BRUSSELS, -- British diplomat Nicholas Kay is currently serving as NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan. In an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan on June 27, he said Afghans are interested in preserving democracy, human and women’s rights and the access to education they gained during the past 18 years. Following the demise of the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001, NATO countries have led international stabilization efforts in Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said in Kabul that he hopes there will be a peace deal with the Taliban before September. Given the lack of agreement over how to move forward with the peace process among the Afghan political elites, do you see a comprehensive peace deal before the planned presidential vote in September?
Nicholas Kay: You’re absolutely right. It’s not only Secretary Pompeo who says that he hopes there will be an agreement by September. I hear just about every Afghan I meet also. This is a shared hope and wish. Obviously, time is short. Time is tight. And as you say, there is not yet an intra-Afghan dialogue or intra-Afghan negotiation underway.
We fully support the efforts now by the government of Germany to bring about the dialogue and the continuing efforts of Ambassador [Zalmay] Khalilzad. But both sides will need to be better prepared for this dialogue. The Taliban have to accept that they will need to sit with the government of Afghanistan and other Afghans. On the Afghan side, there needs to be a good unity among the actors so that when they sit with the Taliban, they are presenting a very strong united view from today’s modern Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Regarding the counterterrorism assurances, can any Taliban promise that Afghan soil will not be used by the terrorist groups in the future be monitorable, verifiable, and trusted? You know that the Taliban had hosted the founder of Al-Qaeda, Osama bin-Laden, in the 1990s?
Kay: Any agreement and assurances around not supporting terrorist groups has to be specific. It has to be monitorable. It has to be verifiable. I don’t think that any Afghans, let alone the international partners and allies, will be prepared to take this on trust. It will need to be specific, monitorable, and verifiable.
RFE/RL: About the presence of Islamic State (IS) affiliates in Afghanistan, can these groups potentially plan and stage attacks in Europe or the United States as suggested by some intelligence officials?
Kay: Yes, without going to the intelligence matters at all, you’re completely correct. The presence of IS Khorasan in Afghanistan is a threat and danger not just within Afghanistan but potentially internationally, as well. So, it’s very, very important that that threat is taken seriously. And NATO’s role here is to train, advise, and assist the Afghan security forces who are trying to combat the presence of IS now in the country.
RFE/RL: Does Pakistan retain the same level of influence over the Taliban that it had during the 1990s? Some experts believe that nowadays Iran has more influence over the insurgent group.
Kay: I read the same commentaries in the media and elsewhere by experts suggesting that there is more than just a Pakistani influence over the Taliban. I see reports [where] Iran as well is also mentioned. I think what is important is anybody with influence on the Taliban has influence for a variety of reasons, many of them legitimate. But they should use that influence now to bring the Taliban into an intra-Afghan dialogue, intra-Afghan negotiation with the government of Afghanistan. And that, I think, is a key thing now.
RFE/RL: Lastly, many Afghan civilians, ordinary Afghans, are concerned that in any possible future peace deal with the Taliban their hard-won rights such as women’s rights, freedom of expression, and press freedom could be compromised. What is your response to these concerns?
Kay: I hear these concerns everywhere I go in Afghanistan [from] every city that I stop in, every group of Afghans that I meet. There are women, politicians -- security services -- everybody wants to preserve what has been gained over the last 18 years. And that is respect for democracy, for human rights, and particularly women’s rights and access to education. These are Afghans who are demanding this, and NATO completely supports their demand; we echo it and we amplify it.