Ambassador Jawad gave an interview to TASS

English translation of Ambassador Said T Jawad interview with TASS published on May 29, 2021

Interviewer: Leyla Turaianova

In an interview with TASS, Afghan Ambassador to Russia Said Tayeb Jawad spoke about the plans for an inter-Afghan summit in Pakistan, the danger of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan and the readiness to purchase weapons from Russia.

Despite the lack of progress in the inter-Afghan talks in Doha, the US will withdraw its troops by September 11. Do you think that this deprives the Taliban (banned in the Russian Federation) of an incentive to continue negotiations with the government of Afghanistan? Does Kabul have any fears that after the withdrawal of foreign troops, the Taliban will try to take over the country and restore the Islamic emirate?

– The Doha Agreement was signed in order to ensure orderly withdrawal of American troops. Thus, it should not be surprising that the peace process negotiating in inter-Afghan negotiations is moving slowly. Of course, the peace process is much more complex. As for the government of Afghanistan and the political leadership of the country, they are ready to talk. You have read the statements made by our president, parliament, the opposition, ex-President Hamid Karzai – everyone is ready to talk, to go to negotiations in any place. But the problem is the Taliban. They still think that an armed takeover is possible, despite the fact that they clearly hear not only from the Afghans, but also from Russia, Iran, India, that this will not be allowed, it is impossible and leads to many tolls. 

As far as I know, the negotiations in Doha have been put on pause. When are they supposed to be resumed?

– As recently as yesterday, there were discussions about the possibility of resuming negotiations in Doha. The talks did not officially stop, they slowed down, because the meeting in Istanbul was actively being prepared, which did not take place in time mainly because of the “Taliban”. We have said that we are ready, and our Turkish colleagues are making a lot of efforts to hold the conference. Now there is also a discussion of the meeting in Pakistan, which is something new. I think it is important that influential countries, especially Russia, Iran, Pakistan and others, encourage the Taliban to come to the negotiating table no matter the venue.

When can the meeting take place in Pakistan?

– During the last meeting of the Chief of Staff of the Army of Pakistan, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, in Kabul, was offered to facilitate a direct meeting between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban in Pakistan. In the past, a similar request was made to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, by our President, Ashraf Ghani. But Imran Khan later informed us that the Taliban did not agree.

Is there supposed to be a bilateral meeting of the Afghan parties or an international conference in Pakistan?

– No, it will be a bilateral meeting.

At the high level?

– At the highest level.

So the meeting will be attended by the President of Afghanistan?

– It depends on what level the other side will attend, it will be the same level that the Taliban will agree to. If the political leadership of the Taliban at the highest level comes and is ready to talk, our President, the head of the Supreme Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, will also be ready to participate.

There is no information about the date of the meeting yet?

– Not yet, but we hope that it will take place. We appreciate if Pakistan can contribute to this and facilitate the meeting.

Is the Istanbul conference still on the agenda?

– It is postponed, but the work is underway. In fact, it is important that preparations for the meeting have been going on for a long time in order to have a clear agenda, achieve results, and develop rules of conduct for the success of the conference. I remember when the agreement was reached to hold the conference in Istanbul, the government of Afghanistan insisted that it was not just “we will come, sit down and see what happens”. No, there must be a clear agenda, deadlines, and rules of conduct to prevent the scenario that occurred in Moscow, when the Taliban, instead of holding a constructive meeting, simply insulted everyone at the negotiating table. This should be avoided.

– So to date, the Taliban have agreed to participate in the Istanbul conference? Earlier, they refused to go there.

– No, they are rushing back and forth, they have never clearly said “yes ” or “no”.

– Is there any information about the possible dates of the conference?

-“Not yet. From my experience, the location you choose for peace talks is important, it’s part of positioning, success. To be honest, it should come as no surprise that we are seeing delays in the process. It was a long war, a complex war, involving many regional factors, international players, withdrawal of American troops. So, to expect this to be resolved in a day or a week is too optimistic.

Did the parties manage to find any common ground at the Doha talks?

– Well, at least, almost all the procedural issues were resolved. There are two ways to negotiate: the first is when they are not time-limited, when you negotiate to achieve results as long as needed. The second is when you set deadlines: “Let’s come to an agreement in twenty days, thirty days, and so on.” The Doha negotiations are not limited in time and duration. The meeting in Istanbul should not have an open end, but also should not be too short, as in Moscow, where the negotiations lasted half a day. It is necessary to find the right solution so that the negotiations do not last too long, but at the same time bring the desired results.

Has the Afghan Government developed a single roadmap for a settlement?

– Yes, we have a comprehensive peace plan, but Peace should always be achieved on the basis of a compromise on both sides. Peace is always about reaching compromises, accepting the position of the other side.

On what issues is the government of Afghanistan ready to compromise, and on what issues is it not?

– We will not compromise on the fundamental, basic rights of Afghan citizens – to have elections, to participate in the political process. For women – to get an education and have the same equal rights as men. But everyone in Afghanistan is tired of war and bloodshed. Therefore, everyone is ready to make acceptable sacrifices in the hope that these sacrifices will lead to a long-term and just peace. I think the Afghan people have shown that they are ready to accept the Taliban as part of the government, as part of the political process in Afghanistan. But the Taliban should have one voice along with many other Afghans, they should not determine how to govern Afghanistan, how the Afghans should live. They have rights – if they want to live the way they want – it’s perfectly nice, it’s their choice. But they should not force the rest of the population to follow their will and to live according to their despotic rules.

You said that the success of the negotiations largely depends on the venue. Where would it be better to hold the talks, from the point of view of the Government of Afghanistan – in Doha or somewhere else?

– In any peace negotiations, each side has a preferred platform. If the decision depended on the Afghan government, then the best platform for us would be Kabul or Kandahar inside Afghanistan. This is their country, this is our country, come and negotiate in Kabul or Kandahar. The Taliban prefer to hold talks in the Gulf states because they are comfortable there, they and their families live there.

But for the success of peace negotiations, the venue and timing are secondary. What is really important is that, first, the Taliban must realize that they cannot take control of Afghanistan militarily, and second, even if they do, they will not be able to govern it. They will not have the support either inside Afghanistan, in the region, or in the international community to establish the so-called Islamic emirate. If the Taliban understands this, they will negotiate.

Therefore, it is important for everyone who is interested in the peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region, whether it is Russia, Iran, the United States, Pakistan, India, or the Arab states, to convey to the Taliban that no one will tolerate the Islamic emirate, because it will be dangerous for Afghanistan, for the region, for international security. People do not want the establishment of an Islamic emirate, not because they do not like the way the Taliban look, but because they have already experienced it, they have seen what it has led to-the destruction of infrastructure, Buddha statues, the educational system in Afghanistan, the influx of extremist elements from Arab countries to turn Afghanistan into a base of terrorism in the region. During the Islamic emirate Afghanistan was isolated, Afghanistan was poor, there was no international support for Afghanistan, and the education and economic systems were completely  paralyzed.

US President Joe Biden said that Washington will ask the countries of the region, including Pakistan, Russia, China, India, and Turkey, to do more to support Afghanistan. Does the Afghan government plan to strengthen security ties with Russia after the withdrawal of foreign troops?

– Of course, we strongly welcome the important role of Russia in the peace process, we appreciate the principled position of Moscow on preventing the restoration of the Islamic emirate and the exclusion of the leaders of the Taliban from the UN sanctions lists before fulfilling their obligations in relation to the peace process. These are two important principles of Russia that we value. In fact, we would like not only that, but for Russia to work more with us, with the people, with the government of Afghanistan, to create a sustainable peace. If Russia is against the Islamic emirate, then it must do something to prevent the Taliban from taking over Kabul, and it must work constructively with us. It’s good that Russia says “no” to certain things, but sometimes we hear from our colleagues in Moscow: “We will wait and see what happens, and we will participate more later.” I ask my Russian colleagues to work constructively with us to shape the future, not to wait for the future.

What kind of Russian participation do you expect?

– Russia has influence in Pakistan, Iran and India, it can use it to send a clear signal to the Taliban, it can help our security forces more in the repair of old Russian equipment that we have, especially helicopters and other types. There is a lot of space for cooperation here. We would like to see this all begin to be realized, instead of waiting: “We will see what happens when the Americans leave.” No, we must work together to shape the future.

Does the Afghan government plan to purchase weapons and military equipment from Russia?

– Yes, if Russia agrees. But in Russia, our personnel are trained for the security forces of Afghanistan, especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs. We hope that Russia will consider the possibility of repairing existing military equipment, especially helicopters and will provide an opportunity for pilots and mechanics to train.

The Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said earlier that Russia is considering transferring a batch of the vaccine Sputnik V to Kabul free of charge for vaccination of employees of the lower house of the Parliament of Afghanistan. Has an agreement been reached?

– I am glad that he has promised the Sputnik V supplies for us, but we haven’t seen anything for five months. We have made a request to the Russian government, but we have not seen any progress on this issue. We fear a second or third wave of coronavirus, as in India and elsewhere, we know that Sputnik V is very effective, so if we are given a vaccine, we will take advantage of it.

Does the Government of Afghanistan have the opportunity to purchase a vaccine?

-If they tell us that they will provide a vaccine, we will find a way to get it, including buying or local production. 

Russia and Afghanistan recently agreed to resume the work of the bilateral intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation. When is the meeting scheduled and what projects will be discussed?

– Very soon in Moscow, exactly within a couple of months. There have been some changes in the leadership of the ministries both in Afghanistan and here, we have settled the issues of logistics. There are many areas of cooperation that we would like to discuss with our Russian colleagues. We would like to buy more Russian goods, especially wood, wheat, and steel, and find ways to supply Afghan agricultural products to the Russian market. As we build more railways in Afghanistan and use Russian gauge, we purchase equipment and locomotives in Russia.

-In your previous interview, you said that Russia and Afghanistan are considering opening a direct air corridor for trade. Is there any progress on this issue?

– Russia used to import a lot of dried fruits from Afghanistan. We are trying to return to the previous trading volumes. The first reason why trade between the two countries declined, of course, was covid, the second is that some of the goods that we bought from Russia are now available in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan at a lower price. But people still prefer high-quality Russian goods. Therefore, we hope to boost trade, as well as investment. We would welcome investment by Russian companies in major infrastructure projects, especially electricity and gas production, as well as in the reconstruction of some old infrastructure built by the Soviet Union.

We had planned to hold an economic conference in May, but unfortunately, due to covid, it was postponed. The idea is to find opportunities for partnership between Afghan and Russian companies. Because sometimes Russian companies are concerned about security in Afghanistan, but if they cooperate with Afghan companies, the security risks are reduced.

– If I may, the last question is more personal. You have been working in Moscow for several months now. You have previously served as Ambassador to the United States and the United Kingdom. How does your mission in Russia differ from your work in these countries?

– First of all, life in Moscow is different from life in London and Washington, and, frankly, people know how to enjoy life better in this vibrant and cosmopolitan city. This is a unique feature of Moscow, and I really like it. Also, people are much more welcoming and honest about what they like and what they don’t. But in terms of the work that we do, it is not so different: relations with Moscow, as well as with Washington and London, are not limited to interaction with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We have a wide range of interactions with academia, which I like, universities, the Academy of Sciences, museums. The problem facing the Afghan diaspora here is similar to the one in London. The situation in the United States is different, because there is a program of rapid integration, people quickly get citizenship and do not need so much the services of the embassy of their country of origin. Here, many people still require consular services. In general, I enjoy being in such a cosmopolitan, beautiful city as Moscow and hope to see more of Russia during summer time. Thank you!