Asadullah Khalid, a former spy chief and current Afghan defense minister, says his country’s forces are committed to preserving the gains of the past two decades.
Radio Free Afghanistan: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States has negotiated a weeklong reduction in violence with the Taliban. In your view, what does that mean?
Asadullah Khalid: As you are aware, negotiations have been going on in Doha for a long time. From time to time, there’s been news of progress and regress. But the Afghan government was the first to propose a peace plan, and our overwhelming pressure on the Taliban was to force them to come to the table. But nothing is done blindly, unconditionally, or without taking into consideration the importance of this subject [peace]. And we are very cautious about this.
Radio Free Afghanistan: Will the Taliban only reduce their attacks on U.S. forces during the seven-day reduction in violence, or on the Afghan forces as well, who are doing most of the fighting against them now?
Khalid: We will have these details later. We will be one side of the agreement. We have to see what they have to offer. A few years ago [in June 2018), we had the experience that there was a truce for a few days that went very well.
Radio Free Afghanistan: You know that despite repeated calls from the international community, NATO, and the United States, the Taliban have refrained from holding direct talks with the Afghan government. Do you think the Taliban will join direct peace talks with the Afghan government in the future?
Khalid: You are following the talks in Qatar. A lot has changed in the past year. It is no longer about changing the government; it is not about destroying the army. Now the talks are about peace. We promise our people that their army will defend all the gains of the past two decades under any circumstances. As far as I know, their talks with the Afghan government will start within a week [after signing the agreement with the United States.
Radio Free Afghanistan: The Afghan government has always said a reduction in violence is unacceptable and there should be a cease-fire in place. Do you think reducing violence will eventually lead to a cease-fire?
Khalid: We have the experience of a onetime cease-fire, and I repeat again that no agreement that compromises the achievements of the past two decades will be acceptable. And yet we do not have the full details of the Taliban's proposal with regard to a reduction in violence. But no agreement is unconditional.
Radio Free Afghanistan: The Taliban usually launch their offensives against you and international forces in the spring. If they reduce attacks against U.S. and NATO forces under an agreement but launch their spring attacks against your troops, what should be done?
Khalid: We are not concerned about where and when the Taliban will implement their plans. We are in pursuit of the Taliban both in the spring and now, and the Afghan security forces have the upper hand in the war.