Renowned Afghan commander and former Herat governor says what the Taliban has introduced as the caretaker government in Afghanistan will not last as they represent only one ethnic group.
In an exclusive interview with the news website Entekhab, Ismail Khan also says Iran can pressure the Taliban into forming an inclusive government and avoid a war given Iran has friends in the region and with the help of other neighbors. The last part of the interview follows:
Q: Khalilzad wrote in his memoir that you wanted the Ministry of Interior.
A: They told me to go to the Ministry of Interior. When I said I would come to Kabul, they made a promise and took me to the Ministry of Energy.
Q: Do you think that Khalilzad wanted to remove you because of American influence and confrontation with Iran, or that he was a Taliban man from the beginning? I mean did he have a lot of ties with the Taliban and wanted to weaken the Afghan government by removing you?
A: Well, Khalilzad and one of the goals of the Americans themselves was to remove the jihadi leaders from power altogether, and all of Khalilzad’s effort was to remove jihadiswho were governors in Afghanistan, in Kandahar, Jalalabad, Herat, etc.
Q: What was your opinion about the Shia and Sunni fabric of Herat during your rule? After all, you were always influential in Heart. Did you mind at all if the Shia population of Herat increased during this period or did it not matter to you? For example, did you have a demographic cultural policy about the debate between Shia and Sunni? After all, this might be the case anywhere, for example, the fact that Hazaras ostly moved to Heart and bought houses there … Did you ever care about stuff like this?
A: In Herat, the Shia and Sunni issue was resolved in such a way that if you go to Herat now, you will see that Shias and Sunnis live in the same alley. They do not have specific neighborhoods. But the Hazaras eventually settled in the region due to the difficult conditions in Bamyan and other central mountainous provinces, but the Shia areas came into being in Herat after they came together to marry and live together in a village. This is almost completely solved in Herat. Religious conflicts did not harm anyone in houses in the city and they do not happen.
Q: What is your view on the cultural commonalities between Iran and Afghanistan and our bonds? I mean our common civilization, our common past, our common language. That’s because I’m talking to some Iranian friends and some of them say these are slogans, feelings, and it does not matter much. In practice, for example, politics is something else. Do you think that our common assets can really be useful in the field of action, in politics, in the economy, in society? We now have the same language, our own script and our own calendar. We are the only two countries that have Persian language and script. Tajikistan is different from us in this respect. Only you and we have the Hijri Shamsi calendar. Now if the Taliban do not change it. How do you think these cultural assets can be used?
A: Well, from the distant past, Afghanistan and Iran were like a family. They have very close similarities in different aspects of life. These have caused them to always make good use of each other’s civilization and culture and to have good mutual acceptance. I can say that Afghans in particular have always considered Iran as their second home. They never view Iran as a foreign country or treat Iran as they do other countries. That’s because we have very special commonalities, as you said, especially our common language, which have caused us to always make good use of this area of civilization and to have mutual acceptance.
Q: You are a jihadi figure; you are a prominent Islamic figure; and at the same time, you are you interested in, for example, Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, myths …because I always saw you mention ancient Heart. Do you have love stuff like this? Do you?
A: Naturally. Those who have more armed struggles, especially freedom struggles, and they chant freedom-seeking slogans, these are my favorite.
Q: So do you like mythical figures like Rostam and Siavash and the like?
A: It is very interesting that this might not be found in Iran, but in Afghanistan, I used to go to many villages where old men holding a big cane would read the story of Shahnameh by memory and at the same time perform the same acts.
Q: Some say we should not celebrate Nowruz as Eid?
A: This is what an ignorant person would say out of prejudice. Nowruz is definitely celebrated in Afghanistan, especially in
that you were mobilizing the forces well. You resisted for about 20 days and we followed the news daily Herat.
Q: Did Herat fall because they stabbed you in the back? I saw that said you were liberating the districts, and there was good resistance in Herat. But suddenly in one or two days, things were upside down. Were you betrayed? Did the Afghan government betray you and pull the rug from under your feet?
A: In general, something of a coup took place in Afghanistan. President Ghani really committed a great national betrayal. I mean, we also told you that on many occasions politicians always had meetings with Ashraf Ghani. They were 5 or 10 or 15 people. We always met him. Things went on that way until recently when Afghanistan collapsed. I think Ashraf Ghani was an agent who would do that anyway, and lately you may have heard him say “we handed over Afghanistan to its main heirs, the Pashtuns”. That was a national treason on the part of Ashraf himself. Afghanistan would have never fallen with all the great assets at its disposal, but Ashraf Ghani could not tolerate the Mujahideen taking over this government. He did not want the resistance to take power. He could not stand it, because he was not from this family. This was what caused him to remain indifferent to the fall of the first governorates until the last one that fell. No matter how hard we tried and said “let’s take over the provinces and lead the war”, he didn’t let us do that. We finally had to, when we saw the war approaching the city, we finally took action. But unfortunately it was too late. Although we fought for two months, the last twenty days were very noisy, because the war was around the city, but we started the war two months ago, when there was a war in the governorates. At the end of the day, when the Taliban could not enter the city on the front we had, Ashraf Ghani ordered the army to surrender. We fought on but they surrendered. It caused the Taliban to enter the city from two prongs, which were the headquarters of the Herat army, and the headquarters of the police of Heart. These units stopped resisting and the Taliban entered the city.
Q: What exactly happened on July 21?
A: On that day, the Taliban retreated from the two strongholds, which was the army corps and the police command. When the Taliban entered the city, we stayed out. And finally, when we saw that they had taken the city and we were out, we also went to the army corps. When we arrived there, the army corps had surrendered. In appearance, we thought they were on our side, but in fact, they had already made a commitment to each other. We stayed there that night and the next morning the Taliban arrived inside the army corps.
Q: You mean their commander was on the Taliban’s side?
Q: How about Heart’s governor?
A: Heart’s governor and his men were in cahoots with the Taliban’s side.
Q: So, the governor himself betrayed you, because I saw them come to your house on the twenty first day, and the governor was offering you condolences. So all this was a show?
A: Well, the commander of the army and the security officer who was sent from Kabul to coordinate the war and the deputy security chief, they had already made a commitment. When the governor saw that they were together, he joined them. But they could not say anything openly.
Q: Did the Taliban put pressure on you when they started talking to you?
A: No. If you saw the interview, I did not mention the Taliban nor did I congratulate their victory or say any of these things.
Q: They wanted to force you to tell others to surrender.
A: They asked many questions and speak to the crowd for them to do this and that.
Q: At the same time, you emphasized social justice, which was a great thing. What do you think will happen to Afghanistan now?
A: I think this government will not last. You see the cabinet that was announced. If anyone wanted to stay in Afghanistan or hope for Afghanistan’s future, the Taliban showed with the cabinet that these are a special group and only one party, one group of people who want to rule a country, which is not possible.
Q: How do you think this situation is going to change, now that the Taliban are in power and have taken over all of Afghanistan? The world is almost behind them.
A: No, that is not the case, because in Afghanistan it was first shown that no government has been able to maintain its rule by force. You saw that the communists themselves first staged a coup by Davud Khan. The government did not last. When the communists staged a coup, it did not last more than six months. It lasted three months. For example, Amin did a coup that lasted one year. The Mujahideen could not use force and at the same time the Taliban failed the first time. No government can survive in Afghanistan by force.
Q: How do you evaluate this resistance in Panjshir, AmrollahSaleh and Ahmad Massoud? Can they do something or not?
A: Well, these are not alone. Everything starts from the beginning in a corner, and at least the rest of the provinces of Afghanistan will announce their cooperation.
Q: Is Saleh a reliable person given he worked with Ghani?
A: Well, the leader of the Panjshir resistance is Ahmad Massoud. Saleh doesn’t call the shots.
Q: Do you consider Ahmad Massoud a reliable person?
A: Naturally, this is the case, given the experiences that he has from his father, and him having by his side these Mujahideenwho are experienced and were his father’s friends. We hope that, God willing, they will remain prudent.
Q: What do you think Iran could do and what can it do now?
A: Iran did all it could in this regard. During this period, there was no talks with the Taliban over the formation of a government. The Taliban should have come up with a plan to form a government with the participation of all groups. But unfortunately they didn’t do so. Iran, as a big country and neighbor, plays a big role in political matters and it can pressure the Taliban into forming an inclusive government and avoid a war given Iran has friends in the region and with the help of other neighbors.
Q: Can Iran, through political, diplomatic and moral support, be effective without political interference to prevent a unilateral Taliban rule?
A: Well, our effort and wish is that all our friendly and brotherly and neighboring countries make every effort not to solve the issue of Afghanistan by war, but to resolve it through consensus and dialogue.
Q: You mean Iran wields sufficient spiritual influence to bring them into line?
A: Certainly, yes.
Q: Was Karzai also involved in Ghani’s betrayal, especially in Kabul’s surrender?
A: No, Karzai was not involved in that.
Q: Do you consider the role of Karzai and Abdullah positive?