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Afghan National Security Advisor Talks Future Of The Country


In Afghanistan, an uncertain metamorphosis is underway. The withdrawal of U.S. forces is nearly complete, more than a month ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, the Taliban is toppling district after district. People caught up in the violence are flooding into the capital, Kabul. That city and others now resemble islands cut off from one another by land under Taliban control. As one Afghan journalist told NPR this week, the new front line is everywhere. All that's the backdrop as senior Afghan government officials prepare to meet with Taliban leaders this week, another effort to jump-start long-stalled peace talks. Well, on the line now from Kabul is Afghanistan's national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib.

Mr. Mohib, welcome.

HAMDULLAH MOHIB: Thank you, Ms. Kelly.

KELLY: So the Taliban has now captured, it looks like, a third and counting of your country's provincial districts. As President Ghani's top security adviser, how worried are you?

MOHIB: Well, the Taliban have taken places they had previously had surrounded, so districts that they - that collapsed. So the areas that the Taliban took are not a surprise, it's just that we wish we were able to defend them better. But...

KELLY: They've now taken key border-crossing areas, and there are signs that they're beginning a campaign for some of the provincial cities.

MOHIB: They are fighting for cities. The border crossings are a surprise to us because that's not what we were expecting. But once the collapse of certain districts took place, the propaganda war that the Taliban had launched had its impact. So I think it hurt the morale of some troops. So they are - they have been attacking several cities, but without making much progress because the resistance is hard.

KELLY: You mention morale. Why are some Afghan forces surrendering?

MOHIB: When the U.S. troops withdrew, there's a huge propaganda by the Taliban where they try to infiltrate some of Afghan security forces ranks and try to convince them that they had made some kind of a deal with the Americans that they will take over. And that worked for a while. And some of these places where they took those swaths of lands was largely by this trick where they tried to convince those that were fighting in these remote outposts that they are fighting for no reason as the Americans...

KELLY: This is the propaganda you're talking about, this misinformation?

MOHIB: It was a huge misinformation campaign, correct.

KELLY: Is there a plan to stop the Taliban advance?

MOHIB: Absolutely. And in many ways, their fast progress has been stopped, and we're trying to defend the areas that they are attacking right now. But there is an upcoming meeting that we hope will be utilized to make progress on the negotiating table.

KELLY: And I want to get to the diplomatic talks in a moment, but I do want to press you on whether the Taliban has swept through districts faster than you were expecting. You don't sound worried. And that is a very different tone than we're hearing from military and diplomatic and political officials here in Washington.

MOHIB: Well, we were surprised by the speed of some of these districts, but we also understand that the security forces tried to do what they could. And in some instances where this misinformation or disinformation campaign was launched, the soldiers were misled. But having spoken to some of those who did abandon their posts, have come back and are even more determined now to go back to take their districts back.

Also, the people in those districts are not happy with the Taliban's arrival in some places. Governance is not as easy as taking a place and forcing people into submission. It's not the Afghanistan they knew 20 years ago. These people have expectations. And the Taliban are failing them as we speak.

KELLY: I was at the Pentagon yesterday and interviewing Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby. I asked him, will the government fall? And he said it's not inevitable. Nobody here at the Pentagon thinks that is inevitable. It was not a ringing endorsement of the stability of your government. You will also have seen reports that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded your government could collapse within six months when the U.S. has fully withdrawn. Are these U.S. assessments wrong?

MOHIB: Well, every country does its own assessment based on the information that's available to them.

KELLY: Well, I'll put to you directly - will Kabul hold? Will your government hold when the U.S. is out?

MOHIB: Yes. We are resolute in our quest for bringing stability to Afghanistan. The Afghan people will not submit to the rule of the Taliban.

KELLY: We mentioned the peace talks scheduled for this weekend. Senior leaders, senior members of your government, are headed to Doha. The Taliban will be there. There are talks scheduled. There have been a lot of talks. There's not been a lot of progress. What are you hoping for out of this round of meetings?

MOHIB: Well, we think the Taliban have not been sincere in negotiating. They seem to believe more in a military solution than they - than negotiated settlement. During this discussion, this upcoming discussion, there are some senior leaders going from Afghanistan from inside and outside the government, and they are - they wish to have a serious discussion on the future of Afghanistan.

KELLY: And are you seeing any sign that the Taliban is inclined to be more sincere, to use your word, that the Taliban is prepared to negotiate in good faith?

MOHIB: We don't know that yet. We are not entirely confident that the Taliban wish to negotiate in earnest. But we hope they would because that would get us to peace sooner. And that's the quickest way to reach a settlement which will lead to stability in Afghanistan. But if they wish to continue to fight, I think the Afghan people are not willing to surrender.

And also, these uprisings against the Taliban in villages, in places where the Taliban have tried to control, is an important sign that the Taliban should read. And if they are listening to me, my advice to them would be take negotiations, peace negotiations, seriously. Do not anger the Afghan people any further. Stop destroying Afghan property and infrastructure. This is not going to go down well for the Taliban.

KELLY: That is Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan's national security adviser.

Mr. Mohib, thank you very much for taking the time.

MOHIB: Thank you, Ms. Kelly. It's been nice talking with you.