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Afghanistan: Karzai Wants Closer Ties Among Pashtuns

  • Ron Synovitz --> Afghan President Hamid Karzai (left) and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (file photo) ( Greenpeace/Knoth) President Hamid Karzai spoke at length on November 9 about his proposal for a jirga (council meeting) that would bring together Pashtun tribal leaders from both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistani border. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in Kabul, Karzai says such a council could help end terrorism and bring peace to the region.

PRAGUE, November 10, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the Taliban regime and its supporters "abused" Afghanistan for years and are now using "tricks and hypocrisy" to sabotage progress in the country.

"The terrorists not only occupied us -- they killed our people, martyred our sons, burned our vineyards, destroyed our villages and towns, and tried to create hostility among the people of our country," he said. "They also were humiliating our history and our cultural identity. So it was very important for us that an [international] force enter this country and help to save us. This was the reason that the Afghan nation decided to join hands with the international community and that we cooperated with them. This was also the reason that we have accepted a very high number of sacrifices."

"Nearly 200 tribal elders and religious scholars have been martyred in this part of Waziristan. Who is doing that? Why are such atrocities being committed against these people?"

MORE: Read the complete interview.

Terrorism's Root Causes

With violence escalating this year to its worse level since the overthrow of the Taliban regime -- especially in areas along the border with Pakistan -- Karzai says Kabul must work together more with Islamabad to attack the root causes of terrorism. He says a progressive step would be to bring together ethnic Pashtun tribal and religious leaders from both sides of the border for a jirga -- a council with legal authority in the name of the tribal community and a traditional manner of resolving internal disputes in the Pashtun tribal-border areas.

"I have told the government of Pakistan -- my brother the president of Pakistan, Mr. [Pervez] Musharraf -- that Afghanistan is a brother of his country," he said. "Afghanistan is his friend and his partner. And the interests of Afghanistan lie in a progressive, stable Pakistan. And the interests of Pakistan are in a stable and progressive Afghanistan. So let us join hands and save Afghanistan and Pakistan from this evil. I am hopeful that the jirga I have proposed -- which will be convened by people from both countries -- will investigate the roots of all the evil and get rid of terrorism. So we are hoping the jirga will reach this conclusion."

Karzai told RFE/RL that he proposed the cross-border jirga during a dinner at the White House in Washington last month with U.S. President George W. Bush and President Musharraf. Ultimately, he says Pakistan and Afghanistan must have a formal dialogue about how to bring and end to the war and destruction -- how to fight terrorism in a better way.

"The purpose of convening this jirga is quite clear," Karzai said. "It is to bring peace to the region. To bring peace to Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result of that, peace will be established in the whole region and terrorism will disappear. The purpose is that no explosions take place in Afghanistan which cut our young boys into pieces."

Durand Line Not On Agenda

Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, known as the Durand Line, was created by the colonial British during the 19th century. Since that border subsequently was inherited by Pakistan when it became a country through the partition of British colonial India, Afghanistan has never formally recognized the border. Karzai says discussions about the Durand Line is not on the agenda of the cross-border jirga he has proposed.

"The agenda of the discussion is about peace and the removal of terrorism," he said. "There is no place for any other issue in it and there will be no talks on any other issue. This jirga does not have the authority to discuss the Durand Line or to make decisions about it. This is a question that goes higher than the authority of such jirgas. This issue cannot be decided on the basis of my signature or the government's approval. This is a question for the people of the two nations. It is beyond the authority of a jirga that is convened for the purpose of peace."

Karzai also spoke with RFE/RL at length about why he continues to oppose a proposal by Pakistan to build a security fence along the border to stop cross-border infiltration by militants.

"Barbed wire and mines can only separate people," he said. "In this matter, we can say that one brother would be living on one side and another brother would be on the other side. One cousin would be living on this side and another on the other side. One of our girls would be married on this side and another would be married on the other side. So people come and go to both sides. This is one people living in this area. So raising barbed wire there would only separate families and tribes. It will only be a physical separation and it will not prevent terrorism. We have told [Islamabad] this very clearly. In order to get rid of terrorism we should address the root causes of it and find the real source of these evils."

Terrorism On Both Sides Of Durand

Karzai says the international community needs to reexamine the way it is fighting terrorism. He says the Afghan people, particularly the ethnic Pashtuns living in the provinces near Pakistan, are victims of terrorism.

"It is the same in Pakistan," Karzai said. "There, the Pashtuns are hunted by terrorists. They are killed at the hands of terrorists. And also, they are being accused by the terrorists. This is a conspiracy. This is cruelty being imposed upon Afghans and Pashtuns. And we should prevent that. These people are suffering a lot. We must protect these people from such cruelty. This is not only the duty of these tribes. It is also the duty of this region. And it is the duty of the international community to pay attention to this issue -- so that the historical people of this area are not wrongly accused."

Karzai says he continues to pay close attention to the impact of the war on terror upon ethnic Pashtuns on both sides of the border. He says that is the reason he has sent letters to government officials in Pakistan as well as several key Pakistani political leaders. They include the chief of the National Awami Party in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, Mahmud Khan Ackzai; a Pashtun leader in Baluchistan Province; and to Maulana Fazoolu Rahman, leader of a coalition of conservative Islamic parties in Pakistan. He says the letters ask all to join together in order to end the suffering of Afghans and Pashtuns in both countries.

"If you look, the Afghan clerics are being killed," he said. "In Kabul, innocent people are being martyred. They are killed in suicide bombings. In Kandahar, the religious leaders are being assassinated. In Konar Province, the elders are being martyred. And in Paktia, teachers are being martyred. And in the same way, the same things are happening to the Pashtuns in Pakistan. Especially in North Waziristan. The tribal elders and religious scholars are being martyred. Their heads are being cut off. Recently, they took a religious scholar out of a madrasah and they cut off his head -- saying he is a spy of the United States. Nearly 200 tribal elders and religious scholars have been martyred in this part of Waziristan. Who is doing that? Why are such atrocities being committed against these people? Is the purpose to suppress these people? To make them become poor and desperate? What are the reasons for this and who is doing it? It is quiet clear that serious measures should be taken to save the Afghans in Afghanistan and the Pashtuns in that area."

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan Director Akbar Ayazi in Kabul and Deputy Director Hashem Mohmand in Prague contributed to this story.)

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