By Syed Zafar Mehdi

‘Deteriorating security situation shows U.S.-led coalition has failed to achieve its objectives in Afghanistan’

July 23, 2018

Muslim Shirzad is a Kabul-based senior TV journalist, political commentator and university lecturer. He is one of the candidates in upcoming Afghan parliamentary elections. In an interview with Tehran Times, he spoke about Afghan peace process, America’s Afghanistan policy, President Ghani’s legacy and the upcoming elections.

Following are the excerpts:

Q. A few days ago, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan offered direct negotiations with the Taliban, but later he retracted the statement. Do you think the peace process should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned? 

A. The statement about the U.S readiness for direct talks with the Taliban was given by the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. Late they thought it would harm the dignity and prestige of the Afghan government so they retracted the statement and now they are looking to push it in a smooth way and not by a military general but through the diplomatic channels. 

The reality is that the U.S. government is ready to talk directly to the Taliban. There is no way the Afghan government can lead the peace process since they cannot even manage and resolve their internal issues. Even four years since the coalition government was formed in Kabul, some ministries are still run by caretaker ministers.

Q. The unprecedented ceasefire between the Afghan government and the Taliban on Eid this year made headlines in the local and international media. Even though they refused to extend the ceasefire and resumed their activities, President Ghani has expressed hope that they will eventually come to the negotiating table. Do you think it's possible or is he being over optimistic? 

A. President Ghani is simply being over-optimistic. The question is, why would the Taliban negotiate and why would they negotiate with President Ghani?

CEO Dr. Abdullah Abdullah’s deputy Mohammad Mohaqeqsaid on record that the Taliban controls nearly 70 percent of Afghanistan’s territory, which means they have an upper hand. They know President Ghani has only one year left in his tenure and he has problems with many of his colleagues including first vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is living in exile in Turkey. 

I don’t think the Taliban will come to the negotiating table with Ghani government. The three-day Eid ceasefire was a reminder that it is Taliban who will decide the terms of peace and war in Afghanistan, not 20 terrorist groups that the Afghan government keeps talking about.

Q. The deadly Jalalabad attack, which killed members of the minority Sikh community, was claimed by the ISIS. The group has in recent past attacked Shias also. What does the group want to achieve by attacking ethnic and religious minorities in Afghanistan?

A. ISIS needs to show its presence in Afghanistan and the best way is through more brutality, because in the battlefield,especially in the east of Afghanistan, they have been defeated by the Taliban, so to stay relevant, they target. They got good publicity after attacking the members of Sikh community inJalalabad city. Targeting Hazara Shias is very obvious because the group claims Hazaras is Middle East are fighting against them in Syria as part of Fatimeyon brigade. So, they are exacting revenge.

Q. The situation has alarmingly deteriorated in Afghanistan since the political transition saw Ashraf Ghani being elected as Hamid Karzai's successor in 2014. Do you think government in Kabul needs to rethink its strategy ofcombating terrorism?

A. The government in Kabul first needs to gain trust of people and political parties. Does President Ghani want long-term peace or electoral peace? The fact that the Afghan government does not want defeat of Taliban is because there are serious doubts about government’s ability to fight terror. While Taliban are slaughtering Afghan security forces in northern provinces of Badakshan and Takhar, President Ghani is optimistic about peace.

There is no doubt that the Afghan government needs to have a clear strategy of fighting terrorism if it wants to regain the trust of people. There should be no distinction between good and bad terrorists.

Q. The government in Kabul has repeatedly blamed Islamabad of sheltering terrorist groups like Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network but Islamabad has forcefully rejected the allegations. Do you think Islamabad is living in denial?

A. The presence of Taliban leaders and their families in Pakistan is pretty clear and known to everyone. When you go to Karachi, you see how the Taliban’s top leaders are living the life of luxury, while they commit horrendous war crimes in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s denial isn’t something new and even recently theAfghan Ambassador to Pakistan said that Pakistan played a keyrole in making Eid ceasefire possible. So everything is veryclear.

Q. The current war in Afghanistan has entered its 17th year. The Taliban are still going strong and peace seems to be a farfetched dream. Do you think the international community, especially the U.S., has failed to achieve itsobjectives in Afghanistan?

A. The deteriorating security situation inside the country is a good answer to that. Even the western media is saying that the U.S. strategy has failed in Afghanistan. So, it is clear that the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has failed to achieve itsobjectives in Afghanistan and the 17-year-old has become morecomplicated.

Q. Despite the international community's aggressive counter-narcotics drive, the production and smuggling of narcotics continues across the country. It constitutes a major source of income to the Taliban. Why have the counter-narcotics efforts failed?

A. I think there is no strategy for counter narcotics and the ministry is controlled by weak people. Also the Afghan government’s priority is not counter-narcotics because President Ghani is busy with political rivals and war is getting longer with each passing day, even in the capital. So, how can you make a strategy and how you can execute it when large swathes ofgeography are control by the Taliban.

Q. The general election in Afghanistan is approaching. Do you think there will be realignment of political forces in next election, considering the defections we have seen recently?

A. I believe the upcoming election in Afghanistan will be like the game of Buzkashi. Everyone will try to win, because people are unhappy with the government and political parties. Theethnic divisions have become more visible in recent years and there are reports that the U.S. will not back Ghani for another term in office. We might see realignment of political forces and announcement of new political alliances very soon. 

Q. Like few other journalists, you are also contesting election this time. Why are journalists turning to politics in Afghanistan? 

A. In the case of other journalists, maybe they think it is a platform to do good work by being in power. For me, it was part of my plan to join politics to serve my people better.

I have studied political science, taught at a university and I have been with Afghanistan’s top media group Tolo for 8 years. So, I believe the time is ripe to try a new stage and contest elections.

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