An Interview with Owais Ahmed Ghani

p1010018.jpgBy Malik Siraj Akbar

Amid Pakistan and Balochistan being billed as ‘Ground Zero of terrorism’ and ‘Headquarters of Taliban’ respectively, Balochistan Governor Owais Ahmed Ghani contends that the US and NATO forces have now become part of a larger problem rather than being a solution in war-ravaged Afghanistan. It is Washington’s faulty strategy, not Pakistan, which should be held responsible for the resurgence of Taliban and mounting Islamic extremism in the region. On his return from what he described as a ‘landmark trip’ to the United States, Ghani spoke to this blog about the Afghan situation, Taliban and the recently convened Jirga. Excerpts:

How would you respond to reports and allegations about Talibans’ presence in Balochistan?
During my recent trip to the US, I also came across the same misperception about Taliban’s presence in Balochistan. As a matter of fact, there is no organized Taliban activity taking place here. As far individual cases are concerned, people should not forget that we still have a million Afghan refugees in Balochistan among whom there is a large number of Taliban sympathizers. Off and on, individual cases do take place. But there is no organized presence of Taliban with any training camps based in Balochistan.

Quetta has been several times singled out as the hideout of Mullah Omer. What is the truth?
Every time when we hear allegations from President Hamid Karzai that Mullah Omer is hiding in Quetta. I don’t understand why they [the Afghan authorities] have to disclose and discuss this in the media. If Omer’s truly in Quetta and Kabul has ample evidence then the correct thing would be to pass the information to us. But by discussing it in the media it simply means that Kabul is tipping off the Taliban leader to escape before he is captured.

They say Osama Bin Laden is hiding in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
When I am asked where Osama is, I say you are asking the wrong people. You should ask this question to the people who located, trained and brought him in this region to use him in Afghan Jihad against the Soviets. If anybody knows about Osama then they know about it.

Who are they?

C.I.A [Central Intelligence Agency]. Pakistan has never had to do anything with Osama. In fact Pakistan was seen as an obstacle by bin Laden in his ‘grand jihadi designs’. Suppose he is in Pakistan, what benefits would Pakistan get by sheltering him? He is unlikely to give us the treasures of the world. But if, God forbids, he is captured from Pakistani territory then the whole world is going to crash on Pakistan. Therefore, I wonder why we would take the risk of protecting him unless it involves very big benefits.

How would you respond to the charges that Pakistan is using the Taliban as a ‘deterrent’ against Karzai government in Kabul?

Those making such allegations are actually oblivious of the ground realities of this region. The world must recognize that during the 30 years of Afghan war, Pakistan has suffered the most. We have been facing the fallout of the Afghan war in the form of Afghan refugees, weapons, drugs, religious extremism and suicide bombing.
Continuous fighting has radicalized the Afghan society. On the other hand, Pakistan has very ambitious plans for development. During the past seven years, Pakistan has made tremendous economic growth. We can still attract much more foreign investment if regional security is favorable. Our economic development is very much dependent on peace and stability in Afghanistan. Since a peaceful Afghanistan is in Pakistan’s own interest, why would we then interfere into the matters of that country?

Don’t frequent arrests of top Taliban leaders from Balochistan, Abdullah Mehsood being the latest example who blew himself up in Zhob, further cement the western countries’ apprehensions that Talibans are present in Balochistan in one or the other way?

This is indeed a matter of great concern for us in Pakistan. This problem, however, exists in Afghanistan not here. After 9/11, Pakistan had to work very hard to develop a very good intelligence capability. Allegations pertaining to the presence of Taliban and foreign fighters have to be seen more realistically. The total size of Pakistan’s tribal area is 1/20 of Afghanistan’s total territory. We have 90,000 troops deployed. Plus, we have a very good intelligence system working. But in Afghanistan, which is twenty times larger than our tribal areas, there are only 40,000 troops deployed there. Thus, there are huge gaps in the Afghan security system.
Take the example of Abdullah Mehsood, who had been freely operating in the Afghan province of Hilmund for one year. He was training and dispatching suicide bombers despite the fact that Hilmund is the focus of all US and NATO forces with very good intelligence capability. In spite of this, they could not detect him as long as he was there. On the other hand, when he tried to cross the border to enter in Pakistan, he was immediately cornered by Pakistani forces. Just look at the response of Pakistani forces.
Let me reiterate, there is no organized presence of Taliban in Balochistan. Whenever, we get an inkling of individual cases, our intelligence system operates very professionally. Now, tell me why does the same not happen in Afghanistan? Why can’t the US, NATO and Afghan forces perform as commendably as the Pakistani forces given the huge resources in their disposal? Thus, the world must realize that Pakistan is acting very responsibly against the Taliban and foreign fighters.

Then what are the faulty areas?

Historical evidence shows that from the time of Alexander till now there is no pure military solution to Afghan issues. A political solution found by the Afghans themselves has to be hammered out. There should be political dialogue among all Afghan groups. There is major internal political turmoil in Afghanistan. Since the Soviet invasion, the political misaq-e-milli
[ national pact], which existed in Afghanistan for 250 years with the Durrani royal family as the focal point, which included all the areas of this region as one nation, has been shattered. We need to reestablish the misaq-e-milli in Afghanistan through political dialogue.

What role can the US and its allies play in Afghanistan at this point?

I have explained to the US and NATO forces, which had come to arrange a solution, that they have now become a part of the problem instead of the solution. Their presence is attracting more Jihadis. If we deny this fact then there is no way forward. We have reminded the US authorities time and again that your Afghan strategy is faulty. Because you talk of global war on terrorism. Instead, it has to be rephrased as the war on global terrorism. If you talk of global war just on terrorism then what do you do in Rwanda, Ireland, Spain and Sri Lanka?
This means you are concerned with global terrorism, which refers to the terrorists with a global reach and a global agenda. You have to treat them separately. Then, you have the local militants who have a local agenda and a local reach. The only viable solution to the local militancy is political settlement of all issues. The US is losing its war in Afghanistan due to its faulty strategy. We insist that you change this into war on global terrorism rather than global war on terrorism.

Now that Taliban have been largely isolated, where does their financial assistance emanate from?

They generate their finances through opium cultivation. They get direct or indirect assistance from the international narcotics-mafia. We have been repeatedly telling the US, UK, NATO, UN and Canadian authorities not to allow the opium cultivation in Afghanistan. I told them allowing the opium cultivation amounts to giving a funding life-line to the militancy in Afghanistan. Taliban have been presently cut-off from all aid. If opium cultivation is not checked, they will find a new way of funding and they will consequently revive.
While we in Balochistan have completely stopped this, the opium cultivation in Afghanistan has alarmingly increased from 40,000 acre land to 400,000 acres. These are the UN figures. Afghanistan is now supplying 90% of the world demand for heroin. This is estimated at approximately $50 million per annum, out of which $ 4 million goes back to Afghanistan. All the other money remains in the hands of the very powerful international narco-mafia, which is really very powerful in the US, Europe and elsewhere in the world.
This has enabled the local and international narco-mafia to create instability in Afghanistan. The continuity of conflict there is in fact in their own interest. As long as there is anarchy in Afghanistan, their business is protected.

How do you view the recent Afghan Jirga?

The jirga was a very important step. Combined and intensive efforts from Pakistani and Afghan authorities for the past 11 months culminated in the recent jirga. The best thing about the jirga was the lack of hostility on both sides and the presence of mutual understanding. One could feel the goodwill between the people on both sides. Most important of all is the recommendation for the formation of a smaller 50-member jirga, with 25 members from each side. It has been mandated to expedite the process of political dialogue between the government and the mukhalifeen [ opposition]. Mukhalifeen includes all forces, ranging from Taliban to Hikmatyar. The jirga has now realized what we have been saying for the past many years that Afghanistan needs a political solution. Having said that, a political solution has to be an Afghan solution. It cannot be a Pakistani, American or a UN solution. The jirga is going to facilitate political dialogue among all warring factions. Having realized that a pure militaristic approach is unlikely to work, the US and rest of the world have also welcomed the resolutions of the jirga.

How is the jirga without the participation of Taliban likely to succeed?

Though the Taliban were not a part of the jirga, I am sure they have been very closely following all of its developments. Even President Musharraf said that the Taliban are an important faction. When the 50-member jirga starts work on accommodating all parties in the political process, this will eventually be joined even by those who initially considered the main jirga as a drama. There is a marked change in the strategy where now preference is being given to dialogue.

Given the trade of serious allegations against each other in the past, how are Islamabad and Kabul going to jointly work without questioning each other’s sincerity?

Allegations are a part of the past. Presently, there is tremendous bilateral understanding, mutual respect and vast socio-economic cooperation between the two countries. Things have changed now. All groups realize that the peace is the future of this region. It has to be given a chance by opting for political dialogue and abjuring violence. I am optimistic about the way forward.


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