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Interview: Reconstruction 'Bulldozer' Promises Peace If Elected

Afghanistan - Gul Agha Shirzai presidential candidate during a gathering in Kabul, 15 Feb 2014
Afghanistan - Gul Agha Shirzai presidential candidate during a gathering in Kabul, 15 Feb 2014
Mohammad Shafique, popularly known as Gul Agha Sherzai, earned the nickname 'bulldozer' for patronizing reconstruction projects. One of 11 candidates contesting Afghanistan’s presidency, Sherzai believes his experience as a former guerilla commander, provincial governor and minister can lure the electorate in the April 5 vote.

Sherzai spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Mohammad Zubair Zhman, about the Bilateral Security Agreement, corruption, and his plans for peace.

RFE/RL: If elected, how do you plan to end the ongoing war?

Gul Agha Sherzai: [In late 2001], the Taliban actually didn't want more bloodshed and fighting in Afghanistan. But the detention of some of their leaders and the way they were treated by the international community and the Afghan government reignited the war in our country. I am in contact with our scholars, religious and tribal leaders and even with the Taliban leaders. With the help of a small jirga [council], I hope to achieve peace by good coordination with neighboring Islamic countries and the international community.

RFE/RL: Karzai has been trying to achieve the same during the past decade. How can your efforts yield different results?

Sherzai: Let me tell you that two rival sides cannot strike a peace deal without mediation by impartial interlocutors. In our country, we have a number of reputable impartial scholars and tribal leaders and political figures. My jirga will consist of such individuals and I am confident they will make a difference.

Sherzai talking to Radio Free Afghanistan.
Sherzai talking to Radio Free Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: So you are arguing that the current Afghan High Peace Council is not impartial?

Sherzai: The peace council is led by people who fought against the Taliban for years. For example, its erstwhile chairman, Burhannuddin Rabbani, fought against the Taliban for five years [in the 1990s]. Tens of thousands of Taliban fighters died in the fighting and more than 12,000 civilians are still missing. You can guess how many people from the Northern Alliance or the resistance front were killed. Appointing Rabbani to head the council was a mistake and he paid with his life for it.

The second mistake was to appoint his son [Salahuddin Rabbani] as a successor. I have asked him, 'how could you make peace with somebody who killed your father?' This organization, whether conceived by Karzai or the international community, didn’t achieve anything since its formation two and a half years ago.

RFE/RL: You served as the governor of Kandahar and Nangarhar provinces. Why do they still remain restive?

Sherzai: When I assumed the governorship of Kandahar [in 2001], I engaged the regional Taliban leaders to promote peace. But my efforts were thwarted after some of them were detained by [Afghan and international forces].

Similarly, in Nangarhar, which is considered the gateway to Kabul, I did my best to establish peace. I protected the sensitive border province for nine years. Nangarhar shares a border with [Pakistan's tribal districts of] Mohmand and Khyber, which are considered one of the main sanctuaries for terrorists. But my province remained peaceful.

Sherzai likes to inaugurate reconstruction projects.
Sherzai likes to inaugurate reconstruction projects.
[In recent years] Nangarhar has been recognized as the cradle of literature and science. I promoted peace programs in Nangarhar, which prompted many Taliban leaders to meet me to appreciate my efforts. I even helped in freeing some Taliban captured by Afghan and U.S. forces. I was honored for good governance, anticorruption and fighting against drug trafficking.

RFE/RL: Do you think of yourself as neutral? Didn’t you fight the Taliban?

Sherzai: Thank God, I didn’t spill their blood. No Afghan could prove that against me. I have always worked for peace and that is why I was awarded a peace medal.

If we had an impartial government and president then Pakistan, India, Iran and other neighboring countries will consider our peace overtures credible. We have to own and advance our plan. I can tell you this is the way forward for achieving peace in Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Regarding the stalled Bilateral Security Agreement with the U.S., it seems that it will be signed by the next president. If elected, would you sign it?

Sherzai: The Bilateral Security Agreement is in Afghanistan's favor. Conditions that President Karzai has put forward before signing it reflect his thinking. But a majority of representatives of some 30 million Afghans voted in favor of signing the agreement during the Consultative Loya Jirga, or grand council in November. I think it is Afghanistan's interest to sign it. It will help in putting our economy and security of the country back on track. I am calling on President Karzai to sign this agreement.

Sherzai's election banner promises national unity.
Sherzai's election banner promises national unity.
RFE/RL: Corruption has emerged as a main problem in Afghanistan during the past decade. How do you plan to fight graft?

Sherzai: I will establish meritocracy. I will make sure that rules are followed instead of nepotism. I will not be a dealmaker and would not like to be seen as keen to become a compromising leader. I will not be afraid of the warlord. They have to obey the law.