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Karzai Calls For A Loya Jirga To Determine Afghan Future

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)
Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

KABUL, -- Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai is often viewed as the most seasoned Afghan politician. In a wide-ranging interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, Karzai called on current President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah, to honor their pledge of holding a Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of elders, to formalize their power-sharing and revitalize legitimacy for the future of their term.

RFE/RL: Afghanistan’s national unity government has been plagued by disagreements since assuming office in September 2014. Now people are concerned about the future of this government and the political system after its leaders openly clashed recently. How do you view this issue?

Hamid Karzai: It is very unfortunate. I hope that both these leaders can cooperate with each other and fulfill all the promises they have made to the people of Afghanistan. If they can deliver on their promises, like before, we will be cooperating with them.

RFE/RL: If these disagreements persist, what kind of future do you see for the current political system?

Karzai: The current political system must not be damaged because it is based on the constitution crafted by Afghans. We must preserve it. But for amending the constitution we have the tradition of jirgas (assembly of elders). A Loya Jirga (eds: grand assembly of elders) crafted the current constitution, which was presented to and backed by the people of Afghanistan, which led us to base our current political system on it.

It is natural that a part of the problems we now face are because of our own failings, but a bulk of them are the result of the designs that foreigners have in this land and this region. We all must unite, including the government leaders, to protect our homeland.

RFE/RL: We have seen no progress yet toward the constitutional Loya Jirga that the leaders of the national unity government agreed on before assuming office two years ago. Their agreement envisioned that such a forum will formalize the post of the chief executive officer. If this Loya Jirga is not convened, what do you see happening?

Karzai: The current government needs to deliver on all the promises made to the Afghan people. They particularly need to call a Loya Jirga, which is one of the major promises of this government. They should hold this Jirga soon so that Afghans can gather to determine their future and constitution, and revitalize the legitimacy of the current government.

RFE/RL: But if the government doesn’t want to convene the Loya Jirga, what will your stance be then?

Karzai: Naturally, it will add to the problems of our homeland. It will contribute to disagreements and add to the disappointments we are already witnessing. This is why they need to convene the Loya Jirga soon within the two-year time [period] they agreed on in their mutual agreement [in September 2014].

Even if they cannot hold a constitutional Loya Jirga, they should still convene a traditional Loya Jirga, which is an age-old tradition in Afghanistan and has always helped in resolving crises. I am sure a traditional Loya Jirga would not only reinforce the legitimacy of this system but would also provide a way out of the current troubles. It will ultimately benefit my two brothers [Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abduallah] and our people.

RFE/RL: Do you see the national unity government achieving its aims in the struggle against terrorism, starting the peace process, and promoting regional cooperation through the national, regional, and global consensus it had aimed to achieve?

Karzai: Unfortunately, they have not achieved a national consensus. This is why they need to convene a Loya Jirga. In the absence of institutional mechanisms for the constitutional Loya Jirga, they need to convene a traditional Loya Jirga to generate a national consensus.

For example, with much difficulty I succeeded in ending U.S. air strikes. I succeeded in doing so despite U.S. pressure and opposition. The U.S. tried to weaken me by maligning me so that I wouldn’t press this demand. The same is true for handing prisons back under American supervision.

I am not opposed to the U.S. presence in Afghanistan -- if they want military bases here, they can have them. But it should not happen at the cost of Afghan sovereignty and oppression of Afghan people and their homeland or while they remain the victims of air strikes. [In addition,] fighting should not intensify to create an excuse for the U.S. presence. I am against this, and I have shared my views with Afghan government leaders to ask them not to allow such things.

Another issue is how openly hate is being spread in Afghanistan, which leads to Afghans killing each other in the name of the Taliban and non-Taliban. Everyone who is being killed in the ongoing fighting is Afghan -- be they Taliban or government soldiers. We are killing each other and then celebrating it.

On the regional level, I am all for best relations with everyone. But I only back the relations of an Afghanistan that is respectable -- equal to its neighbors and with mutual respect.

RFE/RL: Do you still have a lot of reservations about the domestic war on terror that you often expressed?

Karzai: I still have very strong reservations. Night raids, random arrests, and opposition to peace [are things that I still oppose].

RFE/RL: How do you view U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent authorization allowing U.S. forces in Afghanistan to act against the Islamic State under counterterrorism rules of engagement?

Karzai: I am strongly against such authorization. It has been proved that no foreign force can achieve what only Afghans can achieve in our homeland. If force was the answer, more than 30 years of war would have solved our problems.

I am not against the American presence, but I am strongly opposed to its actions in Afghanistan. The U.S. should not conduct airstrikes inside Afghanistan. It should stop interfering in our political affairs. Our elections have been sabotaged for paving the way for U.S. interference and designs. Thy should not do such things. Ultimately, we seek friendship and cooperation with them.

RFE/RL: Washington recently withheld more that $300 million in military aid to Pakistan because of its failure to act against the Taliban’s Haqqani network. How effective can such actions prove in changing Islamabad’s behavior?

Karzai: We have seen such efforts in the past. When I was in office, some senior U.S. officials called the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of Pakistan’s ISI (eds: Inter-Services Intelligence). But later they did nothing. At times they indicated that they would stop giving assistance to Pakistan and would pressure it. But later they struck deals with Pakistan. This is why I am not convinced such pressure is genuine or long-lasting.

RFE/RL: How do you view the recent clashes between Afghan and Pakistani forces over the construction of a gate at Torkham in Khyber Pass, which serves as a main crossing between the two countries?

Karzai: By building these gates over the border, Pakistan cannot impose the Durand Line [as an international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan]. Afghans will never recognize the Durand Line. No one recognized it before, and it will never be recognized in the future. This is because the Afghan government cannot impose it. It has to be decided upon by the people on both sides of the Durand Line. But we want to tell Pakistan that despite our reluctance to recognize the Durand Line, we want to befriend you. We want to have friendly relations with you. We are calling on Islamabad to recognize this fundamental reality and befriend Afghanistan. We will prove to be their best friends.