Salam Watandar had an interview with Rahmatullah Nabil on issues ranging from the peace process, elections and the complicated politics. In this interview, Nabil made startling revelations on many aspects.
Here is the complete translated transcript of the interview.
SW - Thank you for giving us the opportunity to have a chat with you.
Nabil: Thank you very much for paying the visit, welcome!
SW – Let’s begin with the elections, how did you find the presidential polls held on Sep. 28?
Nabil: For the past 40 years, Afghanistan has tried different systems. Eventually, these systems did not work, and after much effort and sacrifice, the Afghan people came to a democratized and partisan democracy, but unfortunately the management of this democracy was marred by serious problems. Elections are one of the principles of democracy when people use their votes, but unfortunately the 2014 elections were marred by problems and the 2018 Wolesi Jirga (lower house) elections also had many problems.
The Sep. 28 elections were a serious test of democracy in Afghanistan, but it had many problems. First, the low level of public participation over many reasons. These include dissatisfaction with the leaders of the National Unity Government and lack of confidence in the conduct of the elections and the functioning of the electoral commissions. Overall, to answer this question, I would say there was widespread organized fraud in the process, and we leave the judgment for the end. We have also seen positive developments so far and we have to wait for other actions.
SW - You mentioned the widespread frauds, who committed these organized frauds in the polls?
Nabil: The rigging at the Sep. 28 polls was very organized. A number of people from provinces were called to Kabul; for example, money was distributed in Maidan Wardak to fill polling boxes in restive areas in favor of a certain team; but this fraud was prevented, but much money was distributed among individuals. Kandahar is another example; a security official was tasked with filling the boxes in favor of a team. The security official contacted us to fill the boxes for us if we wanted (against a payment); we not only refused, but we referred the matter to the Independent Election Complaints Commission.
In some districts of Nangarhar, similar actions took place. High-level officials took part in this fraud, we have handed over the evidence of such matter from several provinces to the electoral commission; for example, after one o'clock, when the turnout declined, the governor distributed ballot papers to two team of monitors to fill the ballot boxes in their favor. We have also submitted evidence of such fraud to the Commission. The fact that the up to 600 ballots were declared invalid by the commission speaks volume of the fraud. The fact that out of 160,000 votes in a province about 40,000 are declared valid, it is a sign of organized fraud.
One of the teams has spent a lot of money to win the elections. According to our information, about $ 170 to $ 175 million have been distributed for this sake among different people.
SW - Who distributed this money and who are the key figures in this so-called ‘massive fraud’?
Nabil: We'll leave that for later. The IECC is currently addressing these issues. The names of people and persons involved in the widespread fraudulent operating process are also easily identified by a survey of people in the provinces. The bankruptcy of Ghazanfar Bank and the release of Haji Rasa (are also signs for it).
SW – Based on this, which team has committed most of the fraud?
Nabil: For example, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s team, according to our information, has spent about $ 175 million on the election campaign. The huge money has been distributed to security commanders, organizers of meetings and fund-raisers. For some, high-level government positions are guaranteed. However, it cannot be said that only this team has cheated.
SW - Where did this $ 175 million come from?
Nabil: In a variety of ways, the state funds were spent, a lot of money from the Code 91 (of the budget) funding transferred from development budget, and the Ghazanfar Bank. According to our information, a large amount of the GB’s money has been withdrawn, and recently the Ministry of Mines has commissioned a delegation to buy a bank-owned oil refinery – which is outdated and built on state-owned property – for a large sum of money so that the GB is compensated.
Remember the case of Haji Rasa? He was detained for embezzlement and theft in procurement of food items for the interior ministry, but when the case went to the prosecution, Rasa was released on bail. A lot of money has been given against this guarantee.
SW - There are reports that the Ghazanfar Bank went bankrupt, is it true?
Nabil: This information is also available to us. Much of the bank's cash has been withdrawn. The bank's contracts have been postponed so they can do their business better. The money was spent on the rallies, so that when they were asked about the large number of votes they said they had a lot of supporters, yes, plenty of money has been spent, which is not deniable.
SW – You mentioned earlier the governor of one of the provinces who campaigned for a particular team, what was the attitude of the security institutions?
Nabil: Governors of Paktia, Kandahar and Helmand were involved. But, we can't say specifically about the security sector. There were problems in Baghlan, and so was Faryab; no specific policies were implemented by security institutions, but individuals were individually involved with teams to cheat.
SW – With this account, was the security sector free from the organized fraud?
Nabil: The security sector was not entirely part of the official cheating strategy, but some individuals ignored it.
SW – Similar to overlooking in 2014 presidential polls?
Nabil: At that time, as a intelligence institution, we informed the President, the Security Council members, and presidential candidates, but the situation was not appropriate to expose the fraud.
SW – The team of Stability and Partnership is also in the government. Did it also played a role in organizing the fraud and how much did it spent to achieve its goals?
Nabil: According to my information, the expenses of Abdullah Abdullah (Stability and Partnership team candidate) are less than that of Ashraf Ghani. But, in the irregularities, a number of people from this team were also involved. When you compare the canceled votes, you see that two-thirds of the votes belonged to one team and the other third to the other.
SW - Does this mean that cheating by Abdullah was less than that of Ghani's team?
Nabil – This is our information.
SW – Did you say in one of your interviews before the elections that if you ran in round two, you would make it to that round too?
Nabil – We said that the fraud was widespread and that, according to our information, the elections would go to the second round. We were a team that didn't have armed men with us, and we couldn't campaign properly. Qaisari joined us in the final days when the government could find no evidence against him and the prosecution decided in his favor.
SW - You know that elections are a complex process, and there are basically three stages: pre-election, election day and post-election. Is the election going to a runoff, and is the commission going well or is the election process in crisis?
Nabil: A number of teams have tried to bring the process to crisis. These teams had prejudices and each declared themselves victorious in advance. They attempted to log non-biometric votes and used every means to achieve this goal. However, the Commission has not backed these efforts so far. It is important to us to what extent the clean and foul votes are separated, and if these votes are properly split, the election will go to a runoff. Bu,t when it will be held, it is up to the Commission to deal with the problems and not to give in to pressure.
SW - What kind of teams are likely to go to the second round?
Nabil: Quickly, the two teams that are involved in the government.
SW – There is information that hackers have attacked the election information center; who has been behind this?
Nabil – The head of the commission said the system has been attacked 60 times and any such an attempt is a crime. Whether or not they succeed is a separate matter, and those who know the system and have been attacked many times know who and were involved in the attack.
SW - About peace efforts, we see a moody policy. The United States sometimes support this process and sometimes tries different channels to start the process again. Don't you worry about that?
Nabil – We are in favor of the peace process, but against their way. Because Afghanistan was left out in the process. Unfortunately, the synchronization of peace talks and elections has created many problems because peace requires a political consensus, but the election divides this consensus. Consensus during elections is very difficult and Afghan politicians have not matured so far and still depend on a number of countries. The president is striving to survive in power, and a number of politicians have insisted on maintaining personal and team achievements. People were kept unaware of this process and are still unaware of the details; this puts the people and the government in a weak position. However, Pakistan was more involved in the process. The United States, the Taliban and Pakistan have planned for this process on a regular basis and the countries of the region have been working for their gains. We hope to have a better position and then move towards building a national political consensus.
Haqqani Network and the assassination plans
Hi: You were a controversial figure in the election and even before that; have you ever been threatened?
Nabil – Not only in the elections, but before that there were threats to us; in one case, a person who was trying to assassinate me was arrested, and his case is now under investigation. I have been most threatened by Pakistan and the Haqqani Network.
SW – What do you fear most about under the prevalent challenges to peace and the elections?
Nabil: If the election aftershocks and the subsequent crisis are not managed well, there will be a great danger to Afghanistan, which will strengthen the Taliban and weaken the Afghan state.
SW – There are reports that the peace process is about to start again. You were not satisfied with the text of the proposed agreement that was supposed to be signed. Now, the Taliban are saying that they will start again bargaining for the same agreement with other concessions, including the release of Anas Haqqani; what do you think about this?
Nabil – As one of the main parties to the conflict and one sacrificing on daily basis is not trusted in these talks, and even the text of the agreement was not shared with the leaders of the government, but the Taliban and Pakistan have been working on the agreement for several months to amend it. Another issue was the future of the Haqqani Network that was never discussed. Mr. Khalilzad admitted that the Taliban would fight the Daesh after the peace deal. Our concern is that the peace agreement recognizes three geographies, three trends and three different laws; the Taliban with the same flag and geography, Daesh with the same flag and geography, and the government with its characteristics. There was no guarantee that terrorists could not use their hideouts in Pakistan.
While we are the victims of terrorism, we have been projected as the biggest exporters of terrorism. There was no mention of a democratic system in the agreement, and they disputed this controversial intra-Afghan dialogue, while knowing full well that there was no national consensus between the Afghan government and the politicians. These concerns existed from the beginning and continue to exist. If the Taliban and the United States reach an agreement, it is not just the issue of the release of Anas Haqqani, but a list of 5,000 Taliban prisoners has been given by the Taliban to the United States for release. In that case, many Taliban would be released, and this is worrying because it is one-sided and it is unclear what Afghanistan will achieve in this deal.
We said during the elections that this process was a part of the democratic system and if it was delayed, what do we get in return, whether there would be ceasefire or not, but no answer were given for these questions.
SW - If the list of Taliban prisoners is handed over to the U.S., would the Afghan government naturally obey?
Nabil – The release of prisoners depends on the future government, whether it is formed out of political compromise or from a transparent elections. At that time the government will be the decision maker. The knowledge that I have of one of the teams is that it would do all sorts of deals if given the guarantee of survival.
SW - The Taliban have not backed down even a single step since the talks began, and even since they began the insurgency, meaning that eventually the current system must be abolished and another system established. Can national consensus be formed against this thinking?
Nabil – We and the Americans had no clear policy, we were leaning forward and we had no clear line. Hamid Karzai had once released Taliban and later wanted them to join peace, but no one came forward. Now, they say, we are freeing 900 Taliban, and tomorrow they say, we have eliminated one and two thousand Taliban; this gives the Taliban a spiritual victory. If we had a clear policy, the Taliban would not be so powerful. It remains to be seen whether we have a government with a clear vote of people, one that will engage the Afghan people in peace talks and bring about a political consensus. The important thing is whether we have anything in common with the Taliban. There is no point now. They want the Emirate, we want democracy. They call us infidels and approve killings of the security forces. For these reasons, the process is very complicated. We need to bring the debate from tactical to strategic point. Our problem is that we never work on a single mechanism, and these mechanisms are always present; for this reason, the villages have always been far from the city. If we deal with the Taliban, then the distance between the village and the city is problematic. We need to find and invest in the pillars of Afghanistan's stability so that every member of the country has a sense of ownership of Afghanistan.
SW – Earlier, there was mentioning of moodiness in the process of peace talks, what is your version of successful peace process?
Nabil – There should be more emphasis on the political consensus and strengthening of the government. The Taliban were able to reach an internal consensus. They communicate with the politicians and visit each other, from Karzai to Ata Mohammad Noor and Younus Qanoni. Relations with the Taliban have now become a competition. The government must first get the tools from the Taliban as soon as possible.
Slap on the face of Ghani and Abdullah
SW - You mentioned the need of national consensus; how can this consensus be reached?
Nabil – This depends on the government. The government could not reach a political consensus. You see, within 500 meters of the presidential citadel there is no consensus, let alone among all politicians. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, Abdullah Abdullah, Hamid Karzai and Salahuddin Rabbani are living in this radius, but they do not have a clear definition of peace. The government must have the capacity to satisfy them.
SW – As you say, the execution of elections is important for the future of Afghanistan. However, how are political interactions between politicians going on and have you been in touch with the teams on the future post-election set-up?
Nabil – Yes, we have contacts. But, our answer is that we should all be responsible for preparing for a possible crisis. The second round of elections will also be debated whether we are joining another team or not.
SW - Going into the second round, is there a strong preference among teams?
Nabil - If the biometric and non-biometric votes are separated and scrutinized, the numbers will drop and the percentages will decline, and it will be difficult to get the minimum of fifty per cent plus one votes if there are no violations. However, the calculations show that the election is going to a runoff.
SW – Given the differences, what is the collective will to face the elections and the electoral crisis?
Nabil – We and our friends in the council of presidential candidates are more concerned about the democracy than the individuals. If the results are announced and if there are no serious problems, we will accept the result. Participation of teams regardless of how many votes they get is not important. But if the electoral process is damaged, in fact the future of democracy and public participation will suffer; the problems in the electoral process so far have already proved to be a severe slap on the ‘two faces’ of the government.