RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Afghanistan's leaders were in Washington this past week asking for more help from the U.S. And they got what they wanted. President Obama announced he would postpone the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops this year. Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, was joined on this trip by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He's the chief executive of the Afghan government. They were bitter rivals in Afghanistan's presidential election last year. Now, they are sharing power in a unity government. The two men are working together to undue years of hostility that had built up under their predecessor, former President Hamid Karzai, and President Obama. When we spoke, Dr. Abdullah said repairing that relationship is a necessity.
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Because of the position that President Karzai has taken, we missed a lot of opportunities earlier. The bilateral security agreement was not signed. And it was a deliberate conduct by President Karzai, which didn't help Afghanistan.
MARTIN: Are their political risks to be seen as being too close to Western Governments and the U.S. in particular?
ABDULLAH: There will be corners which will look at it from a different angle, but at the same time, there is broad support for closer cooperation. We don't see such a risk internally, but there will be exceptions of course.
MARTIN: President Ghani has made renewed efforts at peace talks with the Taliban. Do you think that's a good idea?
ABDULLAH: It's always a good idea to leave the door for talks and negotiations open. Whether this opportunity will be seized by the Taliban or not, that's a different issue. The people of Afghanistan expect us to move through that path. At the same time, they expect us to stay in the realm of the clear parameters - no compromise on the rights of people, no compromise on women's rights and Constitution of Afghanistan.
MARTIN: Dr. Abdullah, after former President Rabbani, who was the president of the High Peace Council who was working on Taliban negotiations - after he was assassinated, you said that this is a lesson. That we, quote, "shouldn't fool ourselves." That this group, who's carried out so many crimes against the people of Afghanistan, are willing to make peace. Have you changed your mind about negotiating with the Taliban?
ABDULLAH: My point then and today is on the basis of one principal - the door for negotiation has to be open. At the same time, we cannot have illusions about it. And in relations to what happened which led to the assassination of Professor Rabbani, my point was that we should have been more careful. We shouldn't have trusted them in a way that they would be able to come in and commit a suicidal attack. This sort of caution should be exercised during the upcoming negotiations and all the time until we move to the extent that then we will have to trust one another. But to begin with, trust is not there.
MARTIN: Can you give me a specific example of a condition that the Taliban needs to meet in order for negotiations to begin?
ABDULLAH: At the end of the day, there are a few things that has to happen - giving up violence, severing links with terrorist groups and respecting the constitution of the country and no compromise - no compromise on the rights of people, including women's rights. These are clear parameters. The rest of it will be matter for negotiations.
MARTIN: Would the unity government make some kind of concession in return?
ABDULLAH: I will not prejudge it at this stage. Making peace is not an easy proposition. There will be ups and downs in between. There will be areas that one has to be flexible. But there are certain things that there will be no compromise upon it for the talks.
MARTIN: I want to ask you about the aftermath of the national elections that were so contested. It's been six months since the national vote brought your unity government into power. President Ashraf Ghani, you as the chief executive. To put it in context for our listeners, this would be as if Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had to govern together after a contentious campaign. And in your case, disputes over the election results almost took your country to the verge of Civil War. Have all the wounds from that election battle healed?
ABDULLAH: I would say that yes. It was very serious situation. And this was putting the interest of the country ahead of one's goals and ideas and egos, which was unique. Yes, in normal circumstances where there are contested elections and then one party forms the government, that's very different context. In the context of Afghanistan, it was absolute necessity that we rally all the votes behind the unity government so we will be able to deal with the challenge of Taliban security and terrorism and all of it, as well as utilize the opportunities which are ahead of us.
MARTIN: But you believed that you won. You believed that you won that vote. How did you work through that with Ashraf Ghani? When the two of you sat down and decided that this was the best path forward, was that a difficult conversation? I mean, this was a very personal fight.
ABDULLAH: This was a result of hours and hours of discussions, debate, argument, loss of facilitations by our (unintelligible) partners. And towards the end of the day, we thought that this is the best solution possible under those circumstances for Afghanistan. It wasn't easy, but now those times are behind us. It's important that we reform our electoral system so Afghanistan is not put in the same situation anymore. That is what is necessary.
MARTIN: Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. He is the chief executive of Afghanistan. We spoke with him while he was in Washington, D.C. this past week.
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