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Afghanistan will divide, but Pakistan will disintegrate too: Asfandyar Wali Khan

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“Late Naseerullah Babar once told me that he asked Mullah Omar to recognize the Durand Line as an international border. In reaction, however, Omar asked him to stop eating the meal and buzz off,” Afandyar Wali Khan breaks the inside story

By Aqeel Yousuzai

Awami National Party (ANP), in the recent times, has increased its political activities to end its silence. Besides other leaders of the party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, the president of the party, has also increased regular participation in party’s sessions and public gatherings. Asfandyar Wali Khan has worn a more defiant mood as he has taken up on a number of sensitive issues. He has been speaking on issues of extraordinary importance, very unequivocally. His audacious statements on some key and emergent issues, which hogged headlines in media, include the looming threat posed by ISIS (Daesh), a new but deadliest game of international powers in the region, tensions in AfPak bilateral relations, the sensitive and controversial issue of the Durand Line, and on top of that the looming threat of division of Afghanistan.

Below is a very interesting interview conducted by Afghanistan Times

Q: You have become active after a long hiatus, any particular reason?

A: The way how did we face the post-2007 situation is known to all.  ANP’s key leaders and political activists were killed in hundreds. I too was targeted in a suicide bombing attack. The tragedy was that not only leaders were being killed but hundreds of supporters and innocent citizens were used to be killed in such bombings. In such a situation there was no other option, to reduce our political activities. It was inevitable because we want to protect innocent lives. I shrank my political activities at the repeated insistences of the party’s workers. ANP sustained unbearable losses as we kept our activities in a highly hostile and deadliest environment. For others it was the Chief Election Commissioner, Fakhruddin G. Ibrahim, but for us, it was Hakimullah Mehsud, who restrained our political activities and we couldn’t reach out to the general public in the 2013 general elections.

Now, comparatively, the situation has been improving. Though challenges are there, which is why, I feel myself bound to reach out to the party’s supporters. We increased our political activities. The world can see the difference now. The results of the recent local bodies’ elections are different than the results of the 2013 general elections. Eventually ANP has proved itself a biggest political power.

Q: Why did the ANP come under deadliest attacks from the Taliban?

A: They knew that it is only ANP which has the spleen to stand in their way. And ANP proved it true. We sternly opposed their violent ideology.  Since we have a crystal clear ideology that politics and religion are two totally different things, therefore, the Taliban started destroying the sanctity of our “hujra” and “masjid”. They started exploding every sign that relates to Pashtuns’ society. We opposed it publicly what they had unleashed in the land of Pashtuns. We lost over 800 activists, but we didn’t succumb. We still are defiant. We didn’t surrender. And did not budge from our ideology and standpoint, even an inch. How we could have compromised with such elements, which were hell-bent on pulling “chador from the heads of our mothers, sisters and daughters?

Q: With what intent or objective did you talk to the Taliban in Swat?

A: Actually in striking Nizam-e-Adl deal with the Taliban we respected the demand of the general public.  To respect their demand besides accepting the Taliban’s demand, we started dialogue with them. After the Taliban breached the accord, the general public realized the Taliban’s motives, which were quite different than ours. Eventually, the general public ceased supporting them.

The only reason that led to the success of the Swat operation was public stood by the side of the government. No operation can be successful until political forces and the nation are behind it. Looking at the benefits of Swat operation, now there is a demand of “do more” from inside (at home).

Q: Is this true the United States sternly opposed peace dialogues in Swat, and you faced extreme pressure?

A: Yes this is true. When peace talks were on the anvil, the Deputy Secretary of State in a meeting vented his blister against the peace dialogues. I responded him it is we not they who must decide the fate of our people and our region. I told him if there was any problem in New York and I visit you just to tell you what do and what not or dictate you, how you will feel about it? The meeting was so bitter that it will remain the bitterest incident in my life. Later on our policy proved to be very much successful. And we succeeded in restoring peace in that region.

Q: What is the biggest mistake that caused the spread of Talibanization in Pakistan?

A: Our agencies started pursuing a policy of intervention in Afghanistan. Jihadists were recruited. They kept sending them to Afghanistan. Once addressing the parliament, I pointed at late Benazir Bhutto and said if you think that extremism will remain confined only to Afghanistan, then such a belief is disastrous. I emphasized if the fire of extremism flares up on the other side of the Durand Line, keep it in your mind that Durand Line is not powerful enough to contain it and resist the spillover of the fire into Pakistan. The later developments proved our warnings true. The fire also affected us. Even today we are surrounded by deadly threats. I usually say that a peaceful and a stable Afghanistan, is not only essential for the people of Afghanistan, but a stable Afghanistan guarantees peace and stability in Pakistan.

Q: Do you think the issue of Durand Line is affecting Pakistan’s Afghan policy?

A: Late Naseerullah Babar once told to me that when he asked Mullah Omar to recognize Durand Line as a permanent international border between Afghanistan and Pakistan as with its recognition all the issues will disappear on their own. “Mullah Omar told me to stop eating the meal and get out of the room,” Babar recalled. Such a behavior is considered to be very much harsh and inhospitable in Pashtuns’ culture and society, yet, Mullah Omar responded in anger.

Though, Nasirullah Babar and some other leaders used to call the Taliban their children. The dream to turn Durand Line into a permanent boundary is a mad idea; this is a mirage. We should refrain from any such attempt.

Q: Why you don’t recognize it as an international border?

A: This is a controversial issue. A similar issue is between Pakistan and India. We call our border with India “Line of Control—LoC”. We don’t recognize it as an international border. The reason is we consider it controversial and we cannot upset Kashimris. If we don’t recognize LoC as an international border, how we can recognize the Durand Line as an international frontier?

Moreover, Afghanistan never remained a threat for Pakistan. In the wars of 1965 and 1971, Afghanistan could have been used against us, however, Afghanistan not only remained non-aligned, but quite friendlier with Pakistan. As a result we had no concerns on western frontier. I think Pakistan must come out of perceived threats and accept that we cannot change our neighbors. Our development and peace lie in the belief that we must forge friendlier ties with Afghanistan and India.

Q: You have been seen on many occasions while criticizing American policies. What is the reason behind this criticism?

A: Had the United States not dumped Afghanistan after the collapse of Dr. Najibullah’s government, the Taliban wouldn’t have appeared on the scene. Al-Qaeda wouldn’t have emerged. And now we wouldn’t have been surrounded by a threat as biggest as Daesh.

The first mistake of United States in the region was it armed Afghans in the name of jihad and not in the name of nationalism and Afghanism. The US along with its allies attempted to corrode the role and importance of “hujra” and “jirga” and imposed the supremacy of rulings by masjid and madrassas.

This seismic imbalance shook the edifice of Pashtuns’ society. Had hujra and jirga been functional in Afghanistan and FATA, today, the situation would have been totally different. Unfortunately this evil game ate away the role of hujra and jirga. At the end of the day we were pushed to tolerate its backfires in the shape of extremism and terrorism. And if the United States dumps Afghanistan this time again, it will unleash more horrific backfires. 

Q: In recent times you have warned on many occasions that Afghanistan is on the brink of division and Pakistan is descending into disintegration? Any particular reason?

A: Well, whatever is the situation in Afghanistan it directly affects Pakistan. If trust deficit rules the roost, and blame game catches further length, and there is no serious and honest joint approach to weed out Taliban and clip the wings of Daesh, and world leaders continue their foreign policy games in the region, the threat of Afghanistan’s division is looming larger.

Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens and Hazaras, will be compelled to annex to Central Asian Republics (CARs) as these minorities have not only direct border ties with CARS but also lingual and cultural.

In such a situation, Pashtuns who are in majority in Afghanistan will start looking towards their Pashtun brothers in Pakistan. The already troubled Pashtuns in Pakistan wouldn’t remain unconcerned.

Should this happen and Afghanistan is divided. Do you think Pakistan will remain intact? It cannot. Pakistan will also disintegrate. I wish it doesn’t happen. Nevertheless, the threat is looming larger.

Q: Why do you think that international powers are going to clash in this region?

A: There are many signs that indicate that tensions are rising among the United States, Russia, and China. The clash of world powers in Iraq and Syria is in front of all. If terrorism rages on and duplicitous games are being played, the region will fall victim to the evil schemes of world’s powers, and Daesh’s activities will increase. Eventually, people will forget the barbarities of the Taliban to see the bloodlust and savagery of Daesh. It has been observed that terrorism, for the first times, has spread towards Hindu-Kush. We cannot ignore the hand and game of world players in the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

If they don’t balk at their games, I cannot rule out that China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will bite the dust. To make this billion dollars project practically possible, peace in Afghanistan is a must, because China wants to have access to Central Asia via this corridor. One of China’s objectives of the project is to address the economic issues in its areas where China faces extremism. In case there is no peace in the region, this project cannot succeed.

Q: How do you see the role of China? And how terrorism can successfully be tackled?

A: China’s role is extraordinary. Unlike American role in peace and stability in the region, people look confident about the role of China. Peace and security in the region is a must for China’s interests.

This is the good luck of the region that China has come into movements to play its role. Given that there is no open clash of interests among world powers in this region, continued peace talks, and continued operations against terrorists, then I am confident that peace is not a distant dream.

China can play an effective role, of course. But the end of proxy wars and duplicitous games is a must. As far as terrorism is concerned, besides international powers, Afghanistan and Pakistan must be on the same page. I think, now the key to peace lies in the hands of these four men—Nawaz Sharif, Rahil Sharif, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. This question is necessary to be addressed that how the understanding built in 2014 caved in, all of a sudden? Why the environment of trust and understanding turned into acrimony and rivalry? Let me repeat once again that peace is not the need of Afghanistan only, but it is the need of Pakistan too. Until we don’t understand this reality, peace will remain a distant dream.

(The interview is translated by Rooh-ul-Amin)