British diplomat Nicholas Kay is currently serving as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan, he says not a single Afghan wants another national unity government. Instead, he says, Afghans would like to see a clear winner emerge from the September 28 presidential vote. The Afghan election commission now expects to announce the preliminary results of the vote on November 14.
RFE/RL: How important is it to NATO that this year’s presidential election in Afghanistan be transparent and credible?
Nicholas Kay: It’s important and crucial for Afghans and therefore also for NATO. The credibility of the elections over the last several years has been reducing. We saw serious problems in the parliamentary elections last year and in 2014. It's vital that, now in 2019, the independent and electoral [complaint] commission does its job well and counts votes accurately. Afghans are absolutely depending on them to do their job so that they can trust the electoral process.
RFE/RL: The 2014 presidential elections was marred by allegations of massive fraud, and then U.S Secretary of State John Kerry was sent to Kabul. He cobbled together a national unity government, which critics say was never united. Is this going to happen again?
Kay: I haven’t met a single Afghan who wants to see that repeated. The Afghans I speak to want to see a clear result and a clear win for one candidate or the other, and no one wants someone from the outside to have to come in and help resolve what is an internal Afghan political problem. So this time I really hope the election result will be credible because it will be based on a clean, transparent and thorough process.
RFE/RL: The Taliban oppose the elections and have even threatened Afghan voters. According to the UN’s latest report, scores of civilians were killed and hundreds more were wounded on September 28 alone. What’s your message to the Taliban?
Kay: The Taliban have shown themselves to be the enemies not only of democracy but of the Afghan people, who have clearly shown that they want democracy. Since 2001, they have participated in four presidential elections and parliamentary elections, as well. They have turned out under difficult circumstances, facing threats from terrorists, and they have shown that they want to vote to choose their leaders. The Taliban should respect the will of the Afghan people.
RFE/RL: In terms of counterterrorism assurances, has the Taliban really severed ties to transnational terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda?
Kay: There is no evidence yet that they have done that, but we know it was a part of the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban in Doha. They were negotiating verifiable, clear assurances of that. But that process has stopped and at the moment, as far as I am aware, the linkages to Al-Qaeda from the Taliban still exist.
RFE/RL: Another security threat in Afghanistan is the presence of IS affiliates. Can they re-establish their defeated caliphate in Afghanistan?
Kay: You are absolutely right. There is a presence of Daesh. It’s a serious presence. They conduct terrorist attacks killing Afghan civilians. Just last week, they attacked a mosque and killed at least 69 Afghan civilians. So the Daesh presence is there, and it is a serious concern. However, the establishments of a caliphate or something like that is a very remote thing. No Afghan I have met has any wish to see either a caliphate or an emirate.
What I hear from most Afghans I meet is that they want a modern democracy that respects fundamental human rights civil and political rights, and that is what NATO is there helping the Afghans to achieve by creating the conditions [by] training and advising, assisting the Afghan National Security Forces, and I really see that march toward that modern democracy. That march is underway, and it is up to all of us now to remain committed to that mission and make sure the conditions are there for Afghans to enjoy durable peace.
RFE/RL: What do you want from the key regional stakeholders such as China, Iran, Pakistan, and Russia?
Kay: Support for a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. Support for the initiative to bring about intra-Afghan negotiations. The regional countries play a very important role, but neither the regional countries nor NATO nor any other country is going to solve this conflict, only Afghans will solve this at the negotiating table with the Taliban, the government, and other representatives of Afghanistan. The sooner we can get to that negotiating table, the better.
RFE/RL: Finally, let’s talk about a potential future peace deal with the Taliban. How do you see the gains and achievements made during the years of NATO’s presence in the country?
Kay: NATO has been there to train, advise, and assist the Afghan Security Forces, and I can see a transformation in their capacity and capabilities. I was last working in Afghanistan in 2006-07, and when I came back 10 years later in 2017, I could see with my own eyes that a transformation had taken place: You have capable Afghan security forces, special forces, commandos, and Air Force now, and so the progress is clear there. There is a lot of other progress that has been achieved over the past 18 years: democracy, women’s rights, access to education, etc.
This is a new, modern Afghanistan. And of course, in that Afghanistan, there is as well freedom of speech, and the free media, and a very professional media, as well. All of these achievements over the past 18 years should be the foundation for a durable peace.