NEW DELHI—Ahead of the May 1 troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country’s ambassador to India told The Epoch Times in an exclusive interview that the withdrawal of troops shouldn’t be time-bound, as the Afghans are fighting international terrorism, not a civil war.
“The May 1 deadline needs to be revisited, needs to be considered thoroughly, and any decision on the withdrawal of international forces needs to be based on ground realities and fights,” Ambassador Farid Mamundzay, who formerly served as a senior political adviser to the Afghan National Security Council.
“It’s not a conflict of Afghanistan, it’s a conflict that the Afghans are fighting on behalf of the internationals and on behalf of this region.”
Mamundzay said that under the Taliban regime, global terrorist networks including al-Qaeda were given the opportunity to grow bigger and stronger, and that the U.N. was aware of this growing threat.
“The Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team of the U.N. Security Council [in its February 2021 report] expressed concerns about the continued relations between the Taliban and international terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda,” Mamundzay said.
The United States and the Taliban brokered a deal in February 2020 for a permanent ceasefire, stating that all foreign troops should withdraw from the country by May 1. However, the Biden administration has yet to announce its next steps of action. There are currently about 2,500 American troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Mamundzay spoke with The Epoch Times ahead of a peace conference currently being planned between the Afghan administration and the Taliban, after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken proposed holding the talks under the U.N.-led peace process, in a letter to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
During the talks, to be held in Turkey, Ghani reportedly will present a three-phase roadmap to peace. However, renewed violence between Afghan forces and the Taliban has already strengthened doubts about the success of such a conference.
Mamundzay said that “a failing Afghanistan is in no one’s favor.”
“The withdrawal of the forces … should be conditions bound, considering if the condition in Afghanistan improves,” he said.
“There should be consideration of the strength and capability of the Afghan national defense and security forces. Those forces should be fully prepared to take on international terrorist organizations.”
Afghan broadcaster Tolo News reported that Ghani’s peace roadmap would include “making peace or holding talks with the Taliban,” “building peace—with language that hints at a transitional government,” and “sustaining peace, which indirectly refers to a post-transitional government situation.”
However, the Afghan Embassy in New Delhi told The Epoch Times that there’s nothing official yet on the peace proposal.
Mamundzay, who previously served as deputy director general at the Independent Directorate of Local Governance in Afghanistan, said the country has been working over the past two decades to grow into a full-fledged democracy, and that the Afghan people have the will to continue building on the gains the country has made.
“Afghanistan is still a very new democratic state. … We need to give some time to our institutions to grow and get to the stage where they would be fully matured,” he said.
While the country’s democratic institutions are structured at the national and the provincial level, there’s an increasing demand for district assemblies. “The will of the people is there. The need is felt and the demand has increased for these bodies over the years,” he said.
“For the first time, the sense of accountability and transparency has come into existence together with civil society organizations across the country at the grassroots level, these bodies are making a great contribution to the overall democracy in Afghanistan.
“Strengthening inclusive and democratic institutions and promoting the rights of women and children would remain our top priorities in the years ahead under President Ghani’s rule.”
Mamundzay said the young men and women of Afghanistan are a “beacon of hope,” helping to bring people together and build a modern nation.
“The new generation of young leaders, both men and women, are taking charge to transform the war-torn country into a modern society, a society based on pluralism, a society based on democratic values, a society that’s fair and just,” he said.
“First, most of them have seen the brutalities and oppression of civil war and Taliban. Second, these people have achieved an unprecedented [level] of education and capacities, and they want to contribute through those experiences to improve the living conditions of the Afghan people. Third, [they are working] to represent a larger demographic part of the country, not limiting themselves to one particular region, one particular ethnic group.”
Mamundzay said the country has changed the way it thinks. As governance structures were established and living conditions improved, people started to dream of things they couldn’t do before.
Two decades ago, the conflict-torn country was so vulnerable that survival was all anyone could hope for, whereas today, as people are better connected with the outside world, parents wanting the best opportunities for their children are sending them to study in educational institutions around the region and across the world, he said.
He gave the example of India, where currently 20,000 Afghan students are studying, an unprecedented number.
Though Afghanistan is dependent on support from the international alliance, Mamundzay said, it has an important geopolitical role to play, given its location at the juncture of South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
“It provides an excellent opportunity to the region for economic cooperation, regional connectivity. It serves as a bridge between continents, within continents, within this part of the world,” he said, adding that if there’s peace in Afghanistan, it’ll be easier to ensure peace and economic development for the entire region.
“With some wonderful initiatives, pipeline initiatives like Chabhar, Lapis Lazuli, TUTAP, TAPI, and others, we think that we wouldn’t require foreign aid for years to come.”
Chabhar is a strategic seaport on the Gulf of Oman in Iran that is likely to be inaugurated by May. The India-led project will be linked with the International North-South Transport Corridor, which currently involves 10 central Asian countries.
Lapis Lazuli is another international corridor linking Afghanistan to Turkey via Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; TUTAP (Turkmenistan–Uzbekistan–Tajikistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan) is an electricity project; and TAPI (Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India) is an international natural gas pipeline project.
Mamundzay said Afghanistan also expects that the Quad—the quadrilateral security alliance between the United States, India, Japan, and Australia—will contribute to regional peace. “It contributes to the security of the region by working closely with other states of the region, i.e., tackling terrorism financing, combating terrorists’ networks, narco-trading, and other organized crimes,” he said.