Transcript: Abdullah Vows to ‘Reset’ Afghanistan’s Relations with US and International Community









SHUJA NAWAZ: Good morning, Dr. Abdullah. This is Shuja Nawaz. And good morning to everyone here as well as those that are watching us from their offices or at home via Skype. We really appreciate Dr. Abdullah taking this time at the end of a very hectic campaign to join us in a conversation on a very, very important country not just for the region, but for the world and for the U.S. relationship with the region.

I’m delighted also because we are doing this event jointly with the Center for American Progress, and with me is Vikram Singh, who is vice president international security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. And we’ll be jointly moderating this session.

I just want to say a warm welcome to Dr. Abdullah on behalf of my colleagues at the Atlantic Council and, of course, CAP, and also on behalf of our president, Fred Kempe, who unfortunately is in Europe and so couldn’t welcome you himself, Dr. Abdullah.

I’m not going to take much time in this initial comment except to introduce Vikram, who has been very critically involved in the U.S. policy towards the region and also particularly on Afghanistan. We want to welcome him back now that he’s a free man, no longer constrained by governmental employment and all the strictures of being within government. So I’m going to ask him if he would like to say a few words before we ask Dr. Abdullah to give us his opening comments.

VIKRAM SINGH: Thank you, Shuja, and Dr. Abdullah, thank you so much for joining all of us this evening your time and congratulations on such a hard-fought and well-fought campaign. And, of course, we’re also grateful that you are – that you are safe and sound and have come through the threats that you faced unscathed and ready to help Afghanistan move forward into a new chapter.

I also don’t have a – want to make a long opening statement. Everybody here knows you so well. You are a champion of struggling for peace and stability for your country and a good friend of the United States. And I think today everyone wants to hear from you, both how you think things will be going in Afghanistan as we move forward and how the United States and other international partners can help Afghanistan move into this next chapter. It really is a tremendous – it’s a tremendous achievement that Afghanistan is getting to this point of a democratic transfer of power and that you are again a leading figure in the whole process. So we’re grateful to have you.

And I’ll turn it to you for opening comments and then Shuja and I will open up the discussion. Thank you.

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Thank you. It’s a pleasure for me to have this opportunity to address the Atlantic Council and Center for American Progress. And thank you, Shuja, and thank you, Mr. Vikram Singh, for your kind of words. And Afghanistan is in a critical juncture at this stage, political transition, security transition. But I’m mainly focused on the political transition, which is going to take place as a result of 14th of June elections – second round of our elections.

The first round of elections in Afghanistan went well relatively speaking in terms of turnout. That was the highest turnout ever in any Afghani elections. And if you put it into the context of the security situation and the overall situation, that was very courageous of the Afghans who did so.

There were some problems and some issues in relations to fraud in the elections. And there were some corrective measures, which hopefully those corrective measures will work in favor of better, transparent elections on the 14th of June. Throughout the country – we rallied throughout the country. Men, women, young and old and children participated in those rallies with great enthusiasm. And, as a whole, people are much better aware of their rights and the people were ahead of their leaders in many cases. And that is the lesson from the first round elections.

Then came the second round. There were a lot of – there were a lot of analysis about it that perhaps there will be no – there will be apathy towards going to the second round or to the rallies and campaigns. That also proved to be otherwise. And we did rally throughout the country, which thousands and in cases tens of thousands of people participated in those rallies despite threats from the Taliban or despite security incidents.

So it’s my belief that the second round will – hopefully will be – will be legitimate and transparent and fair. That will further strengthen the foundation of democracy in this country, in our institutions, and that will also strengthen the hopes of the people towards the future, and it will lead to a unique opportunity for the Afghans to start afresh in many ways in terms of policies, domestic, foreign policy, look towards the region and dealing with the threats which Afghanistan is faced with, and utilizing the opportunities which are ahead of us.

Security transition has taken place. And the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Security Forces performed well during the elections and otherwise as well in dealing with the threats. But, of course, that does not suggest that we don’t need further support from our international friends. Hopefully, by signing of the bilateral security agreement, that framework of cooperation will be in place for another 10 years.

And there will be a fresh opportunity for Afghanistan to reset its relations with the international community, and now talking to the American audience, especially with the United States: I think the past three, four years of contentious relations and tensions over many issues and lots of rhetoric used here in Kabul, those were not helpful. I think there is an opportunity in that regard as well. So sustainability of our national institutions requires long-term cooperation from the United States as well as from the international community, but based on the foundation of a new spirit of partnership from both sides rather than on the scars of the past.

So in terms of peace and reconciliation, that as a well, a legitimacy of the future Afghan government will send a different message to those who are fighting against us. That will send a message of sustainability. That will send a message of legitimacy. And also a clear message from the Afghan side that we want peace and the door for negotiations needs to be open and genuine efforts have to be made by our side in order to achieve peace. The other side of our message also needs to be very clear that we are here to protect our own citizens, our own peaceful citizens. We are not here to sacrifice the rights of our citizens under a shadow of peace which will not peace as such, but that will be only an illusion if we sacrifice the rights of our peaceful citizens, millions and millions of them, under that name.

So genuine efforts by the Afghan side, by our government in order to achieve peace, serious efforts by our side, and, hopefully, the other side, which is fighting, also seizes this moment and then we will – we can move forward in that – in that regard. That will help us in many ways. That will take a lot of – that will provide an opportunity to use those resources in other spheres of life which our people are in need rather than – rather than the focus – rather than military security expenditure. And that will also help our international friends to help Afghanistan in economic development as well as other priorities that our people have.

So talking about peace and reconciliation, our relations with Pakistan is important. There is a newly elected government in Pakistan. There will be a newly elected government in Afghanistan and there are common challenges that we have to deal with them. And the events – the recent events in Kabul and in Karachi show that we are dealing with common threats. So it’s incumbent upon us to lead with this issue in a sort of outright manner. This spirit of – with the spirit of dialogue and good, neighborly relations, and also utilize the opportunities which are there for peace and stability in the region in economic development. Regional economic cooperation is a area that I don’t think that we have tapped into as much as we should have, and there are great opportunities in this regard for all of us in the region.

And as far as peace and reconciliation process is concerned, across the board a dialogue with the civil society, with the parliament and the people of different parts of the country so the future government, which has a mandate through winning the elections at the same time has a popular mandate and the efforts in this regard will have the support and the overall support of the population, which will help us – which will be helpful for us.

As far as economic development is concerned, while there was a lot of focus on security transition, on economic transition beyond 2014, there have been little efforts. There are comprehensive economic programs, which are dealing with alleviating poverty, which is widespread throughout the country and creating employment, and also one part of this is regional economic integration. There are lots of projects and programs, which hopefully with the new opening and with the new opportunity which will be there, we can work it out with our neighboring countries to the interests of all of us.

And the issue of natural resources of Afghanistan is one of the areas that requires political stability and stability as a whole, but, again, post-elections there is an opportunity to look into this area. And political stability also helps economic stability, and there are lots of Afghans which are living abroad and they are in possession of hundreds of billions of dollars and they want to invest in their own country, and hopefully they will see the new situation as an opportunity to turn back and help their own country as well invest and make benefit out of their investment.

Connectivity within the country and with the region is the area that’s part of our economic development strategy, and energy is another area which Afghanistan is in a good position to invest in it.

As far as a long-term partnership with the international community is concerned, I mentioned earlier that the past few years there have been a lot of missed opportunities. And with the new opportunity, there will be a new spirit of cooperation, and friendship, and genuine partnership for the best interests of all of us.

And as far as the issue of troop presence of Afghanistan is concerned, now it’s clear what is the situation in this regard, hopefully in the – while the troops are here, more focused efforts in order to strengthen our security institutions in terms of training and assisting in the (grouping ?) is concerned and beyond troop presence under that framework of – 10-years framework, hopefully, there is an opportunity to continue cooperation.

So, at this stage, I would like to emphasize that you have invested a lot, the international community have invested a lot and the United States as a lead country alongside sacrifices that the Afghans have made, the United States also have made a lot of sacrifices in blood and treasure. And the best way to honor those sacrifices will be to sustain the achievements which are – which are there and continue the cooperation.

One area which will be a priority for us will be areas of good governance and fighting against corruption. And based on our commitments towards our own people and also based on Tokyo commitments team up mutual accountability framework that we are committed to those – to that framework. And we consider it in the interest of our country and the well-being of our own people.

So a lot of on the table post-inauguration, and hopefully we will – we will take the challenges of the future as we did in the – with the spirit of friendship and partnership.

MR. SINGH: Thank you so much, Dr. Abdullah for such a comprehensive overview. And after such a long season of campaigning, I think you have had a lot of time to think about the next chapter after an inauguration for the next Afghan government. And you’ve also had an opportunity to hear from the Afghan people through every part of the country.

I wonder if you could share with us a sense of what you heard as the priorities from the people of Afghanistan when you were out campaigning and whether there was a difference in those priorities in different parts of the country. So when you were in Herat or Kandahar in the north and how do you see the aspirations of the Afghan people moving towards, you know, a unified vision for the future?

MR. ABDULLAH: For example, in some parts of the country, security is still a priority because some districts – between the provincial capital and the districts the roads are insecure, the roads are insecure so the – you know, security as a whole is a challenge for the people.

But in most other parts of the country, the issue is that they are asking for higher education for their children, law and order, corruption, and economic development opportunities for investment. And so it’s – it depends which part of the country. Some parts of the country are deprived from the benefits of economic development so their demands are very basic ones. And some parts of the country is still – schools means attempt for boys and girls or a clinic is a small hut where people could go there and get very, very basic medical services. So it depends, but in the overall sense, security is one concern, but then, unemployment, poverty is there, addiction, drug addiction. These are the issues that people are focused and expect their future government to develop.

MR. NAWAZ: Dr. Abdullah, I want to come back to a point you made in your opening remarks on the relationships with the region. You talked about Pakistan. Could you expand your vision of the neighborhood to talk about how you see relations developing with Iran and also with India, and particularly how you would balance the relationship between Pakistan and India? And then, on China, what do you see as the relationship developing over time.

MR. ABDULLAH: The foundation of relations with all those countries, which you yourself referred to, Iran, India, China and other neighboring countries, are bad. And areas of cooperation are identified and some progress has been made and there are a lot of opportunities to explore it further.

But it has been sometimes ups and downs and unpredictability as far as the projection of our foreign policy is concerned in the past 13 years. So to put it back on the right track where Afghanistan can benefit from the cooperation from those countries around Afghanistan, as well as those countries will be able to benefit and have their legitimate interests preserved and maintain that framework of legitimate interest in the interest of sustainability of the relations, one principle which has been followed to some extent so far but it should be further considered is that the relations with one country shouldn’t be played in the context of – against relations with another country.

So to maintain that context of relations that it is a sort of win-win situation to everybody in it – Afghanistan, of course, in the center of focus for us as Afghan citizens and, hopefully, the future as Afghan leader, Afghan president of the country, but at the same time there are lots of opportunities for pursuing the interests of – the common interests of all countries, including investment in our national resources and Afghanistan playing its role as a land bridge between different parts of our region and turn it into a win-win situation rather than – rather than one country playing against the interests of another in our – in our country.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah. I just want to take a few seconds to remind people that are watching us that they can tweet at ACSouthAsia using the hashtag #ACAbdullah. This is part of our social media strategy to get the word out on what’s happening.

MR. SINGH: And we’re also live streaming on Reuters to – the Atlantic Council but also on Reuters, so hopefully a lot of people will be able to tune in and get the word out.

MR. NAWAZ: Yes. And we will share this information with you once the event is over so that you know roughly how many people were watching.

If I may, Vikram, I just wanted – we only started receiving questions, Dr. Abdullah, from people from around the world. And so if I may just group two of them for the time being and I’ll come to the others later.

We have a question from Rebecca Santana, the bureau chief for the Associated Press in Islamabad. And she wants to know what your views are on the release of the five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl and how – and whether you think it in any way jeopardizes Afghanistan’s future. Do you support the exchange and if not, why not?

The related question, somewhat related, is from Dr. Misba Azam (ph) of San Jose, California, who asks if you would as president hand over to Pakistan the insurgents and Pakistani terrorists like Mulaf Aznula (ph) and Khaleb Khurasami (ph), who are alleged to be in Afghan territory to the Pakistanis. These are the two questions.

MR. ABDULLAH: About the release of prisoner, Mr. Bergdahl, and the way that it was – that it was done, we don’t know anything more than anybody else knows through the media and what was – how it has been carried out and so on and so forth. But our main concern is about those who have been released so they do not join the battlefield because those are amongst those criminals which had committed crimes against – in a massive way against the Afghan people.

So our prime concern will be that they will not join the battlefield because earlier there have been some prisoners released within Afghanistan which under the framework of confidence-building measures or whatever to help the peace process, but at the same time the fact of the matter has been that those people have gone directly to the battlefield and then joined the fighting forces.

So our prime concern will be that one. Then we also know that back there in Washington there were a lot of discussions about it in the context of security of your forces, your armed personnel here, and so on and so forth. Those are discussions that we hear about it, but we don’t know anything further about the deal – what will be the future of the five people.

MR. NAWAZ: What about the second question about the alleged presence of Pakistani terrorists in the Afghan border region?

MR. ABDULLAH: Ourselves having suffered because of the presence of terrorists – terrorism elsewhere and then being affected because of it in the past 15 years, I am categorically against any presence of any terrorist from any part of the world on our soil. So particularly, since the question is specific, I am against the presence, if that is there. We don’t need this and it’s not in the interest of Afghanistan first and foremost, let alone the interests of our relations with Pakistan. So our experience that terrorism and using terrorism or allowing terrorism will not help any country in any part of the world under any circumstances.

So this is a firm belief and I’m absolutely against the presence of terrorists here. If those terrorists are there, then it will be for the Afghan state to take action against them. So by saying this, I’m not confirming that there are such cases as such. We also hear those – the news about the presence of those people in our soil, but this is our – my position throughout, very clear, no problem as far as terrorism is concerned because at the end of the day terrorists have their own agenda, and they do not help any state in pursuit of their interest. So their interests, the terrorist interests are terrorist interests and we are not here or we will not be here to serve their interest.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you.

MR. VIKRAM: I’m going to do one more – we’ll do one more question with the prerogative of our dual chair, and then we’ll open it up to our audience, and then we’ll go back to the online questions that have been coming in.

Dr. Abdullah, you campaigned very heavily on an anti-corruption agenda. And you mentioned in your opening comments the mutual accountability framework. You mentioned the importance of that issue. Can you share with us some specific steps that you believe the next Afghan leader can take to help root out corruption and what the international community can do to help with that? Because it is, of course, one of the great challenges that Afghanistan faces.

MR. ABDULLAH: Yes. Corruption is institutionalized at this stage and especially in the past few months, while there was this shadow of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and some uncertainty in this regard, and that also affected the situation and the uncertain – and uncertain future, corruption developed. And lack of political will in the Afghan leadership has helped it.

So, for example, we have a legislation before our parliament which is in regards to the anti-money laundering law so that is with there, with the government of Afghanistan, in the past two and a half years. Now it is with our parliament. Recently it was sent to the parliament, but a different text was sent to the parliament so it needed a review. So now we are faced with a deadline of a few more days. If that law is not passed through the parliament, then Afghanistan’s inter-bank will – or banks or banking system will be blacklisted. And then for quite a few more years Afghanistan will be faced with formidable challenges, so lack of political will has been the main issue in terms of dealing with the issue of corruption.

And believing in the rule of law, and if it our justice system or it is our government and other pillars of the state, unfortunately the rule of law has not been considered as a priority. But at the same time, as far as the civil service in Afghanistan is concerned, there is a lot of talent. There is a lot of – there are a lot of accountable mid-level officials with good experience and good education, which are not part of this corrupt system.

So the first thing in this regard is political will. Next to that is the strengthening of the rule of law and then no tolerance in regards to corruption. But then, while – we talked about the mutual accountability framework – sometimes on those issues, have been worked up in a way on a piece of paper without being implemented in order to satisfy our international partners. This sort – it’s first and foremost in our interest, in the interest of sustainability of our institutions and as preventing us from being a complete failed state to deal with this issue.

Civil service reform is needed and reform as a whole – structural reform is needed. And in terms of accountability at different levels, more authority should be (evolved ?) towards the local government to the provinces. But, at the same time, when it comes to the transparency and accountability, strengthening the rule of the provincial council, which are elected provincial councils, and hopefully we’re going to have district council elections as well. So there needs to be a lot of steps at different levels taken in this regard and at the same time developing a mechanism for appointment of senior officials so it’s not just one man decision as a whole.

So a lot to do because we’re not in 2002 where the situation was flexible enough that we could have framed it very easily. So those are the opportunities which have been missed, but here we don’t have a choice and our vision is also the one that will help us in strengthening institutions as well as the rule of law.

So in the first five years, in the five years’ period of tenure, if we have the – if we can lay the foundation for stability so Afghanistan moves from this situation of – type of interim situation, all the time the sort of provisional situation rather than permanent sustainable situation – if we could lay the foundation for sustainability, the first thing to do is to establish the rule of law and prove your political will in dealing with corruption. There will the issue of legislative reform and money things too which comes.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. Let’s open it up to the audience. We have a question there and then David and down the line on this side. Please wait for the microphone over here. In the front, front please. Please wait until you’re recognized, and then if you could share your name and then ask your question. Thank you.

Q: Yeah. Kumar (ph) from Amnesty International. Dr. Abdullah, you have two main challenges you are going to face. One if of course internal; the other one is dealing with regional players.

Since you were the foreign minister of the Northern Alliance of (Massoud’s ?) party, always the Pashtuns look at you as the outside – someone who excused multiple of (Massoud’s ?) aggressions against Pashtuns, and that doesn’t mean the Pashtuns did not do anything.

Having said that, given the current composition of the Afghan National Army is predominantly Northern Alliance, Northern Alliance meaning people from the north, so the combination of Afghan National Army who are Northern Alliance based and you coming from that background, will it create a scenario where it will be what happened after the Soviets left, bloody war along ethics lines and you would not be able to manage because you have been identified with the other side, for the Pashtuns and Taliban.

My second question is a regional one. Everyone knew what’s happening in Afghanistan – in a bigger picture, it’s the war between Pakistan and India. Northern Alliance, again, was supported by India but – (inaudible). So of course Pashtun Taliban was supported by elements of Pakistani intelligence so given intelligence per se.

So is it going to be again the division between Pashtuns and non-Pashtuns or the Northern Alliance with Pashtuns is to be aggregated because of your affiliation with the Northern Alliance? So these are the two main challenges. How are you going to overcome that? Thank you.

MR. ABDUHLLAH: These two things that yourself referred to, Mr. Kumar, as two main challenges been the main challenges which are – I think these are perceptional challenges and based on outdated perception of the situation. There has never been an aggression of Pashtuns by non-Pashtuns in this country and vice versa. You get the facts wrong when you start equating Taliban with Pashtuns and otherwise.

So you yourself refer to the events of the ’90s, there were – Taliban – Afghanistan was occupied by terrorists from all around the world, including Osama bin Laden, which I think you being in the Amnesty International, you yourself will know that Osama bin Laden was neither Pashtun nor Tajik, nor nothing, and so were thousands of terrorists associated with them. To describe the events of the ’90s under the ethnic description in itself is something that needs to be reviewed, needs to be corrected. These are – I don’t consider anything but outdated perception of the events of the past.

But then, these are the past. But if you fail to look at today’s situation clearly, then there’s nothing that I can help. Today, millions of people have voted in different parts of the country from Kandahar to Urozgan to Zabul to Nangarhar, Kunar, all the provinces where the majority are Pashtun, including Herat, which is a majority Pashtun province. And so I have traveled throughout the country and Afghanistan has changed, and the people of Afghanistan have evolved, and they have risen above those ethnic lines. And it’s a very different world from what you have described. The past was not as such. Today is even more different than your description.

So what can I say? When it comes to Pakistan and Afghanistan, I don’t describe it as a war between Pakistan and India in Afghanistan. And there is an issue of terrorism here which is very much obvious and we are dealing with it. And today, Pakistan is also dealing with it. And this is something that we had anticipated in the early days – that terrorism and terrorist organizations will turn against their own mentors when time comes.

And so we all have learned lessons from the past. And today, one harsh reality is that both countries are faced with the same challenge, and it is in the interests of both countries to deal with it in a genuine spirit of good neighborly relations and, at the same time, for the interest of their citizens utilize the opportunities which are there as far as economic reintegration is concerned, economic cooperation is concerned.

To give you just one example, there is the Kunar River which is running there and it has the potential for the 2,000 megawatts of electricity, even the first phase, the initial phase, while the main potential – if you consider the whole potential it’s for 20,000 megawatts of electricity.

And there have been some studies, joint studies between both countries and hopefully there will be a joint project, which Afghanistan would be the beneficiary and so will be Pakistan, the main beneficiary, you know the energy shortages there. So it’s a different vision for the region that we’re talking about today.

So perceptional challenges – we need to deal with perceptions when time comes. But facts and realities and experiences and lessons of the past are also there. So we are very much looking forward to a better future for our people, rather than living in the perceptions of the past.

MR. SINGH: Not back to the future, but forward to the future I think is what I heard there.

We’re going to go to – we’re honored to have Kai Ida (ph) and then after Kai, David Sedney.

MR. NAWAZ: And then, the lady on the other side of the room. Please, go ahead.

Q: Thank you very much. Dr. Abdullah is good to see you again. I think also I recognize some of the decorations behind you on the wall. Of course, the importance of these elections cannot be overestimated when it comes to the consolidation of democratic structures in Afghanistan – tremendously important. And I also hope that when the day of inauguration comes, that this will be used not only by the newly elected president, but by the international community to consolidate the mutual strong relationship and commitment by the international community to support a new government. That’s of critical importance.

My question really relates to one element you touched upon. You said little focus has been put on the economic transition – that’s been mostly on the security transition, on the political transition. And I think you’re absolutely right. And you’re mentioning yourself the tremendous natural resources that you have in Afghanistan. These are, of course, resources that you will only be able to start exploiting really when the security situation is more stable, but it requires something else also and that is a regulatory – strong regulatory framework and the ability to make sure that those who are active in this field abide by that framework.

We’ve seen too many places that natural resources have been – have gotten in the hand of foreign companies who are taking their fair share of the profit and more than that, and also of local citizens. We have seen over the last 10 years in Afghanistan how much of the international assistance has gone back to international contractors or in the hands of some powerful and wealthy Afghans.

It is tremendously important, of course, and I’m sure you would agree that when you start exploiting these resources that they are seen and really become the property of the Afghan people as such. Could you say a little bit about how you see that challenge because it is, of course, a tremendous challenge to make sure that this actually happens? Thank you.

MR. ABDULLAH: Thank you. Thank you. Good to see you and good to hear from you. And in terms of the national resources, there is one – legislation is also locked up somewhere. Again, that needs to be passed. So from our side, our interest, the interest of Afghanistan is preserved and also there is enough assurances for continuity of the regulatory framework as far as the foreign investment in this field is concerned.

To start with, one has to focus on the smaller (mines ?), while working on the bigger ones and medium ones. So it’s – it is – your point is well placed. Sometimes, those natural resources turned into a curse if it is not being built within a transparent manner in the interest of the country. And post-inauguration, in the first one or two years, our anticipation is that it will be mainly those wealthy Afghans which have taken their money out, which will be interested to return back. And I have quite a few examples of those people which are in possession of a lot of money outside and they have invested their money in other places, which there – they have to compete with very competitive companies. And they are ready to come back to their own country, invest it here, which will generate new energy and new hopes in this field.

But I agree with you that it is also, once again, it involves the issue of rule of law and transparency and accountability. And we will be dealing with it with utmost care because this is the future of the country. And yes, it will take time. It will be long before we will benefit from those – from investment in natural resources, but that’s the future of the country. That’s something that will change the face of Afghanistan in the years to come.

MR. NAWAZ: David.

Q: Dr. Abdullah, this is David Sedney. Again, also very good to see you. Best wishes to you, especially appreciate the fact that you are here despite the efforts of the Taliban to prevent that. I also want to echo the congratulations for the performance of the Afghan people. They have really stood up and sent a message, I think, to everybody, as you said, including their leaders. And I think that’s something we should all, here in the U.S., we should be paying attention to.

My question is, I speak a lot about Afghanistan here in the U.S., so the question I get most often is why does Afghanistan matter to the U.S.? Why shouldn’t we just leave Afghanistan? And I would like you to have a chance to answer those questions. Thank you very much.

MR. ABDULLAH: The simple answer – good to see you as well, David. The simple answer to your question would be that why where you here in the first place. And then you have made a lot of sacrifices and contributions. And those achievements of the Afghan people, including recent first round elections – those are the achievements of the Afghan people, but it wouldn’t have been possible without your support. So the – I’m not advocating a situation where that you’re bound to be here because of the security threats which are around us or emanating from this part of the world. But at the same time, this was the real reason that you came to Afghanistan. And as a result of your engagement, a lot has changed in this part of the world.

Afghanistan is not the hub for al Qaeda anymore and Afghanistan is a totally different place. We are talking about elections in 2014 while, if I may remember, this time around in 2010, 90 percent or 85 percent of the country was under the al Qaeda, direct al Qaeda rule.

So it’s the issue of regional peace and stability and it’s the issue of international stability that your engagement is needed in Afghanistan. And we have come half the way, more than half the way together. And that’s – rather I would say that even troop level and future cooperation, framework of cooperation – troop level is part of it, but future cooperation or a framework of cooperation for 10 years, that’s important to consolidate those achievements. And that will be a contribution and an investment in peace and in stability. So that’s how I see it.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah. I just wanted to remind people that they can tweet at AC South Asia, using the hashtag #ACAbdullah. And now let’s go back to a couple of questions that came to us from our external audience.

The first one is: What would your regime do to promote economic and educational opportunities for women? And the second one is: Should you win, will you accept people with alleged human rights violations into your cabinet?

MR. ABDULLAH: Thank you. In terms of women’s situation and education, first of all, there is a foundation, fortunately, for girls’ education already as a result of investment in the past 13 years. And millions of girls are going to school, not, of course, under most favorable circumstances. There are lots of difficulties as well, but it’s there. And I travelled throughout the country during my campaign, almost all the provinces of the country. And then you would see there the thousands and tens of thousands of girls and boys are going to school. And that’s the long-term investment, which its impact will be midterm and long-term.

In terms of economic development and the role of women in this field, there are lots of examples of women’s role in entrepreneurship in different parts of the country, even in rural Afghanistan. So the issue has started already. So I don’t – the future government will not have to start from the scratch. It’s just empowering and creating – empowering and creating an environment, legal as well as otherwise – creating conditions that they will be free to operate and to function in the economic field. And that also depends on the role of women in the decision-making at the top level, cabinet level, and in other – applying positive discriminations in parts which is needed. We have 25 percent of women in our parliament, in the provincial councils. And these are elected bodies. In our senate, and as well as in the government, but that role needs to be empowered further. And positive discrimination should be used in order to promote their role in the education, as well as higher education, as well as in the economic field.

MR. NAWAZ: Another question, Dr. Abdullah, which was aimed at people that were running on some tickets who were alleged to have had serious human rights violations. Would you accept people with alleged human rights violations into your cabinet?

MR. ABDULLAH: I think this question of yours were more relevant talking to the Dr. Ghani, a few days ago, which I’m sure that you’re – (inaudible). (Laughter.)

MR. NAWAZ: Well, this came from an external source, Mr. Hayes Brown, editor of ThinkProgress World, so I was passing that on today.

MR. ABDULLAH: Okay, that’s good. But the issue of human rights, it’s a serious issue for us. And what’s important, the priority of the Afghan – the future Afghan government should be having the issue of human rights and women’s rights as part of their – part and parcel of every decision which is being made in terms of appointments, as well as other issues. Without – then there are issues of allegations and perceptions in that regard and also there are real issues. And the – it’s important to reform our judiciary system because on current basis, on daily basis violations of human rights is taking place. And there are serious violations of human rights and violence against women throughout the country. And because of, I can say, the dysfunction of judicial system, the government is not able to deal with the current violations of human rights throughout the country, let alone dealing with the violations of the past.

When it comes to the issue of women, I can say probably that a big percentage of those who voted for me were women and – according to the current statistics. We had the support of women because of our clear policies. One is rhetoric and slogans in this regard. One is genuine commitment and belief that we cannot achieve even our economic goals of development in this country without empowering more than half of the society.

So our programs are not rhetorical and based on slogans, but based on practical solutions for this issue, which is real challenge – which has been a real challenge for Afghanistan, and that has been liked by the women of the country and then they have supported us.

MR. SINGH: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah. We’ll turn back to our audience for questions. And I’d like to ask people to follow David’s example and make your questions as short and to the point as you can, so we can get in a few before we have to wrap up.

Q: Hello. My name is Tristan Bennett (sp) and first of all – (inaudible). My question goes back to what you said about people’s trust in the rule of law. What steps do you think need to be taken in order for the people of Afghanistan to build more of a trust in the rule of law and how do you plan on implementing those steps?

MR. ABDULLAH: The people will watch us from the day one. They will judge us based on the appointments that we make in the top government level. And we have made a lot of promises to our people in different fields of life. And they will – because there is a mistrust and trust deficit, it will take time before the people trust us. They will have to see something in practice.

The rule of law, there are many ways of dealing with it and there is one way of asking the citizens of the country to abide by the law and while at the top position of the country, yourself or oneself violates the law in a very vivid manner. So it should start from the top level of governance. Then, that’s the point where the people start believing in you.

If you allow, if you tolerate corruption – if you yourself are in the position and in the most – in the highest position of responsibility towards the people, do not consider following constitution as a serious important and unquestionable matter, then the rest of the people will not believe in you. So it comes – once again, it’s the political will and also the people will watch the top level officials, from the president himself to the vice presidents and the cabinet. And then they will make their own judgment, rather than making a judgment based on the promises.

MR. SINGH: Thank you. We’re going to go across the cable to Ashish (ph) up here. And wait for the mike.

Q: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah. Ashish Sten (ph) with the “Tribune.” Do you see any lessons for Afghans and Afghan leaders as you look at developments in Iraq, what’s happening out there? Do you see any lesson for the new Afghan government and also for the U.S. as it considers engagement with Afghanistan? Thank you.

MR. ABDULLAH: For the – rather than making a comparison between two situations where there might be some ingredients – common ingredients in both cases, I would say that the Afghan government should have signed bilateral security agreement long before today or in the coming few weeks after the inauguration of the new president. So this issue should have been behind us and there was a lot of damage because of not signing it that created a shadow of uncertainty about the future and so on and so forth.

As far as the United States’ concern, I think one lesson out of it, there as well, of course, it was the – as far as I understand, it was Iraqi government who decided not to sign SOFA with the United States. But here also come responsible – issue of responsible exit strategy that is important.

So as well as Afghanistan is concerned, there are – we have lessons in our own history, recent history of engagement in the ’80s when the Soviets were here, and disengagement – complete disengagement afterwards. And which led to – which was one of the main reasons that led to the civil war here and later on al Qaeda taking roots here in our country and then the United States, the people suffered because of it.

So it’s – I would say that investment in Afghanistan, in spite of missed opportunities, was worthwhile and has been worthwhile and future cooperation is necessary, but the circumstances are different between Afghanistan and Iraq. Here, Talibanization has been rejected by the population as a whole. This has nothing to do with the ethnic group and so on and so forth, different ethnic groups in the country. And that ideology is rejected.

It’s important that the future government of Afghanistan pursues a policy of reconciliation from one side and delivers to the peaceful citizens who want peaceful life and are supportive of democratic process and has strengthened those people so those who are fighting against us will be isolated further. ANSF, Afghan National Security Forces, are proved their capabilities, but it’s not just military security situation. The legitimacy of the government policies and the legitimacy of the government and also delivery of services and establishing rule of law and policies of not discriminating against citizens.

And if there is one lesson from what has happened in Iraq, it is that sectarian policies will not work anywhere. So the – building that trust among the people will be important. So hopefully that opportunity, post-elections, is seized by the future government of Afghanistan and it will be seized in order to rebuild their trust. Then those who were fighting against the government will be a minority and hopefully, there will be a solution for it in the way.

MR. SINGH: Thank you, directly across from me.

Q: Dr. Abdullah, my name is Josh Keating. I write for “Slate” Magazine. As I’m sure you’re aware, there’re a lot of suspicions about or speculation about what the role of President Karzai is going to be after he steps down. Many people feel he doesn’t plan to leave entirely and will still exercise some influence through officials who remain loyal to him. What role – if do take power after this election, what role do you see President Karzai playing and what role do you think is appropriate for him to play?

MR. ABDULLAH: One thing is very clear for me – that we should respect him in the future as the ex-president of Afghanistan and certainly he’ll have a role to play in the national politics, unless he doesn’t want to play that role. And we have not discussed it in any details at this stage. And I think specifically we might have to speculate for a few more weeks before we are faced with the real situation itself. But as far as I can see at this stage, and this is something that I’ve told him as well, that we want you to be respected. We want you to have a respectful place in the national politics. But he himself mentioned that if there is anything that I can do as far as the strengthening of the national unity in the country, I will do that or I’ll advise the future government, but I’ll not meddle in the appointments and so on and so forth.

But these are things that need to be seen post inauguration and we have not entered any detailed talks in this regard.

MR. SINGH: Thank you. We have a question down in the center. I can’t see who.

Q: Yes, Dr. Abdullah. My name is Steven Anlian. I’m in the Washington outpost office, Washington, D.C., outpost office for a company, Technologists Inc., which is headed by, I believe you know him, Sayed Aziz Azimi. He’s an Afghan-American who’s dedicated the last decade to reconstruction of his country.

My question is what role do you see for the so-called hyphenated Afghans, the diaspora, in your new administration? Thank you.

MR. ABDULLAH: Most welcome. And in fact, I know Mr. Azimi and he comes from a prominent family in Herat. In his province I have 62 percent of the votes from that province. And these are the examples of Afghans who have invested from their knowledge and expertise and their money in their own country. And Afghanistan has benefitted because of their investment and because of their commitment to the development of their own country in helping their people.

There is a lot of room for Afghan diaspora to play a role in the issues of governance, as well as in the civil society and also private sector. So that is – I was the one who had encouraged this role in the early days, including those members of the cabinet of Afghanistan in the past few years, and including my rival today, Dr. Ghani, I facilitated for him within our own system to have a more prominent role. But that answer depends on the commitments of the individuals to the interests of the country and who is ready to pay for the country and ready to invest in their country. And so the role of the government will be to facilitate it further.

MR. SINGH: Great, thank you. I think David Sedney had one more and then we’ll go back to some of our – from Internet and the audience questions.

Q: Dr. Abdullah, one other question that I get here and also is asked as I speak with people, particularly from Russia, the countries north of Afghanistan is what can be done about the narcotics problem in Afghanistan in terms of the growth, the shipment out of Afghanistan and, as you mentioned, the growing problem of addiction in Afghanistan. If elected, what would be your program to address the narcotics issue? Thank you.

MR. ABDULLAH: This is a problem for Afghanistan and is a serious problem for Afghanistan. And there is a responsibility for the transit countries, and also there is a responsibility for the consuming countries. So unless all three join hands, I don’t think that we will be able to deal with this challenge. For example, those precursors come from other countries to Afghanistan and being transported. Before it comes to Afghanistan, it travels through many, many countries. And precursors – chemicals which turns opium into heroine.

So here, at one level, a dialogue – a serious dialogue between Afghanistan and its neighbors and countries of the region is needed, but at the same time the strategy which Afghanistan should pursue should be a comprehensive one, which deals with the production, trafficking, and consumption. Because consumption was not an issue in Afghanistan a few years ago, but it is becoming an increasingly growing challenge for Afghanistan.

So there are some examples – good examples of success in this area. For examples, where there’s been good governance, but then there’ve been – we have been witness to the elimination of this menace from that province and vice versa. But there has to be an alternative livelihood program for the farmers. And at a different level, there is the issue of law enforcement and dealing with the traffickers – no tolerance as far as the traffickers are concerned.

So there are some examples, good examples of crop substitution. For example, saffron has been a successful issue, but altogether it could be part of the developmental strategy and also a more focused strategy as far as this issue is concerned.

So those countries which are complaining also have a responsibility in dealing with aspects of this. So with cooperation at different levels within the country, as well as in the region and beyond, hopefully in the course time all together we will be able to deal with it.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah. If I could bring in two other questions that we’ve received from our external audience. The first one deals with regional matters. The other one deals with the election process itself. And the first question comes from Sumita Kati (sp), a former colleague of ours at the South Asia Center who is now a budding Iran and regional analyst. She asks with the new Modi government in power in India, will you push for greater military cooperation with India?

The second question is from Kawa Botshekan (sp) of Horasan. And he asks, what preparations have been made to prevent election fraud from occurring in the second round?

MR. ABDULLAH: In terms of dealing with the new government in India, Prime Minister Modi’s government, I don’t think that the priorities of Afghanistan will be to ask for military aid at this stage. There are lots of areas of cooperation between both countries. And enhancing those areas of cooperation further for the benefit of development in Afghanistan – economic development in Afghanistan and empowerment of the people of Afghanistan in promoting the stability as needed.

So asking for more military assistances will not be a priority at this stage, but there will be a comprehensive sets of areas of cooperation that is needed to be explored further.

MR. NAWAZ: And the other question was about the elections, the second round, prevention of fraud. What steps have you taken or are being taken to ensure that there’s no allegation of election fraud?

MR. ABDULLAH: There were some lessons from the first-round elections and even from 2009 elections. But at the same time, there are concerns. So we are having monitors on the ground, which hopefully will be able to monitor it and hopefully there isn’t a systematic fraud. A few things here and there will happen because it’s – because of the environment and because of the circumstances that we are in it at this stage, but our concern will be about systematic fraud and hopefully this is prevented.

So it’s a bit early to judge it. We have our concerns, but rather we will go towards it optimistically – with optimistic mood and then deal with as it comes.

MR. SINGH: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah. We have about six minutes left. I’m going to turn back to Kai and then we’re going to take the chair – prerogative of the chair back for one final wrap-up question.

Please, Kai.

Q: Thank you very much. I’ll be brief. Obama’s decision on troop withdrawal, which really means zero option two years from now. This is a decision that is not condition-based. It is mathematically determined withdrawal over a two years period. Are you concerned about that? Does it worry you? Are you – would you think, if elected, to reopen that discussion in order, for instance, to make it more condition-based than it is today?

MR. ABDULLAH: So I’m not in a position to judge it at this stage, but one thing that I will emphasize that hopefully zero option will not mean zero cooperation. What is needed is the strengthening of that spirit of cooperation based on the bilateral security agreement which will be signed after the inauguration, hopefully, and utilize that framework in order to maximize the level of cooperation beyond 2016 and between 2014 to 2016 as well.

So it’s – there will be an opportunity. I don’t know how might that opportunity – that’s realistic from our point. So we are – we cannot dictate from here the conditions of that. But the willingness to enhance cooperation and to do things which are in our hands to facilitate it, rather than getting stuck in the slogans and rhetorics, which has not helped anybody anywhere, and negative rhetorics, which has been the case in the past few years, which has led to further missed opportunities.

So there will be a new approach from our side and a new spirit of friendship and partnership. And under those circumstances one needs to see – and it takes both sides to explore those opportunities.

MR. SINGH: Thank you. I think we’re going to give the final question to Shuja and then we’ll be wrapping up. Thank you so much.

MR. NAWAZ: Dr. Abdullah, there’s been a poll that came out yesterday that indicates that the elections based on a telephone poll of people that were likely to vote that the election might be much tighter than the first round indicated. Does this indicate that you’ve lost ground? And secondly, if you do win a very tight race and it’s a very close election, what is the possibility of some kind of a national unity government?

MR. ABDULLAH: No, the poll yesterday, it came as an assurance because last time when they had predicted, it was proven wrong with two digits. This time, it might be three digits. (Laughter.) So it’s from the same source. So that does not – last day, they didn’t allow any time for the poll to be analyzed, to be assessed afterwards. They did a clever thing one day, but the foundation is not right. Their findings earlier were proved to be wrong. And I don’t think that have changed all the staff or created a new form afterwards. This I the same source, so nobody has taken it seriously.

The gap, the distance will be further. There is – sometimes the Afghans are referring to the gap between two of us, they say that there is number one candidate and there is a last candidate, rather than saying second candidate, because the distance is so much. And also, we have new allies and also we were able to generate more support throughout the country. That’s not an eventuality – a close race.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you. Vikram, any last comments?

MR. SINGH: I think, Dr. Abdullah, thank you so much for this very expansive set of insights not only into the campaign, but into what your approach for governing will be, what if should you be victorious into what you think will be a new era for Afghanistan. And in terms of Afghanistan’s relations with its neighborhood and the world, I think you can be assured that from here you have many well-wishers and you have many that wish to see a truly, very fruitful partnership between the United States and Afghanistan and the international community and Afghanistan going forward.

I’d like to thank the Atlantic Council for allowing CAP to co-host this with you. We’re all – you’re in very high demand here this week. And we’re grateful that you chose CAP and the Atlantic Council for this appearance.

Thank you a tremendous audience – a lot of people who have cared about Afghanistan for a long, long time here and we’re very, very grateful for the time and the depth of your comments and analyses today.

MR. NAWAZ: And if I can just add my thanks to your very able representative in Washington, Omar Gafurzai (sp), who made it all possible against all odds. And we are grateful to the gods that allowed Skype to continue uninterrupted because that’s always a challenge. We’re also very grateful to Reuters for having helped cover this and send it out in addition to the live stream that our colleagues put together. And again, I want to thank, as Vikram did, this really engaged and wonderful audience here, as well as those watching at home.

Dr. Abdullah, particularly to you, you’ve had a grueling campaign and we are so delighted that you were able to make it and we wish you all the best. If you have any last words for an American audience, we’ll end with those.

MR. ABDULLAH: Thank you, Shuja. Thank you, Vikram. And good to see Omar. I would like to thank the United States for its contribution. And for Omar, let me have you a surprise, Yusuf (sp), can you come? His brother is here with me. (Laughter.) Okay, and thank you for the audience, including good friends of us, which we have worked together in the past, good to hear from them and looking forward to future engagements.

MR. NAWAZ: Thank you.

MR. SINGH: Thank you.

MR. ABDULLAH: Good. (Applause.)