Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pushed for revival of the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) which abruptly came to a halt after India cancelled the summit level meeting in 2016 after the dastardly attack in an Indian army camp in Uri.
India maintains that the environment has to be conducive for the summit level meeting to be held in Islamabad. But the former Afghan President differs. Speaking exclusively to India Today, Hamid Karzai said, “The SAARC has to be revived. Both India and Pakistan should work towards the revival of SAARC and we must reconvene. I don’t have a deadline for it. But it should be held.”
There has been tremendous pressure on India to restart the SAARC process from other member nations as well, particularly from Nepal who is the chair of the SAARC.
To a question on Pakistan’s attitude towards terrorism and the unchanged policy to use terror as an instrument of state policy, Karzai hoped for a change in the “vision” of the new Imran Khan government.
“I hope Imran Khan’s vision would be different. I hope he will offer openness and prosperity for this region in which Pakistan can play a very important role by defending neighbours and allowing transit, trade and political openness. That’s the vision I hope he has and that is what we seek and we will support it”, said President Karzai.
Hamid Karzai was in New Delhi to participate in the Raisina Dialogue where he spoke on ‘A World Reorder’. Speaking to India Today on the decision of the US to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, he said that the US would never leave Afghanistan because it wants access to the Afghan bases for strategic purposes.
“In a way it will help Afghanistan because we want to rely on our own forces and defend our country ourselves. What’s more important is the whole political environment of the country and the region and the United States’ strategic presence in Afghanistan for the bases that they are seeking…In terms of the number of troops, they may reduce or bring it down to zero but in terms of their strategic partnership of Afghanistan and alliance in which they will have rights to bases in Afghanistan, no, they will not go.
Calling America opportunistic, Karzai said, “We are very strategically located country. Definitely, one of the main reasons for US presence in our country is the strategic location and the neighbourhood with around us of superpowers.”
Afghanistan has been in the process of finding peace and reconciliation and in that all the stakeholders have begun talks with the Taliban: the US, Russia and even Iran.
Karzai welcomed the appointment of Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as US Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation. “Ambassador Khalilzad’s appointment is a good development. We support it. He is an Afghan. He is a senior official of the United States and he knows both the countries very and the region. That is a good step and we have given it our backing”, he said.
Emphasising that while countries should talk to the Taliban if they wish to, he also emphasised that the intra-Afghan dialogue is important.
“As for talks with the Taliban. They are Afghans and they are from our country. They belong to Afghanistan. We want an intra-Afghan dialogue that I hope will be backed by the rest of the region, including India, so that Afghanistan can achieve peace and unity of all the people”, he said.
Reacting to the immense pressure from the US for India to join the Afghan cause militarily he said, “India should provide training to Afghan forces, should provide equipment, should do all that it can to enhance the abilities of the Afghan state. For us, that is the best way. We don’t need soldiers and that doesn’t help.”
Also, on talks with Taliban, India has been clear, while it was represented in a non-official capacity at the Moscow talks, India is not ready to sit across the table with the Taliban in any process that is not “Afghan-led”. But, Karzai has made a distinction here by calling the TAliban Afghans and saying it was acceptable to engage them. He called the meeting of the Iranian governmetn with the Taliban a “positive development”.
President Karzai said, “If India wants to talk to Taliban as part of the Afghan people and mediate, it can. India is a friend of Afghanistan or the Afghan people. The Taliban are Afghans so India is in contact with the government of Afghanistan, India is in contact with other Afghan people, social groups and if they can be in contact with the Taliban then why not. The totality of Afghanistan is what India should looking at and supporting.”
Recently, a miffed President Trump made fun of India on the issue of its efforts in Afghanistan since India has refused to put boots on the ground. But, the former Afghan President tried to play down the matter whilst supporting and applauding India’s efforts.
“You cannot belittle India’s contribution to Afghanistan. There has been tremendous linkage and contribution in all aspects. Probably President Trump meant the parliament and not the library. India has a unique state in Afghanistan, one that we cherish and value very much as the Afghan people and that is recognised all over the world.”
He added, “Each country has its own view and role in Afghanistan. India in its own way, with hard earned resources, has done well for Afghanistan. And we the Afghan people appreciate it. For India what should matter is the Afghan people.”