Gandhahar and over the centuries to Babur in Kabul, our relation manifests from the past. Fortunately, the relations between Afghanistan and India have always been on a very strong footing.  Afghanistan was so honoured to have played a role in India’s independence – Subhash Chandra Bose escaped from the clutches of the British and had travelled incognito to Kabul to start his campaign for India’s independence march.

D.S: Ravaged by war and brutalized by terrorism, how are the Afghans preparing themselves for the new age, the new technology?

Ambassador Abdali: It is the information age today. The whole world is transforming and so is Afghanistan. It is in no way less in wisdom and talent from anyone else. Afghanistan is embracing this new world of connectivity. It is also enjoying traditional sports like cricket – Afghanistan is the only country which has been given Test Status within a span of ten years.

15 years ago, there were no cell phones in Afghanistan. Today, there are 22 million mobile users out of a population of about 30 million, and most of them are connected through the social media like Twitter, Facebook and others. They know what’s happening in the world and they are abreast with the times. Like India, Afghanistan too enjoys a young population. Nearly 65 percent of the population is less than 25 years of age. And, this younger generation is fully engrossed to be a part of the global journey, to be connected with the changing world and changing times.

It’s the same about media. We have multiple television channels, FM channels, newspapers and magazines.

D.S: And finally, Ambassador Abdali, how did you learn to speak such wonderful Hindi?

Ambassador Abdali: Thanks to Bollywood. It just goes on to show that Afghans find their relation with India so warm that they want to be a part of this culture too – they like to pick up the language! In fact, I joke with many Indian friends that since everything today is on reciprocal basis, I would like a survey to be held to determine how many Afghans know Indian languages and how many Indians know Afghans languages. I must admit that I am so happy that many universities are now teaching Afghan languages.

To conclude, I must say, that for every Afghan, India is a home away from home. And that’s why I can fluently converse in Hindi!



originally published on Aug 22, 2017,  ANI News


Afghan envoy urges Pakistan to join fight against terrorism sincerely

Updated: Aug 22, 2017 19:01 IST      
New Delhi [India], Aug 22 (ANI): Afghanistan's Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali has hailed United States President Donald Trump's new policy for Afghanistan and urged Pakistan to join the fight against terrorism sincerely to sustain peace in the region.

"President Trump's remarks were very clear. It has still open the window for cooperation and partnership, but clearly the lack of that...he also hinted at a strong action. I think this is an opportunity for everyone, including Pakistan to adhere to the principles of state government, to fight terrorism sincerely, for the sake of everyone in the region," Ambassador Abdali told ANI.

"If there is genuine fight against terrorism for peace and stability, there is still an opportunity for partnership, but if that's not there, the words were clear and we hope that words are also transferred into action, and if there is lack of sincerity in the fight against terrorism, action will be as it was spoken in his (Donald Trump) remarks," he added.

Describing Trump's policy as a very comprehensive strategy, the envoy said it focused more on terrorism and it is very multifaceted.

"Finally, it's a strategy that has a clarity. Clarity, in a sense, that the objectives are clear-that Afghanistan, currently, is facing the problem of terrorism, and clearly saying that the problem of terrorism has roots outside of Afghanistan, so, the condition based approach is something which is very significant," he said.

"We fully support it, specially the clarity of the strategy that we see as compared to previous strategies of the US government. There is no longer patience to the use of terrorism and to the existent of safe sanctuaries which is something Afghanistan has always sought," he added.

Ambassador Abdali said he was glad that the U.S. government, after taking much time, has reviewed its strategy for Afghanistan.

He added that finally its the strategy that has clarity and its objectives are also clear.

Emphasising that India has been a genuine partner, the envoy said New Delhi has been standing alongside Afghanistan, especially after fall of Taliban.

"India's assistance is in multifaceted ways. You can see India's assistance in development of peace , security, economic, culture and education in many fields, there is always room for more ....and we hope India will do more," he said.

Speaking about Trump asking India's help in Afghanistan, the envoy said, "I am glad, I wish this had been the case long time back, that India to be partnered with on peace and stability in Afghanistan and the wider region. I am glad right now, the U.S. in this current strategy has focussed more and we look forward to a strong India-U.S. partnership with Afghanistan."

Welcoming the new strategy of the United States for Afghanistan, President Ashraf Ghani said the decision unveils an enduring commitment by Washington as a key partner of the Kabul government.

Ghani thanked Trump and the people of America for their support and efforts for Afghanistan to make the country self sufficient to combat the threat of terrorism.

"I am grateful to President Trump and the American people for this affirmation of support for our efforts to achieve self-reliance and for our joint struggle to rid the region from the threat of terrorism," Tolo News quoted Ghani, as saying.

"The new strategy will increase the capacity in the Resolute Support mission. It will particularly emphasis on enhancing the Afghan air power, doubling the size of the Afghan Special Force and deepening NATO's ability to train, advice and assist Afghan security forces," he added.

He further said the new strategy would allow both the US and Afghanistan to work together in achieving mutual goals of peace and prosperity. The new strategy will also provide a clear pathway for the regional countries to end support for non-state actors.

India has also welcomed Donald Trump's new policy on Afghanistan and said that New Delhi shares the concerns and objectives as entailed by the former in his recent address.

"We welcome President Trump's determination to enhance efforts to overcome the challenges facing Afghanistan and confronting issues of safe havens and other forms of cross-border support enjoyed by terrorists. India shares these concerns and objectives," India's External Affairs Ministry spokerperson Raveesh Kumar said, in a press statement.

"We are committed to supporting the Government and the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to bring peace, security, stability and prosperity in their country. We have been steadfast in extending reconstruction and development assistance to Afghanistan in keeping with our traditional friendship with its people. We will continue these efforts, including in partnership with other countries," the statement added.

India's reaction came as Trump unveiled his new Afghanistan policy and that "from now on victory will have a clear definition."

Trump also sought more help from India in Afghanistan.

Speaking from the Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Va., Trump said, "We will develop a deeper strategic partnership with India, but we want them to help us more in Afghanistan."

"Another part of South Asia strategy for America to further develop its strategic partnership with India, the world's largest democracy and key security and economic partner of US. We appreciate India's important contribution to bring stability in Afghanistan. But, India makes billions of dollars in trade with the United States and we want them to help us more with Afghanistan especially in the area of economic consistence and development," Trump said.

India aided the overthrow of the Taliban and became the largest regional provider of humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Afghanistan. Indians are working in various construction projects, as part of India's rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan.

Trump's assertion of a bigger Indian role in Afghanistan is a blow for Pakistan, which has been opposing New Delhi's presence in Kabul.

Pakistan alleges the Indian intelligence agency RAW is working in cover to malign Pakistan and train and support insurgents. This claim has been rejected strongly by India and the United States, which is historically a strong ally of Pakistan(ANI)

originally published on August 22, 2017 ,  CNN-News18


New Delhi: Shaida Mohammad Abdali, the Afghanistan ambassador to India, on Tuesday welcomed US President Donald Trump's strategy to continue fighting in the war-torn country, saying it was a "comprehensive one".

Abdali suggested that the new strategy involved all aspects - from security to defence.

On Trump's "no blank cheque" remark, Abdali said that there has to be accountability in cooperation and goals have to be met.

Trump has now ended "uncertainty", he said. Donald Trump, in a prime-time address to the nation on Monday evening, accused Pakistan of giving "safe havens to agents of chaos, violence and terror". Abdali also appreciated Trump for stating that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will depend on ground-zero condition.

Abdali was glad that Trump called out Pakistan, saying the strategy was not only Afghan-centric, and "took the entire region into consideration".

Abdali once again asserted that Afghanistan, "for the longest time", said: "terrorism was not Aghanistan's doing." "The whole region should participate in fighting terrorism."

He expressed concerns about the state of modern-day Afghanistan, saying his country was a "victim of terrorism" emanating from across the border. "We will have to fight the sanctuaries of terror and it couldn't have been more clearly spelt out."

Lauding India's constructive role in Afghanistan, Abdali said that Trump called on India because he leans towards India for peace and stability in the region. "India is an excellent example of partnering with responsibility towards peace."

Donald Trump said the US wanted India to help more with Afghanistan, particularly in the areas of "economic assistance and development".

originally published on August 22, 2017 ,  DD News


originally published on Aug 19, 2017 ,  WION