Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan

23 Nov 2009

Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Kai Eide, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

SRSG: Thank you very much I thought I would address three issues: First the political agenda we have in front of us with the political process, then elections and at the end the security measures taken by the UN following the attack of last week.

First of all, I believe we are now at a critical juncture in the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community. The debate of the last few weeks has demonstrated that there are more question marks. There is more doubt with regard to the strength of international commitment to Afghanistan. And it is my conviction that we can not simply continue to do more of the same – that will not work. There has to be a change of mindset both in the Government and in the international community.

There is a belief among some that the international commitment to Afghanistan will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan. I would like to emphasize that this is not correct. It is public opinion in donor countries and in troop contributing countries that decides the strength of that commitment, and the debate we have seen over the last few weeks and months underlines that we are at a critical juncture.

But I must say we do now also face an opportunity to address this challenge. If it is not addressed, then the questions will multiply and the doubts will grow. If it is addressed, then I believe that the commitment between the international community and Afghan Government can be consolidated.

The first important element will be of course the formation of the new Government. It should be composed of competent, reform-oriented personalities that can implement a reform agenda. And here I am not talking only about satisfying requirements of the international community but certainly also the Afghan people and I believe that the interests of the international community and the Afghan people here coincide to a large extent.

When we look at the reform agenda, that clear reform agenda should in particular include a vigorous fight against corruption, vigorous efforts to improve the justice system to remove the culture of impunity and also improve the ability of the Afghan Government to deliver services to its people.

And it must be a clear agenda and an unambiguous agenda that must be followed up quickly with concrete measures that demonstrate the agenda is serious.

Let me in this regard also congratulate the Ministry of Finance for the recent arrests of people belonging to a corruption ring, operating from the Kabul airport that was responsible for fraud amounting to between $30 and $40 million per year. It happened last week but received very little coverage, particularly in international media. But it was an important step.

I am following the formation of the Government and its programmes, its agenda. What I foresee is several steps leading to a new international conference sometime during the first six months of next year. That conference should endorse the reform programme and also concentrate on the limited number of key priorities that we have to address over the next few years.

The first element is what I will call the sovereignty agenda, which means enabling the Afghan Government to assume all responsibilities that belong to a sovereign state. That means not least the building of the Afghan security forces, but also strengthening the justice system.

Second, the wider institution-building programme that I have outlined before to you. I think it is important that we now formulate a broad national institution-building programme that can move us away from a situation where the international community in a fragmented way constructs parallel structures that undermine the building of Afghan institutions that can be sustainable.

Third, is economic development. We must move away from the quick impact kind of project that dominates to such an extent the international effort today and move our attention to projects and programmes that can generate economic growth inside Afghanistan. Today economic growth is too dependent on international assistance and too little on growth generated from the inside. And that has to change. If it doesn’t, then much of what we are doing today will collapse when the international assistance is reduced over the next coming years.

Fourth, a concrete peace and reintegration program, formulated by the Afghan Government with the support of the international community.

And fifth and the last, needs to be the start of a process of defining Afghanistan’s status as a neutral state in the region living in peace and confidence with its neighbours. And with international engagement being clearly rooted in this context.

Now we have had many international conferences over the last year. The Paris conference was important, that is the donor conference. The other conferences have been political manifestations that have not been well enough prepared. I think we have to learn from that. This conference has to be well prepared over the next few months, and the commitments undertaken have to be firmly rooted in the donor countries and in the Government of Afghanistan. It has to have impact in a different way from what we’ve seen, from the conferences that have taken place over the last little more than half year.

Over the next few weeks, we also have to start preparing for the parliamentary elections next year. We have to do that, drawing on the lessons from the protracted election process that we have been going through over almost the last one year.

First of all, the whole registration process that we remember started last October. We now have to look at that with a view to having full voter registration as soon as possible.

Second is the vetting process that should be looked at again to make sure that we are able to disqualify potential candidates that are unfit for, or unsuitable for office.

It is important to look at ways to make sure that we can not only detect fraud, but also to a large extend prevent fraud from happening.

It is important to look at the illegal involvement of Government officials in the election process. It is important to look at the appointment of the Independent Election Commission to avoid controversies over its independence.

And it is important to look at the legal framework for the elections in order to remove grey areas that created confusion during much of this election process.

And it is important to look at the involvement of the international community to avoid undue international interference at various stages of election process.

Finally, I think we need to look at the election process from the financial point of view to make it sustainable without the heavy involvement of the international community on the financial side that we saw during these elections. Of course we can not afford to spend more than $230 million every time there is an election in Afghanistan.

Finally with regard to UN security, the United Nations is putting in place immediate additional security for its national and international staff in Afghanistan.

There will be a short-term relocation of up to 12 percent of our staff while this is going on. Most of these staff are support staff or what I will call non-front line staff. This relocation will be inside the country and outside the country. We are doing everything we can to minimize disruption of our work during this period.

Let me emphasize in light of some media reporting this morning, we are not talking about pulling out and we are not talking about evacuation. We’re simply doing what we have to, following the tragic event last week to look after our workers in a difficult moment while ensuring that our operations in Afghanistan can continue. I had several video conferences with New York yesterday concerning additional funding in general and also additional funding related to our security.

These measures have been forced upon us by the attack took place on the 28 of October and reflect the fact that we do take the security of our personnel very seriously.

Let me just repeat, we are doing this to ensure that we can continue our work while taking care of the security and safety of our personnel. Thank you, and thank you for your patience.


BBC PERSIAN TV: You talked about reforms in the new Government. If the new Government will not fulfill this, do you think there will be a decrease in the international community’s help and support towards Afghanistan. Is it a kind of warning to the Government?

SRSG: I do not only think that it will have an impact in a negative way, I know that it will have a negative impact. It is not a warning but it is statement of fact, when we look at the debates taking place in North America, in Europe, in Australia, in New Zealand and in other countries. It is a debate I have had over the last few days with a number of key ministers, with the President. And I believe that it is understood that we are in a situation now where a comprehensive reform programme is required.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: When you discuss all of these things with the Government, what kind of response have you been getting? When President Karzai spoke to us, he was very thin on detail about what he might actually do?

SRSG: Of course I discuss this with the President and Ministers. When you discuss this with the President you do discuss it in more general terms than with Ministers, but I also had discussions yesterday with several Ministers who are engaged precisely in these efforts and I do believe it is understood that serious reforms are needed. And I do believe that such reforms will come when the new Government has been formed.

And I see the move against this corruption ring at the airport has sent a very good signal.

THE INDEPENDENT: You mentioned the need for a vetting process to screen out candidates who may be unfit to hold office. Can you think of any member of the current government who is unfit to hold office?

SRSG: When we went through the vetting process, and I was part of that, in the Spring we basically in reality had only one criteria and that was to disqualify people who had links to illegal armed groups.

We were not able to disqualify personalities that are alleged to have committed serious crimes or to be part of drug related activities.

I think that is a basic flaw, and it reflects the weakness of the justice system and it reflects the culture of impunity that has been dominant over the last few years. And we have to look very carefully at how we can correct that.

ALJAZEERA TV: I would like to have some clarity about people who been relocated just to be sure to get accurate information. It seems that there are some contradictory statements coming from the UN itself this morning. First we have heard that two thirds of international staff will be moved, then it was lowered to half, and now we have a figure of 12 percent of all staff including national staff. Can you be more specific about the number, the precise percentage of international staff?

SRSG: No, I cannot really because at the moment we are working with the entire UN family to identify who are ‘critical’ staff and who are ‘support’ staff that can be moved. What kind of activities can take place from elsewhere and what has to take place here. And also when I say relocation, it means also relocation inside the country, it means evacuating accommodation facilities that are not clearly up to the security standards that we want.

Follow up: Is that true the idea that it means that there will be a hub set up in Dubai to accommodate a large percentage of the international staff moving out of Afghanistan?

SRSG: We are looking at various facilities and options in that respect.

PAJHWOK NEWS AGENCY: During his visit Kabul, The UN Secretary General has said that he will respect whatever decision was made by the Independent Election Commission (IEC). It is at a time when Dr. Abdullah Abdullah yesterday has called the Government illegitimate. I just want to know the formal view or position of the UN on this issue?

SRSG: Our view is that now the IEC has certified the final results and declared the winner of the election.
I have taken note of what Dr Abdullah has said yesterday. But I do not believe that the way he formulated what he said changes that conclusion.

ARIANA TV: You mentioned about the new cabinet composition to be composed of competent and reform orientated members because in the past the cabinet used to be of the same thing and because of not being such people within the cabinet then it was decided to bring some qualified Afghans from abroad to work within the cabinet. But still despite their presence, the assistance given by the international community did not gave a good result and the money was misused. I just wanted the UN’s position on the new cabinet. What kind of cabinet does the UN expect? And if there are not reform oriented competent staff in the cabinet will the UN or the Government bring other people from abroad to work in the cabinet?

SRSG: It is up to the President to compose his government. And I will certainly leave that to him. But we have seen as you also said yourself, new competent ministers coming in over the last year and that is encouraging and it has had an impact. When you have a new and competent Minister of Agriculture in the Government and he formulates a new agriculture programme and we supported him on that very strongly then it has a disciplining effect on donors. They have a programme to focus on. When you have a new and competent Minister of Finance coming in and developing a program for capacity building or revenue collection it has an immediate impact on the donor community. They also focus their activities around that programme. What we need is more of that and less of a situation where ministers in a fragmented way individually without a strategic plan, run to each and every one of the donors to ask for money. That disrupts any possibility of strategic economic development in this country.

PBS: Can you be more specific about how soon you think the International community needs to see something concrete from President Karzai? In terms of announcements, appointment, prosecutions? Are you talking about days, weeks, months? And when you say that there is going to be an impact if it does not happen, can you be more specific about the impact? Do you mean a reduction in financial and troop contributions from the donor countries?

SRSG: We have several stages here. First will be a presidential inauguration speech which will have to carry important signals to the Afghan people and to the international community. Then you will have the formation of the new Government. I expect that members of the cabinet will be announced rather quickly. Then you have the confirmation process in parliament and all these processes will take time. Nevertheless I do hope during this process we will already see concrete signs of readiness to address the reforms seriously.

I do expect more than words, appointments and programmes, but let’s face the facts here. Ministers will not be able to conduct their duties before they have been confirmed by parliament. From a constitutional point of view that must be clear.

The second part of your question is what will happen if we do not see such a development? What we are saying is, is there a conditionality built in here? And the answer is yes. It’s the conditionality in the sense of public opinion in donor countries. Troop countries are looking very carefully and more carefully and more intensively than before at what is happening and that will certainly determine the public mood at this critical juncture. And that’s a factor of conditionality that governments cannot ignore.

KILLID RADIO [translated from Dari]: A question in two parts. The first part relates to what points is the UN specifically stressing to the new Government? When President Karzai talks to media he talks about an inclusive government, and that means that the same people will be in the new cabinet. The second part is the accusation that some countries have pledged to introduce their own candidates to be the member of the cabinet. What’s the UN view or position on that?

SRSG: I am not aware of any country imposing specific personalities on President Karzai. You have some competent people, you need more of them. That’s what we expect. The first part of your question is what kind of differences you want to see in the new cabinet. Some talk about coalition government and some about unity government. What is important here is that the President has to reach out to various communities in Afghanistan. While reaching out, there is a level of competence that reflects the expectations of Afghan people and the international community.

I have a few months ago demonstrated my displeasure with certain appointments during the election process. I stand by what I said but we are now where we are, I expect that the composition of the Government itself will be of competent people. With regard to those where I have not expressed any enthusiasm to put it mildly, they also have to understand that we expect them to join that reform agenda. If they do not, it will send a dangerous signal to the international community that we cannot risk. We can not afford any longer a situation in which warlords play their own games; we have to have a political landscape that draws the country in the same direction which is in a direction of significant reform.

THE GUARDIAN: Do you think the electoral framework should be reformed?

SRSG: We had some discussions yesterday and this morning about other challenges and how to address them. We are at the early stages but we need to move forward as quickly as we can, knowing that the time we have available for the parliamentary elections, and to do what is required, is in fact quite limited.

AFP: Do you have any indications from the international community that they are less committed to Afghanistan than before the election. Do you think some damage has already been done?

SRSG: Yes I think that some damage has been done through the intense debate that has taken place as I said in Europe, North America and other contributing countries. There no doubt that the questions are there and that the questions have to be answered. And I think the answers should be rather clear. What I outlined is the need for a comprehensive reform program.