Abdullah Abdullah: Talks With Taliban Futile

Robert Siegel talks with Abdullah Abdullah, leader of the Afghan opposition party National Alliance for Hope and Change and the man who ran against Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan's presidential elections last year. Abdullah gives his views on the Afghan government's talks with the Taliban. He says that ideological groups linked with the Taliban are fighting not to be accommodated, but to bring the current government down.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that senior aides to Afghan President Hamid Karzai have been in talks with senior Taliban commanders, and that the Taliban commanders in question have traveled to Kabul from Pakistan with NATO forces guaranteeing their safe passage.

And while the story did not report on substantive progress in those talks, it was the most detailed story we've seen about active negotiations toward a political settlement of the war in Afghanistan.

We're going to hear now from the man who ran against President Karzai last year, former Afghan foreign minister, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Dr. Abdullah, welcome to the program.

Dr. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH (Chairman, Afghanistan National Alliance for Hope and Change): Thank you.

SIEGEL: And first, are you aware of the government's talks with the Taliban, and do you support those talks?

Dr. ABDULLAH: I'm aware of some contacts. I'm not aware of the details of these. My view is very clear. There are groups that will fight to the death. Whether we like to talk to them or we don't like to talk to them, they will continue to fight. So, for them, I don't think that we have a way forward with talks or negotiations or contacts or anything as such. Then we have to be prepared to tackle and deal with them militarily.

In terms of the Taliban on the ground, there are lots of possibilities and opportunities that with the help of the people in different parts of the country, we can attract them to the peace process; provided, we create a favorable environment on this side of the line.

At the moment, the people are leaving support for the government because of corruption. So that expectation is also not realistic at this stage.

SIEGEL: But there's a difference between encouraging people who are fighting on the side of the Taliban to lay down their arms or to defect and to talk with the commanders or some of the commanders of those very people and try to reach a political accommodation with them. Is the latter what you believe the Karzai government is doing, and do you oppose that course?

Dr. ABDULLAH: Yes, I think that's what has been done so far. That's my assumption. In that term, I should say that Taliban are not fighting in order to be accommodated. They are fighting in order to bring the state down. So it's a futile exercise, and it's just misleading.

Karzai, a few days ago, two days ago, he told the people of Afghanistan that in two years' time, there will be peace. This is wrong. There will not be peace in two years' time, unfortunately, in Afghanistan.

SIEGEL: To what extent is that simply a disparity of political outlook? And to what extent does it reflect, say, President Karzai's Pashtun background and the fact that you are both Pashtun and Tajik and that your political base is more with the ethnic Tajiks in the north than with the Pashtuns?

Dr. ABDULLAH: I don't think that, as far I'm concerned, this is not an issue at all for me. I would like to see peace established in this country as much as any other Afghan.

Any political process with the Taliban, it has to be transparent. It has to be with the support of the people. The people have to be assured that the achievements of the past few years, including democratic process and the right of the people for voting and for education and these principles and values shouldn't be sacrificed because, otherwise, U.S. sacrifices, American sacrifices, international community's efforts, it will be in vain.

If Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban or part of Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban with their links with al-Qaida, it means that al-Qaida will be harbored there, and our people will be taken back to the dark ages. This, I will oppose at any cost.

SIEGEL: Well, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Dr. ABDULLAH: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: Dr. Abdullah, former Afghan foreign minister, was the opponent of President Hamid Karzai in last year's presidential election and leader of the opposition National Alliance for Hope and Change. He spoke to us from Kabul.

We've also requested an interview with President Hamid Karzai, and we were told that he is not available at this time.

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