Interviewer: Mr. President. Thank you for taking the time to speak with TRT this morning.
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. It is a pleasure to welcome you. My best wishes to the Turkish people and the Turkish government.
Interviewer: The Taliban have made no secret of their plan to restore the Emirate. The Americans are keen to withdraw. In the Doha talks, it appears that though the Taliban have the upper hand and the Americans all may have the concessions. Do you think the Doha talks will bring lasting peace to Afghanistan?
President Ashraf Ghani: I think all of those are assumptions. The fundamental issue is stability in Afghanistan can only come through a democratic system. If we do not have a system where the citizens elect their leaders, there will not be stability. Emirate was never accepted by the people of Afghanistan. It was imposed by force. Our Loya Jirga, the Consultative Grand Assembly of 29th April – 2nd June categorically has endorsed the notion of republic. Peace must take place within the concept of the republic, not the concept of the Emirate.
Second, any peace process has a phase of reaching of preparing for an agreement, concluding an agreement and then acquiring an endorsement. The endorsement of any agreement must be done by the people of Afghanistan either through Afghan parliament, through a Loya Jirga or through a referendum. So we need to know that they are phases to this.
The discussions between the United States and Taliban are focused on four components. Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We, the government of Afghanistan, have asked for a review of level of American present troops as early as January so there is no disagreement on that issue and I am sure you probably add other questions.
The question of Taliban commitment vis-à-vis their relations with terrorist networks is not just to the Americans. This is a global issue, it is a regional issue and particularly it is a national issue. So that is not an area where concessions are going to be granted very easily, we need to have guarantees and a system of verification.
The third area is ceasefire which we have successfully done, and it should not be forgotten we took the initiative to bring peace because it first phase it was a taboo during my predecessor; we brought it to the public.
The fourth one is of course talk between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban and we need to negotiate.
There are also two other issues that are fundamental. One is the question of drugs because the relation of the Taliban to the criminal economy is a global issue and a regional issue. Now it is gone past heroine to production of Meth and crystal. And unless we focus on this, the world…
And second is the critical role of the relation of Taliban with Pakistan. To say that concessions are being made, I think it is premature. We have started an earnest process where the political will both of the Afghan government, the United States have been clearly made, now the ball is in the court of Taliban to see whether they have the commitment for engaging a political solution that will be enduring.
Interviewer: You have made many overtures to the Taliban but they continue to refuse to engage with the Afghan government. Why is this?
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. Because of the ideological reason; the notion of the emirate and because of their dependencies. Of course, we had breakthroughs. In 2018, for the first time in forty years, we held a successful ceasefire. And that ceasefire was a controlled experiment. Tens of thousands of Taliban next with their fellow Afghan citizens and after that they were extremely reluctant to resume fighting. So one really needs to differentiate between rank and file who clearly during the ceasefire indicated. All peace processes are complicated, all areas so there is nothing new in the process of refusal, but the goal of seeking peace as our Loya Jirga again has articulated is the goal to reach for the realization of which I am dedicated.
Interviewer: There seems to be some disputes over who controls most of the territory. Does this even matter? And do you believe that concession should be made on the basis of who controls more territory?
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. There are two ways of looking at this. First, if you are looking at the formal figures. Of nearly 400 districts, only 22 are under Taliban control. That gives you the percentage.
Second, we need to look at what ground meets. Most of the population of Afghanistan is today in the cities. Kabul has at least around five million in the province. So that is one-sixth of the population. When you take the other population centers, it comes to a very significant number. The Taliban do not control a single city.
Second, are major agricultural areas. These depend very heavily on five river systems. And again the highways and others.
The third are pastures and then the mountains. So most when we say ‘freedom of movement’, they have freedom of movement because of their networks. But control is not defined negatively. Any Talib wants a passport or an identity card or health services depends on the government. They have not been unlike the Chinese or Vietnamese created an alternative system of delivery .
The main issue, however, is their negative power which the Loya Jirga and people of Afghanistan acknowledged is the destructive power of killing citizens, attacking hospitals, attacking universities, attacking caravans, so because of this very factor, it is not the positive vision, it is the negative driver of war that the society acknowledges, that requires a solution and because of that we are bound to seek solution. And because we put it first on the agenda, the excitement, but also the anxiety that comes with needing to see a changed context is prevalent around this.
Interviewer: Mr. President. many Afghan opposition politicians appear to be jumping on the band like the US and Taliban talks, possibly to secure their political futures, only a deal or perhaps because they are not convinced that there is an alternative. Can you give us some insights into your peace plan?
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. First my peace plan is inclusive. In the last round in Doha where members of civil society, women’s group, Ulema, youth, a cross section of the society has really participated. The defense of the Republic spontaneously but very clearly has taken place. When we say politicians, these are not political parties that have large constituencies. Are they self-appointed. The fundamental issue is the government of Afghanistan is the elected representative of the people. Unless we agree, nothing moves. Can a group of politicians release their political prisoners or engage with them? That is the authority of the government so clearly, our peace plan is the following:
One, build a coalition for peace where the message is of all international and regional actors are coherent. When they talk separately one by one with Taliban, it elevates their sense of importance. That does not reflect ground reality and medium and long-term interests of the international actors.
Two, differentiate between dialogue and negotiations. What happened in Doha in the last round, thanks to the Germans, we greatly appreciate and facilitated by the Berghof foundation – a foundation with immense credibility – is dialogue. In a dialogue, we need to get to know each other. It was extraordinary revealing for the participants, I spent two hours with them, to understand the difference between image and what they now consider the reality of the Taliban. The conclusion is you need to prepare for very intensive and hard bargain.
The third is negotiation. Negotiation has to take place between…dialogue is inclusive; negotiation is focused among the two principle parties. And in terms of seeking an agreement, we seek an agreement in two phases. A preliminary agreement or a framework agreement prior to the election hopefully by 1st of September. And then a comprehensive agreement, after that.
And lastly is the question of implementation. I have reviewed more than a hundred peace agreements. It is something like I have spent a lifetime working on, we need to get it right. An enduring peace requires a lot of issues and that… so each of the peace components has different partners, different alignment, different coalitions. And central to this and all of this is again the mechanism of public citizen-based endorsement.
Interviewer: The policies of regional states are crucial to matters of war and peace. are they buying in to your proposal for regional connectivity?
President Ashraf Ghani: Absolutely, on regional connectivity we are really getting to action. Four and half years ago, Afghanistan was considered landlocked isolated country. Today it is in the process of becoming an Asian Roundabout. What we have done with our Central Asian neighbors and beyond them, Central Asia 5 and the Caucuses. I think it is stounding, you know. There is such a world that has opened in terms of making sure.
Our location for 200 years was a disadvantage. In the next 100 years, I think it is going to be the most valuable asset this country has if we have the wisdom to articulate it. And Central Asia is the shortest way of connecting Asia; Afghanistan is the center of this. South Asia is the least connected part of the world in terms of regional connectivity and equally a region starved for energy. The engine of growth that India has created cannot be fueled without further power, in Pakistan there is desperate for power. So in this we are repositioning, we are not only getting concept, but the proof of concept is now there, particularly vis-à-vis power and natural gas and transport that is moving.
The second issue is, the region is in the process of transformation that only the United States witnessed roughly between 1840 and 1869. Asia is becoming a continental economy. Inter-Asia trade is larger now than Asia’s trade with the rest of the world. In this environment, the transport revolution, the connectivity revolution, the fiber optics is key. So essential to this is change of perspective. In the short term, some of actors, of course, have taken an insurance policy probably vis-à-vis the Taliban, but in medium-term which we take a perspective of ten years, a functioning government in Afghanistan is essential to regional stability and connectivity. I think we are getting to actions because a lot still to do.
Interviewer: You mentioned Pakistan, a couple of times already. You were recently in Pakistan where I believe you had several meetings. Can you give us a sense of where you think Pakistan is standing on this and what role do you think they are playing in the ongoing negotiations?
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. First, I found my discussion with Prime Minister Khan constructive when he brought the army chief and the ISI chief and others to a discussion and equally with the business community of Pakistan and across the board with their cabinet. I asked a series of direct questions and I got answers.
The first is, is it in Pakistan’s interest to have the Taliban run on Afghanistan? The answer is no. Is it in Pakistan’s national interest to have a dependent government in Kabul? They said not possible and not in their interests. Three, is connectivity to their interest and therefore, the stability of Afghanistan? And the answer is yes.
I think at the level of intention, we have had a change of perspective, thanks to Prime Minister Khan and General Bajwa and his colleagues. Now we are focusing on getting the details right. But simultaneously one has to understand that this change of perspective in the top does not mean immediately the change of perspective in the middle. The undeclared war launched from Pakistan against Afghanistan is continuing. Terrorist groups still have sanctuary and bases of support in the network of Madrasas, where they are moving again for the first time. The government of Pakistan is changing the curriculum of the Madrassas.
The main issue for Pakistan which Prime Minister Khan has repeatedly said, is have the policies of the past gained Pakistan or cost Pakistan? On that question depends the future of our relationship. Our goal is relation, full cooperation between two sovereign states. We are able to create mutual interest.
And in terms of connectivity in the talk I gave in Islamabad, I tackled the question directly, saying what kind of guaranties we will create in order to make sure that this huge co-dependence that would be brought to cooperation on power, on gas, on connectivity, on fiber optics and others. And there, there is a framework, we can offer political guarantees. We can offer escrow account and penalties. We can offer management guarantees. And we can offer social and environmental guarantees so we have thought our relationship through, we think we can work. Now it is going to depend…
It literally is a vital question for Pakistan. Pakistan potentially is an extraordinarily productive country with a role to play. But policies of the past have gotten it to isolation and to a level where the crisis of indebtedness and poverty increased rather than poverty reduction is haunting its future. Prime Minister Khan is really dedicated to poverty eradication. If the agenda of poverty eradication, environment, connectivity that we all share becomes the basis, then I think we can move forward. But a lot depends on the decisions that are taken in the months to come.
Interviewer: On the issue of security, Taliban is not the only armed group operating in the country. At the moment there is also Daesh and others. And there is a lot of debate over the capacity of the Afghan National Defense and Security forces to defend the state. Do you think that the Afghan national security forces can stand alone or will they continue to need foreign support for some time to come?
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. There are two components to that. And thank you for the question. First let me pay tribute to the bravery, dedication and patriotism of our forces. When I became president, do not forget all the commentators were giving us six months and saying the forces will collapse. They have gone from strength to strength. I did not intend, all my life I prepared to construct, not lead a war. But as commander-in-chief I made extraordinary proud of the forces. We have reformed our security forces. Things that will being resisted. There is a new generation of officers, that the non-commissioned officers and the soldiers are superb. The issue was in system and process and management and leadership.
And this year, particularly in the last six month, my colleagues have done an extraordinary job. This is one side of the thing because we filled a gap left by the departure of one hundred thousand international troops that again I had the honor during President Karzai to design and manage that process.
The second part is question of terrorism. It is not our problem alone. That is a regional and international problem. Why do we insist on following on reaching peace deal with the Taliban because Taliban provide the local platform for these other groups?
Daesh, too, initially came on their platform, now that they are fighting. Taking them out, out of the fight, will change the problem of violence to foreign invaders. Then the society can mobilize. But here Afghanistan is the frontline of both regional security and global security. We are fighting on behalf of every single country. Because of that regional cooperation is not something that we request as a charity. But something that is required as part of joint contribution. The numbers are flexible. The more we strengthened, the less the number required and equally the financial resources. I am confident that within four to five years with the growth of the economy and the connectivity agenda, our need for financial resources will decline substantially as for numbers, but we need to arrive at different scenarios; it depends on the scenarios, there is not one answer.
Interviewer: You had once mentioned the plan to US President Donald Trump on an idea, on how to cut cost without abandoning Afghanistan. Were there any follow up discussions?
President Ashraf Ghani: Yes, Absolutely. We have had continuous discussions. And I am very pleased that we are doing cost cutting. We have also had detail discussion on numbers, reduction at our request can take place to both bring economizing and more efficiency. And the key of this again has been the performance of our security forces which are really taking the lead and getting stronger by the day.
Interviewer: You have served as president, finance minister and at the World Bank. This is analogy to look at Afghanistan from many different perspectives. What do you think are the enduring challenges facing Afghanistan?
President Ashraf Ghani: We have five key issues. One is building a state that represents, and it can only be a democratic state, the wishes and aspirations of our people, particularly our women and youth. I hope that what I have shown during this four and half years that the Afghan women are second to none, and that the youth have a level of energy, talent and creativity that allows them to truly own. I see myself as a bridge for this process.
The second issue is building a market. The world private sector has become a catch all, but that word was first used in 1946. You need functioning market institutions to utilize the immense natural capital of Afghanistan and move it forward. So we are engaged in—last year we were the top reformer in the World Bank doing business indicators, but you may need to create…
The third process is peace building. Without peace, without enduring peace, the cost of war is so destructive. But building peace requires the overcoming the last forty years.
And the fourth is strengthening the process of national unity and nation building. Because without a nation where every citizen feels that she or he is equal to every other citizen and not lesser, that requires social programs. And our culture, I hope, has been brought to your attention, a lot of our buildings, the icons of our identity were wiped out. I am restoring them in a massive program. In the pride taken in some of these buildings is much larger that some of our development projects because it deals with identity. Afghanistan is a multilingual country and we have small identities but our strength is our diversity and we are confident that each Afghan regardless of the language that he or she speaks feels much more connected to this home. And this process also means bringing our diaspora and our refugees back in. We are close to four million refugees, a million diaspora at OECD countries including Turkey. They are immensely talented. You know, one of the benefits of this tragedy has been a human capital at the diaspora that is stunning.
And the fifth is regional connectivity. You cannot develop of a country in the 21st century through autarchy; it has to be through connectivity.
These five processes, I think, will bring us to a place where Afghanistan would be able after much pain to harness its passion to development and to stability and peace and return to our culture of hospitality that we have offered the world, for two thousand and half years, prior to the tragedies of the 20th century.
Interviewer: There is a great deal of talk at the moment about the possibility of US-Taliban peace deal being reached in a very near future, possibly in the coming weeks. If a peace deal is achieved in the coming weeks, how would that impact the elections?
President Ashraf Ghani: It will not impact the elections. First thing we need to differentiate the peace that will impact the elections. It is the peace between the Afghan government and Taliban, not peace between US and Taliban. As I said it is series of linkages
Second, our agreement with the US and our other interlocutors is to seek a preliminary peace, a framework agreement before the elections. The election is critical because election is a certain process, it is a mandated process by the constitution. And the next leader of Afghanistan, whether it is I or someone else, must have a mandate for peace because peace is going to require hard decisions, hard bargaining, and being able to sell it back to Afghan people. It means, they have to buy in to peace.
Remember Colombia, President Santos immensely dedicated his life, but he lost the plebiscite so we need to make sure that it is not just at the table. The table is one component both before we sit. This peace must be shaped and then peace must be endorsed and embraced. We are dedicated to the election and again all our international partners including the United States are fully supportive. And for the first time, we are paying most of the expenses of the election. We are paying 90 million dollars of our own money to make sure that our national imperative is carried out.
Interviewer: And all these talk of an interim government?
President Ashraf Ghani: That is nonsense. And no government has the right, democratically elected government has the right to dissolve itself. By what authority will an interim government be created?
Interviewer: Ok now Mr. President. Given the long historical relationship between Turkey and Afghanistan, do you see a larger role for Turkey in the near future?
President Ashraf Ghani: Well. You know how we describe our relationship with Turkey; short, medium, near, long and very long-term without an expiry date. We have had relations for thousands of years. Afghan-Turks have been parts of our great and glorious civilization long before Turkey became Turkey, we have had a Turkish component. Our Turkic languages, Uzbeki and Turkmeni are our third largest languages. Our relationship has gone past 100 years. Turkey is very active in Afghanistan. Do not forget, the second commander of the international security forces in Afghanistan was General Zorlu, a Turk. Turkey has been a very significant member of ISAF first and then the Resolute Support mission and our economic relations with Turkey are improving, particularly now that Azerbaijan has connected by railway to the port of Jaihan. It is opened up upon, you know our first trucks, TIR trucks, reached Istanbul. We are going through strength to strength. And Turkey as the significant previous chairman of the Islamic Organization, as a regional power and as a global actor is critical to our discussion. And we are very confident not only that our relations will solidify, but go to further strength.
Interviewer: Finishing up, where do you see Afghanistan in five years?
President Ashraf Ghani: A self-confident country, self-reliant as a hub of regional connectivity, a platform for global and regional cooperation, a place where women and men will be able to claim the heritage and deeply Islamic country both civilizationally and constitutionally where our constitution is judged the most Islamic country, a country that would have healed some of its deep wounds and then would be embarking on a path of true glory for the rest of the 21st century. But also there are dangers and risks so we cannot… That is the Afghanistan I want. It is now up to other interlocutors and the political debate and discussions takes playing to the people of Afghanistan that they want. I am confident that Afghans of today are embracing the vision that I am articulating because in that vision they see themselves. And I hope that succession becomes a regular routine process where the torches passed to the younger generation and with their capabilities team work, national unity and a sense of regional and global understanding. They will take this ship to destination.
Interviewer: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. President.
President Ashraf Ghani: Thank you. Thank you for coming.