Liu Xin's exclusive interview with Afghanistan's Ambassador to China

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in a matter of days, much to the surprise of the whole world. What does this mean and what's next for the country? Liu Xin sat down for an exclusive interview with H.E. Javid Ahmad Qaem, Ambassador of Afghanistan to China.

The interview was conducted on August 16, 2021, a day after the Taliban entered Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, leaving the whole world in a state of shock. Below is a transcript of the interview.


Liu Xin: Ambassador Javid Ahmad Qaem, thank you very much for accepting our interview. The situation has indeed moved very fast, out of the expectation of a lot of people. Right now, it seems that the Taliban has taken control of Kabul. What is your comment to the latest development?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: I think much, they were in the presidential palace, and they took over the presidential palace in a peaceful setting from the guard there. What was good, at least there was no fighting in Kabul. Kabul is a city of almost six million people, now with some displaced citizens from other cities there because of the war.

It would have been a disaster, a bloody war there, so the good thing on that part is that there was no war there. However, because the government forces left and now the Taliban are not fully inside, so the security is a little bit of a challenge because there are thieves and thugs and all that, and they are disturbing people. That is still happening. There's panic on the ground. People want to fly out. They don't know what is happening with them, what is the future. That's the situation on the ground.

Liu Xin: Has that affected your work here? Because you are ambassador sent by the government that is already, the head of which has already fled. Has there been a practical impact on your job so far?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Not so far, because there are two parts of it. One, we're representing the government and the head of the state, and then we are also representing the country and the people. So, it changed in a way that, when you're representing only the state, we focus more on our policy line and politics. At this point of time, the work has changed where I have to focus more on humanitarian assistance because people need that.

As I said, there are so many people affected in the last two months or three months of violence and war. In that sense, I've been very busy now. The rest, how it will go further, I don't know. Let the new government be made, and then we'll see how the role changes.

Liu Xin: You talk about the humanitarian side of work. What have you been busy with? Has there been any progress to get humanitarian assistance to the people that are needing it now?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: I started this actually a week ago, and I contacted the Chinese government, I contacted the Communist Party (of China), the international department. I got promises, specifically from the Communist Party, that they could donate some equipment, some food items. I was supposed to work on the transfer of that. The transportation, because the transportation was bad, so I still have to follow that up. At that time, the flights were difficult to transport something like food items because it would be very costly.

There are also these one million doses of vaccine, which the WHO has promised that they will transport that, so I still have to follow up that. There are things in line, hopefully, with the new developments. If there is a way that we can find an air (airplane)… not an air (airplane), probably a train, transport to Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, that would be good. It has started a week before, now I have to just follow it up and try to find something to send it back to Afghanistan.

Doctor fills a syringe with the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 16, 2021. /CFP

Doctor fills a syringe with the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 16, 2021. /CFP

Liu Xin: Do you understand why the situation has changed so fast? Because that has caught a lot of people by surprise, definitely the Americans, who thought they probably would be able to hold out, or the Afghan government, will be able to hold out for at least a few weeks, a few months, but all of a sudden, everything changed overnight.

Javid Ahmad Qaem: I agree with you. It was dramatic. I don't think I'm in position to give you the reasons. I was not on the ground. Probably everyone was really tired of war anymore. It's been 40 years. So there was no real resistance, except in a couple of cities where Taliban faced some resistance. In other cities, there was no real resistance. It was just handed over to them. Even the big cities, almost all of them, except Kandahar, were handed over to them in a very peaceful manner. So let's see. Somebody else has to really look into the factors a while later.

Liu Xin: How do you look into the future, the next weeks? How do you foresee the situation going?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: It's difficult to predict. Now things are changing by every hour. As of now, we're expecting that there will be a government established soon. That's now what is said.

But nothing real happening, not like official, anything, just the rumors around. What I hope is that they could establish the government faster. A government that is inclusive, all the political factions, all the ethnicities there, and take care of the services for the people, and the responsibility that they want to take for the country.

Liu Xin: Do you think it is still possible for different political forces to participate in that government? Because as we speak, the Taliban is sitting in the presidential palace, although there are talks of former Afghan leaders, forming some kind of council, some kind of coordinating council to participate in the political process. But how can they be effective in terms of power sharing?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: I don't see any assurances. There is one group of political figures now in Pakistan, as we speak. They are invited there to Islamabad in a way to mediate between them and the Taliban, so they are part of the government. Yes, the coalition you mentioned, it was created by ex-president Karzai to do the transition process actually, with Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. I think there is a possibility.

I hope Taliban could see that, because if you created only from one faction, it will be, again, the same problems we had 20 years ago. I hope Taliban can seize this opportunity now that they are in power, no question about that, they've taken the power now. They could bring others with them, so they could have a broad-based government, and everyone could see themselves in it. So that would be the best option for the country.

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai gives an interview at his house in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 20, 2021. /CFP

Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai gives an interview at his house in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 20, 2021. /CFP

Liu Xin: What do you see as some of the bigger factors that could determine whether the transition or the new government would be able to stabilize the situation? Because in the past, when the Taliban was in power last time, they had the, you know, the warlords that were fighting them, they had the resistance to share power within different factors. Do you see the same factors in play this time?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Yes, this time the society is a bit different. This is a society after 20 years where investment has been done, people are educated and there's social media and all that, so things are a bit different.

Liu Xin: In terms of political atmosphere in the country?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Everything. I'm saying political atmosphere, in terms of the generation that used to be 20, 25 years ago is now an old generation. You have a completely new generation there, a new generation of women that were actively involved in the society there.

The challenges that I see at this point are in case these people are not included in the government or on a very low level. If still, the revenge type of a policy is taken forward, that would be a disaster because we have to stop it somewhere, though Taliban in their official statement said that there will be no revenge policy, and they would, in a way, they pardoned everybody, everybody is supposed to work for the country. I hope that is implemented down to the ranks level as well.

Finally, I could say the problem if they don't agree with the rest of the political figures, because everyone will have their expectations. As I said, no question about that, Taliban now have taken the power of the country. That, in the short term if Taliban alone govern, probably will work for them. But in the long term, it would still create again the same problem that we had in the past 20 years.

Liu Xin: Do you worry about the rights and the status of women in Afghan society?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Yes, I do. Taliban stated, their statement said that they would allow them to work and study, which is great, and I hope they can implement it on the ground as well. As long as that happens, the rest of the issues, we are all Muslims, there are no questions about the Muslim wearing and all that. Those are not important aspects of that. There is a proper hijab or wearing. That's never an issue.

It's just that they should be allowed to study and work and be part of the society. In that sense, only the concern is because what we have seen in Taliban of 20 years ago, at that time, they were not allowed. I hope we don't go back to that. As long as that is not implemented, in that sense, the rest of the things are fine.

Liu Xin: What do you think is most needed from the outside for the situation, for the people in Afghanistan at this moment?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: The humanitarian assistance the most.

Liu Xin: In terms of humanitarian assistance, yes, please tell us.

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Yeah, it's the first thing we need. Because as I said, there are hundreds, thousands of families that are, especially in Kabul and in big cities, because of these fighting, they are displaced from their houses. They are now, domestic refugees, if you can call them. They need everything, from food, they don't even have food, they don't have shelter, they don't have medicine, they have not access to anything, to clean water.

So, we need these basic things that should reach to them. I've seen people collecting money, doing fundraising from their own pockets to just buy for one night for them and give it to them. They are now in parks in Kabul. We have to stop that. This is urgent, and the international community should help the government. And no matter the government, whoever it is, the people are there, we have to help the people. That's on an urgent basis. Then that would be the international community. I think they can still play a bigger role in the political creation or the governance of the country, where, as I said, that everyone should see themselves. So, the international community should still play their role to encourage the dominant group to bring everyone on board, and then help them with doing the good governance.

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen during a meeting on the ongoing security situation in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. /Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden is seen during a meeting on the ongoing security situation in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 16, 2021. /Reuters

Liu Xin: The American-led invasion was lasting in your country for two decades, and now they have left. What do you see as the reason that they were not able to achieve what they wanted to achieve in the beginning, that you know, the moment they leave, things completely changed?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: They say they achieved what they wanted. It was the war against terror. And I saw President Biden's statements that they killed the Osama bin Laden, and Al Qaeda is no more that active and all the things. What we believe, these were some of the differences probably we had. We believe that the terror, the roots of the terror were not in Afghanistan. So, at that point, when they started this war on terror, the states should have gone beyond the borders of Afghanistan. It didn't happen in that way.

Then this resurgence came back again and started fighting them. Later on, they weren't there for 20 years. It's difficult to evaluate it. On one side, there were good things that happened. There was development that happened, education happened, there were new systems created. But there still were things that could have been different. And I think during these 20 years, also, the objectives changed so many times. I heard even President Biden once mention that they could not do nation building in Afghanistan. I don't think he was supposed to, or anyone was supposed to do nation building. We are a nation. Yes, we are a nation of different ethnicities. So, the focus should never have been on nation building. It is a nation. I think there were things that could have been done differently.

Liu Xin: Why is the government of Afghanistan or the political structure in Afghanistan so volatile? If you talk about, you're already a nation, you know, other people shouldn't do the nation building for you. But how come the system was not able to deliver more, or achieve better peace for the people so that the Taliban wouldn't have the opportunity to gain ground?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: I think it's a very good question, probably it needs a little bit more research. Yes, there were issues with the government that they could not deliver, but the real thing is not only Afghanistan. As I said, this entire issue had its roots and other things, in the region, in the regional politics, in the regional rivalries, in the international rivalries.

We were one part of it, and many other countries that they had their rivalries were fighting that on our grounds. It was very difficult to respond to all that, the roots were somewhere else and then responded on our grounds. Internally, we also had our issues. The corruption was one big issue that time government had, probably this, especially in the last years, the policy objectives, the way we were going forward with the international community and the government was not as coherent as it should have been.

So, there are so many reasons, I believe that that could have been changed, to even include Taliban from the very beginning inside the government and had a different setup, which I don't think matters anymore. Now we're in a different situation, and we have to focus on what we can do from there onwards.

People rush to their homes after Taliban entered Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. /CFP

People rush to their homes after Taliban entered Kabul, Afghanistan, August 15, 2021. /CFP

Liu Xin: Do you think there is an opportunity at least, right now, moving ahead, the Taliban is, not just part of the process, but dominating the process. And different players in the region, understand the importance of letting Afghanistan run its own country, according to its own tradition, instead of trying to impose anything onto Afghanistan.

Javid Ahmad Qaem: I think there is opportunity. Things probably didn't happen the way we were all expecting it, but as in everything, there is a positive side of that. I think, as I said, the option Taliban has is that they bring everyone on board with them in the government. We also have, I agree with you, there are very traditional ways of our own governance that we used to have it for centuries. We could use them, and then we could continue. And they are well-established in our society, we will accept it. This Loya Jirga, we call it, or Grand Council, is one of those things that we do things consultatively altogether.

On the other hand, one of the other things with Taliban is that they really understand with all these 20 years, they have been in the rural area. So, they really understand the mentality there, which is a positive point. Probably they just have to understand a bit more the cities, and the thinking in the cities. And as long as they hear that, and incorporate that into their policies, I'm very hopeful about it.

At this point. I know my people are desperate, there's a lot of fear on the ground, a disappointment as well. But I'm personally hopeful. I think we will go through this as a nation. We have been here for ages and hopefully this time too, we will go through this.

Ashraf Ghani speaks during a consultative grand assembly, known as Loya Jirga, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 7, 2020. /Reuters

Ashraf Ghani speaks during a consultative grand assembly, known as Loya Jirga, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 7, 2020. /Reuters

Liu Xin: What do you say to the comment that, not talk about nation building, but reconstruction after the initial invasion that this was not done in the past 20 years? What is your reaction to that? Reconstruction, building the country back up from the…

Javid Ahmad Qaem: They did that. That I have to give, yes, the international community overall and the Americans were our top partners in that, yes. Money did flow to Afghanistan, flew in there, construction happened, roads were built, buildings were built, that happened. And nobody can deny that.

There are now questions on whether it was efficient, effective or not. That's a different story completely with the corruption issues we had. And then they were blaming on every side, and that's a different issue and definitely, there were issues. But overall, yes, the money was there. Our troops were built, they were trained, as I said, the education level is up. Now millions of people are going to school. We built our schools. Thousands of kilometers of roads are paved. Yes, on that side, we had development.

Liu Xin: What is the lesson coming out of the whole, seems to be a loop that you went through?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: One of the things is we still have this difference between the understanding of our rural population and urban population. We really have to understand both these and put them into our governance style. This was one of the things, we have to do it. The other thing, we really have to adopt some of our own policies, some of our own traditional governance structures that we have to do.

Liu Xin: Like the Loya Jirga?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Loya Jirga is one of them, and there are so many others that we've got. Third, that I can specifically mention is to learn from the region. I've been here in China now at least for a year and a half. China has very good examples of development. They took people out of poverty, at least in last five years, more than a hundred million people. There are very good examples of that, not necessarily that we have to copy it. We just have to see what the basics were, then adapt it to our own culture and society. I think there are things that we did right in the last 20 years that we should do it more. For example, focus on education, focus on girls' education and boys' education. There are things that we didn't do very well in the past 20 years, and we have to rethink about it. The corruption, how to stop that, not to allow it, incorporating our own ideologies, our own traditional things into that. And having probably a more, closer coordination and collaboration with the region. I hope with that, we'll go through this.

Children watch people at a camp for internally displaced people, where new apartment buildings are located, in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 21, 2021. /CFP

Children watch people at a camp for internally displaced people, where new apartment buildings are located, in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 21, 2021. /CFP

Liu Xin: China has just said that it will respect the choice of the Afghan people, whatever happens in Kabul, in Afghanistan, how do you look at China's expression of policy so far?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Historically, and with all our policies, we never had any doubt about the intentions of China. I think China wants a peaceful, stable Afghanistan, that I personally trust them, and our people trust them on that. I think it would be, they're right. We really have to now come up as people and then decide. And whatever the people decide, it's better for everyone to accept it, to go with it.

As I said, the international community shouldn't leave Afghanistan. What was supposed to happen, it happened. From now onwards, Afghanistan has to be part of the international community, and it should be aligned with its regional partners.

Liu Xin: May I ask the last question. What is your plan for the future? Your personal plan?

Javid Ahmad Qaem: At this point of time, I'd like to focus on this humanitarian assistance. As I said, I still represent my people, and I'll do my best to get as much support as I can from the Chinese government and people to my people. The rest, we are civil servants, we're part of the government. What the government decides, and we will implement that.

Liu Xin: Thank you very much. I wish you all the very best.

Javid Ahmad Qaem: Thank you.

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