John Bass, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, in an interview with TOLOnews’ Lotfullah Najafizada that aired on Wednesday said that the winner of the Afghan presidential elections will not have a "commanding mandate" with "fewer than a million votes in a country of over 30 million people in which over nine million people are registered to vote." He said it’s not “a signal that a large majority of the people support the winner.”
“I think it would require whoever would win in a first round to approach it with a bit of humility and with an understanding that they will be the next leader but they need to reach out to other political factions, they need to be governing inclusively, they need to be listening to the desires and the fears and the objectives of a wider cross section of society and to govern in a way where people feel they are being heard,” Bass said.
Bass, who is ending a two-year term as the US envoy in Kabul, also spoke about the peace process, saying that the US is not insisting on a nationwide ceasefire with the Taliban at this point.
“It depends on the Taliban. I mean, we are not insisting at this point that that there has to be a nationwide ceasefire before anything can happen,” said Bass.
The ambassador continued: “Obviously, a wide cross section of the Islamic Republic continues to signal that a ceasefire is very important before intra-Afghan negotiations would begin, but we think it’s important that before we would resume our discussions with the Taliban, that they signal, not just to us, but more importantly to their fellow Afghans--who are the people who are dying in this conflict-- that they, the Taliban, are prepared to act differently and to choose a different future course.”
According to Bass, the US is not only seeking a reduction in violence or a ceasefire between the Taliban and US and coalition forces, but also between the Taliban and Afghan forces as well. And he also said that a short term gesture won’t be a solution:
“We are not interested in simply seeing a reduction in violence for a very short period that then is followed by an extended period of violence during negotiations. That doesn’t address the fundamental problem,” he said.
About a potential peace deal with the Taliban, the US envoy said that it was important to recognize the opportunities when they exist, and that the current political situation currently allowing for peace talks won’t necessarily last forever.
“I’m saying that it’s important to recognize opportunities when they exist, and at the moment if you look at how much time the Taliban has taken to think about whether they are going to respond to the overwhelming desire of the Afghan people for less violence and for peace—you know that causes some concern. Do they realize they have an opportunity before them and will they take advantage of that opportunity?” he said.
Bass said that all sides in Doha face some hard choices in the future:
“ I think everyone involved in this negotiation potentially faces some hard choices in the coming period. And the Talibs are having to confront some of those hard choices right now,” he said.
The ambassador spoke frankly about his concerns about corruption being an impediment to Afghanistan’s development. He called out “elites” in Kabul who felt “entitled” to aid money coming in from international organizations and other countries.
“If I look ahead over the next couple of years, what concerns me about Afghanistan--obviously the levels of violence, the complexity of solving the conflict-- but the second thing that concerns me is the number of people in this society, but particularly here in Kabul, who have a sense of entitlement about the flow of financial resources from the international community, from other governments, from taxpayers in democratic societies that will come to Afghanistan. They seem to expect that we will continue to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding regardless of whether it is spent well, regardless of whether it achieves the intended results because we have done so in the past.
He warned that if corruption continues, the international community will lose faith:
“As I said at the conference on international anti-corruption day, you know, if this society—if your government, if the people who claim to be acting in the interest of the Afghan people cannot do a better job of ensuring that the resources from the international community are used for their intended purposes, you will not hear my government and other governments speaking more loudly about this, you are going to hear them saying less because they will lose faith and confidence that resources going to be used well here and they’re going to turn their attention to very compelling problems in other societies,” said Bass.
When asked about his relationship with President Ashraf Ghani, Bass said:
“My relationship with the president, like my relationship with many other people in this society has been respectful, professional, frank, honest—we have tackled some difficult issues together, we have tried to solve problems together. We’ve often started out –as people often do--with some fairly different perspectives about how to try to make some progress- but I have always found him to be open to other arguments and open to sound reasoning and logic. And I think we’ve had a strong partnership throughout this period just as I’ve had a very strong partnership and working relationship with Dr. Abdullah, with many of the current ministers, with many of the former ministers, in dealing with some compelling issues,” said Bass.