When the Taliban government was formed, India provided humanitarian aid and assistance, which is exemplary, said Mullah Yaqoob. Mullah Yaqoob, who is the son of Taliban founder Mullah Omar, expresses his wish to have close and cordial relations with India, while refuting charges of other countries regarding oppression of Afghan women under the Islamic Emirate

The Afghan situation remains fragile and fluid, much to India’s vexation, as it is keen to help rebuild the war-ravaged country with which it has had deep historical and cultural ties. Mullah Yaqoob, the Islamic Emirate’s powerful defence minister and son of Taliban founder and late supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, has been pursuing the onerous responsibility of securing the country that is facing a slew of challenges on multiple fronts.

In a global exclusive interview with CNN-News18, he underscores the regime’s keenness to have cordial relations with India, maintains that despite some concerns ties with Pakistan remain good, vows that his country’s soil will not be used by terror groups to attack other nations, and also denies charges of persecution of Afghan women while criticising other countries for imposing bans on certain attire and religious features. Edited excerpts:

Excellency, you are the son of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the founding father of the Taliban. And this is your first TV interview to any channel in the world. What are your memories of your father and when did you last see him?

Our late father, Amir ul Momin, Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahid, is remembered by me and many more friends as a caring father. I must say this to you, which is concerned with India…When an Indian flight was hijacked during our past government and was taken to Emirate, Pakistan and other places but was not allowed to stay in the area…Our beloved and late father took it upon himself considering the humanity, and desirous of relations with India, allowed the plane to land here and oversaw the safe return of all persons whom we saved from death. So, on this basis, I want that India should have cordial relations with us. The people of India should know that the Islamic Emirate is an independent country and any actions on behalf of the Islamic Emirate is a farce and not true. The Islamic Emirate is ready to form relations with India in all spheres. This specific gesture is among the other incidents which are available with me that are particularly concerned with India.

India, as you know, had a close relationship with Afghanistan. As the defence minister, and also in your personal view, what are your expectations of future relations between the two countries?

We want cordial relations with all countries of the world, especially the neighbouring countries including India. We want good and cordial relations with India and we hope that India would reciprocate and maintain good relations in many aspects with us. We, Inshallah, will have cordial relations with all these countries. India is known as one of the best countries that maintains amicable relations. Afghans make friends with India and their friendship is cordial, based on trust and honesty.

What are your views on bilateral and diplomatic relations with India?

I am positive about this aspect and we always want to have these relations with India. This is the policy of the Islamic Emirate, to have cordial and neutral relations with all countries. Similarly, we want to have amicable ties with India and there is no problem. My view is that we should have cordial relations with India. We welcome India by keeping our doors open for them. We hope that India will also take initiatives and strengthen the relationship with us.

What are your expectations of humanitarian and structural support?

We have great expectations as India has provided much assistance in the past to Afghanistan. When our government was formed, India also provided humanitarian aid and assisted us, which is exemplary. We appreciate and convey our gratitude for the support provided by India and we hope that India will continue its assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

Would you wish to have close defence ties with India?

Yes, we want such a relationship with all countries and also want this relationship with India. But, before the beginning of defence relations, the first requisite is to have good diplomatic relations and take it forward. When we will together have cordial political and diplomatic relations, then only we would be ready for defence relations. Neither there will be any problem with it nor do we see any issue with it.

Can you tell us what steps you have taken to integrate the army personnel from the previous government with the current Afghan army?

We have taken many steps in this regard. I have taken many measures for it. In the defence ministry, almost all previous personnel are working who stayed back in the country. We have also facilitated and given due regard to those who left the country, for example, fighter pilots and engineers, etc. We are positive and making efforts to utilise work from all previous men and welcome them.

For many years, Afghan army officers have been trained in India. Would you be willing to send your officers to India again if given a chance?

Yes, we don’t see any issue with it. Afghan-India relations get strengthened and set the ground for this. There will be no issues with it.

Several Afghan officers from the previous government having trained in the Indian Military Academy are still in India. Would you be open to their integration into your army if they return?

We have taken many steps in this regard and have called upon, invited and requested all those Afghans who went to foreign countries. Many of them returned and are working here with their duties. Those men who remained here, we are aware of this and call upon them to return. It is Afghan tradition not to desert anyone and we are pledged to this.

How would you assess the morale of the Afghan army under the Islamic Emirate?

I consider that our army is amongst the largest in the world and in these past 20 years there has been no let down of their morale and valour on the challenges faced at the border, which you have seen, and we have come across. Inshallah, they still continue to defend their country with valour. This can also be said that the morale of our forces is the highest among the forces of the world.

Can you share with us the current status of the border dispute with Pakistan, in particular the Durand Line? And what are your views on India reopening its embassy in Kabul and what security guarantees are you willing to give?

Our relations with Pakistan on the Durand Line and on a regional basis are political in nature. Inshallah, our relations are good and there are no major issues between us. On the issue of boundaries, I would mention that both countries are separate and issues are bound to come up as is evident with other countries. However, these incidents are not serious enough to cause a disruption in our relations. We have made efforts to resolve the issues which come up between us through talks. There are no major issues between us. On the matter of the Indian embassy, we request that they should come and open their embassy and send an ambassador here and agree to have our ambassador in India so that diplomatic relations could begin, which will also set the ground for defence and other relations. They must open their embassy here. We assure that India, similar to other countries, can come here and open their embassies for which the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan can and will safeguard and provide security to them.

What are your current defence ties with Pakistan?

As I said earlier, defence relations can be established and initiated when diplomatic and political relations have started and made progress. We hope to have cordial relations with all countries but so far there is not much progress in the defence relations.

For the global community, one of the major areas of concern is the growing presence of ISKP and also inputs regarding the rebirth of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan. What are your views on this and what steps are you taking to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a base for global terror groups?

First, I will talk about al-Qaeda prior to September 11. Our relations with al-Qaeda are not like that we are privy or taking part in their military plans outside the country. As said earlier, our relations with al-Qaeda broke when America started its attack on Afghanistan and there is no new association with al-Qaeda. They went to Arabic countries and brought revolutions there and established themselves there. It is mentioned that after the signing of the Doha agreement with America it is our national and sincere responsibility to honour the pact, which clearly states that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against America and its coalition. Therefore, we are dutybound to implement it in letter and spirit and lay emphasis on it. Now we have put a check on it and America has also acknowledged it. However, there are some who are trying on one pretext or another…similar to the one when some days ago a research paper claimed that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is lying dormant and inactive according to their plan. I called upon the countries of the world especially America not to take a new alibi and to form cordial relations with Afghanistan. The 20 years of our animosity should be transformed into new thought and synergy. We are making efforts and are ready to have economic, political and other new relations in all spheres with America. There is no problem with this. America should also not create hurdles or pose challenges before the new government of Afghanistan. We hope that they refrain from it and initiate multi-faceted relations with the Afghan people. As far as Daesh is concerned, it is crushed in Afghanistan and has no physical presence here. Though, it could be that they would have secretly moved to a few places. It is also possible that similarly, they are present in other countries. We are on the task to end the Daesh threat not only in Afghanistan but also in other countries that would emanate from Afghanistan. We are working on it and have largely been successful in this. I assure the countries of the world and the neighbouring countries that Afghanistan’s soil will not be used against other countries by Daesh and we are earnestly working in this regard. We hope that there would not be any difficulties in this.

The Indian security establishment has several concerns about the activities of Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Taiba cadres in Afghanistan and the threat posed by them to Indian interests. Do you agree with these concerns?

I do not have any information and details on JeM, LeT or any other groups or organisations. But I say that it is our request that any issues between India and Pakistan be resolved through talks and dialogues. I must say on Afghanistan that the present government of Afghanistan does not want the Afghanistan soil to be used against any other country. I must clarify that under any circumstances, we will not allow Pakistan to use Afghanistan’s soil against India and we will not allow India to use Afghanistan’s soil against Pakistan. We want cordial relations with both countries and do not want to interfere or get involved in the issues of the two countries. We are an independent country and our foreign policy is guided by our national interests.

Excellency, the world community has huge concerns about women’s education and your pressure for women to wear hijab. As we have seen, you have asked several organisations to stop women from entering the workplace. Do you think this is justified?

First, I would say the world is concerned about this declaration of Islamic Emirate withdrawing permission for education…You see that there is no such order on stopping education there and it is delayed in the absence of any order and clarity. This only means that there would be an atmosphere where education is given on the basis of Sharia and Afghan laws. On the question of hijab, 99% of women and girls voluntarily wear hijab which is integral to Afghans. This is also consonant with Islam and its values. There are no directives from the Islamic Emirate government. This is stressed that neither we have given any such orders nor will we give such orders which would trouble the masses. Any order which is passed is first implemented by us on ourselves, then we pass this order for the public. I also say if there is freedom of human and women’s rights, then why is the world muted on the restrictions imposed on wearing of hijab in France and other countries that have forbidden women to wear hijab? Women are free to wear hijab as per their wishes. I would say that the world should take note of reality and know what is happening around the world. They must act in a neutral manner. In other countries, restrictions were placed on the growing of beard, which is integral and Sunnat in Islam. There are more such directives and no one has objected to these orders that other countries have put. We strongly object to those countries who call themselves free and fair in their conduct. We have not given any such drastic orders. In my view the concerns of other countries about us are baseless. They must strive to form cordial bilateral relations with us and not use hijab and other issues as an alibi to hamper our official capacity and relations.