Interview: Abdullah Abdullah

Former presidential candidate says anti-foreigner rhetoric in Kabul is a “dirty game”.

Abdullah Abdullah
Abdullah Abdullah says the international community faced a dilemma in backing democracy and the electoral process despite fraud and discrepancies [EPA]

Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and presidential candidate who quit the Afghanistan runoff vote, says he will stay out of the government but will capitalise on his increased political leverage to launch a new political party.

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) declared Hamid Karzai the winner of the elections following Abdullah’s withdrawal on grounds of fettered and unfair polling conditions.

Abdullah had insisted that the IEC chairman, viewed as a Karzai loyalist, be replaced as a pre-condition for his participating in the runoff.

In the following interview, Abdullah tells Al Jazeera that the international community has committed mistakes in Afghanistan but also lambastes the “dirty game” of populist anti-foreigner rhetoric.

Al Jazeera: Was the withdrawal from the runoff vote and the IES declaration of Karzai as a winner a political defeat for you?

Abdullah Abdullah: I don’t think so. A political career is not a long shot, but is mainly based on what you stand for. Winning and losing depends on that. So absolutely not.

It was the right decision for me to stand [in the elections] and against all odds. Now, I consider myself on the verge of a new beginning from this stage rather than the end of the process for my own goals and vision for the country.

I think this movement of my supporters will continue with even more potential, more energy, and even more vigour toward the betterment of life for the people of Afghanistan and the country.
Will this movement become a party?

Eventually, yes; this movement did not reach its peak potential during the elections.

How do you assess the international community’s role vis a vis the elections and what changes they seek in Afghanistan?

Karzai retained the presidency despite the end of his mandate in May 2009 [EPA]

There is a sort of debate … and one has to be careful about it and assess whether it is a genuine debate or playing games.

One such example of playing games is the practise of putting all the blame on the international community for what happened in the elections.

The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) stood by the process. I think it was created for that purpose – the purpose of having an independent body looking into the complaints and then to give it another stamp of approval.

But then saying ‘oh it was foreigners, foreigners, foreigners’, this is part of that dirty game that is being played here in Afghanistan. I think the international community did well by standing by the democratic process to the extent that it was possible.

However, I think they missed the point on May 22 (when Karzai’s term ended according to the constitution, thereby leading to calls for an interim government to be put into place until the elections). That was an opportunity to uphold the Constitution of Afghanistan and the rule of law.

The international community had the chance, the opportunity to stand by the call from the people of Afghanistan and to take the risk of supporting an interim arrangement.

Things would have been over by now and the legitimacy of the process could have been ensured. This would have been the right foundation for the future of the country. That was an opportunity missed.

What could the international community have done?

I think there was very little the international community could have done apart from what they did. Now there is a dilemma. They have called for change from the same system and the same leadership which has proved itself in the past to actually be change-proof.

That’s the sticking point. On the other hand, they have to deal with the situation, the status quo, and give it legitimacy by recognising the electoral process and the election outcome.

Furthermore, the international community faces calls from their own public opinion for change in Afghanistan and the merit of their engagement in the country.

I think the international community is in a difficult position. I do understand these dilemmas. The problem is we do not have another five years like we had when Mr Karzai was elected the last time.

In the next two to three years events will decide the future of Afghanistan – whether the deteriorating course will continue or it will be halted, reversed and back on track toward development and democracy.

The friends of Afghanistan should be pressing for those reforms but the voice from the international community should not be the only voice. It has to be Afghans in the lead in this because we know that again those dirty games could be played, such as the populist slogans pitting foreigners versus Afghans and Afghans versus foreigners.

The unfortunate reality of today is that in the past eight years we have not built enough strength in the system to the point where we can survive without foreign support. To make it look as if the Afghans are more unworthy of support is not of service to this country.

But unfortunately we see these sorts of games being played. It is a challenging time for everybody.

Barack Obama, the US president, is mulling a new strategy for Afghanistan, one which would require more US troops to be deployed, especially to population centres.

More troops are needed based on every military assessment in this country. But is this the cure for all the problems that we have in this country? The main part of the answer will depend on the Afghan partner.

Key questions that should be addressed include how legitimate the government is in the eyes of the people, how legitimate its actions are. Can it deliver to the people, and change the political environment for the better? These are the things which will have an impact on the success of any military strategy.

What of talk about reconciliation with the Taliban?

As long as we know what we are talking about. If such reconciliation efforts reach out to the people of Afghanistan and work to isolate those who want to fight and bring the state down at any cost, by any cost and with any cost – well, such efforts are fine.

However, if tomorrow there is a situation whereupon we call on the Quetta Shura [alleged seat of Taliban leadership in Pakistan, just south of the border with Afghanistan] and say ‘why not make peace, lets do it’ – well, that’s a bit illusionary.

It is too simplistic to expect that those who are working with al-Qaeda to turn in their arms and come and work as carpenters or for vocational training. 

Source: Al Jazeera