In an exclusive interview with Voice of America on Sunday evening shortly after his arrival in Washington, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and what he is doing to set a course to repair relations with the United States.
The interview with Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna was held at Blair House in the Pashto language. What follows is an edited transcript.
Q: Why did you request a change in the troop levels?
Ghani: “We were in a dangerous situation. Our elections went through a complicated process, resulting in the waste of almost eight months. On top of that, (former Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai’s decision not to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] has led to a hasty withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and that in part contributed to the weakening of technical assets at our disposal in the country.
“The very issue of funding, equipping and training the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] came under question with the speedy withdrawal of foreign forces. In the past six months, we have managed to survive from a fundamental problem which the enemies had greatly counted on and it was apparently the God forbid, complete overthrow of the Afghan government or the loss of certain provinces to the enemy.
“We have successfully managed to foil that plot. The prevention of this great plot is a victory for the Afghan nation and the Afghan National Security Forces. Initially, we were in defensive mode, but with the grace of God, we have managed to transition to offensive mode.
“In addition to that, when Afghanistan was going through the transfer of security responsibility from NATO to Afghan National Security Forces, I had the honor to lead and facilitate the process. At that time, the situation differed from that of today. The decision to launch a military offensive against militants in North and South Waziristan was not even considered or thought of at the time nor was deliberations given to its impact on Afghanistan.
“Secondly, the threat of Dayesh (ISIS) was not even in the minds of the people. Moreover, from a qualitative perspective, terrorist networks have transformed and they have begun concentrating on us [Afghanistan] through various factors. Our historical name of “Khurassan” has a vital and symbolic significance for the ISIS and you are aware of the fact that many ISIS members have changed their surnames to “Khurasaani”.
“In their philosophy [ISIS’s philosophy], Dajal will emerge from Khurasaan and fight them [ISIS] in the apocalyptic war in Syria. Considering this environment and circumstances and bearing in mind our national interests and global threats, we have had a series of discussions and reached to this common conclusion.”
Q:What have you done to repair relations with the US?
Ghani: “First of all, we have taken the initiative to act. On the very first day of the National Unity Government, we have signed the Bilateral Security Agreement [BSA] with the United States and the multi-lateral security agreement with NATO. On the second day of the government, we concentrated on the issue of corruption and reopened the Kabul bank case. On the third day of the government, I have assumed the tasks the of commander-in-chief.
“We did not sit idle and rather sought to implement our program step by step. We have launched a series of discussions with them (the United States) premised on rational fundamental issues and free of emotions. In addition to that, we have taken the initiative on regional level as well and did not wait for anyone.
“China was geographically closer to us and we are the first country to have sought closer ties with both the United States and China. We have concentrated on the Arab and the Islamic world as well and have utilized all our five foreign political rings to proceed. We have realized that the United States is our strategic ally and debates amongst allies ought to be premised on principles, mutual interests and rationality.”
Q: What is the most important thing you're going to tell Obama?
Ghani: We have mutual interests and are faced with common threats. Given that, we have to create the type of coordination and cooperation that both ensures Afghanistan’s national interests and secures United States vital interests in the region.
Q: Will the political division of the U.S congress have an impact on the U.S-Afghan relations?
Ghani: “Absolutely not, because with the grace of God, all political leaders in the U.S have come to a common conclusion to agree on Afghanistan. I have spent a lot of time with members of the U.S Congress. Upon assuming the office of the president of Afghanistan, I have talked to them over the phone and have met with U.S Congress delegates in person upon their numerous visits to Afghanistan.
“I have talked to them (members of the U.S Congress) in Munich as well. You know that not every leader gets to talk to the Joint Session of the U.S Congress and I have the honor to address the American people and their respective representatives in the U.S Congress. It’s vital to send the message in my address to the U.S Congress that Afghanistan is collectively and unitedly moving forward and is faced with clear, real and visible threats. And Afghanistan will triumph over these threats. We will appreciate their assistance to Afghanistan.”
Q: Why have national peace talks not taken place?
Ghani: “Peace talks should be conducted directly or else it will create doubts in our society and doubts break our national unity which is essential for us. Enabling the environment for peace was my job and I have done so which created the necessary bedrock to proceed with peace talks.
“However, one has to be very cautious in these circumstances because wrong moves and wrong assumptions bring about dangerous consequences. Mr. Karzai’s administration has put a lot of efforts into the peace talks. President Karzai has travelled 26 times to Pakistan, but it could not enable the environment for peace.
“Now, conditions have changed. The policy that we have been pursuing right now with regards to peace talks, with God’s grace will yield achievements and progress. However, unless and until the environment is ready, I will not be in a position to assure my nation and so long as I am not confident about the environment, remarks about the peace process will be pre-judgment on my part about the peace talks.”
Q: Have you discussed Durand Line border with Pakistan?
Ghani: No. Durand is not an issue in our discussions with Pakistan. The issue of Durand is beyond my authority. That belongs to the Afghan Grand Council (Loya Jirga). Currently we (Afghanistan and Pakistan) are discussing common threats and opportunities that how two independent governments could bring about the type of coordination and cooperation that will yield peace, stability and prosperity for the entire region.”