Transcript of the BBC Hindi special programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with distinguished journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai and former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan I.P. Khosla on the recent offer of talks to the Taliban by the USA-backed Karzai regime in Afghanistan. Peshawar based Rahimullah Yusufzai is one of the few journalists to have met both al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Omer.
Nagendar Sharma: What has forced America backed Karzai administration to extend an olive branch to Taliban by offering them to join the mainstream, only three and a half years after the American-led forces had driven out of Afghanistan?
I P Khosla : Well, this is a complex issue and now the thinking within Karzai administration is that if violence could be brought down further, it would be in the interests of all concerned. This has also been necessitated because of the unfulfilled promises by the international community, which were made when Taliban were driven out of Afganistan.
Rahimullah Yusufzai: Well, the Taliban are saying that their continuing attacks on traitors of Aghanistan (by which they mean the Allied forces), have forced the Karzai administration to invite them for talks. Anyway, this is their view. Taliban still have strongholds in Pashtun areas, particularly in South and East of the country. The thinking within the Karzai administration is that if certain Taliban sections could be persuaded to lay down arms and join the mainstream, it would definitely strengthen Karzai’s hands.
BBC listener from Peshawar: What has forced America to do this U-turn on Taliban. If after around four years, they were to offer peace to Taliban, then why were they attacked ?
I P Khosla : I would not call it a U-turn. Do not forget that after all Taliban belong to Afghanistan, their support may have grown in the past for wrong reasons, but it waned off relatively quickly also. Now, after about three and a half years of post-Taliban rule, the international community has realised that whatever has to be done, should be done from within Afghanistan and it is the locals who have to be in the forefront. It could be a part of this thinking that the offer for talks has been made to the Taliban.
Rahimullah Yusufzai: It is not essentially a U-turn, but yes a change in thinking, and a part of carefully devised strategy by the Americans in close consultation with Karzai administration. Irrespective of the strength of any organisation, warfare cannot carry on indefinitely, therefore the thinking is that Taliban may be tiring out now and some sections within this force could be willing to walk out.
BBC listener from Delhi: Mr Khosla, you have served in Kabul, please tell us if the the present developments could affect India in anyway and how do you rate the Indo-Afghan relations as of today ?
I P Khosla : Well, any developments in a neighbouring country do have an impact. However, this present offer in my does not seem to have a direct bearing on India. The Indo-Afghan relations today are much better than they have been in the past -- I am referring to Taliban days. Hamid karzai himself has visited India at least three times after taking over the reins in Kabul. At international fora, he has described India as a great friend, on the ground, also, Indian help to Afghanistan is clearly evident, whether in building infrastructure, roads or hospitals. Indo-Afghan relations have seen many turns, but are on the right track of mutual benefit to both countries now.
BBC listener from Oman: Mr Khosla, India remained a silent spectator when America and Britain took the unjustified decision to attack Afghanistan, then later Iraq and now Iran. Is India’s role diminishing at international level?
I P Khosla : I think it is what you call a change in diplomatic terms. In earlier days, India used to speak out on all issues, irrespective of the fact whether those issues concerned us or not. You could call it the declaratory policy. Now India speaks less and believes in quiet diplomacy, meaning putting its view firmly across without beating about the bush, so it is not a sign of diminishing, but becoming wiser with experience and in keeping with the changing times.
BBC listener from Bihar: Rahimullah sahib, in your view are Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar alive, and if they are alive, are they still active?
Rahimullah Yusufzai: Both Osama and Mullah Omer are alive. There is no evidence to suggest that Osama bin laden is dead, and there is no doubt about the presence of Mullah Omer as he regularly sends audio cassettes and letters. Both of them are in the region only -- which other country in the world would accept them?
Remember Mullah Omar has the advantage of being an Afghan, he knows Pashto and the world knows little about his appearance as very few of his photographs have ever circulated. He is living in his country, within his own tribe and my knowledge is he does not have a major problem. There are active Taliban elements who would defend him at any cost. It is easy for him to be in the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, and I think he does not have a problem in crossing over to Pakistan also.
However Osama’s case is quite difficult. He does not know either Pashto or Urdu. He merely speaks Arabic. Americans have kept a big award on his head. Therefore his movements are restricted and difficult, as compared to Mullah Omer, as he does not belong to the region either. However, he does prove his presence by sending out regular video or audio cassettes, either warning America of fresh attacks or praising Muslim militants. The last one was sent out in October, and we are expecting a fresh video or audio cassette soon now.
Nagendar Sharma: But why should Afghan people provide protection to Osama and endanger their own lives for an outsider?
Rahimullah Yusufzai: It is a very valid point, which has been hotly debated in Afghanistan for years now. There is a lot of anti-America sentiment in this region, especially in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, therefore by default Osama has been able to channelise a lot of support in this region. Those providing shelter to Osama are fully aware of the risks involved, as whenever American or Pakistani security forces have got any information about Al Qaeda fighters, they have been swift in bombing the area, but despite that Osama is being protected. It would not have been possible for Osama to remain elusive for such a long period, without solid support, as Americans dug out Saddam Hussain in eight months! Also, do not forget that when Taliban were defeated and forced out of Kabul in October 2001, the entire country did not celebrate. There was considerable anger in Pashtun strongholds.
BBC listener from Delhi: Mr Yusufzai, how do you rate three and a half years of Karzai regime?
Rahimullah Yusufzai: Well, it is a complex situation, only half of the international aid which was promised has in fact been delivered so far. Emergency relief has been provided to Afghan people. But the real reconstruction which was required in roads, irrigation and schools etc., has been slow.
Right now the problem being faced by Hamid Karzai regime is the lack of trust. People haven't got what was promised to them. The little support that has grown for Taliban is because Karzai government has failed miserably on certain fronts.
Maintaining peace and providing employment have been the biggest failures of Karzai government. Afghan people had a lot of hope after the defeat of Taliban, that peace would return, warlords terror would end, but the presence of American soldiers and their style of working has compounded the resentment against them. The way Americans conduct searches in houses, do aerial bombardments -- and killing of innocents in the past three years and a half -- has kept the Taliban spirit alive in some parts of the country, but let me also make it clear that majority of Afghans do not want return of Taliban type forces again at any cost.