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Kamran Mir Hazar        Letter to Editor

 

Press Conference

 

Tom Koenigs

Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan

TRANSCRIPT:

Good morning everybody, I am very happy to be with you today. The main part of this press conference will be a question and answer session.  We have done that six weeks ago, so we will more or less do it every six weeks.

 First of all you have all seen the good news that the Gross Domestic Product has risen to 13.8 percent.  That is a figure that is very welcome and indicates that Afghanistans economy is picking up.

It was eight percent last year and the estimate for the next year is 11.7 percent, which is very positive.  Nevertheless we know that this is accompanied by a trade deficit of between two and three billion dollars. So clearly Afghanistan depends on its neighbors a great deal.

In an economy which is so dependent on foreign trade, foreign aid, and foreign money it is obvious that Afghanistan depends on the good relations with the region.  Again, on the positive side, Afghanistan is surrounded by nations that are highly interested in stability in Afghanistan, and are friendly.  That means that now is the time for building bridges. 

UNAMAs mandate, which has been renewed by the Security Council, is that regional cooperation is a challenge for all the actors here in Afghanistan.  The Afghanistan Compact mentions regional cooperation prominently and there have been several conferences before and since the London Conference which focus on that subject.

In that spirit I have [recently] traveled to Islamabad in Pakistan, and will travel soon to Tehran, Iran to improve regional cooperation. In my visit to Pakistan, where I met with all the officials who deal with relationships with Afghanistan, including refugees and trade, I have spoken with the President and the Foreign Minister.

In a nutshell I have seen growing commitment to stability in the region.  The Government of Pakistan is aware that they have to prevent a Talibanization of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This visit has made me aware, more than ever, that the future of Afghanistan is the future of the region.

Certainly, cooperation in the region and particularly with Pakistan has different faces.  It is in economy and trade where there is room for improvement of border management, of the border police. There is investment being made and possibilities for investments in Afghanistan. And there are workers who come and go to and from Afghanistan.

We have talked about the situation of the refugees. There are still three million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and it is everyones wish they return soon.

Assisted by the refugee agency of the United Nations, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Pakistan has closed and will continue to close refugee camps near the border.  In the last year between 400,000 and 500,000 Afghans have returned from these refugee camps and settlements in Pakistan.

In this closure of refugee camps, there is a security aspect too.

In the field of security there are a number of initiatives that prove that cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan is picking up. I urged the government of Pakistan to continue on all levels this cooperation in the security field through intelligence sharing, through the tripartite commission which exists between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States and through other coordinated operations.

In relations between friends and neighbors there are sometimes hiccups.  Nevertheless everybody agrees that is it better to speak about misunderstandings or all sorts of misgivings in private and in small commissions, and not to make it a public event.    

I would sum up by saying that blaming the neighbors doesnt help, cooperation does. 

On May 1st and 2nd I am traveling to Iran in the same spirit.

I have spoken with the President of Afghanistan and have informed him I will be traveling to Iran.  He has asked me to give a clear message to Iran.  That is a message of friendship and cooperation.

President Karzai has elaborated on the cultural and historical links with the friendly neighboring state of Iran. 

Afghanistan cannot and must not isolate itself from one of its close neighbors.  There are a multitude of links between Afghanistan and Iran and there are a lot of fields of further cooperation in trade and investment and in the matter of refugees.

I am looking forward to a fruitful visit to Iran in a spirit of friendship and cooperation to be promoted between Afghanistan and the region. 

I am happy to answer your questions on the subjects I have touched upon, and any others you may have.

 

Questions and Answers

 

Question: On the issue of Afghanistans Gross Domestic Product, the gap between rich and poor is widening.  How does this impact security in Afghanistan?

 

Tom Koenigs: A sound economy always stabilizes a country and stabilizes a countrys institutions.  If peace in Afghanistan doesnt bring a peace dividend to the people they will be frustrated. The international support to Afghanistan and the efforts of the government to create an atmosphere of prosperity in the country has brought food and fruits to everybody. The assumption of achieving the Millennium Development Goals in Afghanistan has underlined that without this constant growth it will not be possible to reach these goals, so I am happy that at least for this year (and the forecast for the next year) a significant growth rate is possible because this will be a condition necessary for the [MDG] promises to be met.  We have a relatively good regional economic situation at this moment and that is why I say this is the moment to build bridges. 

 

Question: If you go near the Iran Embassy you can see a lot of people who are seeking visas to go back to Iran.  Does it not mean that there is prosperity in Kabul, but not in the regions?

 

Tom Koenigs:  I did not say that the poverty in Afghanistan has changed from one day to the other and can change from one day to the other. We all know that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and this will not change fast.  Nevertheless, without this growth it doesnt change at all and the distribution of wealth is a big problem particularly in a country with big towns and a rather neglected countryside, a countryside which has been neglected for centuries.  So Afghanistan faces all these problems and it will not go away in one or two days, nevertheless these figures raise a certain optimism.

 

Question: My question is about your statement that Pakistan should stop the Talibanization inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. Can you elaborate more on this?  Do you think Pakistan is directly or indirectly supporting the Taliban? And secondly, the security situation is getting worse day-by-day in Afghanistan and the British Defence Minister says there will be more attacks by terrorists in southern Afghanistan as we have been witnessing since the beginning of the year. What is your assessment? And how long will this continue?

 

Tom Koenigs:  First of all I did not say that the Talibanization comes from Pakistan.  I said that we should stop blaming one country or another for Talibanization, or for the security situation.  Cooperation is needed.  I also said that the government of Pakistan is well aware that for the sake of the stability of both countries, Talibanization has to be prevented.  Pakistan and Afghanistan are fighting in the border regions the Talibanization through military actions against Al-Qaeda and Taliban extremists.  You know that the Pakistani Army and the Afghan National Army are losing soldiers in this battle.  Civilians are dying on both sides and there is a clear knowledge that stability in Afghanistan and stability in Pakistan are closely linked.  We all see that the security situation this spring, particularly in the south of Afghanistan and north of Pakistan has not improved.  This should give rise to increased and coordinated efforts [in order] to come to a success.  But any strategy must have different elements. One is the military element, the other is the administrative element and the third is the economic element.  Certainly the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, together with the Coalition Forces and ISAF, have to continue to fight the insurgency in the south and all other provinces.  But at the same time, governance has to be improved through the cooperation of the governors, the security agencies and the international community.  And I think the efforts being made at this moment in the southern provinces are very promising.  Looking back over the last four years, the security situation has improved and quite a number of conflicts have ceased to exist, and that is why we are optimistic. Three quarters of the country is on a good path, and the positive economic figures are mostly due to progress in these three quarters of the country.  Nevertheless I know that in one quarter of the country the security situation has not improved and that is where we have to improve. I say explicitly we because UNAMA will try to take its share [of responsibility] to improve the situation.  We will try to increase our presence in the southern provinces in the course of this year to support the government to function and to improve their functions. 

 

Question: My question pertains to the security situation.  In the last month the security situation has deteriorated, and dont you think that challenges which have created the foreign relations of Afghanistan are driving the insurgency and the deterioration of security and who is to blame for getting these challenges? Also will your trips undermine these challenges and will it be effective for the security, peace and stabilization of Afghanistan?

 

Tom Koenigs: My approach is a bit different. I think the security situation in the region is so interlinked that it is worthwhile not to blame each other but to cooperate.  Throughout history the security situation in Afghanistan was driven by national, local and international factors. My wish would certainly be that a trip to the neighboring countries by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan will lead to better understanding among Afghanistans neighbors. The future of Afghanistan is so much embedded in the region that on all levels I will try to improve regional cooperation.  As you know, the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board for the Afghanistan Compact will include the most important neighbors.  The spirit of this body will be a spirit of cooperation too, and this is the key to success. I certainly know that one trip, of one person, in one moment will certainly not change the world but I will certainly try to do my best in this respect.

 

Question: (translated from Dari) In your remarks you talked about the stability of Afghanistan, about the repatriation of refugees, and about regional cooperation. But in some quarters there is the possibility of the return of the Taliban as stated by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. What do you think would be the impact of that happening?

 

Tom Koenigs: Within the [recent] history, and from speaking to Afghans, I know what you have all suffered from the Taliban.  So a return of the Taliban is one of the worst things that could happen. Peace lies in tolerance and not extremism.  Extremists, terrorists and other enemy action in Afghanistan will only lead to what you have experienced in the last decades. The international community and the United Nations are clearly committed to supporting the people of Afghanistan in their fight against terrorism and extremism. 

 

Question: (question inaudible) [Paraphrased: In the context of the Iran situation is regional cooperation going to be likely?]

 

Tom Koenigs: I certainly see the problems between parts of the international community and Iran. There is worldwide tension to be observed. For the particular situation of Afghanistan this must not affect the neighborhood and the good relations between Afghanistan and Iran.  I think all the actors here in Afghanistan coincide in [thinking] that.  So my trip to Iran is also a clear signal that we think that the cooperation of Afghanistan with all their neighbors, even in difficult situations, is the key to success and stabilization. International tensions must not affect or contaminate the good relations Afghanistan has with Iran. 

 

Question: You summed up your introduction by saying that blaming your neighbor does not help. But then Afghanistan is a landlocked country and is very much dependent on its neighbors and unfortunately even the farmers here cannot take their produce to its neighboring territories.  This is in fact causing a lot of harm to the economy. If these kinds of irritants exist, how do you think they can stop themselves from hating each other?

 

Tom Koenigs: How can I convince people not to blame each other?  Only by telling them they have a common interest.  The common interests between Pakistan and Afghanistan are manifold, but at least three are obvious: The past and present refugee situation, the economic situation, and the security situation. 

 

On the refugee situation, millions of Afghans have been taken up as refugees in neighboring countries throughout history.  Out of the three million refugees who are now in Pakistan, half of them are born in Pakistan.  The hospitality on one side, and their return, has been organized and must continuously be organized in a friendly manner. 

 

On the economy, throughout history Afghanistan has been a country of trade.  Trade from south to central Asia and back.  The figures clearly indicate how important this trade is.  And you have clearly said Afghanistan is a landlocked country and depends on this free and friendly trade.

 

And the third: security.  Talibanization is threatening Afghanistan and Pakistan alike.  Terrorist activities of Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups are threatening Pakistan and Afghanistan alike.  These three fields are reason enough to cooperate and not blame each other and what Ive seen in my visit to Pakistan with all the interlocutors is that there is a growing conscience of this situation.  And if you speak in Pakistan with businessmen they certainly know that a lot of business from Pakistan is made in Afghanistan.  As in any long term perspective of Afghanistans economy it is clear that Afghanistan must be the country that links south Asia with central Asia.

If you look at the neighbor Iran, the trade that comes in and out of Iran has brought a certain level of prosperity to the region of Herat. Incoming investment has helped this region a great deal. And the situation of Afghan refugees in Iran might be equally important for the cooperation of these two countries.

Question: The American Defence Secretary has said that the presence of American troops in Afghanistan is a deterrent against Iran. So how will this help you on your visit to Iran? Did you discuss your trip to Tehran with the American Ambassador here?

Tom Koenigs: I certainly will not venture into commenting on the remarks of any minister from nations friendly to Afghanistan. I have openly spoken with all our diplomatic friends that I am traveling to Iran. But what you underestimate might be the role of the United Nations. The UN has 191 member states. Two of them are Afghanistan and Iran. UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) has a liaison office in Tehran, as we have in Islamabad, because we know that relations between these two countries, particularly in the field of refugees, are so important. I will certainly see these offices frequently in Tehran and Islamabad. And I will meet with the authorities in both countries with the intention to sort out any possibilities of improving the relations with Afghanistan. On the Joint Monitoring and Coordination Board (JMCB), all the friends and neighbors of Afghanistan will have the opportunity to cooperate in an institutional manner. I appreciate very much that the international community in Afghanistan is united on this point.

Question: Despite the presence of national and international security forces and calls for greater co-operation from both countries the problem (security) is not getting better and the insurgency is increasing day-by-day. Dont you think there is a need for reconsidering the current strategy of the international community and the government against the growing insurgency?

Tom Koenigs: First of all the military forces present here have clearly said that this is not a short term presence. So the presence here includes the knowledge that this is a medium term challenge. The Afghanistan Compact, which has a clear part referring to security, is one element. I certainly agree that the strategy has to be adjusted according to what is happening on the ground, taking over the command in the southern regions gradually by ISAF (International Security and Assistance Force) is one of the elements of revisiting the strategy but the strategy must include civilian, administrative and military and police elements.

What at the moment is underestimated is that in the southern regions, where the insurgents at the moment make so much bad news, the number of international soldiers engaged will increase enormously. At the same time the quantity and quality of Afghan security forces police and army is increasing. So there is good reason for being optimistic - if not in the short term then at least in the medium term.

Question: What has the UN done, and what is the UN planning for poppy eradication? And as you have told us regarding regional co-operation, we have neighbors like India and Pakistan, what are they doing in this regard?

Tom Koenigs: First, the United Nations supports the strategy elaborated in the last year against drug related crime including the cultivation of poppy. You know that from UNODC, the UNs anti drugs and crime organization, the strategy developed has been adopted last year and is part of the Afghanistan Compact. So it will be supported by international donors. Poppy eradication is only one part of it [the strategy]. The most important part is the crackdown on dealers and laboratories. Reading the strategy closely will convince everybody that this is not a short-term effort but it must be a long term strategy, and as such the strategy has been elaborated. Referring to the support of the neighbouring countries, the visit of President Karzai to India was apparently very successful and India has committed more funds to support Afghanistan. The three countries, Iran, Pakistan and India are among the major donors to the reconstruction process of this country and there is a variety of projects in this country sponsored, paid, improved or inspired by the neighbouring countries. They all co-ordinate on the Joint Monitoring and Co-ordination Board which will meet on [April] the 30th which is Sunday.

Question: With regard to the joint coordination and monitoring body for the Afghanistan Compact, has this body been established or not? And if not, when will it be established?

Tom Koenigs: It will be established next Sunday.

Question: You said that in your visit to Pakistan, you talked with the Pakistani authorities about trade relations between the two countries. But we know that Afghanistan is a landlocked country, and that much of the trade that comes to Afghanistan goes through Pakistan. And at the same time we know that Pakistani authorities, on some occasions, blocked the transit of some goods that were supposed to be transported to Afghanistan via Pakistan. Have you touched on this issue in your discussion with them? And also have you talked about the issue of construction of the Delaram Highway and Trabajar-Delaram in which the Indian government is involved, did you talk about this issue as well?

Tom Koenigs:  In my visit to Pakistan, I did not talk about particular projects because the United Nations is not involved in that. Also, I did not touch upon Indian development projects. At that time when I was in Pakistan, the President of Afghanistan was in India.

I know that there are several initiatives: One has given rise to two conferences, Doha I and Doha II, to improve the border management. In the Doha II conference, the two countries, Pakistan and Iran, have committed to joint projects of improving the border management, and it is very positive. I know that Pakistani businessmen have a great interest in the smooth border transfer of goods because out of the trade deficit that Afghanistan has, quite relevant percentage is in the trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Question: In your remarks, you painted a bright picture of economic and security improvements in Afghanistan during the past four years. This is the picture that is most often painted by the Afghan government as well. But most people do not agree with you and with the Afghan government on this. A new strategy seems to be needed for dealing with problems on security and economic areas. And also people have complaints that functions of the United Nations in Afghanistan have not been transparent enough.

Tom Koenigs: First of all, we will always have complaints because even increasing the wealth of a country does not necessarily touch everybody.  I have not given a bright picture of the economic situation of Afghanistan. We have to realize that Afghanistan is among the five poorest countries in the world.  I havent given a bright picture of the security situation either. I know the problems. Nevertheless I am optimistic. I know that for many people progress is not fast enough, myself included. And I certainly agree that strategies have to be adjusted. And nevertheless, in a situation where we have the international community committed to support to a certain and limited degree Afghanistan, knowing that the figures on economic growth, the macroeconomic figures, on economic growth, are sufficient to uphold the faster development designed in these strategies feeds some optimism.

Referring to the projects and transparency of the U.N., we discuss all projects with the Afghan authorities. The transparency we give is given to the Afghan government because for us, the interlocutor, the representative of the Afghan people is the elected government. So we guarantee transparency of all the projects and the support of the international community to the Afghan ministries.

The whole spirit and letter of the Afghanistan Compact is [about] a leading role for the Afghanistan government. And leading role means also that they have to know all the details of the project, and they will know.

Question: I have two questions.  How do you justify UNAMAs approach to the case of [Christian convert] Abdul Rahman?  And do you have a specific definition of terrorism?

Tom Koenigs: The United Nations is committed to human rights and this commitment is shared with all the 191 member states. So we have strongly advocated in the Abdul Rahman case to follow this element of human rights which is religious freedom.  The Constitution of Afghanistan guarantees this religious freedom and guarantees human rights as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It is in this spirit that we are operating, and thats why we give our opinion and we acted as we did in support of the Afghan government.

The definition of terror has been subject to long and controversial discussions. One element of terror is always that the terrorists try to pressure governments or groups of the population through sacrificing civilians who have nothing to do with the conflict. To make the difference clear between war and terror: if soldiers attack other soldiers it is war; If combatants fire a rocket into a school, killing school kids who have nothing to do with the conflict and who are not an army nor involved in any war like conflict, [this] is terror.

The civilian population in Afghanistan has suffered a lot from terror and is still suffering and in none of the value systems or religions of the world [will] you find a justification for terror, because terror is taking hostage innocents and uninvolved civilians for conflict which has nothing to do with them. In the international community there is unity on the definition of terror with one exception this exception is that there is not unity on how to define national liberation wars.

 

Question: The propaganda that the Government and the international agencies have made about the fight against narcotics is fictitious. I believe that the Ministry of Counter Narcotics and the other agencies involved in addressing the problem of narcotics have not helped even one Afghani farmer involved in cultivating poppy, and they have tons of employees sent to these provinces in the name of addressing these issues and the extent of the problem. What is shown on TV about the eradication of poppy fields is not true. The fact is that the local authorities are working together with the poppy farmers, and they choose areas where the crop is not good and they film these areas and then show them as areas whose crops have been eliminated. I believe that the local authorities are working together with poppy farmers and they have imposed taxes on the farmers who cultivate poppy and that the increase in national wealth is to a large extent due to the narcotics economy.

 

Tom Koenigs: First of all [on your point that] that the national wealth is to a large extent due to the narcotic economy I dont believe this. Because the increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) is the legal GDP.

 

What the gentleman [who asked this question] has experienced in [terms of] poppy eradication may be true. [However] it is more likely that it may be a view on one particular location. I dont think that the international community should offer those whose drugs are eradicated compensation. I think Government policy and international community support should go to the direction of alternative livelihoods. At the same time the legal proceedings against drug cultivation and even more [against] trade and fabrication must be improved. Eradication alone certainly does not solve the problem, and a strategy that is based only on the police and army against this problem will not succeed either. Nevertheless, we need police action against dealers and cultivators because it is illegal what they do. And a legal economy must be the backbone of the reconstruction of Afghanistan, a national legal economy. I think the attention of the Government and its strategies go into that direction. I know that we are realizing in some of the areas you have seen or I have seen that [the progress] is not yet optimal.

Thank You.

 

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