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Interview

Afghan president wants direct talks with Taliban, if reelected

Ghani says Pakistan holds key and needs 'to be constructive' toward peace process

Afghanistan's president Ashraf Ghani speaks in an interview with the Nikkei Asian Review in Tokyo on Oct. 22. (Photo by Shihoko Nakaoka)

TOKYO -- Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani wants to start peace talks with the Taliban as soon as the recent presidential election result is clear, he told the Nikkei Asian Review in an interview in Tokyo.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month abruptly broke off negotiations with the militant group. 

"If I'm [re-]elected president, then this will start in week one to restart the process."

The result of the September presidential election has not yet been announced. Ghani, the incumbent president since 2014, said that the election was effectively managed and would ensure that "the results are accepted by all contenders."

Ghani said that Taliban could be incorporated into the country as a political party. Within the current constitution, the "Taliban need to live, wake up, and understand that the majority of Afghan people will embrace them if they denounce violence," he said.

The president also said that peace with the Taliban needs to ensure security for the Afghan population. This requires clear evidence that the Taliban is not linked to international terrorist groups, he said, as well as an end to violence, involvement in the drug trade and separate relations with the neighboring Pakistan.

Ghani acknowledged the difficulty. "The Taliban are different [from] any other armed group" in that "their power derives in violence" and they are not willing to participate in elections. He also added the role of Pakistan would be key, saying that "Pakistan would need to become constructive and support the peace process."

Trump seeks to withdraw forces from Afghanistan, and has been reducing the number of troops in the country. "The question is not the presence or absence," Ghani said. "The question is the type of support that we will be able to maintain our [Afghan] security forces."

"We all want the reduction of expenses and more efficiency, and we are prepared for it," he added.

However, he also emphasized the importance of Afghanistan for international security and for U.S. domestic security in terms of counterterrorism following his recent meeting with U.S. defense secretary Mark Esper in Kabul.

Ghani claimed that the peace process and the country's diplomacy should not be confused. Peace should be directed by the people of Afghanistan, he said, while the U.S.-Afghan relationship is based on mutual interests. "So the level of American forces does not depend on Taliban accepting that. It is we who can reduce it," he said.

On top of achieving the long sought peace, Ghani said reducing poverty will continue to be the country's main goal if he remains in office. His economic agenda includes water dam infrastructure, agriculture reforms, seeking investment in the country's resources and urban infrastructure. Afghanistan is rich in lithium, which is used for electric vehicles and smartphones. Ghani expressed interest in engaging with Japan as the "center of the car industry and development."

As for China's Belt and Road Initiative, Ghani said that Afghanistan is not part of it but "we are complementary to it."

"What is important is for Asia to be connected," he said, highlighting the importance of transporting resources from Central Asia to South Asia. He added that "there must be many complementary initiatives," and called for more involvement from the Japanese private and public sectors.

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