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Abdullah Abdullah on what it will take to achieve peace in Afghanistan

A bombing that killed 14 people in Kabul Thursday targeted the supporters of a political party aligned with Afghan chief executive Abdullah Abdullah. Militant bombings, as well as U.S. and Afghan airstrikes, have driven civilian deaths to a record high, reports P.J. Tobia. Abdullah joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the long battle against extremist groups and the American military commitment.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fourteen people were killed in the capital of Afghanistan today in an attack at a hotel.

    This comes as the United States is in the process of once again stepping up its commitment to helping Afghans improve security.

    P.J. Tobia begins our coverage.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    Smoke billowed overhead in Kabul. The burned-out shell of a car smoldered below.

  • Jan Mohammed:

    Suddenly, the explosion took place here. I saw couple of dead bodies of my friends.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    ISIS, a relatively new combatant on the Afghan battlefield, claimed responsibility for the bombing.

    In the last month alone, the Taliban and ISIS have struck a TV station, Shiite mosques, and an army training facility, all of this 16 years after U.S. troops first arrived.

    Most U.S. and NATO troops departed in 2014, and left behind an Afghan army that's suffered huge causalities from fierce Taliban attacks. The government holds little more than half of the country. The rest is in the grip of the Taliban or contested by the insurgents.

    In August, President Trump announced a new strategy- sending several thousand U.S. troops back to help train Afghan soldiers and fight the Taliban, but with a caveat.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Our commitment is not unlimited, and our support is not a blank check.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    As part of the plan, hundreds of U.S. Marines have returned to Helmand Province, a hotbed of Taliban activity.

    Mr. Trump is the third successive U.S. president to press Pakistan to stop harboring Taliban fighters. He's appealed to Pakistan's traditional enemy, India, for more help.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson drove home that point on a visit to India last month.

  • Rex Tillerson:

    The United States will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with India. Terrorist safe havens will not be tolerated.

  • P.J. Tobia:

    But it comes at a cost. In July, a U.N. report found civilian deaths in Afghanistan had reached a record high, due to militant bombings and increased U.S. and Afghan airstrikes.

    Today's bombing in Kabul targeted supporters of a political party aligned with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. He shares power with President Ashraf Ghani, an uneasy alliance formed after a close 2014 election plagued by accusations of fraud.

    Their relationship is tense. Last year, Abdullah said President Ghani isn't fit to hold office. Afghanistan will choose a new president in 2019.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm P.J. Tobia.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And with me now is Abdullah Abdullah. He's the chief executive of Afghanistan. He is an eye doctor who has been a leading political figure in Afghan politics for decades. He served as that country's foreign minister from 2001 to 2006. And he ran for president in 2009 and 2014.

    Mr. Abdullah, thank you very much for being here.

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    You're welcome.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How secure right now is life for ordinary Afghan citizens?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    Life for millions of Afghans in parts of the country, in major parts of the country, are secure.

    But, at the same time, the nature of the terrorist activities are such that they are hitting ordinary citizens in mosques, in meeting places, in bazaars, in markets. So that's the nature of terrorist activities.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I asked you because some of the analyses we read describe the elite of Afghanistan as being able to afford private security, whereas most Afghanistan citizens of course cannot, and they are the ones who are subject to these terrorist attacks.

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    Yes.

    And, unfortunately, it will not be possible to provide personal security for every and each citizen in the brutal tactics that Taliban and other terrorist groups are using, which is indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and mainly through suicidal attacks, car bombs.

    These are difficult to prevent, though, when you have incidents from one side, then we have other cases where these things have been prevented and they have been discovered and people have been arrested. But out of too many, then one succeeds, and then inflict casualties on civilians.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump, as we know, has announced that — has decided that U.S. troops will stay in your country longer than had been the previous plan.

    How long will they need to stay there? How long will you need U.S. military help?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    First of all, at this stage, if you compare it with a few years ago, when there were over 120,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, now it's around one-tenth of that.

    At the same time, the announcement of the policy, which has a few elements, and the main element is that it is condition-based, not time-bound, and more clarity as far as the nature of the problem, including the presence of sanctuaries in Pakistan, which has been identified as the main problem, which has to be dealt with in its own way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    And then you have the people of Afghanistan and our forces, which have taken most of the responsibility of the fighting on their shoulders.

    To say how long, it's difficult. But I am sure that it is doable. You have a willing partner in the people of Afghanistan.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What will it take to get it done? What it will take to defeat the Taliban?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    The idea and the road map ahead of us would be to exercise and to implement more pressure on Taliban, which, hopefully, it will lead to a situation where elements of Taliban will find it, that it's not possible to win a war through the — through their own tactics, but see other chances through negotiations.

    And to those who are willing to fight until they die, they will be limited forces.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Is there a political strategy on the part of your government to go along with a military strategy?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    Yes.

    The peace process, or the High Peace Council, which has been established in order to keep the door open for negotiations, for talks, and to make outreach — outreaches to the elements of Taliban which might be willing to talk, that is part of the policy that we are pursuing.

    But there was a situation that Taliban were hoping that withdrawal — with the withdrawal of the American troops, they might come back full force. That situation has come to an end today. And we hope that that will lead — that will lead to another conditions where elements of Taliban will join the peace process.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mr. Abdullah, one of the things that President Trump has talked openly about is inviting India to get involved in the development of Afghanistan. Is that something you welcome?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    We do.

    India was — India played a constructive role, a supportive role, has played in the past 15 years. But, as part of the South Asia policy, there is a new energy, and India's helped Afghanistan with billions of dollars of assistances.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But sensitive because of the relationship with Pakistan, no?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    We tried with Pakistan also to establish good relations. But, unfortunately, the main obstacle there has been the presence of the sanctuaries for Taliban and other terrorist groups there.

    That, we have not been able to address it through our past engagements.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we have reported, reminded our viewers, it was just a year ago that you criticized Mr. Ghani, the leader of your country, as being unfit for office.

    Are you still planning to run on the same ticket with Mr. Ghani in 2019 in the next elections, or do you plan to run yourself for president?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    Last time, I didn't run on the same ticket with President Ghani.

    And for the — as far as 2019 is concerned, I think, because of the priorities of the people, because of the challenges that our people are faced with, it's important for myself or President Ghani to focus on the priorities of the people at this stage, and then, when the time comes, decide who is going to run, who is not going to run.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you could — do you still hold the view that he's unfit?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    We are working together in the same government. He's the president of the country. I'm chief executive.

    We both have responsibilities. And we have to carry out our responsibilities in the best way possible.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you're not ruling it out?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    Running for the…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Running for president yourself?

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    I think it's too early to talk about it. I'm sure that it will be breaking news, should I go a little bit further than that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Abdullah Abdullah, who is the chief executive of Afghanistan, thank you very much.

  • Abdullah Abdullah:

    You're welcome.

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