By Saeed Azimi

Ex-ambassador: From Pakistan’s view Taliban government is not inclusive

September 22, 2021 - 21:55

TEHRAN – In a live interview with the Tehran Times on Tuesday, former Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran says from viewpoint of his country the caretaker Taliban government is not inclusive.

However, Asif Durrani says it depends on defining inclusiveness in a tribal and traditional society like Afghanistan.

“I think we have to look at Afghanistan as per its culture,” the former diplomat notes.

He also believes that the Taliban have “evolved” like any other society, and it is different from the time it ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
This is the text of the interview:

Q: Let's begin with the hot trend of these days, Afghanistan. How do you assess the Afghanistan events?

A: The Taliban gained control but found out that the government coffers were empty. The American-led government by Mr. Ashraf Ghani left nothing in the country. The big challenge now is how to sustain Afghanistan economically.

Q: Do you think that the Taliban government, the caretaker government, is based on the people's demands? Many countries, including Pakistan, Imran Khan in particular, and Iran, have called for an inclusive government. Do you see the current government as an inclusive government?

A: Well, that depends on how you describe "inclusive.” The people who fought the Taliban or those with whom the Taliban fought are included in the government. Therefore, such an assumption would be problematic as we talk about predominantly tribal Afghanistan. You're talking about a society where they are still not familiar with the Western kind of democracy.

“Democracy differs from place to place, country to country, and culture to culture.” 

Traditionally, in Afghanistan's tribal structure, people have been accustomed to using muscle power. From the Taliban's perspective, they think that the Americans toppled them after 9/11.  They claim to be the rightful government, forcefully removed by the Americans. Since the Taliban have captured the country by force, their definition of inclusiveness may, in my personal view, would be at variance with what you and I may define as "inclusive." In this respect, I don't know whether by "inclusive" you mean that Ashraf Ghani should have been part of the government, or Mr. Qanouni or Mr. Karzai.  Another definition of inclusiveness, propounded by the Taliban, would be whether Uzbeks, Tajiks, Hazaras, who have been part of the Taliban movement, are included in the government, or it is the one you and I would prescribe for the Taliban to include in the government. Therefore, it all depends on how we define inclusiveness.

Q: Let's define it from Iran's point of view. It says inclusive forms of all ethnicities and minorities and women in the government.

A: What if the Taliban say, we don't discuss women; this is our tribal tradition which represents the overwhelming population of Afghanistan. Have you seen Hamid Karzai's wife in public? Have you seen Ashraf Ghani's cabinet people and their wives in public? Why don't people question them while they plead to be democrats and progressive? 

Q: No, but I've seen their ministers and members of the parliament.

A: They were representatives of the government and the people, and they claim to be progressive. We are discussing Afghanistan. So your level of standards and threshold may not apply.

When we talk about women, during the initial days of the Iranian revolution, the hijab was quite strict, but the situation gradually changed.

I think it is a political evolution with time. We evolve every day.  We grow with time and with interaction with people.

Ten years ago, I had some ideas to which I may not subscribe today. We are discussing politics. We are not discussing gender. 

Take the example of China. Americans are lecturing the Chinese to introduce democracy, but the Chinese response to the Americans has been that "democracy is not like Coca Cola that tastes the same everywhere." The Chinese system is based on meritocracy. If you come to the merit, then you are fit for the job. Democracy differs from place to place, country to country, and culture to culture. 

I think we have to look at Afghanistan as per its culture. We are trying to impose our understanding on the Afghan people. Let them decide for themselves what is good for them. 

Q: You mentioned political evolution. Do you think that the Taliban in 2021 has grown in the time since 1996 or 2001? What are the signs?

A: I think they have evolved. Look at Kabul. It just looks like Tehran, where women are walking in the city without hindrance, which was impossible during the Taliban's first regime. Previously, the Taliban were reclusive. They would not meet with the people, but now they meet the outsiders.

Now, they have approached all the countries of the world, especially the neighbors. They have a much better relationship with Iran as compared to before 9/11. Earlier, Russia, Iran, and India were on one side. They were supporting the erstwhile Northern Alliance, but the situation is different now. The Taliban have a political office in Doha, which maintains a relationship with the Americans and other European countries. I think they have evolved, but we expect many other improvements in their behavior from international standards. 

Q: How do you assess the ISI chief's visit to Kabul? He then traveled to Iran, and then he returned to Pakistan and held a meeting with the presence of all intelligence chiefs. How do you assess these three moves by the ISI?

A: If there were something sinister, the ISI chief would have undertaken a secret visit to Kabul. Pakistan should not be apologetic that the ISI chief was in Kabul. He was there to discuss security issues that are of concern to Pakistan. When he went to Iran, he discussed security issues that were of interest to Pakistan and Iran. Then there was a meeting of the intelligence chiefs of immediate neighbors of Afghanistan in Islamabad.  

Q: May I ask about Pakistan's initiatives for the Afghanistan developments?

A: Well, I don't think that Pakistan has initiated any unusual action. There are issues that the neighbors of Afghanistan have discussed at the regional level. We are all part of that regional initiative. There is no exclusive initiative by Pakistan.

Q: There is no exclusive initiative by Pakistan regarding Afghanistan? 

A: No.

Q: What do you see as the current solution personally to the Afghanistan issue?

A: Immediately, we have to address the humanitarian crisis, which is looming large in Afghanistan. We all know that almost three fourth of Afghanistan's budget came from outside. It means that Afghanistan has been dependent on foreign aid. That source is closed, and the U.S. has already frozen Afghan Central Bank's 9.5 billion dollars. IMF has also frozen 460 million dollars. So the immediate crisis is the supply of food and medicines. It is important to note that the winters will set in in few weeks, especially in northern Afghanistan. Afghanistan needs urgent humanitarian assistance. The United Nations secretary general's office has said the member states had committed almost 1 billion dollars. Hopefully, the aid will reach out to the people of Afghanistan on an urgent basis.

Q: There's a challenge in this regard. Taliban's government has not been recognized internationally, and according to international law, humanitarian aid should be given to internationally and legally recognized governments. How do you think humanitarian aid would reach Afghanistan?

A: The United Nations agencies are already in Afghanistan, and some international NGOs are present there. The international assistance is channeled through the United Nations, not through the Afghan government. But I think the Taliban will generate their revenues through duties on imports and local taxes. A section of analysts also opines that the Taliban would not be as corrupt as their predecessors were. If that assessment is correct, then the waste of national resources would be far less than what we have seen in Ghani's government.

Q: Reportedly, government officials have not been paid for over a month, and the poverty rate is rising. How long do you think these economic challenges would take the Taliban to resolve and get people's lives back in order?

A: I don't know. 

Q: Do you have an estimate?

A: I have no idea about the current situation. However, one thing is clear that three fourth of Afghanistan's workforce in the government sector comprise teachers or medical staff, including women. If the government does not have money to pay, how will you open the schools and pay the teachers and medical staff's salaries, including female staff? These are serious issues that the international community must look at.

Q: Imran Khan has called for the formation of an inclusive government, and I think my judgment was that based on your remarks, the current caretaker government is inclusive enough. Is that satisfying for the Pakistani government?

A: No. That's why the Pakistani government has raised this. I spoke with you about the term inclusiveness and how you will interpret it. If you ask the Taliban, they will say it is inclusive, but we would also improve it and include more people in the future, so we have to wait and see. As far as Prime Minister Imran Khan is concerned, he articulated the regional consensus calling upon the Taliban to establish an inclusive dispensation.

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