New Special Representative's first Kabul press conference
KABUL - The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, held his first press conference in Kabul today following the extension of the UNAMA mandate by the Security Council.
UNAMA SPOKESPERSON (DAN MCNORTON): Good morning, everyone. It's good to see you all again. It gives me great pleasure today to present to you our new Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura.
SRSG (STAFFAN DE MISTURA): Thank you very much. Since it is still Nowruz: Nowruz Mubarak to everyone. Thank you to the Afghan people for arranging such a warm welcome now that I am finally installed here in Afghanistan. My name is Staffan de Mistura. I am half Swedish and half Italian. I have both nationalities. Above all, I am a UN person. I have been with the UN for 39 years and this is my 19th mission in a war or conflict environment. I was here 20 years ago in Afghanistan, and that's one of the reasons why I am back. The Afghan people have suffered enough during the last 30 years. I do have the feeling – and everyone has been telling me this – that this is a crucial year or at least one of the most crucial years for the future of all Afghans and Afghanistan.
The UN has been here for over 40 years. I was here 22 years ago and I remember how many Afghan people were working for the UN and I have met them here again. We are here and probably if, inshallah, if this is possible, and if the Afghan people feel this is the need, we will be here for a much longer time.
We have more than 900 international colleagues who are working all over the country and particularly in Kabul. And 6,000 – which is even more important for us – qualified and very dedicated Afghan staff.
So let’s go into some concrete ideas that we are pursuing, based on the adoption of the Security Council Resolution and the renewal of the mandate of UNAMA.
The Security Council resolution is giving UNAMA a mandate for continuing its work, but, of course, with some changes, in view of the fact that this year is a crucial year for Afghanistan.
Let’s look at the Security Council resolution in a way in order to see what we, the UN in Afghanistan, with the Afghans and the Afghan leadership and ownership – this is the message of the year – will be trying to make a difference and help.
One of the strong messages I am getting – and hope you all are getting from the resolution – is that the international community is once again recognizing that the Afghan people are a very proud people and they want to have ownership of their future and be in the lead of their own future. So, we are here to help and not to lead.
The first message, in fact, is transition to Afghan responsibility. It’s a strong message. Of course, with responsibility, also comes accountability for their own future. That’s why we are here to help in that direction.
The second message, which comes out very clearly is the focus on reconciliation and on elections. We will elaborate, if you want, what the UN will be doing in assisting in both areas and in other areas as well.
The UN Security Council resolution gives more or less a road by which the international community can help. But the real road is the one we have in front of us and that is made by the Peace Jirga, by the Kabul Conference and by the elections. These are the three steps that we see in front of us and we need to make them as inclusive, as effective and as useful for the future of Afghanistan as possible.
The Peace Jirga, inshallah, will take place in early May. It is Afghan-led and Afghan managed. This is an Afghan tradition. We want and we, the international community, have to respect this traditional way of Afghans talking to each other and to start to have a dialogue which has been part of their long history.
We are here to help technically, if this is needed, and to hope and wish as we all do that there will be concrete steps at this Peace Jirga in the direction of how reconciliation, in particular, will be moving forward. But, again, this is an Afghan process.
In the forthcoming days, I will be seeing the Afghan authorities who are organizing this Peace Jirga, and will offer technical support – not advice but support – in order to make sure that whatever is needed technically in order to make this Peace Jirga an Afghan Peace Jirga and as successful and meaningful as possible.
The next step will be the Kabul Conference. And that is being forecast, inshallah, between the end of May and early June. This is a very important conference.
It’s the right time and the right place – Kabul – to have a conference about Afghanistan, so that the perception in the world will be, again, that these types of decisions and next steps are taking place with the Afghans and for the Afghans.
The London Conference was very useful. Now, in Kabul, at the Kabul Conference, inshallah, we will be seeing concrete follow-ups to the London Conference, so that both Afghans and the international community can help each other on the next steps – both development and reconciliation – which will be led by the Afghans.
The UN is ready, together with other partners in the international community, to assist in the preparation of the Kabul Conference and have internal meetings in order to be able to see how we, the international community and the UN, which represents the entire international community, can make sure that the Kabul Conference is as effective, concrete and successful as possible.
Now, we come to the next and a very important step which I know is in the minds of many Afghans: the elections.
The next elections are taking place very soon comparatively speaking to normal procedures when one has more time. So we have to do a lot of work. The 18th of September is very soon. But, it can be done and we have experiences in other parts of the world and also in Afghanistan about electoral processes. But, the deadline to start concretely working on it, if, as we all hope, we will have better elections and more inclusive elections and more efficient elections in September, is mid-April. That’s the technical deadline we are seeing from a technical point of view in order to make things happen.
What role will the UN, inshallah, have in these elections? The Security Council Resolution which we have just seen approved, indicates a request for UNAMA to assist – to assist – the Afghan authorities in order to make sure that the processes and the institutions are supported in order to have good elections, credible elections and inclusive elections.
As you know, President Karzai has written a letter to the Secretary-General requesting UNAMA to support in technical and logistical areas for the holding of the forthcoming elections and in donor-funding.
The understanding being, that these elections are Afghan elections supported by the international community. But the responsibility for making sure that they are credible is for the Afghans: it is not the international community who wants to see more credible elections only. It is above all the Afghans [who want this and this] will be ensured by the Afghan authorities. We are there to help.
Of course, let’s be frank. We are not in Switzerland. We are in Afghanistan. So the elections are likely to still be imperfect, not perfect, but they need to be credible and inclusive for the sake of Afghans feeling that they are really part of it. And we are going to work on this and I will give you some steps and some good news and some news [which will] become concrete on our side, and everyone’s side.
So let’s not expect perfection – but let us aim at different, more credible [elections], and a perception by everyone that these elections are going to be much more inclusive.
Let’s look at process for a moment.
While we are working before the 14th, 15th, 16th 17th, of April to have everything technically in order to make sure that the elections can be effective elections, there are also other elements which need to be in place and are gradually, in my modest opinion, going in the right direction.
I had a meeting with President Karzai a few days ago. It was a good meeting. The President told me that the international experts who will be a part of the Complaints Commission are confirmed to be international. And he announced to me his decision that, I as SRSG of UNAMA, will be selecting them.
We are working already actively. We have no time – remember the middle of April. So we are working actively in identifying two very senior, highly credible personalities above all sides who will be, we believe, reassuring to all Afghans. And that, in fact, they have enough understanding of the Afghan culture, tradition and mentality and, at the same time, sufficient gravitas to be able to assert justice and a fair approach.
I am also confident, based on my conversation with his Excellency, the President, that the possibility for these two experts to have a strong say, I repeat – a very strong say – inside the Commission, in order to be able to actually reassure Afghans about their impartiality and the difficult decisions that they might have to take.
The next point, of course, in order to send this strong signal prior to the process starting, which is again mid-April, is the issue about the Electoral Commission.
I have strong assurances that, in fact, a major and constructive, we believe, reshuffle of the Election Commission is imminent. And hopefully [this will be] just before 15 or 16 April, so that could be one of the issues that we can put into the concrete start-up for preparing the elections.
Donors are being activated through UNAMA in order to get ready to support and fund the elections so that the machinery in preparing it could actually start around the middle of April. And that should become also a concrete step in the direction of making these elections credible, but also effective and doable in this short time.
These are concrete steps on which we are working together, bearing in mind that the elections will be Afghan-led. And all of us, including UN, will be supporting. But the final responsibility for their outcome and for their credibility will lie with the Afghan authorities because these are and should be Afghan elections.
This is a good chance to turn the page of the past and the perception and the feeling that the elections in the past did not go well. And also for the UN to be able to concretely support and help the Afghans to feel comfortable about the electoral process but also sharing the responsibility with other stakeholders and particularly Afghans about what should be a credible outcome.
Of course, in addition to this [these are], the Security Council resolution and our own mandate and also our own focus in view of the fact that this is a crucial year when we have to focus on crucial issues, in order to help Afghans to actually move forward. We are going to be very attentive to the reconciliation process and whenever we can help through suggesting, facilitating confidence-building measures or even beyond that, bearing in mind that this is and must be an Afghan-led initiative. We are ready, we have expertise, and are willing to help.
Then there is, of course, aid coordination. Even better aid coherence is needed in this country which is flooded with a lot of assistance, but which needs to be in a way coherent and making its best in order to reach the Afghan people everywhere.
We need to work together with the new ISAF civilian special representative who is a very competent person and the newly arrived unified European Union representative, equally competent, with whom we will be working together to make sure that: first, we all know what type of aid is reaching Afghanistan and where it is reaching, and where we all believe there are gaps to reach more effectively the Afghans instead of focusing only on the areas where we may have political, military or institutional priorities.
At the end of the day, it should be the Afghans being able to coordinate the aid they are receiving and at the same time making sure that there is a national strategy which is reaching everyone everywhere in terms of the assistance brought by the Government and the international community. We should aim for that.
So what I am saying is mapping, to know basically, what on earth is happening in this country in terms of international bilateral and multilateral aid so that we have a proper understanding.
And of course, the UN will continue, based on the UN Security Council and our new mandate, to monitor and support the issue of human rights in this country like anywhere else in the world.
In the eyes of the Afghans, in our conscience, the UN will have and continue to be impartial and neutral and clear when it speaks out about human rights issues whenever and wherever they take place. As we have been – and I will continue – reminding all concerned that civilian casualties are to be avoided because Afghans have suffered enough. And that has been the case when ISAF has been having air raids or night raids producing very negative effects. We are equally going to raise our voice and speak out when the Taliban or any other group is producing civilian victims.
That’s why what happened during the Nowruz, your Nowruz, where there were some 12 deaths in two incidents in southern Afghanistan, celebrating their own Nowruz, is something we have to condemn, and ask those who are doing this to remember that civilians need to be avoiding this type of suffering.
And on the good side, we are pleased to know that Ghaus Zalmay, as you know a colleague of yours, a journalist, has been released from prison on Saturday, 21 March. That is good news and a good decision in order to support the freedom of the press in a country where and above all, of course, your religious beliefs [are respected], and at the same time you have the possibility of being able to express opinions.
There are many other areas where the UN intends to be pro-active and accelerate its own activities. One clearly marked by the Security Council resolution was regional cooperation.
What not many people know, because they work discreetly but many Afghans in the countryside know it is the UN, not UNAMA only, is not elections only and reconciliation facilitation only, but it is also 7.7 million children vaccinated by UNICEF.
Or, as an example, nine million Afghans are receiving food assistance from the World Food Programme out of which 1.9 million school children are receiving food school rations.
All this can and should continue as long as Afghans need it. But, of course, security is an important point for you and for us. And that is why we need a political, not a military solution. And that is why we need reconciliation. Inshallah.
Thank you. Sorry for being long, but this being the first time and, on top of it, we have has the Security Council resolution.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
SALAM WATANDAR [translated from Dari]: Your predecessor conducted talks with the opposition, with regard to the peace process. Will you continue that? And secondly, there is a delegation of Hezb-e-Islami with a peace plan. Do you know about the content of that peace plan?
SRSG: Regarding the first point, my predecessor made some comments, I think on the BBC recently. These comments were his personal comments; he is now a private citizen, so I will not comment on what he said. I know he worked hard and he has my respect, but that is his personal comment. What I do know is that reconciliation is urgently needed, and the key to reconciliation is talking to each other: dialogue, either directly or through others, needs to be starting. The solution, everyone recognizes, is not a military solution; it is a political plus civilian solution, and above all it is an Afghan solution. The United Nations has a lot of expertise in facilitating this type of dialogue, in many parts of the world. I have personally been a part of 18 different missions where they took place. So the UN is available, as the Security Council resolution is indicating, to facilitate and help, but it needs to be an Afghan-led [dialogue]; and if that takes place, the UN will and can be available to facilitate and help. We are all aware, like all of you, that there is an important delegation visiting Kabul these days. Well, if the word of the year is Afghanization, and the word of the year is reconciliation and dialogue, any visit or any dialogue, like the one which we hope is taking place, is helpful and should be supported. And regarding the content of it, I would leave it to the Afghan authorities or a meeting with the delegation to comment on it. But the fact that it is taking place is good news.
NEW YORK TIMES: I just want to ask you about the elections again. The evidence in August was overwhelming [regarding] fraud. I think nearly a million votes were determined to be false for President Karzai and the evidence was overwhelming that his Government planned and orchestrated much of that fraud. So I am just wondering if you can talk about when you met with President Karzai, did you get any kind of assurance from him that he would work against this sort of thing to not happen in the future and if you didn’t get an assurance like that I just wonder, don’t you think that you are just going to be at cross purposes, that you are going to have a really tough job without some change on his part. Has he said anything?
SRSG: I had a good meeting. I got the feeling and the perception from the President that he meant, seriously, to see that the next elections are going to be as effective and inclusive, and with a proper process, as possible. We all are aware and he is, but we are too, that Afghan elections in such a short time cannot be perfect. So our expectations should not be too high but they should not be too low. And in that context, the concrete steps that have been announced, and we are expecting and believing will be announced in the next few days, prior to mid-April, are steps in the right direction; not only for the international community to feel comfortable but above all for the Afghans. I feel we are, and the President is, going in this direction.
PAJHWOK: Another question regarding the Hezb-e-Islami delegates visiting Kabul. I would like to know if you think that these delegates really represent Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and how useful these talks will be for the peace process? Also, will these peace talks with the delegates speed-up the process of talking with the Taliban?
SRSG: I would like to remind you that I’ve been here only one week. So before I make judgments as accurate and profound that you expect me to do, please give me more time. Let these discussions finish and take place, as they are still ongoing, and let’s see which outcome comes from them before we double-guess it, and I will not be doing that. The fact that they are taking place, at whatever level is, is in the direction of, at least, dialogue. Afghans need to talk to each other.
FREELANCE: You have spoken at length about the election and the agreement on the Electoral Complaint Commission but it seems to be far from satisfactory that you have the right to nominate two people, but the right of independent Afghan institutions like the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) and Supreme Court to nominate people has still been taken away under this agreement. In the name of Afghanization is the UN going to become a bystander abdicating some of its responsibilities on this and other issues?
SRSG: I am aware of what you are concerned about and I am sure that you are representing the concerns of many Afghans. But you will agree with me that the decision by the President, when I first met him, to announce and confirm that two international experts will be there, and the fact that I will nominate them; and that they will have a strong say – I will not elaborate on that until the final announcement is done - is anyway a strong step in the direction of some reassurance to the Afghans about this Commission. This is the beginning, of course, of a road that is going to lead us to 18 September, and better – not perfect – elections. As soon as I will have more information and more elaboration, I will of course come back on that.
SABA TV [translated from Pashto]: For eight years the international community is supporting Afghanistan to bring peace, but peace did not come. The people of Afghanistan need peace and now talks are ongoing. But the opposition of the Government have some proposals or conditions. As during any talks some risks are always taken, some of these conditions are inconsistent with human rights. Do you think such conditions have to be accepted?
SRSG: It is not for me to say that. It’s for Afghans. Because remember, at the end of the day reconciliation will be based on Afghans talking to each other. What I can tell you based on my own experience of similar talks in other parts of the world is that things were difficult but never as difficult as in Afghanistan. You have to start somewhere and then continue discussing and seeing whether there can be some common points based on and respecting certain principles. One principle is the Constitution – we’ve heard it. The other one is, as you know, is renouncing linkages with al-Qaeda in particular, but above all, a peaceful solution for the Afghan people.
REUTERS: One of the concerns during the election was the IEC (Independent Election Commission). The Commissioners were chosen by Hamid Karzai and there was an issue with their impartiality. Because of that and you said that there will be a major reshuffle at the IEC – what is the mood? Does that means that Karzai will be still responsible for choosing the Commissioners or are we changing of the appointment system? I also want to see whether you yourself will be planning to talk to Taliban in Dubai like your predecessor has done or whether you will go to the Intercontinental Hotel [in Kabul] in the next few days?
SRSG: Regarding the first point, as I told your colleague from the New York Times, I had a strong feeling that President Karzai, and this was my first meeting with him, was serious, consistent and intending to see these forthcoming elections as credible and inclusive as possible. The Electoral Commission and this reshuffle are obviously one of the areas where the Afghans will be looking for this type of credibility. And a reshuffle is natural after one [election] and [before] another election takes place. We will all be helping and watching how this becomes a concrete sign. I am optimistic, but of course we have to work together bearing in mind that it should be an Afghan process. They are in the end accountable for the credibility of their own elections. And regarding trips to Dubai, I am not planning any at the moment. We can do trips for other reasons, but in this case, frankly, at the moment we are respecting the fact this should be an Afghan-led possible dialogue on reconciliation and that the UN is ready and available to facilitate it when and if it is the right time.
Thank you all.