Maulvi Arsala Rahmani is a former Taliban cabinet minister who now lives in Kabul. He is among a small group of former Taliban who have reconciled and now encourage peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Full interview transcript
Susan Ormiston - Can you tell me are there discussions going on currently with the Taliban, any attempts to negotiate some kind of agreements?
Rahmani - There are some people here in Kabul who were Taliban Ministers, like Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, and Abdul Salam Zaeef, and we get together and discuss. We also offer advice indirectly to the Taliban and we talk with the government too.
Susan Ormiston - What is the nature of those talks and what are you talking about?
Rahmani - We sometimes ask the Taliban to come and negotiate with the Afghan government and discuss the issue of prisoners, arrests, searches of houses by the national army and foreigners, issues such as those. And we also ask the Taliban why they are banning the schools, why they’re burning schools, destroying bridges, killing engineers. These are all the issues that we need to talk about.
Susan Ormiston - Are the Taliban that you speak to interested in negotiating some kind of agreement for more peaceful operations at all?
Rahmani - Yes they are interested.
Susan Ormiston - Why would the Taliban want to negotiate with a government that they are fighting?
Rahmani - We have not reached an agreement yet and I am neither representing the Taliban nor the government. We are just people trying to help this problem to be solved.
Susan Ormiston - Yes, but help me understand, why the Taliban would be interested in negotiating with the government? What would be in it for them?
Rahmani - Negotiations are different, there are differences in the negotiations. If the issue is about the type of government in Afghanistan, if the issue is about the expulsion of foreign troops from Afghanistan, or whether the Taliban have any relationship with Al Qaeda…the Taliban can discuss these issues but they have their certain terms and conditions.
Susan - But, is there something at this time, is there something that would persuade them to talk rather than fight?
Rahmani - But the problem is with this government and the international community, they ask these kind of questions like you just asked; "What do the Taliban want and what are the Taliban doing?". This doesn’t make sense. We think the Taliban and the Afghan government, including the international community, should first start talking about some of the issues so that trust can be created between them. There is no trust now. The Taliban are on a black list, there are rewards offered to anyone who can kill them, they’re called terrorists, and they say how can someone negotiate with terrorists.
We want to bring them together. The government relatively speaking trusts us and the Taliban trusts us too. We want them to sit and talk about the issues in order to reach to an agreement. It is very important that the safety of the Taliban who decide to negotiate should be taken into account first. They should not be imprisoned. Now if they make themselves known they get arrested and they get put in jail. How can they trust the government enough to talk with them? After it’s clear that they’re safe, then they will talk with the government.
Susan Ormiston - I have several questions from that. First, do you think that talking is the only way to find peace in this country now?
Rahmani - There is no way to solve the problem, except negotiations. The Taliban are not only the Afghans now. They are Arabs, Chechens, Uzbeks, etc. They have all joined together. Fighting is created through other fighting. If there is no fighting, there will not be further fighting. There is no way except negotiations. Better to start negotiating now than ten years from now. The last eight years have been in vain, wasted. The American , the British, the Europeans get killed here and money is spent here without any result. Why? Because there is fighting in Afghanistan.
Susan Ormiston - Is there a way of separating the leaders who want to negotiate from the extreme leaders who want to only fight?
Rahmani - If it is worked on, yes it is possible. There are several ways. For example we can send former Taliban ministers and ambassadors to help determine this. The moderate Taliban will automatically come to these people and leave the extremists. There are other ways too.
Susan Ormiston - Is there any one from the government side, from Karzai’s government pressing for negotiations?
Rahmani - It is possible that there are good ministers in Karzai’s government. But most of them are corrupted people. They do not want the country to function. They only care for the fighting to take advantages of it. They want to have power but not responsibility.
Susan Ormiston - What is the danger of not talking to the Taliban in Afghanistan? What is the risk?
Rahmani - If there would be no negotiation with the Taliban, this fighting will continue and in the next four or five decades no side will win the war. And it will expand, to Iran, Central Asia, India and many more places.
Susan Ormiston - What do you think that the Taliban want from negotiations Do they want roles in the government? Do they want half the government? What would satisfy them bring them in?
Rahmani - In my opinion, the Taliban want to become Afghan, and they want the government to be an Afghan government too.
Susan Ormiston - Do you believe that the Americans are interested now in exploring ways to talk with the Taliban?
Rahmani - There is no sign of that yet, because Obama sent more troops here and wants to intensify the war. There is no sign of that.
Susan Ormiston - So, the talks that began in Saudi Arabia last summer, is that effort over?
Rahmani - After more troops came those issues were put off. We’re waiting until this election is decided We should be patient. It won’t be much longer.
Susan Ormiston - Have you spoken to Mullah Omar? And would Mullah Omar ever accept conditions to be in the government?
Rahmani - I do not think Mullah Omar would agree to talk with anyone or any country about this. But it’s not important. Let him sit where he is either in Pakistan or somewhere else. But it is necessary for to talk with the others.
Susan Ormiston - What is your biggest concern going forward for this country?
Rahmani - I do not know. Before deciding to leave and come here, I consulted with Taliban leaders, and then I came here. I am not Taliban. Although I have worked with the Taliban regime, I have worked with Rabani’s regime and I will work with the Karzai regime too if I can be helpful.