Transcript of His Excellency President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Interview with Geo News

Transcript of His Excellency President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Interview with Geo News

July 18, 2016

Journalist: First, I was reading an article in New Yorker about your personality and I remembered one of your speeches which you delivered in 2005, I think, that was about ‘how to fix the failed states?’ and you are considered to be an authority worldwide for this subject. How do you experience your theory in Afghanistan, and sometimes it looks that you were unable to bring your theory ‘fixing the failed states’ to Afghanistan in practice. Am I right?

President Ghani: بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

Mr. Safi, I am delighted to welcome you. My greetings, Salams to the viewers of Geo. Afghanistan is moving. What was the situation that we confronted? Simply put, an attempt to overthrow the Constitution of Afghanistan, to overthrow the legitimate government of Afghanistan, to ignore the will of the people of Afghanistan. Failing that to divide the geography of Afghanistan, God forbid, into two systems, unleashing of networks of terror and violence that the world has not seen, it has only recently experienced. We’ve overcome. One thing, In Shaa’ Allah, you need to realize; Afghanistan has existed for 5,000 years. Long before I am gone, this country is permanent. The sooner everybody realizes it and as great Iqbal, as you cited, indicated, there cannot be accord in Asia while there is a discord in Afghanistan, and the discord has implications. We are not only defending our country with blood, with sacrifice every day, we are building the consensus to build and effective state, and inclusive state, and a democratic state. In the period of time since I have had the honor and the burden of responsibility is too short to judge success or failure yet.

Journalist: Mr. President! Some days back in Warsaw once again the world community and the NATO pledged the support of Afghanistan and Afghanistan people and the Afghan government. What is your assessment, till what time Afghanistan will need the foreign assistance and the foreign troops? And, till what time we can expect that Afghanistan will be able to defend its border with its own forces?

President Ghani: We are defending our country; we are defending our sovereignty; the international forces are not engaged in combat. This was unthinkable; if you look into a number of regional commentators and international commentators, they thought we didn’t have a prayer; they thought Afghan army is made of puff, but the Afghan army is real; the Afghan Security forces are real. This year alone, three intensive waves of battle have been launched against us and we have crushed them. Why is there war? And why are international troops still in non-combat roles here? Because our overtures for peace, our entire program for peace, our outreach for peace was not accepted. Had my sincere efforts, that you referred to, with Pakistani leaders – civil and military – have been accepted, Afghanistan would not have had to fight when we would not have needed international troops. But, there are wrong assumptions, I think we have shown them that the international community… the assumption was that the international community was tired, it is exhausted, it is overextended and Afghanistan will not be a priority. I hope it’s been proven beyond doubt in Warsaw that the consensus on Afghanistan is unprecedented. Why is there a consensus? Because we are doing our part, and the problem is not confined; this is not a civil war. The networks of international terror, the support that they draw, required international cooperation. We will be with every day, our Security Forces become stronger but we need international support because the war is both regional and international.

Journalist: But, Mr. President, outside Afghanistan, generally, the people believe that it is not the Afghan forces, but it’s the NATO and the Americans who are defending Afghanistan. So who is leading the defense activity in Pakistan, your own forces or the Americans?

President Ghani: Our own forces are leading. Go, look at our barracks, people who are dying. How many American casualties are there in Afghanistan? How many European casualties are in Afghanistan since I have become President? Combat requires casualties. This is an Afghan-led operation. We hope that people who are our neighbors will at least bother to check their facts. You know, when I used to do field work in 1986, Ms. Bhutto had just returned and I would go attend all the demonstrations, and then in the salons in the evening, people who had not attended had all theories as to what had happened. We have to get outside the couches and move, and examine the realities. This is an Afghan-led operation. The Afghan Security Forces have shown their metal, their patriotism, their leadership and their management, and I am extraordinary proud to be their Commander in Chief.

Journalist: And who is on the driving seat? Do the NATO forces have to obey your orders or your troops have to obey their orders?

President Ghani: No. we are not obeying anybody’s order. This is a partnership. Their role is non-combat role. In a non-combat role, they provide advice, assistance and training. In counter-terrorism, we have joint operations and I issue orders; for instance, I ordered that the man going by the name of Omar Khattab who had committed the heinous crime of attacking and killing children in Peshawar and taking prides in it, should be bombed and he was.

Journalist: What is the biggest challenge to the security and to the lives of Afghan people? Is it Al-Qaeda, is it Taliban or is it the surrounding countries, the proxies?

President Ghani: Our biggest problem is state-to-state relationship with Pakistan.

Journalist: This is the biggest problem?

President Ghani: That is the biggest problem. It is the fundamental issue of regional security; because there are two wars going on; one war is getting coverage; the other war is not getting global coverage. Pakistan has 200,000 armed personnel along the Durand Line and they are using force continuously and it is courageous act. But the fundamental problems are terrorist networks. But because we have not reached state-to-state coordination, we are facing fundamental issues. Sovereign equality between states and agreement to international rules of the game defining relations between the states is key to regional stability; that has been my message, and this continues to be my message. We need to arrive at common understanding. The quadrilateral process brought this to a very organized framework, and we hope that we can move back towards implementation of them.

Journalist: So, Your excellency. Do you think that state-state relations problems with Pakistan, this is more biggest problem than Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other terrorists?

President Ghani: Yes, absolutely. Those are threats. This is a fundamental solution (to those threats) because there are sanctuaries. Can anybody deny that there are Taliban offices in Quetta? You go and interview with them; if you want the addresses, I will give you all the addresses… Of course, I can give you the addresses. Our corps commander went and gave, and asked to take a ride corps commander of Quetta to give them the addresses. They are openly recruiting. They are financed. Their logistic and supplies, and sanctuary is against international rules.

Journalist: Mr. President, we are hearing the slogan from both sides that ‘the enemy of Pakistan is the enemy of Afghanistan, and the enemy of Afghanistan is the enemy of Pakistan’; similarly in Pakistan, our rulers, they are repeating the sentence again and again that we have the same path, we have the same interest and we have the same concerns. Then the question is ‘why we are not reaching a joint strategy to fight this menace of terrorism and poverty and other evils?

President Ghani: First of all, look at the potential. Cooperation between us, solid state-to-state relationship…people to people relationship, we have a very long history and there are enormous sets of ties. But, state-to-state relationship is key. In relation between governments, there is no emotion. This is a rational discussion; it is interest-based. You reciprocate, we reciprocate. Afghanistan is part of no one’s strategic depth. It is never going to be anyone’s dependency. Whoever has tried this, has failed. Understand us as an historical people, as a people who were willing to sacrifice a million and half (1.5 million) people to win a Jihad that nobody thought possible. Islam is a part of our warp and woof. We have a total consensus on this because we unite about this; but the question is not rhetoric; the question is action in practice. We have not allowed, as our latest action again shows we are not giving sanctuary; we have not allowed open offices; we have not allowed networks of recruitment; we see the danger of terrorism.

Any child whether Afghan, in Punjab, in Peshawar, in Quetta, Karachi, anywhere in the world or around, is valuable.  Any threat to that child, we take as a threat to ourselves. When we say… what we ask is that Iqbal be listened to; that the founder of Pakistan’s movement be paid attention to, because he understood us, and his memoirs of Afghanistan move us, his poetry moves me deeply. I have read almost all the poetry last year, from the beginning to end. Here is the question: we cannot say that one group are terrorists, amend our constitution, change our army act, have a national action plan, and then simultaneously tolerate another group that attempts to overthrow, to undermine, to bring horror, death and destruction to our neighbor. This is not acceptable.

Journalist: But do you not think Mr. President that now Afghanistan is repeating the same mistake which was committed by the Pakistani establishment in the past? For example, look at the Fazlullah’s presence in Afghanistan and …… ?

President Ghani: Fazlullah, we have bombed eleven times. Eleven times. Eleven operations, at least, I have authorized. We have gotten his closest affiliate; that he has seven lives is not my problem. Can you show me a single operation against the Haqqani? Can you show me a single operation against Mulla Omar, against Mansour? Mansour travels on a Pakistani passport out of Karachi. Does Fazluallah travel on an Afghan passport out of Kabul, or Kandahar or Herat? Please look. You are not reciprocating our actions. I can give you chapter and verse of the number operations. Can anybody in Pakistan give me indication of a single action for use of force against these groups? Their wounded get treatment in hospitals, open meetings in Islamabad.

Journalist: Is the operation in North Waziristan against the Haqqani and that was not in the demand of the Afghan government?

President Ghani: The operation in North Waziristan was on the basis of national imperatives of Pakistan. The threat became large, you have covered it. General Raheel Sharif made a courageous decision to use it that the consequence of this was that a series of terrorist group like beehives changed that places, increased the threats to us, and, the Haqqanis were not touched; the Haqqani network is intact. Miramshah was hit and it is very real, and that operation needs to be appreciated. Facts are facts, but we will accept any credible third party verification; and our proposals are always constructive, Safi Sahib. We say, if we agree that ‘the threat to Pakistan is threat to Afghanistan and threat to Afghanistan is threat to Pakistan’, let’s arrive at a systematic framework and have it verified.

Journalist: Mr. President. The Pakistani government and particularly the Pakistani establishment; they are mostly and very concerned about the presence and activities of the Indian RAW in Pakistani border and they claimed that they have so many evidences of use of the Pakistani side by the RAW against Pakistan. So did you address that concern of Pakistan?

President Ghani: Look. I have had meetings with General Raheel Sharif, with the head of ISI, with Prime Minister Sharif and with others. Not a scrap of evidence has been presented to me. And, Afghan policy is continuous. We will not permit our country to be used for destabilization of any other country, particularly the neighborhood. Two, we will not sponsor terrorist groups as an instrument of policy. We will not use state organizations as non-state actors.

Some people live in a world of mythology; they believe their own allegations. If there are indications, if they are allegations, let’s agree to a third-party verification. Would they accept the Chinese? Would they accept the US? Who would they accept? Allegations cannot be a myth, allegations need to be substantiated. Again, Afghanistan sees itself as a roundabout, a place of meetings of civilizations, cultures, trades, and as a source of harmony. For thousands of years, we had fulfilled this function from the great Silk Route, from taking Indian numbers that became known subsequently as the Arabic numbers… We took mathematics and astronomy during the Muslim period. We are a place of meetings; we do not want to be source of contentions. We are not part of proxy wars. We want a solid relationship, and it is important to have a fact-based approach and a goal-oriented policy. Our policy is good neighborliness. Cooperation, linking Central Asia to South Asia. And, despite any tensions, our economic cooperation; we are working on TAPI; we are working on the transmission line from Turkmenistan; we are working on CASA, the transmission line. We have not slowed down. But, as a landlocked country, we have rights to transit. Our relationship is multidimensional; our greatest problem is poverty, and poverty can be uplifted through regional cooperation. So, regional cooperation is absolutely central to the type of policy that I lead and to the type of threats. 

Journalist: Mr. President, if you are so clear in your mind to act against TTP leadership and if you are ready to address the concern of the Pakistani government regarding the Indian or the RAW presence in the region, then why the NDS or the Afghan government refuses the intelligence cooperation, and when you were going to (inaudible) deal between the cooperation of ISI and your NDS. So why that efforts didn’t materialize?

President Ghani: Why? Why it didn’t. Did they sponsor the Taliban? A state-to-state relationship means an all-out attack; twice I was promised peace; before the spring of 2015, I was promised peace, a set of peace agreements. Instead, what did we gain? A vicious wholesale attack on us. In 2016, again, at the highest levels of the government of Pakistan, I was assured that within days, peace process was going to begin in earnest, and another series of attacks. And, in this environment, how do you expect us to behave with trust? You need prior action; we fulfill our obligations, Safi Saib. And, the groups are known, and in the quadrilateral, it is in black and white. Groups that do not accept peace, the peace process, are irreconcilable, about those groups, there is use of force and there is eviction

Journalist: But Excellency, instead of blaming each other in media or in international forums, is that will be not better that your army should talk to the Pakistani army, your intelligence should confront the Pakistani intelligence, and political leadership should sit with the Pakistani political leadership?

President Ghani: You are repeating my words of 2014, but trust needs to be established. We need to be assured that Pakistan is not going to give sanctuary to groups whose aim is overthrow of a legitimate government. You cannot have it both ways. We tried that. I overcame years of distrust, years of discord; I came with an open mind and an open heart. And, I repeated it that this was a once in a life-time opportunity. I am still insisting. Governments don’t have friends and enemies. We are servants of the people; we have national interests. I am the servant, the first servant of the Afghan people when the interest of my country demanded, I reached out; when the interests of my country demanded, I formed partnerships; there is nothing legitimate that I will not do to defend my national interest, and this needs to be understood. And, anybody who looks down upon my people, upon my government, upon my constitution closes an environment and trust will not grow. So we have an opportunity. The opportunity is to make history, to overcome the past, to move forward with a sense of vision, with a sense of commitment and a sense of mutual interest. Mutual interest is the basis on the basis of which we can proceed.

Journalist: How we can move forward? How we can achieve once again that environment of trust and cooperation?

President Ghani: Now it will have to be gradual and systematic. First, systematically declaring that Pakistan has no interest in strategic depth; it does not look down upon us as a backyard. We are nobody’s backyard. Anybody who stepped here has been swallowed. This is a land of lions. Don’t look upon us as the land of hens.

Journalist: But your present leadership and the political and also the military, they have denounced the concept of strategic depth. 

President Ghani: But this needs to have implications; that means, ‘don’t give sanctuary. It means, ‘do not allow for political recruitment of groups that are openly declaring war. Our police cadets on the way of returning are killed; groups in Pakistan take responsibility for them. Our unarmed security apparatus, two miles from here, are studying; they are butchered. In Kabul, bombs are thrown; responsibility is taken for them by named groups, and those groups have headquarters; they have open activity; they have meetings. None of the high-ranking Pakistani officials has denied meeting with senior levels of Taliban. How can Mansour travel on a Pakistani passport multiple times from Karachi airport? And here, there will be accusations. So, environment……

Journalist: But they claimed that there are so many Afghans who have got the Pakistani passport.  

President Ghani: Oh come on, please, please. Do not insult ISI. ISI is far more efficient than not to know who Mansour is.

JournalistBut, Mr. President. In the past even some presidential candidates of Afghanistan, they were holding the Pakistani

President Ghani: No, but those were people that were honored by specific things. But, it is not in order to commit terror. The leaders of Jihad were engaged in a legitimate Islamic duty, in a national patriotic duty, and it was part of our friendship. What I am bringing to your attention and to your honorable viewers and officials; we have an opportunity, we have prepared roadmaps that have been on papers that have been shared. There is an opportunity to act. And, I hope that illusions that the government of Afghanistan will collapse, that the Afghan army will collapse, that the international forces will abandon us, that we will run out of resources or will or determination. Let’s begin with a clean slate, with a full understanding that Afghanistan is here, and that is based on mutual interest; we can face the greatest threat that faces all of us which is regional and internationally-based terrorist networks that threaten both our countries. That is the threat, and the key to the solution is our cooperation; in that cooperation, we are willing to engage systematically and wholeheartedly, but based on the principle of, “trust but verify’.

Journalist: What should be the step 1, step 2, step 3 from the Pakistani side?

President Ghani: Step one, go after the declared terrorist groups. Clear. If you don’t take action on them, we don’t believe you.

Step two, act on the quadrilateral process regarding reconcilables and irreconcilables so that peace can begin.  Three; those who reject peace should be evicted from Pakistan.

Journalist: And what the Afghan side will reciprocate?

President Ghani: Afghan side will cooperate with counter-terrorism; the threat of terrorism is on the two sides of the line. It has now become a ground for attacks on both of us. Threat of terrorism in Pakistan cannot be contained without full regional and global cooperation. We will engage in full cooperation across the board: people-to-people relationship, economy-to-economy relationship, security-to-security relationship, political-to-political and cultural-to-cultural.

Journalist: And in that condition, your government is ready to address the Pakistani concerns regarding Indian presence or TTP or Baluch separatists?

President Ghani: India is a historical friend of Afghanistan. India is building dams in Afghanistan and helping building our parliament. India is a democratic country sharing our democratic aspirations. Our foreign policy is no-one’s business, but ours, as long as it’s constructive. If destructive allegations are made, we will verify. We are proud of our friendship with India; we are proud of our friendship with China and with the United States; that is the essence of sovereignty. Essence of sovereignty is that you are free to strike partnerships with others. The essence of regional stability is that your friendships with others do not pose threats to your neighbors.

Journalist: Your Excellency, besides the elected president of the Afghan people, you are also an intellectual and a researcher. I want to understand how you will categorize the relationship of Pakistan and Afghanistan at this stage. Can we say them ‘brother’? Can we say them ‘friend’? And can we say it is ‘love and hate relation’? Or God forbid we can say ‘enmity’ or ‘enemy’?

President Ghani: in relations between states, there is no emotion. When you call each other ‘brother’, it means you are claiming an emotional relationship. Emotional relationships come when there is a stable state-to-state relationship. The face of brotherhood is later…that’s between people; that’s not between governments. I do not conduct the affairs of the state based on a model of a family. You can ask all my colleagues, my relationships with them are instrumental at the service of patriotism. We all believe in this basis because family…Dost Mohammad, the man who put back together to Afghanistan faced his brothers; and the elder brother said, ‘based on Afghan honor now surrender to me the province of Qalat.’ He said, ‘In the affairs of the state, there is no family relationship.’ That was one of my predecessors, known as the Great Amir. So, our relationships are clear. Clarity in our relationships has been established; now we need to act to bring about understanding and trust. There has been an undeclared war against us, and this I articulated both to Pakistani government, to the Pakistani security forces, to the media, to parliament; no one questioned that. The undeclared war must end, and because of it, the two sides must engage in a systematic constructive dialogue to bring it to an end.

What is the danger? The danger is that we could move from excellent people-to-people relationship to enmity between people. That is what I am trying to avoid and that’s why there is no emotion in my language. We are grateful for the support that Pakistanis provided to our refugees. We intend to bring them back honorably. But again, it is to the interest of the refugees; it is in the interest of people, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan, who have taken most, to be hospitable; and here that is where there has been emotion. Afghan refugees particularly during the height of Jihad did not feel that they were living in an alien land; they were living in a land that they understood and respected. People-people relationships are emotional and there is a lot of that, and we intend to bring back our refugees. But, state-state relationship must be rationally conducted. It is based on the principle of interest and it is based on the principle of reciprocity. When positive actions are shown to us, we move. When negative actions take place, it slows down, but the basic point remains; Afghanistan and Pakistan like any two neighbors with very long histories are joints at the hip. We must work together to solve our common problems, not face each other as opponents, because the winner will be terrorism.

Journalist: One of the common problems is the refugee problem, and the Pakistan official, they are giving the excuse that ‘we cannot recognize Taliban’ or ‘we cannot go against them’ because they are using the refugee camps and they are active in the shape of the common refugees; so why the Afghan government is not bringing back its own citizens because we even witnessed in President Karzai’s period, no refugees came back to their country and even now in your government. So, do you have any plan for the repatriation of the Afghan refugees?

President Ghani: two very interesting comments; first is an admission that they have actually been sponsoring Taliban. So your effect said that the Pakistani officials say they are sponsoring Taliban because they are afraid of refugee reaction. This is an enormous admission. Thank you.

Journalist: But at the same time, they are saying if they will go against them then the Afghan government……

President Ghani: No, no. I am saying is that, but now the problem has been put. They have never put this to me with this clarity. If it were put with this clarity, we would solve the problem jointly. But, let them, at least, not say this to you, but not tell me, because this is important.

Second; five million refugees returned in the last 14 years, Safi Sahib. At least, 2 million of them returned from Pakistan, so it is not that we have not. This is a country which was emptied. Three, we are very keen to have a holistic approach; part of the Brussels Conference is not going to be just migration outward, but to solve …… I have repeatedly said, and I am repeating that again. Afghanistan is an incomplete body till the estimated 4 million refugees in Pakistan and Iran return back to our land. But, that means I have to have the opportunity to focus on the economy, to move the economy. If we want to refugees to be absorbed, we have to ensure 6 -9% rate of growth. I am absolutely keen to do this, but regional cooperation will cut this process (short), because all studies have shown once you go from conflict to peace, the neighbors alone benefit from 1 to 2 percent, save the country. So, it is in our mutual interest if the question of refugees and their reactions is of concern, and this would be legitimate, we can arrange as part of our discussions a systematic attempt to repatriate our refugees.

Journalist: Mr. President. Although they are challenging Afghan government, they are killing the Afghan people but at the same time the Taliban there are Afghans. So why your government is not going to talk directly to the Taliban because now their representatives are in Qatar; you can contact them, you can talk them. So why Afghan itself are giving opportunity to third forces to come and to intervene?   

President Ghani: Several things. When we talked during President Karzai’s time, weren’t the same people arrested? Why was Mullah Brother arrested? Because he was talking to the Afghans. We needed to make sure…Safi Sahib, this is multidimensional conflict. First thing, because of that priority was to differentiate state-state relationship with Pakistan, people-to-people relationship with Pakistan as distinct. We need first peace between the two countries. As long as a proxy war is being launched from Pakistan, and as you just said for whatever set of reasons, they tolerate it or accept it or encourage it, then we have a state-to-state problem. Show me a place where sanctuary has been provided and peace has been established through direct talks. Two, we are talking. We are talking to Hikmatyar group; we have offered talks now. Again in my speech to Afghan parliament after the attack on Kabul, I said, we do not demand peace from Pakistan. We demand commitments of a state-to-state; we are engaging and we will engage, but it was important to address that dimension that connects directly to Pakistan. And, as you have just stated, again I am stating, they have made a significant statement but this is not justification. Terrorism cannot be differentiated, and what you have indicated citing unnamed officials is that there is good terrorism and bad terrorism, and that is unacceptable to us.

Journalist: But the Pakistani side said that when we bring Taliban to Mari, then why the news of Mullah Omar death was released to the media from the Afghan government and the Afghan NDS.

President Ghani: The news of Mulla Omar’s death came from the Taliban.

Journalist: That was not leaked by the Afghan government officially?

President Ghani: No, we didn’t leak. We gave an official statement. ‘Leak’ is when you say something and you don’t acknowledge it. My foot had been broken. I was going for an operation; I had got nineteen stitches, and it needed to come. And, the news was leaking, we verified 19 different sources, all within Taliban groups. How is it that, again, that an incredibly competent regional intelligence organization did not know for two years? And, in all the discussions that were conducted with intentions of sincerity, a simple fact like this was not shared with us. 

Journalist: Mr. President. What your government can offer to Taliban? Is there any meeting point because they are not accepting your constitution?

President Ghani: What we are offering Taliban is common citizenship, common destiny, common vision, and inclusion. We accept the constitution does not differentiate between Afghans, and Afghans who accept…This is the charter of our existence. And, we must live together. We are offering that and the details of what divide us are subject of peace talks. We did not put preconditions. I have looked at more than 100 peace agreements. I wrote a long article of in days when I had time to write articles, and based on that I drew lessons. One of the key lessons was that we should show our sincerity. We have shown our sincerity and our commitment. What can be brought in the negotiation process cannot be gained in the battle field.

Journalist: And what happened with the deal with the Hezb-e Islami, Hekmatyar?

President Ghani: It is proceeding. We are still in discussions. It is a constructive dialogue. We are hopeful.

Journalist: You are hopeful?

President Ghani: Yes

Journalist: And, when we should expect you in Pakistan once again in that friendly environment?

President Ghani: When Pakistani leaders come with clarity regarding the relationships and the key questions that we have. Last time I was there, reciprocity now is the leadership of Pakistan comes here. I called Prime Minister Sharif, wished him well, and informed him that we had eliminated the heinous criminal

Journalist: Our Prime Minister has just passed a heart surgery, now he has a new heart, so why you are not inviting him for these talks to Kabul?

President Ghani: We are inviting. I called the Prime Minister before he went to the operation and I have just called him again.

Journalist: And You are inviting him to visit Kabul?!

President Ghani: Of course. We are delighted to have the Prime Minister.

Journalist: Mr. President of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,  Dr. Ashraf Ghani. Thank you very much once again.