Tuesday, March 30, 2004

ZAHIR SHAH INTERVIEW: Afghanistan's former king Mohammad Zahir Shah still remains a father-figure to many Afghans, especially the ethnic Pashtuns. During the jihad against the Soviets, many of the mujahedin neglected by the Pakistani intelligence service ISI were royalist Pashtun from the Durrani tribe who swore allegiance to Zahir Shah. Since the ISI was selectively chosing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, from the rival Ghilzai tribe, as their main client, they started to look build relationships with people in Washington or Riyadh.

All of this is irrelevant to what I'm trying to say. Which is that Zahir Shah gave an interview to the Indian magazine India Today.

Q. Throughout history many great powers have got embroiled in Afghanistan's affairs. Now it is the turn of the US. What is your advice based on the wisdom of history?

A. I usually do not permit myself to voice an opinion on these matters as they are the policies of the Afghanistan Government. All I can say is that taking Afghanistan is very easy, controlling Afghanistan is very hard. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to win the friendship of the Afghan people so that cooperation is based on the protection of mutual interests and the country.

Q. Why has Afghanistan been subjected to such turbulent events?

A. Afghanistan's geographical position has a lot to do with the tumultuous events that have taken place in the past 100 years. It lies in the heart of Asia and at the crossroads of many countries. The incidents that took place are also an extension of Afghanistan's determination to stay independent, to have the right to self-determination, to defend its territory, way of life and culture.

Q. But in recent years religious extremism has taken root and caused enormous strife. Why?

A. I must explain to you that by nature Afghanistan is not a fundamentalist country. Afghanistan practises the holy religion of Islam. The majority of Afghans are very pious Muslims. But we must separate Islam from those who practise extremism, which is a new phenomenon to Afghanistan. It was unknown in Afghanistan before and it has been imported from elsewhere.

Q. Do you think there will be unity now?

A. I would like to assure you that unity exists in Afghanistan already and I am optimistic that it will be strengthened and nurtured. We have to work hard to solidify and maintain that unity. Of course, some responsibility also rests on our neighbours-they must help us in the unity of our country, which means non-interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan.

Q. What is your advice on how Afghanistan should conduct itself?

A. I think it should follow the policy of what we call baitarifa-it means not taking sides, being independent and neutral. Today we have to follow a policy of moderation, of respect for our neighbours and the international community. Afghanistan will get its rightful place once again in the comity of nations.

Q. How do you view India's role?

A. India can help us in many ways-in trade and by giving us the technological know-how to help us progress in the world of science and engineering. I count on India being a friend, having a close relationship with us and strengthening the ties that have traditionally existed between our people.
No matter what your opinion is of Zahir Shah, one cannot deny his wisdom as shown above.

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