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'May God not put any country in the fire that we were in'

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February 03, 2006

In a bloody war that lasted nearly 25 years, Afghanistan lost 1.5 million people. Masood Khalili, the Afghan ambassdor to India until recently, feels it will take another 20 years before his country can stand on its own feet.

As the world pledged $10.5 billion for the rebuilding of the country in London [Images] this week, the situation remains grim in Afghanistan. Suicide bombers continue to kill security forces and citizens, and a fresh batch of Al Qaeda [Images] fighters from Iraq are known to have been dispatched to the country.

In his conversation with Managing Editor Sheela Bhatt and Nikhil Lakshman, Khalili -- who was seriously wounded when Al Qaeda assassins killed his friend, the legendary Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9, 2001 -- speaks about the toll of war on his country.

I: 'The Taliban have returned' | II: 'Americans shouldn't be called occupiers'

III: 'Leaving the snake half wounded will be more dangerous'

Don't you think this kind of democracy is spoonfeeding? America is mothering Afghanistan. It is little artificial, don't you think?

No. I will tell you that it is real. I don't want to argue. It is real. When I saw the elections, what I saw in the villages, I could not believe it. Villagers don't do this. It was announced that there will be elections after a month and people were to register, they all went for registration. Can you believe that?

In the remotest villages of Afghanistan where they have food to eat once a day or once in two days, they told their children to go and register. This country has a background, this country has a history, this country has a culture of five thousand years.

The Afghans are a very proud people.

I know, and so when the time comes, in the time of crisis, the nation can lead itself.

There is an entire generation that hasn't had seen an election since 1969, so how do you account for this sudden knowledge for democracy and rights?

You have to study it carefully because it is not that the Americans went to every village and told them, 'Take this the money, now go and vote.' Believe me, I swear that I saw it. You travel for three days on foot and reach a village, and in that village, people told me that they had registered to vote.

What brought about this awareness?

The pain. Suffering makes you aware. Once you have been bitten by a snake, you won't let yourself be bitten for a second time by the same snake, from the same hole. When you suffer pain, you know the real meaning of no pain, no gain.

You can't believe how much these people suffered. I tell you go to Afghanistan. This cultural background helps you in critical times. When you have this blood it will help you. I was talking of the maturity of the people.

Maybe Nietzsche was right -- war purifies you and makes you mature. I have seen it with my own eyes.

You are a brave man and we know your story. You have seen this situation in Afghanistan for more than three years. Tell us very frankly, what are your concerns? Whatever picture you have given us is too rosy to be true.

Interference and the economy.

Can you elaborate please?

Interference means we should not again be interfered with, covertly or overtly, by any neighbouring country. They have the potential to destabilise us. If that is stopped, leave the country to the Afghans. We will make many mistakes but ultimately we will come through.

The economy -- people indeed are very poor. The economy should be fixed, leave the rest to the people. The poor people cannot stop interference. If the Taliban come from any neighbouring country. If they have their own wrong agenda to make Afghanistan hell, they can do it because we are not yet strong enough to stand on our own feet. Give us time. After 25 years of war, at least give us 20 years to stand again.

This is not easy. The people want to live in peace. Help us with our economy, just so that we can stand again. The minute we do that we will be strong -- maybe not enough -- but strong to a large extent to hold matters in our own hands.

For 23 years people have seen war. They have lost 1.5 million people. Imagine it -- the pain of the loss of a brother, the loss of a son. We have a phrase that you will never know the fire as long as you are not in it. May God not put any country in the fire that we were in.

Part V: 'India's positive role in Afghanistan should be recorded in history'

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