Afghan interior minister “ready to open up cabinet position”
The US House of Representatives passed an Afghan aid package May 21 that included an amendment requiring President George W. Bush to present a plan for improved security in the country within 45 days. The House’s action comes as concerns about stability in Afghanistan mount in the run-up to the mid-June Loya Jirga, or grand legislative council. A day before the House passed the aid package, Loya Jirga delegate Mohammed Rahim was slain - just hours after being selected to serve on the council.
Meanwhile, coalition military action in Afghanistan continues. US warplanes attacked a group of people who appeared to be preparing a mortar position near the Pakistani border on May 22, the Associated Press reported. And in a sign that combat operations in Afghanistan are not expected to end soon, US General Tommy R. Franks announced May 21 that he is creating a command, to be headquartered at Bagram air base north of Kabul, to oversee US military action in Afghanistan.
As tensions simmered in Afghanistan, EurasiaNet’s Camelia Entekhabi-Fard spoke with Afghan Interior Minister Yunus Qanooni in Washington. He discussed his plans, expectations and concerns for Afghanistan after the Loya Jirga. The full text of the interview follows.
Q: I have heard that you plan to leave your government post and start organizing a new party called “Nehzat Melli Afghanistan” (National Movement of Afghanistan). Is this true?
Qanooni: It is true that I want to organize a party with that name, but that doesn’t mean I plan to leave government responsibilities. To begin with, we still don’t have a law on political parties in Afghanistan yet. This means all party-like political formations lack legitimacy. The Loya Jirga will solve this problem. “Nehzat Melli Afghanistan” would be one of the first legal parties in Afghanistan. This party will not be geared towards just one group or caste. We would like it to belong to all Afghans.
What do you think about the new shape of the government after Loya Jirga?
The Loya Jirga will determine the leaders of the country, the head of Judiciary and of the Parliament among others. Now, we may have a president or a prime minister or both. I believe Mr. Karzai would be an excellent candidate to take the position of the presidency. He could establish the best possible cordiality between the cabinet members. He is the person whom the people clearly love and respect.
And we, the Tajik ministers, are ready to open up one of our positions in the cabinet. This for the people, and because we believe in unity and alliance between any ethnic group we are ready to open one of the ministry positions.
What dose this mean? Does it mean between you and interim Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and interim Defense Minister General Mohammad Qasim Fahim, one has to leave his post?
That would an agreement amongst us. But we are ready to have the first casualty (laughs) - who is staying and who is leaving. The important fact is that we destroyed the ethnic group form and replaced it with a new format that is called Afghani. Might be some ministries will merge into one larger, more powerful ministry because it is more effective.
Under these circumstances, the defence ministry has an important role to play. Fahim is the best person for this position. He is like a Marshal. In our history this the first time that our government doesn’t have a Prime Minister. That system for our society is useful. Some people are of the opinion that having both a premiership and a presidency could cause rifts in the government. I believe if they are appointed consensually, we could only benefit from this arrangement.
On May 19, the Iranian state radio quoting an unnamed Afghan official, said that the US government has reached an agreement with your government to set up a permanent military base at Islam-Qaleh, close to the Iranian border. Is this true?
Not at all. We have no such request at this time from the US for this kind of base near the Iranain border. For one thing, it seems the Americans do not like to scatter their army all over the place. They prefer to concentrate only in a few places where they are established because of the added security and firepower this provides.
Is it true that Herat is stage for a kind of power-play between Iran and the United States?
Iran has enough experience not to make such an effort. As I told you, The United States is also not interested in this business. We don’t feel or think this.
Mr. Qanooni, during your talks with American officials, did you ask for a stronger military presence for Afghanistan during the Loya Jirga? Did you have any talks about Iran and Pakistan?
Meeting with Mr. Cheney and Ms. Rice was very positive. We talked about deepening our ties of friendship and also about reconstruction and the national army. I didn’t ask for more troops because we have enough people for the job.
We talked about Pakistan and our anxiety during the Loya Jirga. In Pakistan there are two kinds of views. Pervez Musharraf is trying to effect some changes there.