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DW talks to Abdullah

Interview: Dieter HerrmannJune 13, 2014

As Afghans went to the polls, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah told DW he hopes the international community will continue to help strengthen the country's security institutions after the drawdown.

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah shows his inked finge in a polling center in Kabul, Afghanistan on April 5, 2014.
Image: picture alliance/landov

Afghanistan held a run-off presidential poll on Saturday (14.06.2014) after none of the eight candidates in the April 5 election garnered more than 50 percent of the votes required to win outright majority. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who led the first round with 45 percent of the votes faced his immediate rival, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who trailed with 31 percent. The election, whose results are set to be announced in early July, will mark the first democratic transition of power in the war-torn country's history. The vote comes as international troops are set to drawdown over the coming months.

In a DW interview, Abdullah pledged that, if elected, the rule of law will be strengthened in the South Asian country. The former foreign minister also said he will protect women's rights and seize the opportunity to improve ties with Afghanistan's neighbors, especially Pakistan.

DW: Hamid Karzai has been Afghanistan's president for many years. Some people admire him for his way of governance, while others don't. How different would you be as Afghanistan'shead of state if you get elected?

Abdullah Abdullah:There was a golden opportunity for President Karzai and the people of Afghanistan in the past decade. Whether Karzai was able to make use of it is questionable. We have a vision for this country which will not change. We believe in a sense of direction and responsibility.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures as he attends the opening ceremony of a private media company in Kabul on January 21, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
Abdullah says Afghanistan achieved a lot under Karzai, but things "could have been much better"Image: Johannes Eisele/AFP/Getty Images

Afghanistan achieved a lot under President Karzai's leadership, but things could have been much better. In the past thirteen years, Karzai had the overwhelming support of the Afghan people for the democratic process, and he also had immense international backing.

Only a part of foreign backing will be there for the next government. But the good thing for Karzai's successor is that he will be democratically elected by the majority of Afghans. We know the 2009 presidential vote was not fair, and that definitely had an impact on the incumbent president's final tenure.

We also want to put Afghanistan's relations with its friends on the right track. We should have good ties with our neighbors and the international community at the same time.

The international community, particularly the US, has been pumping money into Afghanistan for many years. Do you think Afghanistan will be able to survive without foreign aid in the coming years?

It won't happen on August 2 when the new president takes the oath of office - it will take some time. Afghanistan has the potential and resources to be self-reliant and self-sufficient. We need to prioritize our economic and development needs and create conducive environment for investment. We also need to fight against corruption. These measures will help reduce our dependence on foreign aid.

Right now, the most important issue in Afghanistan appears to be the peace process. If you get elected, would you negotiate with the Taliban insurgents?

We will keep the door open for talks. However, to reach an agreement you need the other side's response too. We will make serious efforts to engage in a dialogue with the Taliban. Hopefully, their response will be positive, too, and they will see it as an opportunity to work with the new government and not question its legitimacy. At this stage, all I can say is that the Afghan people have a great desire for peace and stability and the new leadership will pursue it.

How would you try to solve problems with Pakistan?

There is a new elected government in Islamabad, which has already expressed its desire to improve bilateral ties. Afghanistan will soon have a new government, too, and both countries should seize this opportunity. It is in the interest of both neighboring countries to deal with common challenges through increased cooperation.

Will the situation of Afghan women improve under your leadership?

We are lagging behind in this area. Afghanistan has not achieved what it should have in terms of women's rights. But if you look at the first round of the Afghan elections on April 5, over 30 percent of women came out to vote. This shows that women are more aware of their rights than before. The Afghan society and state should carry this forward.

Taliban militants attend a surrender ceremony in Nangarhar province, eastern Afghanistan on June 18, 2013.
"We will make serious efforts to engage in a dialogue with the Taliban," says AbdullahImage: imago stock&people

The next administration should formulate short-term and long-term programs to alleviate the status of women. It is important that the problems our women are facing are dealt with. We need it for the stability and economic development.

Is the Afghan national army strong enough to secure the country once the international troops pull out?

We hope the international community will continue to help us in strengthening our security institutions even after the drawdown of international troops. I also think the legitimacy of the new government will also give confidence to the Afghan army. The rule of law will be strengthened in the due course. We hope that we will continue to move towards self-reliance. We are not there yet, but we will be.