Afghanistan: Opposition Leader Assesses Country's Foreign Relations
By Amin Tarzi
Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, leader of the twelve-party coalition -- National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli, JTM) -- spoke recently with RFE/RL about Afghan foreign relations, in particular with the United States. By virtue of securing 16 percent of the votes in Afghanistan's October presidential elections, second only to Karzai's 55 percent margin, Qanuni is has become strongest opposition leader in Afghanistan and has been chosen as the leader of JTM, which was formed in late March as the main opposition front against the Karzai government.
Qanuni told RFE/RL that Afghanistan has never before witnessed the level of international support it has since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001. He said that the U.S.-led coalition forces and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) serve the interests of Afghanistan.
Specifically on the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States, Qanuni said that his country needs a "strategic partner which could be the United States" to protect Afghanistan from its neighbors. However, he added, it is in Afghanistan's long-term interests to maintain a balance between the United States and EU member states in such a partnership.
Discussing the possibility of the United States establishing a longer-term military presence in Afghanistan based on the declaration of strategic partnership between the two countries signed in May by Karzai and his host, U.S. President George W. Bush, Qanuni said that while he was not opposed to the idea of U.S. military bases in his country, he was concerned about the "wrong Afghan policies of the United States."
Referring to the United States as "our best friend," Qanuni lamented that Washington's Afghan policies are guided by "Pakistani influence" and by those members of the Afghan cabinet who are "holding green cards" -- a reference to members of the Afghan cabinet how have established permanent residency in the United States.
Pakistan Singled Out
Of all of Afghanistan's neighbors, Qanuni singled out Pakistan as the greatest threat to his country's stability. "There are special groups in Pakistan who want to destroy Afghan stability," Qanuni said.
Reviewing the recent history of Afghanistan, specially the emergence of the Taliban in the mid-1990s, Qanuni blamed Islamabad for following a systematic policy of undermining Afghanistan's sovereignty. The successes of the Taliban, emerging as a "bad joke" in 1994 but then emerging to control of Afghanistan by 1996, were not accidental, Qanuni claimed. Returning to the recent increase of insurgent and terrorist acts carried out by the neo-Taliban in cooperation with their allies in Al-Qaeda and Hizb-e Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Qanuni said that what began as "pocket of insurgencies" has been transformed into "fronts." This transformation, Qanuni contended "is not accidental," but a "strategic" plan formulated in Pakistan.
Returning to the issue of U.S. military bases, Qanuni said that Pakistan will not accept a more permanent U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, something that he argued would diminish Islamabad's regional importance.
Faced with the current close ties between Kabul and Washington and challenged with the prospects of warmer U.S.-Indian relations, Pakistan is set on destabilizing Afghanistan, Qanuni concluded.
Gradual Democratization Preferred
Another aspect of U.S. policy in Afghanistan that Qanuni criticized was the rush to democratize and secularize his country.
"The United States wishes to have a 45-year-old newborn," Qanuni said, referring to the expectation that he thought Washington has that Afghanistan quickly match the social and political experience of the United States.
The Afghan opposition leader agreed that there Afghanistan and the United States share some common goals in building democracy in Afghanistan. However he challenged the pace at which this policy is being pushed forward. Democracy has to "grow up from a small tree," rather than by bringing in a fully grown tree and placing it somewhere, Qanuni added.
Qanuni affirmed that Afghan democracy should be secular. However he argued against "the green-card holders" who insist on the immediate secularization of the entire Afghan society. Rhetorically, Qanuni dared those members of the Afghan cabinet who have come from the United States or Europe to walk into any mosque in the most secular city in the country -- Kabul -- and openly call for secularism.
During his conversations, Qanuni reiterated that Afghanistan needs a strategic partnership with the United States and that the coalition he leads does not oppose the possibility of the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.
However, he repeatedly questioned the wisdom of the "Afghan policy of the United States" for its purported over-reliance on Pakistan and Afghans who once lived in the West. He said the relationship between Kabul and Washington should not be used for advancing political agendas favored by these Afghans. He concluded that Washington's policies in Afghanistan would be better served if it abandoned supporting a single individual, Karzai -- whom he accused of promoting an ethnic agenda -- and focused on a broader relationship with a greater number of Afghans.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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