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Afghan Adviser Has Reservations About U.S. Peace Talks With Taliban


When you talk with Afghan officials about what they think of the United States, you sometimes have to read between the lines. Their country has benefited from hundreds of billions of dollars in American aid. Even though both sides will say Afghanistan's future is up to Afghans, the U.S. has always held far more control. So when you talk with an Afghan official like Ahmad Nader Nadery, an adviser to Afghanistan's president, the first thing he'll say is this.

AHMAD NADER NADERY: We hold to the highest respect victims of terrorist violence, including the 9/11 and also to pay our tribute to the ultimate sacrifices over 2,000 American soldiers have given to bring peace and stability and fight terrorism in Afghanistan.

MARTIN: At the same time, Nadery has real reservations about U.S. peace talks with the Taliban. The U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrapped up negotiations with the Taliban last week, and the Afghan government played no part. I asked Nadery if that undercuts the legitimacy of a potential peace deal.

NADERY: The ultimate goal has always been to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan. And I think we are on the right path. The talks needed to be first carried out and facilitated. Then, the ice needed to be broken. It is not the desired situation, of course. Our...

MARTIN: You would have preferred to be at the table.

NADERY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: What is your understanding of the progress?

NADERY: Well, at this stage, what is being negotiated and - as we are briefed about is first on the definition of terrorism and the Taliban to accept that they would denounce al-Qaida and ISIS and other terrorist groups. And second is discussion about how troops would withdraw. As part of the process, there are, of course, difference of opinion sometimes. However, those difference of opinion shall not and will not distract both of us - our foundational partner the United States and our government - to be distracted from the ultimate goal of this process, which is ending this long-lasting war.

MARTIN: A Taliban official who spoke to The Associated Press said that the main sticking point in the negotiations is when U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan. What is the government's position on when that should happen or if that should happen?

NADERY: Well, with the kind of region we live in and the global threats that exist in that region, the presence of ISIS would require, for some time, both the counterterrorism abilities and forces but also training and advice would be required for a time until we become a normal country after the peace process. And therefore...

MARTIN: So you'd like U.S. troops to remain in the country to do those things.

NADERY: We would. We would like to see, if possible, a residual number of forces to be present. We'd need to see guarantees from Taliban, a force that could never be trusted, including their supporters from Pakistan. And therefore, guarantees and monitoring mechanisms are required. And an immediate, complete withdrawal will take the leverage from the Afghan government and our partners, both the NATO allies and United States, to enforce elements of the agreement on Taliban and their Pakistani supporters.

MARTIN: You talk about the need for the Taliban to denounce all elements of al-Qaida that may be remaining, all members of ISIS and related groups. Does that include the Haqqani network, which has long been a violent force in Afghanistan that has originated in Pakistan?

NADERY: The head of Haqqani network is currently the deputy to the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Haibatullah.

MARTIN: That would be a big ask, then, if the No. 2 in the Taliban right now is the leader of the Haqqani network.

NADERY: That is a big ask. But what is at stake is big, also, for Taliban to not be considered anymore a terrorist group themself and to be able and allowed to come and join a peaceful life.

MARTIN: Does the Taliban have any incentive to do that?

NADERY: So far, they show a willingness to discuss and talk with the United States and also, then, with the Afghan government - the first stage with the United States. We, as the Afghans, do not close that door. President Ghani, first day in office, called for peace discussions - say that window is open and I would not have a condition for talks. But the talks will be condition itself while we are leaving all doors open. And I hope that they will choose the peaceful path. And choosing the peaceful path requires all sides to pay certain prices.

MARTIN: As someone who has worked for so many years to promote human rights in Afghanistan, do you feel this in your gut? Are you optimistic that this peace can hold?

NADERY: I yet do not trust the promises the Taliban make. I'm worried about my little girls, two of them, and their future. But also, I'm optimist about the fact that Afghanistan is a different country.

MARTIN: You think Afghanistan is a place where your two daughters can have a happy, successful life.

NADERY: As a nation who have suffered for a large number of years, our country and our people deserve peace and stability and to move on. However, this is the time that we make a commitment that we would fight for the rights of our people, including the right of my two little girls. And that's why my focus is to make sure that the peace process is not rushed; we take enough time to develop the details of a peace agreement that ensures and guarantees the freedom that I want for my daughters.

MARTIN: Ahmad Nader Nadery - he is a senior adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan's civil service commission.

Thank you so much for your time.

NADERY: Thank you very much, Rachel, for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAX STAG'S "SSON") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.