With reports of Russia and Iran reaching out to the Taliban to counter the emerging threat of the Islamic State (IS) in Afghanistan, Afghan National Security Adviser Hanif Atmar has been traveling to countries in the region to prevent them from working with the Taliban. According to Atmar, it is his job to defend his country’s role in fighting radical Islamist factions who are trying to overthrow their government through violence.
RFE/RL: You recently visited Iran, Russia, and Central Asia. Were you able to convince these countries to break ties with the Taliban and prioritize bilateral relations with Afghanistan to counter IS?
Hanif Atmar: They were told explicitly that if they help any of the terrorist groups, Afghanistan will definitely suffer. We told them, “Afghanistan and Afghans are your friends. Be careful not to do something that you lose your friend and tactically use an enemy that cannot be your friend. [If you do so] in the long term, you will make a crisis for yourself and for us.”
RFE/RL: What was their answer?
Atmar: We are satisfied with their answer. They agreed to keep unity against the terrorist groups. Some even have stepped up to help our forces. For instance, India provided us with helicopters, and Chinese military aid is on its way. Russia helped by providing weapons. Iran is also going to assist us. This does not mean we are looking elsewhere than the United States or NATO military aid. We told our regional friends that this is not just the responsibility of the U.S. and NATO; it is the responsibility of all of us. God forbid if Afghan national forces were not around; the terrorists would turn Central Asia into hell.
RFE/RL: There are reports that Iran and Pakistan are not happy over the hydroelectric dams that Afghanistan built or have announced plans for, such as the Kajaki, Salma dams and those in Nemroz and Kunar. Does the recent escalation in Taliban attacks have anything to do with these developments?
Atmar: Terrorism is not happening because of water. Terrorism has been here for a long time. Even when we were not building [dams], terrorism was used against us. We have clearly and honestly told the [Iranians] that we are going to build dams. However, Afghanistan has national and international commitments. When it comes to water, we will never deprive the neighbors of their rights. We are committed to our national and international laws in dealing with neighbors. But let me stress that the Afghan government will never step back from our people’s rights.
RFE/RL: Talking about neighbors, we have learned that Pakistan sent letters to the Afghan government to start peace talks with the Taliban. Where do the negotiations stand?
Atmar: We have received messages from Pakistan as we have diplomatic relations. Our president has told them we have no hope that they will help us with peace talks. He told Pakistan that they promised they would go against those who do not want peace talks, but Pakistan did not do this. They lied to us. Islamabad said the Taliban leader was not in Pakistan, but then we saw Mullah Mansur had a Pakistani ID card when he was killed while traveling inside Pakistan. We asked them very clearly: “Why are you lying? This [peace process] would not be in your favor. Terrorism will backfire against you, and it already has.” My hope is that Pakistan thinks logically and pays attention to this issue.
The [Taliban] have not shown positive intentions. They have not reacted positively to China’s [efforts] or the Quadrilateral Coordination Group’s efforts. The only thing they have done is intensify war against their own people, Afghans. Their war is directed by outsiders. In this war [against Afghans], the Taliban have the support of foreign countries and foreign militant groups such as Central Asian and Pakistani terrorists, from Lashkar-e-Taeba to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, IS, and Al-Qaeda. The point is that they have not shown positive intent. We have told them, “If you want to continue a war provoked by foreigners, remember that we will not leave our people undefended.” In this issue [of peace talks], neither Taliban leaders nor Pakistan have shown any particular commitment.
RFE/RL: On the other hand, Pakistan alleges that the leaders of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are in Kunar and other areas of Afghanistan. How do you react to these allegations?
Atmar: These are absolutely baseless allegations. I have talked to the Pakistani leadership. I have told the [Pakistanis] that our statements are not allegations; they are facts. From Osama bin Laden to Mullah Omar and Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, all terrorists were there. While here [inside Afghanistan] you accused us of harboring Pakistani militants, so let us show each other the evidence of who among us has taken down more terrorists.
We arrested a guy named Mufti Khalid who was involved in the killing of Pakistani children (eds: the December 16, 2014, attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar). We told Pakistan to come and interrogate him. I told them, “This guy was trained by you; he was trained for your money in your madrasahs (eds: Islamic religious schools). We did this because the killers of those innocent children are terrorists. It does not matter what name they use. They are terrorists. And terrorists have no place in Afghanistan.”
I asked the Pakistanis to show me one person who has killed our children who they have arrested -- anyone from the Haqqani network (eds: a radical military wing of the Taliban) or the Quetta Shura of the Taliban (eds: a Pakistan-based political arm to which most Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan are loyal). When we tell them this, they hang their heads in shame and have no positive answer for us.
RFE/RL: Recently you went to the eastern Nangarhar Province to oversee the operation against IS. How do you see the future of IS in Afghanistan? Will Afghan national forces be able to curb them?
Atmar: So far, 12 high-ranking IS leaders including Hafeez Saeed [Khan] have been killed in Afghanistan. Operations against them are ongoing. But I want to emphasize that if Daesh (Arabic name for IS) finds sanctuary in Pakistan and gets funding there, this problem will unfortunately continue to grow just like these other groups have. We can easily eliminate IS if Pakistan does not give the militants sanctuary.
This government will never forget how IS blew up our innocent people one by one by putting landmines under them. The government is committed to crushing IS, and we will not let them commit such atrocities again.
RFE/RL: There are reports that those 10,000 AK-47 Kalashnikovs given by Russia are being sold on the black market and have ended up with the Taliban?
Atmar: This is our enemies’ propaganda. This is baseless. Those guns were given to the police. You can go to the Interior Ministry, and they will give a list of where those Kalashnikovs were distributed. The government has a system. Every weapon is registered and gets a lock in the system. Would it be at all logical that we would give our weapons to an enemy who, on average, kills 20 of our brave forces daily? Look, this is a lie spread by the Taliban. They thought that only U.S. and NATO forces were against them, and most of those are gone now. Today, we have gathered all the world against them. This is propaganda from the ISI (Pakistan intelligence) and the Taliban. No logical person can believe it.