Afghanistan's geographical location places it at the epicentre of regional rivalries, which undoubtedly have a hand in its efforts at security and stability. According to Afghanistan's former foreign minister and present opposition leader Dr Abdullah Abdullah, time is running out.
Previously a practising eye surgeon, he dedicated his life to rebuilding his country after joining the resistance against Soviet occupation. When President Hamid Karzai won the country's first presidential election in 2004, Dr Abdullah was re-appointed as Afghanistan's foreign minister. Two years later Karzai replaced him and Dr Abdullah soon became an outspoken critic of the Karzai government.
In 2009 he ran for president, winning about 31 per cent of the votes cast in the preliminary elections, which placed him second to Karzai. However, he decided not to participate in the second round, predicting there would be a repetition of the fraud of the first round.
What impact have tensions between India and Pakistan had on Afghanistan?
At this stage our main concern is the presence of the sanctuaries in Pakistan. Al Qaida and the Taliban are using these sanctuaries and acting against the Afghan people. Efforts by neighbouring countries to instal puppet regimes or influence the situation through inciting violence and supporting groups that resort to violence have proved futile for Afghanistan and its neighbouring countries.
MP Fauzia Kufi says ‘Afghanistan is a victim of regional rivalries'. Do you agree or disagree?
We are talking about Afghanistan's potential from a weak position. And it is not just regional rivalries that are preying on Afghanistan. Sometimes it is ambitions. Sometimes it is miscalculations. So it is a bit more complicated than just regional rivalries. There will always be a temptation for foreign interference within Afghanistan's government and domestic affairs because of its geographic location. Afghanistan has great potential — its natural resources and its location can serve the interests of Afghanistan and other countries in the region.
But the conditions within the country should change to prevent them. Unfortunately Karzai's government has not been able in the past ten years to utilise the opportunity of foreign forces wanting to stabilise and rebuild the country for the benefit of the people and the region. If Afghanistan is stable, it can be a land bridge which connects Central Asia to south Asia and the rest of the world. And from an economic standpoint, south Asian countries need to get to the Central Asian markets and are also in need of the energy from Central Asia. It seems we are missing opportunities. That is the sad side of the story at the moment.
What is the legacy of foreign forces in Afghanistan?
The international community is still willing to help Afghanistan — this opportunity did not exist before in the history of the country. If we miss this chance, if we lose it, we are going to lose it forever. It will be a nightmare to see this happen, and it would not be able to recover any time in the future.
How would you assess Afghanistan's ability to prevent neighbouring countries from interfering in its domestic affairs and government?
The legitimacy of the government of Afghanistan is under question not just because of the presidential elections of 2009 but because its actions are destroying the foundation for a democratic state and preventing Afghans from utilising their main strength, which is within the people. If you look at the past seven or eight months, the leadership of Afghanistan has wasted the time of the nation, crucial and critical time by creating problems for the parliament, creating problems for the Special Forces. Do we need all this at a time where every second is counted? And every day that we lose today would take a year to regain.
So how have the relations between the United States and Afghanistan changed since the beginning of the US led-operation in the country?
The US is engaged in Afghanistan. It has tens of thousands of troops there and has spent billions of its taxpayers' money there and has helped in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. But at the same time if you are talking about Karzai's relations with the US there is tension, because he tends to blame the US for every issue that arises in Afghanistan. I'm very concerned, I should say, but I don't want to lose hope, I don't want to be pessimistic. I'm very concerned about the way that the leadership is messing up the opportunity. How much more time do we have?
What about the US making unplanned visits to Afghanistan?
The US can also do a bit better when it comes to unplanned visits to Afghanistan. For example, during the holiday season, the US may be coming to visit its troops. But it may be misunderstood by the Afghan government, even though it is understandable that the US may want to spend time with its troops rather than participate in government functions. But still, there could be better coordination in some aspects.
Within the Afghan media there have been reports that the US has not always consulted the Afghan government when it has come to reconstruction and rebuilding. What about improving coordination between the US and Afghanistan on improving its own stability?
One more point is to make maximum effort to prevent civilian casualties. That has been a source of tension, and a legitimate one. But we all know it is not deliberate. That doesn't suffice the US and military to work to prevent that from happening. In terms of reconstruction, the Afghan government should have a plan that serves Afghan interests and it should present that plan and ask for support — and this has happened in the past. But the Afghan National Development Strategy has its own deficits, so there we can't blame anyone else. For example, if Afghanistan hasn't considered equitable development across its various regions, it is not American or foreign imposition. This is something we need to work out, and, yes, there have been talks of pouring more funds through government channels but Karzai isn't taking any steps to curb corruption.
If it serves the interests of both the international community and the neighbouring countries to have a stable Afghanistan, why is the international community supporting a government which you say isn't taking steps to curb corruption?
This is a question the international community has to answer. But now they are stuck — Karzai is the president of Afghanistan and they have to deal with it. But what is expected of the international community is that they not lose sight of the democratic process, because it will ensure stable relations between Afghanistan and the rest of the world. The international community should not come to the conclusion that democracy doesn't work in Afghanistan or that it runs on tribal codes, because that would lead to a situation that would endanger all the efforts and contributions.
Sarah Jones is a freelance journalist based in the US.