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'Leaving the snake half wounded will be more dangerous'

Last updated on: February 03, 2006 18:53 IST
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Participants at this week's conference on Afghanistan in London have agreed on a redevelopment package, the Afghanistan Compact, to improve that country's security and economy and tackle its booming drug trade. Though the United States will reduce its troop strength, it will ask Congress for another $1.1 billion to assist Afghanistan.

In the third segment of a six-part interview to Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt and Nikhil Lakshman, Masood Khalili, who served as the Afghan ambassador in India until recently, says he hopes the Americans will stay in his country till their job is finished.

Part I: 'The Taliban have returned'

Part II: 'The Americans are not occupiers'

How long do you think the Americans should stay in Kabul?

I hope they stay until their job is finished.

Five years? Ten years?

I don't know. It's hard for me to know how long the Americans will stay. But I hope and I pray they stay till a time they fulfil their promise, that is till they not allow the Taliban, not allow Al Qaeda, not allow the wrong forces to bring Afghanistan to what it was before September 11, 2001.

Don't you think this recent resurgence of the Taliban has helped Afghanistan in a bizarre way? Because the Americans have been too distracted by the mounting body count in Iraq since 2003 to focus on Afghanistan. Now, after 82 Americans died last year in Taliban-sponsored attacks, suddenly America and the American media believes it needs to focus on Afghanistan as well.

Any defocusing of Afghanistan will be dangerous. A. For Afghanistan, b. for the region, and c. for the world.

Until and unless you do not achieve your goal in Afghanistan along with the Afghan people you have failed.

Leaving the snake half wounded will be more dangerous.

Never and ever ever leave your enemy half wounded, never and ever ever take them unseriously, never and ever allow them to think even psychologically that if you go, they can come back.

The nature of Afghanistan as a geopolitically strategic country demands that the US keeps its promise till the end.

Geopolitically Afghanistan has been, is and will be an important region for the United Nations, for NATO, for America. We fought against the Soviets, the world helped us -- not much, not little -- but they helped us. The Soviets left because of the war in Afghanistan and because of the problems in their own country.

In the meantime, Afghanistan was abandoned. One goal was achieved -- that the Soviets left. But the economic help, reconstruction, political institutionalisation, bringing democracy to the country needed our friends to stay with us. They abandoned us. Leaving Afghanistan now will create a more dangerous problem than what it was before September 11, 2001.

We should all be careful -- the United Nations, NATO and America. Every three months, we should have a joint meeting to assess the situation, to not allow the enemy to return.

The enemy is not a simple enemy. The enemy has an organisation and money spread all over the world. The enemy has maybe more than 3,000, 4,000 suicide bombers. The enemy's tactic is dangerous. This is why we have to be careful.

Leaving Afghanistan will indeed allow the enemy to come back in a real dangerous way.

People say the Taliban is not the only danger in Afghanistan, people talk about the warlords, which President Karzai is at present unable to control.

In the war against the Soviets and the Taliban, we did not produce prophets. The commanders who were fighting the Soviets were the commanders who fought the Taliban. For them both causes were holy and important. In the process you have good and not so good commanders.

Mr Karzai is referring to those commanders who are not careful about their activities in Afghanistan and some drug lords. Afghanistan has a lot of drug problems. So that is an enemy we also have to be careful of.

How can you handle someone like Abdul Rashid Dostum for instance?

Dostum -- I don't call him a warlord. Dostum was fighting along with the Soviets against us (the mujhaideen). So he was a commander on that side. And then he was fighting against the Taliban with us. Maybe the first one God knows we say that he was wrong, but the second case he was very good (smiles).

Who were the warlords you say are not good?

Who do I identify as the bad commanders? The commanders who are causing problems. The commanders who do not believe in the new democratic institutions, who disturb the democratic process and the security of the country, who encourage the drug lords.

It is said the warlords still control most of the country and that President Karzai does not have much influence outside of Kabul.

No, no, he does have influence outside Kabul. Every month he calls his governors and talks to them. He is going everywhere he wants.

With his huge American security force?

Now there are just one or two Americans, the rest are all Afghans. Ninety five percent of the bodyguards are Afghans. I tell you the truth -- it was raised in the cabinet. 'In this very dangerous situation should we not get bodyguards for Mr Karzai?' they asked.

I found the people of Afghanistan have become more mature than they were before. When I heard that Mr Karzai had got American bodyguards I said, 'An Afghan leader with foreign bodyguards! My wife said, 'I don't think people will criticise, they will understand.'

When I next went to Kabul I went to a place called Jabalsara. We called everyone -- about 200, 300 people. Intellectuals, mullahs, commanders and all. I asked, 'What do you think about Mr Karzai's American bodyguards? Is it wrong? No one thought it was wrong. One old man spoke up: 'We want him to be alive. The world has become very dangerous and cruel, we should keep the leader alive.'

I wrote in my diary that night that my people have become more mature than before.

Photograph: Getty Images

Part IV: 'May God not put any country in the fire that we were in'

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