Mr. Mohammad Taqi Khalili
Ambassador of Afghanistan to Azerbaijan
Q.: Please tell us a little about current diplomatic and political relationship between Afghanistan and Azerbaijan? What are the most important areas of collaboration between Azerbaijan and Afghanistan at this time?
A.: In our cordial relationship, in our mutual understanding of the importance of sovereignty in the face of aggression, in the seeds of hope and security we have planted in the region, for the region and with the support of the region, we have walked an uphill journey on a road set with obstacles, and although the road was not an easy ascent, it is one we have made together, and together we have reached a new height. This height has, in turn, offered us a new vision of who we are and what we can accomplish through our relationship, which has as a foundational value the conviction that only through promoting peace – peace in Nagorno-Karabakh and peace in Afghanistan – can our economies, politics, and citizens truly flourish. Our joint military strategies for the region revolve around this idea and move towards this idea as our ultimate end. This accomplishment is not only our own but that of the team of Azerbaijani and Afghan diplomats, people with whom I’ve had the honor of working for years.
Q.: You have had a very distinguished political and diplomatic career. You served in the Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the United Nations in Geneva and the Afghanistan Embassy to the United States in Washington, DC. You were Deputy Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations in New York, and you also served as one of the Principal Campaign Managers to former President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 presidential election. Tell us a little about how these experiences influence your work as an Ambassador to Azerbaijan.
A.: The most important link that binds these four experiences is the fall of the Taliban. It left destruction in its wake – an education system left in tatters – a security situation looming on the horizon, now pervasive throughout the country – a political system in labor pains that gave birth to a democracy that opposed and sought to make amends for the violence and deceit of the government that reigned before it. My time at the Afghan Embassy to the US, the Afghan Mission to the United Nations, as well as campaigning for President Karzai all reflected that fight for and the birth of a new Afghanistan. It is, and was –in a word— a fight for peace– a peace that, despite being assured, still demands the greatest efforts and collaboration in these early stages of Afghanistan’s new life.
Q.: What do you see as the most important issue facing the region at this time? How does your work at the Afghanistan Embassy in Azerbaijan support this issue?
A.: The trials that have plagued the region revolve, of course, around the theme of terrorism. We are conscious of this and, as such, are working closely with the Azerbaijani government. Last July, for example, an agreement on military assistance and cooperation was signed between Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Within this agreement, Azerbaijan has supplied Afghanistan with significant military assistance, effectively and essentially supporting our collective campaign to combat regional terrorist groups. This bilateralism between our two governments has been key to strengthening security in the region.
Q.: There has been a recent uptick in the violence in Afghanistan with a surge in fighting against the Taliban. What do you believe needs to happen in order to put an end to the conflict? What role, if any, does the international community have in these efforts?
A.: I believe the international community would agree that, despite what may have been thought before, the root of terrorism is not within the Afghan border, but rather, it is a pervasive regional issue that all surrounding countries ultimately take responsibility for. We have been working closely with and advocating for peace negotiations between the Afghan government and groups that are still opposing peace agreements. Recently, a peace agreement was signed between the Afghan government and the Hezbe Islamic Party, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatiyar. We hope that this agreement, among others currently in the works, will encourage armed Afghan oppositionists to put an end to their hostilities and participate in the peace process.
Q.: Has the 15-year presence of the United States military — as well as billions of dollars in reconstruction and aid — had a positive effect on the country? Is Afghanistan in a better place now than in 2001?
A.: Yes, I do believe that Afghanistan is in a much better position than we were in 2001. With continued support from the international community, including the US, we have made significant advancements across social, political, and economic platforms. Women are serving as police officers and pilots in the military. Student enrollment in schools and universities is at an all-time high. Security forces are much more prepared to defend our country from terrorist groups. Agricultural exports have increased, paving the way for more jobs and economic growth. Above all, freedom of speech is the cherished right of every Afghan citizen.
Q.: This November 2016 the United States of America elected Donald Trump to become its next President. What are your thoughts on this election? How do you think the relationship between the US and Afghanistan will change with the new administration?
A.: The election of Donald Trump, it is at once unprecedented and unanticipated in the entire history of American politics. From our viewpoint, we, the Afghan people, have cherished our policy of non-interference towards other countries’ internal affairs. We respect American choice. It is the liberty that makes the US unique and has defined it from its genesis. We are ready to work closely with the new leadership and administration in the US. Undoubtedly, our relationship is full of hope and potential, a potential I hope we can fulfill by working together.
Q.: How do you believe the Azerbaijan and Afghanistan can further develop bilateral economic and trade relations?
A.: I believe that in order to expand trade and economic relations, we must first develop the legal framework to do so. One of these agreements, the Lapis Lazuli, 4th technical meeting hosted by the Azerbaijani government in Baku, represented a meeting of the region: Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, and Turkey. A consensus was met between all members, and we are expecting a signing ceremony to be held in Kabul very soon. This agreement, in turn, will be a milestone for the regional economy. Additionally, we have finalized a draft agreement recently on economic and trade cooperation between our two countries, and it will be signed in early 2017. This agreement will become the cornerstone of our future economic and trade ties.
Q.: You have lived in Azerbaijan for 2 years and have had time to get to know our country and our people. What would you say are the biggest cultural differences between Azerbaijan and Afghanistan? What are the similarities?
A.: When discussing the cultural similarities and differences between two nations, we must first take into consideration the geographical positions of each country. Where Afghanistan sits as a landlocked country, the entire Eastern border of Azerbaijan is made up of the Caspian Sea. This geographical difference alone creates different cultural aspects in both countries. Having said that, compared to Afghanistan, one cannot deny the hints of western influence that are absorbed when walking through the streets in Baku. Azerbaijan is truly the “European Charm of the Orient.” Given the cross-cultural relations the two countries share– history, religion, language – the cultural similarities are countless.
Q.: What has most impressed you about the culture and history of Azerbaijan? What makes this country unique from the other places you have worked?
A.: In one word: tolerance. Article 48 in Azerbaijan’s constitution ensures the liberty of worship, to choose any faith, or to not practice any religion, and to express one’s views on religion. Azerbaijanis with differing religious backgrounds coexist peacefully. They do not fan the flames of antagonism, which unfortunately have taken thousands of lives and caused many forced migrations in the region.
Q.: What has defined you as a person throughout your career?
A.: I have sought justice. I have never shied away from the daunting obstacles that lie before us, from the dreams that drive us, nor from the opportunities that lie before us – “us” – together, a unified Afghan people spurred on by the common dream of peace. This pursuit has required sacrifice. It has required stamina. It has required me to, as Emerson once noted in a wonderful moment of insight, “be myself in a world that is constantly trying to make me something else” – this, Emerson says, is our greatest accomplishment, and it is, I believe, the one that has defined my career, the one that hints at things to come.