Hilal averse to conditions for peace parleys
KABUL (PAN): Identifying durable peace and tranquility in Afghanistan as his top priorities, presidential candidate Qutbuddin Hilal has said there will be no pre-conditions for holding reconciliation talks with the Taliban and Hezb-i-Islami if he wins the upcoming ballot.
In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Hilal alleged concrete steps had not been taken over the past decade to ensure lasting peace and tranquility in the country.
“Our key goal will be holding talks with armed militants. We will ponder on their grievances and demands. I will travel to remote areas, whenever the insurgents want, for the sole purpose to secure peace,” he promised.
Referring to Taliban’s office in Qatar, he said it was an excellent initiative for returning peace to Afghanistan but the move was scuttled due to trivial differences.
“For Taliban, it was not imperative to hoist their Islamic Emirate’s flag and plaque at their office in Qatar. Opening an office in Qatar was enough for the group. But even when they put their Islamic Emirate plaque, the Afghan government should have avoided making the issue a source of contention, which spoiled the whole exercise,” he noted.
Hilal said he would not allow small differences to create hurdles in way of peace and security. Taliban have always dubbed the Afghan government a US puppet. Asked if the fighters stick to that stand, what will he do?
“Taliban were ready for talks in Qatar despite the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. But the Afghan government criticised their plaque at the initial stage of talks. I believe we should have taken forward the dialogue process, which was a brilliant chance to promote peace. But regrettably, the process was halted.”
Taliban were of the opinion they would not initiate any peace talks with the Afghan government in the presence of foreign forces in the country. On the other hand, the government wanted them to renounce violence, accept the country’s constitution and cut their ties to Al-Qaeda, he added.
In the larger interest of peace, Hilal believed, there should be no preconditions for talks from either side. Currently, Afghanistan needs the presence and assistance of foreign states, he said.
“There will no need for presence of foreign forces if there is peace and security,” he added. He expressed doubts about the intentions of Afghan government, Taliban and the US for arresting eternal peace.
Sometime back, members of the Afghanistan High Peace Council (HPC) and the US ambassador were quoted as saying in Kabul: “Even a minor step cannot be taken for resilient peace in the country,” he recalled.
“I will take accelerated steps for peace and reconciliation if I win. Taliban and the US will be taken on board during the process,” he informed.
He said: “It is not solution to the problem by calling upon Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami to lay down their weapons, live peacefully and accept country’s constitution. I want to listen to the grievances of the rival party. What they (insurgents) want? Why do not they come forward?”
Before asking fighting groups to come for negotiations, he said there was need to make tangible changes in the government and appoint committed individuals for government positions.
The president of Afghanistan should be a dedicated and committed person with a devoted team, he opined.
Bilateral Security Agreement:
The decision of the consultative Loya Jirga is in larger national interests, he said, adding that decision of the majority should be accepted as per country’s constitution and Islamic laws.
Referring to the participants of the consultative Loya Jirga discussing the clauses of BSA minutely, he said: “Around 2,500 people cannot gather for any iniquitous task.”
On security situation in the country, Hilal said many investors were ready to invest in Afghanistan, but they were waiting for improved security before any investment.
He added: “First, rampant corruption is the biggest problem. When an investor comes to Afghanistan, he must establish personal and clandestine contacts with the concerned officials for some sort of special favor. Second, insecurity is main hurdles in the way of investors as we know family members of shareholders are being kidnapped daily basis.”
Equipping Afghan Security Forces:
Hilal alleged during the past decade, foreigners did not properly equip the nascent Afghan security forces, promising he would focus to better equip the country’s security forces.
“I will press them (foreign countries) to fulfill their commitments in the backdrop of Tokyo and Chicago conferences,” he noted.
He would materialize his promises made with the nation, including tackling the corruption issue if he won the elections, adding: “We will prove to the world that mine is a corruption-free country and that their financial assistance is not being wasted.”
First of all, a decisive action was direly needed for fighting corruption, Hilal said, adding he would sack all corrupt officials from their jobs.
The corrupt officials, he promised would be kept accountable for what they did and they would be tried in courts for their corrupt practices.
“I will purge judiciary of corruption by appointing honest and men of principles in the vital institution of the country,” he noted.
For curbing corruption, he would introduce modern computerized system for handling government affairs. “All financial deals should take place through credible banks, which will clearly show all paying and receiving sources,” he added.
Custom had been generating heavy revenue and contributing a major portion to national exchequer, he said, adding his government would closely monitor Afghanistan’s custom department.
“During five years rule by Taliban, they had only one source of revenue generation--- the custom department--- which was running their whole government affairs,” he added.
Hilal promised he would introduce a strict merit system in payments for government employees based on their professional skills which would help curbed corruption. He said a fair merit policy would be introduced for hiring government employees in a transparent way free of nepotism.
Hilal claimed having a number of plans for improving the country’s war-tattered economy by establishing a committee to implement the strategy.
On modernising the agriculture, he called the sector an important source of income for the country. He will also set up cold storage facilities, warehouses and explore better markets for agricultural products.
He would work out a plan to build dams for generating electricity and irrigation purposes.
Another way to boost the economy was to reduce expenditures, he said, adding he would ban expensive imports such as luxury cars and curb lavish spending on wedding parties.
Hilal said natural resources were yet another source of income to improve the country’s economy if he won, adding contracts would be awarded to companies for all extraction activities in a transparent way.
He would support setting up factories which would help create more job opportunities besides generating revenue.
Afghanistan has a strategic location and is a best transit route between South and Central Asia which needs to be focused for generating more employment opportunities for Afghans, he added.
If wins as next president, Hilal said he would facilitate the private sector for investment, adding he would offer subsidies to entrepreneurs.
He said: “reducing government expenditures, improving exports, eradicating poppy cultivation, improving saffron cultivation and reduction of expenses will be among my top priorities.”
Currently, saffron is an alternative for poppy cultivation; he promised of finding markets and facilitating export of saffron. Hilal said he would copy the experiences of Malaysia and Turkey to achieve larger economic goals.
He said growing joblessness was another big challenge forcing many Afghans to leave their country. In order to resolve the unemployment issue, he would strive to boost the industrial sector, focus on mine exploration and excavation and improve Afghanistan’s transit ties with other countries.
The presidential contender acknowledged though the country’s education sector witnessed tangible progress over the past years, but curriculum was not as per his expectations.
He would upgrade the country’s educational curriculum in schools and higher education institutions and increase the salaries of teaching staff of educational institutions.
A year earlier, he decided to run for the presidency in the wake of support by members of Hezb-i-Islami party, he added.
Hilal is largely viewed as key member of the Hezb-i-Islami faction, led by Gulbadin Hekmatyar -- the second largest armed group in Afghanistan.
Conducting elections is the only way of bringing about a positive change and resolving the present problems in the country, according to Hilal, who said: “Polls are the best way to usher in an era of progress and change, which is not prohibited in Islam.”
As Afghanistan depends on neighboring countries in terms of transit, his foreign policy would be based on mutual trust and respect, Hilal said.
Asked how he would strike a balance in relations with Iran and Pakistan and other strategic partners, including India and the US, he said: “Neighbours have immense importance. We can ensure security in our country and easily promote our trade links if we build good relations with neighbours.”
Replying to the question what kind of president Afghanistan needed, the aspirant said: “In my view, the next head of state should have the ability to appoint a competent team on merit.”
“The new president should adopt stringent measures to tackle corruption, ensure peace, stabilise the economy, revitalise the education sector and establish good ties with the global community.”
On the current administration, he said President Hamid Karzai had taken steps to ensure good governance, but the present crisis originated from the wrong decisions taken at first Bonn Conference on Afghanistan in 2001.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.