On the 11th of October, the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS) hosted a public conversation between H.E. Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi, the acting Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, and Professor Sultan Barakat, the Founding Director of CHS. The critical timing of the event comes at a moment of gridlock in communication between Afghanistan and the rest of the world – a reality which has potentially devastating humanitarian consequences.

A central pillar of the vision and mission of CHS is to serve as a convening platform to build bridges and facilitate dialogue between all concerned parties in conflict-affected societies. To this end, the public event brought together a range of academics, diplomats, students, journalists, and other interested individuals, providing an opportunity for the live audience to enter into a dialogue with one of the most senior officials in the interim Taliban-led government.

Following a brief introduction to the event, H.E. Muttaqi delivered a public address to the live audience, which was simultaneously broadcast on CHS’ social media platforms and by various news agencies. In his address, Muttaqi touched upon the US withdrawal, the subsequent power vacuum and fleeing of former President Ashraf Ghani and the rising instability in Kabul which called for the Taliban to enter and restore security.

He further drew attention to the Taliban’s positive engagement with the international community which he related to the political independence and sovereignty that Kabul now enjoys, following its positive talks with U.S. representatives in Doha last year. Speaking about the optimism of building new relationships with the international community, Muttaqi said “we will be able to stop insecurity and at the same time we will be able to engage positively with the world."

"We want positive relationships with the whole world. We believe in balanced international relations. We believe such a balanced relationship can save Afghanistan from instability," Muttaqi added.

H.E. then highlighted the advantages that Afghanistan holds with regards to its geographical location. This geographical location which can be utilised for the benefit of the region and international community. In doing so, an economic revolution in Afghanistan would take place that would bring prosperity to a country ravaged by 45 years of war.

Lastly, the Foreign Minister made sure to highlight that Kabul does not wish to enter into or instigate any conflicts, putting an end to this cycle of conflict. From his remarks, it was made clear that Afghans, including the Taliban, have an insatiable appetite for peace. A peace that would see skilled Afghans remain in the Afghanistan rather than seek economic migration to Europe, involuntarily causing detrimental effects to Afghanistan.

After the public address, H.E. Muttaqi engaged in an extended conversation with Professor Barakat. In this engagement, multiple points were transparently laid out on the table. These topics included: the current state of political diversity and inclusivity in government and future prospects; the inclusion of women as civil servants; the $9 billion of frozen assets and collapsing banking system, and its relation to the restoration of peace and security; the rising threat of terrorism, particularly from ISIS; the closure of schools despite girls’ education being an Islamic duty; and lastly, the geographical advantage of Afghanistan and the regional role that Kabul wishes to play.

Using a derogatory term for the radical Sunni group, he added that international pressure on the Taliban-led interim government was feeding into Daesh’s morale. Seeking recognition for their fight against the terrorist group, he said “the Daesh issue has been controlled by the Islamic Emirate very well so far” and that “instead of pressure the world should cooperate with us.”

Speaking about the literacy rate amongst Afghan girls, Muttaqi highlighted that the international community “had a lot of financial resources and they had a strong international backing and support but at the same time you are asking us to do all the reforms in two months?”

In a question and answer session with a live audience, questions were raised on topics comprising of: Kabul’s relationship with Iran and its Shi’a minority; the adoption of the constitution; how long Afghanistan can continue functioning in light of its financial situation and frozen assets; the Taliban’s positive interactions and optimistic signs for international cooperation; the fleeing of Afghans and their safe return; the critical humanitarian and security challenges faced by Afghans and what the Taliban’s long-term economic vision is; the Taliban’s policy towards the advancement and protection of Afghan women; and finally, the chokehold that the narcotics trade has on Afghanistan, and what the Taliban have done and continued to do so to curb this grip.

In response to the narcotics trade, Muttaqi said “we do not want the opium poppy crop to be trafficked from Afghanistan to the world” continuing to say “the world wants everything from Afghans but do not give anything in return.”

Constructively, the event allowed for dialogue and cross-fertilisation of ideas between a leading Taliban figure and an international audience committed to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. Whilst a range of viewpoints were presented, some key shared messages and points of common understanding emerged from the discussions.

The conversation is available to watch in Pashto on our Twitter page and in English on our YouTube page, and will soon be uploaded onto our website alongside a report of the event.