Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist by training who spent years resisting Soviet and then Taliban rule, served as foreign minister under President Hamid Karzai from 2001 to 2006 before challenging Karzai for the Afghan presidency in 2009. Abdullah withdrew before a runoff vote, accusing Karzai of fraud. Abdullah now leads the largest opposition bloc in Afghanistan.
I spoke to Abdullah hours after President Obama announced a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation:
Amar C. Bakshi: What did you think of President Obama’s speech?
Dr. Abdullah Abdullah: We were expecting this transition. It’s a realistic plan.
At the same time, the part that worries us is the Afghan side. I am worried about the Afghan government’s ability to deliver and shoulder its responsibilities.
The other concern is about whether the United States will be able to use its leverage over Pakistan to stop Pakistan from supporting the Taliban and other terrorist groups.
Can Karzai achieve peace?
I consider Karzai’s leadership – the fact that he doesn’t have a vision for the country and the fact that he mixes friends and enemies – to be the main challenge for Afghanistan.
We need Afghan leadership that unites the Afghan people behind a common purpose and consolidates Afghanistan with its partners. In practice, [Karzai] has been distancing the Afghan government from the Afghan people and from our friends around the world.
The Taliban is taking advantage of this.
What should the U.S. and the international community do?
The international community should assure the people of Afghanistan that its commitment is not short-term even though the withdrawal is a reality.
The international community should stand by the democratic process and its principles.
Mr. Karzai should not be able to take all the good will and sacrifices of the international community and the fate of the Afghan people as hostage.
Has the surge been a success?
I would say to a large extent, yes, because the situation in southern Afghanistan has been reversed against the Taliban. But then if you ask whether all the goals of the surge have been achieved, that is under serious question.
Do you worry that after 2014 there could be an outbreak of violence?
It is a serious concern for us.
The Taliban are taking advantage of the fact that our leadership has lost sense of direction. They are taking advantage of the growing gap between the people and the government of Afghanistan.
There is uncertainty and unless there are drastic measures in reforming the system, fighting against corruption and creating a sense of purpose, the risk of violence is real.
Are negotiations with the Taliban necessary for peace in the future?
The door for negotiations has to be open, but we have to be realistic. The Taliban have not accepted the principle talks, let alone the conditions of the talks.
We must remember that certain parts of the Taliban have a presence in Pakistan. Then there is the policy of reconciliation announced by Karzai.
A combination of all these three factors has led to a lot of confusion among the people of Afghanistan.
The purpose of the talks with Taliban should be to bring in those who want to join a peaceful life while isolating the Taliban from the people and splitting the Taliban.
The people who want to fight to the death should be isolated and cornered.
That is not taking place as a result of the current announced policy.
The majority of the people are against the Talibanization of the country.
They are concerned, worried and confused.
What message would you deliver to the American people?
The Afghan people are grateful for your support, sacrifices and contributions to the people of Afghanistan. When, sometimes, you get messages from the current Afghan leadership that looks like disgraceful messages, these are not the voices of the people of Afghanistan.
The people of Afghanistan are grateful for what you have done for our country. We need your continued support. Hopefully, with the partnership between both countries, our enemies will not be able to hurt us.