News18 Global Exclusive Interview | Afghanistan Doors Open for India, Cricket Can Help Ties: Anas Haqqani

Afghanistan remains a key focus area for India in the neighborhood and that clearly hasn’t wavered because of compelling geopolitical events such as the Russia-Ukraine war. National security adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval is in Tajikistan’s Dushanbe for a two-day security dialogue on the war-ravaged country, with Russia, China, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan also participating, apart from the host nation. Talks are likely to center on terror, the formation of an inclusive government, and the unfolding humanitarian crises in Afghanistan.

India had shut down its embassy in Kabul in August 2021 when the Taliban took over the city. Prior to that, India had also closed down its consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar, Herat, and Jalalabad. Yet the deep historical and cultural ties between the two nations remain undeniable. India has in recent months sent food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in several batches, and efforts are on to find ways to re-establish formal relations in a more meaningful way. The circumstances are challenging, especially with leaders and officials of the previous regime having completely disappeared from the scene.

Top Taliban leader Anas Haqqani who serves on the Commission Ertibatat Ba Shaksiat Hai Afghan Wa Awdat Anan (Return and Communications with Former Afghan Officials and Political Figures Commission) says he has been making efforts to bring all the Afghans to the table for dialogue. The commission was established after almost all former government officials fled to different parts of the world in search of asylum. Anas Haqqani was a member of the Taliban’s negotiation team in its political office in Doha, Qatar. He is also the brother of Sirajuddin Haqqani, now the Minister of Interior of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA).

In a global exclusive interview with CNN-News18, Anas Haqqani spoke on the Taliban regime’s intentions and efforts to bring peace to his country, the crucial role that India can play, the specter of terror, and his love for the game of cricket. Edited excerpts:

What role do you think India can play in Afghanistan under the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan regime?

Bismillah-ir-Rahman-ir-Rahim. I thank you, I welcome you here, and congratulate you for your efforts and commitment for peace in my country. It is very clear now that the time has come for governance (to form the government), peace and deliberation. As of now, we have a policy of IEA for the world, especially the neighboring countries and that includes India too. India can open up with its policy of peace and development as it had with the previous government. For this, the doors of the Emirate are wide open.

What are your views on India reopening its diplomatic missions in Afghanistan and resuming normal bilateral relations?

As I have already told you that the Emirate has a policy under which it has sent an open invitation to the world which covers each and everyone that diplomatic relations and deliberations may be once again restored as it was earlier. We are open to everyone and India has also been invited and has been conveyed that whatever stakes India has in Afghanistan can be reclaimed by it under the stable government of the Emirate. The Emirate extends its support and assurance that if it has any issue, the Emirate will ensure that all its apprehensions will be addressed. We wish that India reopens its embassy, ​​mingles with Afghan people in a friendly environment. The Emirate has no issue and its doors are open; come and stay with us as old buddies.

What guarantee of security would you provide to Indian diplomatic institutions, projects and businessmen in Afghanistan?

The government is bound to do that, it has a duty to protect each and everyone, whoever visits Afghanistan with an intention of friendship, pure at heart, with an intention of Afghan stability, who comes with love for Afghans and Afghanistan. Their protection in pursuit of these intentions / goals… the government has a duty to protect them. We assure everyone that we have this duty to provide security to everyone, whoever comes to Afghanistan to strengthen peace and stability. For your information, the countries who have diplomatic missions / embassies and other developmental projects in Afghanistan are given all kinds of security provisions, so that they can work in a safe and secure (also peaceful) environment.

A lot of propaganda is going on against Afghanistan that it’s going to be a terror hub and will be used for all sorts of terror activities…

It is often seen that whoever doesn’t want a stable Afghanistan and whenever there is an attempt to establish peace and stability in Afghanistan, the machinery of propaganda gets active to malign the image of Afghanistan. The Emirate stands firmly and fulfills its word given to the world that Afghanistan’s soil can’t be used for its own instability or to destabilise any other country. We have stood up to the promise we made to the world.

What kind of aid and support do you expect from the Indian government in the coming days and in which sectors?

This is a known fact to the world that Afghans in current times have innumerable crises. There is a humanitarian crisis, and the people of Afghanistan have borne it all. After 40 long years, the people of Afghanistan have breathed a sigh of relief in an environment of their choice despite all crises such as food, economy, health, and education. The Emirate has sent a message to all the countries that whoever with the good intention of helping Afghans are welcome. Afghanistan needs help and cooperation in every field. It depends on the Indian government; how does it come forward to extend help and support to the people of Afghanistan. We are faced with an ‘n’ number of problems as a consequence of international economic sanctions. If India cooperates with us, we can gradually overcome the crises we are faced with.

What is your take on intra-Afghan talks? Do you find any role for the previous government leaders and officers in an inclusive government? If yes, then how?

This commission has been formed to bring all the Afghans to the table for dialogue, to bring them all to the country, it is formed to fulfill the pledge that the Emirate leadership has taken, the pledge of peace, stability, good living, good governance that it protects the honor, property of Afghans so that they can live in Afghanistan as brothers. This commission is to reinforce the bond of brotherhood, dispel fears, and resolve differences. Our primary goal (of the commission) is that all Afghans come back to Afghanistan, they move freely and have feelings of brotherhood and a sense of security and lead a worthy life. The inclusion in the formation of the government is a secondary issue.

One major area of ​​concern is the growing presence of ISKP (Islamic State – Khorasan Province) and also inputs regarding the rebirth of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan. What are your views on this and what steps are you taking to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for global terror groups?

Such elements propagate their sinister design through propaganda to the people of their own country, to the foreign countries, and sometimes the countrymen of the target country are swayed by these propagandists. Why did you 4-5 years back in the presence of Americans… .such outfits raised their heads in different parts of Afghanistan. Today in the regime of the Emirate, you will not find a single group in all of Afghanistan. At present, there is no single power group which can threaten the country, peace, people. The Emirate has pledged unto itself that it will bring peace and stability and no harm can be done to the interests of Afghanistan. Our prime issue is security, peace, and brotherhood.

How can you build trust among all political leaders of Afghanistan? Will there be any role for leaders of previous governments like Ghani, Karzai, and Abdullah Abdullah?

It is a secondary issue, as I have already told you. Our primary aim is to make them feel at home. They come and live like brothers. It is a long process; it has not been resolved in the last 40 years. Some elements of vendetta politics have come to the fore. To resolve the bigger issues this commission has been formed. The participation in the government is not currently onboard, it will be addressed later. As of now, we have not discussed it yet and the Emirate will decide and take up the issue later.

What are your expectations from Pakistan as you have an old relationship with them?

We have a good neighborhood, with Pakistan. We will establish good and friendly relations in our neighborhood, be it Iran or India. We need all our neighbors for the good of our people. This is the policy and roadmap of the Emirate. We are already tired of war for the last 40 years and no longer wish or intend to carry it forward. The Emirate has a clear goal that we must not face any problems in the future… Every country that has a fair intention of helping, and rehabilitating Afghans is welcome. We invite all the countries including India to come and assist in remaking and rehabilitating Afghanistan. In future too we need cooperation in many areas. If India comes forward, we appreciate it and it’s welcome news for us.

We are aware of your interest in cricket and other sports. We are also aware that you follow the IPL tournament. What are your views on how cricket can bring India and Afghanistan closer?

(Smiles) It is true and a fact that the Afghanistan national cricket team has a place of merit in international cricket. The Afghan team has achieved this feat in a very short span. The people of Afghanistan love their cricket team and the Islamic Emirate firmly supports and helps in every possible manner. We formally support and truly promote every member of the team. Of late there were some issues which were resolved with the help of the Indian cricket board. We look forward to that. This sport brings two nations together and spreads happiness among the people of both countries. We wish that India and its cricket board help our cricket team with the issues that may crop up in future and this sport becomes a medium to cement our ties.

Are you in touch with the Indian cricket board and are you expecting any specific help from them?

The authorities of the cricket board of India are in touch with the authorities of the Afghan cricket board. (Sourav) Ganguly has been in constant touch with our cricket board members and players. We hope that this cooperation in the sport remains in future too.

Who is your favorite Indian cricketer?

There are many anecdotes in the long story of liking the Indian cricket team and players. With regard to the favorite cricketer in the Indian team, I like all of them who play well.

How do you see things moving in the future for Afghanistan and the Afghan people? Do you think you are on the right track?

In this context, the ministry of external affairs and its ministers have done exhaustive work, substantial progress has been made as many embassies have been opened in many countries. Some who have not openly recognized us on international platforms have opened their embassies in Afghanistan. We are on the right track and hope that one day we will establish our relations with the larger world. We hope we will be ceremonially recognized sooner or later. We are very optimistic about the issue and look forward to early recognition.

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