Press conference with Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Christopher Alexander

2 Jun 2008

Press conference with Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Christopher Alexander

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Mohammad Munir Mangal, Deputy Interior Minister for Security, Christopher Alexander, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Abdul Aziz Ahmadzai, Director, Joint Secretariat, Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) programme and Dr. Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Spokesperson’s office.
Dari - Pashto 

UNAMA: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, my name is Nilab Mobarez from UNAMA Spokesperson’s Office, and welcome to our joint press conference, organized by the Afghan Ministry of Interior, Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) to mark the disbandment of 300 illegal armed groups in Afghanistan. We are joined this morning by Mohammad Munir Mangal, Deputy Interior Minister for Security, Christopher Alexander, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General (DSRSG) for Afghanistan and Abdul Aziz Ahmadzai, Director, Joint Secretariat, Disbandment of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) programme. There will be brief statements by our speakers after which we will be happy to take your questions.

DEPUTY INTERIOR MINISTER: In the name of Allah -- DIAG is an important programme for the Government of Afghanistan which helps strengthen rule of law, governance, legality and stability in the country. The programme started in July 1384 [2005] in 34 provinces of the country. We would like to thank the international community, UNAMA, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) for supporting the Government of Afghanistan in this effort.

The DIAG programme is led by the Ministry of Interior. Within the structure of the Ministry of Interior, there is a new administrative unit established with the main duties of registering all weapons, implementing the DIAG programme and registering private security companies. We would also like to thank other security entities including the National Directorate of Security and the Ministry of Defence for their support in this effort.

DSRSG: Thank you very much, good morning and welcome to this discussion. DIAG is one of Afghanistan’s flagship disarmament programmes. It is a key benchmark in the Afghanistan Compact, it is a priority for the Government of Afghanistan and it has the strong support of the international community. We are here to report to you that this programme has made a serious start at overcoming a very dangerous phenomenon in this country.

The DIAG programme is not finished or even close to implemented -- on the contrary, probably the hardest work has yet to come. But the DIAG process is important because, without the full disarmament and elimination of illegal armed groups, there can be no peace in this country -- or in any country.

Three hundred and twelve groups disbanded is an important milestone. It speaks for the undeniable wish of communities, their commitment to ridding themselves, their streets, their fields, their houses of the fear and disruption that goes with the presence of illegal armed groups. Almost 40,000 heavy and light weapons have been collected under this programme, most of them at a time of increasing insurgency in Afghanistan. This, I think, speaks more loudly and more compellingly about what people really want. They want government authority to be credible, they want peace for themselves, their communities and their families.

But communities won’t feel secure and they won’t feel the benefits of DIAG unless development comes to them on a larger scale than we have seen today. This, after all, is one of the priorities we are all seeking to achieve and to highlight at the Paris Conference in only ten days’ time: How can development be brought equitably, on a larger scale, to all parts of Afghanistan? DIAG is part of the development story. In each of the 31 districts that have complied with DIAG criteria, development projects have been planned or delivered.

In Afghanistan today, we are seeking to fully implement DIAG in 71 districts -- that is almost 20 per cent of the districts in this country. DIAG will only succeed under strong Government leadership, the leadership of a Government that is trying to respond to the wishes of communities and ordinary people. Vice President Khalili and Mr. Stanikzai [Advisor to the President and Vice-Chairman of the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission] are not with us today, but they deserve a large measure of the credit for the achievement today, and you have all seen President Karzai on regular occasions over the past years speaking out in favour of DIAG, convening his Ministers and sometimes the international community, to increase the pressure to implement DIAG effectively.

But DIAG is fundamentally a programme that seeks to create space for legitimate authority: the authority of civil administration at local level, the authority of police. And that is why we are pursuing the full implementation of DIAG under the leadership of the Ministry of Interior, and it is a particular pleasure for me to be here today with Deputy Minister Mangal for this press conference.

The DIAG challenge is not going to get any easier. We all agree that to bring some of the strongest illegal groups to account we will require not just voluntary compliance but enforcement actions. We have seen some of these actions in Herat province, in Badghis province, in Nangarhar, in some areas around Kabul, but we would all like to see more.

The Government also has a responsibility to ensure that its own institutions and the individual officials in those institutions are not themselves linked to illegal groups. We would assess that the number of Government officials linked to illegal armed groups is less than it was even two or three years ago, but there is still more work to do. The current law governing the election process in Afghanistan requires that those wishing to be candidates, either for Parliament, Provincial Councils or for the Presidency, not have links to illegal armed groups. This will also be a difficult but important measure to enforce as part of the overall DIAG effort.

With joint efforts, with strong public attention to this issue, we have shown that we can make progress. We look forward to working with the Ministry of Interior, with the Government of Afghanistan and with all of you to ensure that this programme accelerates and continues.

DIAG: Thank you very much. The Joint Secretariat of DIAG, as you know, provides Secretariat support to the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission, which is led by Second Vice President Khalili.

The Government of Afghanistan is committed to the full implementation of the DIAG process and determined to disband all illegal armed groups in Afghanistan.

As the Deputy Special Representative mentioned, DIAG is not only to do with the disbandment of illegal armed groups, but is also complemented by development programmes that will help strengthen the rule of law in every corner of Afghanistan.


BBC [translated from Dari]: Deputy Minister Mangal, do you have any figures on the number of illegal armed groups and the number of weapons in Afghanistan, given the reports that weapons are still being trafficked to Afghanistan and distributed to illegal armed groups. With weapons trafficking ongoing, how can DIAG be effective? My question to DSRSG Alexander is: You said that a number of Afghan officials were linked to illegal armed groups two or three years ago -- does that mean there are still Afghan Government officials linked to illegal armed groups?

DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERIOR [translated from Dari]: According to our assessment, around 300 illegal armed groups have been disbanded so far and there are 1,800 to 2,000 illegal armed groups throughout Afghanistan. On your question on weapons smuggling: that of course affects negatively the stability and overall security in Afghanistan. We have measures to prevent this from occurring. As you are aware, the Government of Afghanistan is fully committed to implement the DIAG process, led at the provincial level by governors and at the national level by the Disarmament and Reintegration Commission, chaired by Vice President Khalili, with the support of the DIAG Joint Secretariat.

As to the threats to overall stability and security in the country coming from outside Afghanistan through those groups fighting against the Afghan Government, you know their bases and centres. Of course they have an impact on the security situation in Afghanistan. Our assessment on the number of illegal armed groups is still ongoing and we would like to make it more precise.

DSRSG: There are definitely still government officials linked to illegal armed groups, none of us denies that. Under the programme so far, our statistics show 72 such officials have been targeted, and they have two choices: either they disarm and disband the illegal armed group to which they are connected, or eventually they are removed from government service. Of the 72 officials targeted, only 28 are not compliant, so most have complied or have been dismissed. There are also some, a few, members of the Wolesi Jirga who have links to illegal armed groups, and probably Meshrano Jirga as well; there are some entities that call themselves private security companies that are heavily linked to illegal armed groups, but the largest group of people linked to illegal armed groups -- by far the largest -- are outside the government, and many of the most prominent ones are former officials, and this shows that there has been progress in protecting the government from links to this criminal phenomenon. But the government has to be strong enough to bring about the disbandment of the remaining groups, and we know how difficult that has been and will continue to be.

ALL INDIA RADIO: Can you tell me the assessment of the Afghan Government on how many weapons there still are that are not surrendered to the Government? DSRSG Alexander, you have said that the voluntary compliance period is over and it is time for enforcement action now; what exactly do you mean by that?

DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERIOR [translated from Dari]: The number of illegal armed groups that I gave you is based on the assessment we had and this will be more precise as we implement and strengthen our assessment. The exact number will be published. The number of weapons not surrendered to the Government yet needs further assessment and work, and by course of time this will also be clear. We can only give you precise numbers when we have exact figures. Over the past two months 900 weapons have been collected under the DIAG process and this number is a precise one.

DSRSG: Enforcement is obviously the responsibility, and increasingly the policy, of the Government. Voluntary compliance will probably always be the most effective strategy for this programme. But to give ordinary illegal armed groups an incentive to participate in the programme, we need to show that the most serious illegal armed groups are also subject to the programme. For example, in recent months, because of the security situation, the Minister of Interior and his colleagues have spent quite a lot of time in Herat province. And together with the National Directorate of Security they organized several operations against illegal armed groups that were engaged in kidnapping and other very serious forms of criminal activity, disturbing the peace of Herat. Because of the success of some of these operations, in the following four to six weeks there were several cases of voluntary compliance with the programme, including one particular case in Guzzara district that has helped to settle a long-standing dispute between communities.

In recent years we have seen Government security forces coexisting with illegal armed groups side by side in some districts of the country. Now we see a desire, and an ability and capacity, by the Government to challenge the authority of these groups and to assert its own authority. Take the conflict in Ghazni province, not involving the Taliban, but between Kuchis and Hazaras, who have this very deep dispute about the right to pasture in Hazarajat and in many parts of the country. There are illegal armed groups operating on both sides. Does the Government have a responsibility to uphold the law and prevent further conflict? -- Obviously. The same is true in many parts of the country.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: Deputy Minister Mangal, what can you tell us about links of illegal armed groups to al-Qaeda and the Taliban?

DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERIOR [translated from Dari]: What is really important for us is that insecurity caused by illegal armed groups or by anti-government elements is not a good thing. We have to make sure that we maintain the stability, and it is not that important for us to see the links between illegal armed groups, al-Qaeda and the Taliban, it would take time to study these links. What is important for us is that whoever is a threat to security must be brought to justice. The illegal armed groups are mostly involved in narcotics as well as some other crimes. The drug economy is providing part of the funding for anti-government elements. In order to implement DIAG throughout the country, all security entities of Afghanistan have started work in various ways: for example, district development projects, which focus on professionalizing the police force, are part of this effort.

NOORIN TV [translated from Dari]: Deputy Minister Mangal, those government officials linked to illegal armed groups, do you not think that they have their people inside the army and police? Of the 1,800-2,000 illegal armed groups around the country, is it possible to tell us the most serious ones, so that we can disclose their names through the media? And the question for DSRSG Alexander is: Can you name some of those 28 government officials linked with illegal armed groups who have not complied with DIAG, so that we can publish their names through the media?

DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERIOR [translated from Dari]: In reply to your first question on officials linked with illegal armed groups existing inside the police and army, I must say that we are moving our security forces towards professionalism. The Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army are institutions that do not belong to any individual, faction, group or commander. As the Deputy Special Representative said, there might be links between some private security companies and illegal armed groups. We have started registering private security companies and soon we will be able to publish a list of private security companies operating in Afghanistan so that we can prevent the infiltration of illegal armed groups through these private security companies. Regarding the other part of your question about the names of the biggest illegal armed groups, I must say this needs close assessment, we working on that. We are determined to disband these big groups as we disbanded other groups too.

DSRSG: I think you know the names very well of several government officials or former officials who are probably still linked to illegal armed groups -- they are household names, many of them. I do not think we want to tarnish our discussion today by going through that particular list. Let us just say that they are not with us today and we are having a better meeting because of it. But let us be clear also about the overall trend in the country. We agree with the General that there is a huge number of groups still in our database, still recorded somehow by the Government, with the support of its partners. But we think that the number of active groups is actually dramatically lower than this number. It is not cheap, it is not inexpensive, to run an illegal armed group, so many of them have gone out of business without any involvement from us. They recognize that the Government is stronger, or they see that there are other illegal armed groups bigger and stronger than them. The Deputy Minister is right that the toughest groups, the most dangerous groups, are those involved in the insurgency, in terrorism and in the drug trade. Enforcement of DIAG against them requires special efforts and special attention -- you know that story very well. But those parts of Afghanistan, Afghan society as a whole, that is not involved in drug trafficking or in al-Qaeda or the Taliban, are moving away from illegal armed groups. In fact, outside of the realm of terrorist activities we don't see too many new illegal armed groups. We know where these new groups with the Taliban and with other terrorist groups are coming from. We have all been talking about it much more recently than ever before and we have to keep talking about it.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: Deputy Minister Mangal, can you tell us which part of the country specifically these illegal armed groups operate in? The second part of the question is for DSRSG Alexander: You said that it is the Government’s decision and policy to enforce DIAG, but don't you think that this would deteriorate the security situation and eventually force these illegal armed groups to join the Taliban? The Deputy Minister suggested that there are no high-ranking officials linked with illegal armed groups in ANA or ANP, what is your view?

DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERIOR [translated from Dari]: First of all, I would like to say that there are illegal armed groups in all parts of the country and the assessment is still ongoing. The numbers we provided to you are preliminary, we are working to finalize these numbers and we will then take further decisions based on that. As I said earlier, we have already managed to disband more than 300 illegal armed groups, and I think this has not had any negative impact on the security situation. The activities of these illegal armed groups include drug trafficking and organized crime, which fuels instability in the country. We are making daily progress in the DIAG programme, our progress will continue, and I think we may not face any major problems during this process. What I meant with regard to the national security forces is that they work under a specific Government framework, they do not belong to any specific commander, and they work under the Government. The officers, soldiers and police officials are accountable to law, not to anyone else. The system is in place now, and we are reinforcing it day by day.

DSRSG: Will enforcement be destabilizing? I think the General has answered this question, but let me add one more thought: in 1382 [2003] I remember many people inside the Government and outside the Government saying that Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration will be destabilizing, we cannot do it. In 1383 [2004] many of the same people said on heavy weapons, containment that we cannot take heavy weapons away from non-government actors, it will be destabilizing. In 1384 [2005] people said you cannot have a DIAG programme for candidates for Parliament, it will be destabilizing, and similarly with the ammunition programme, with the private security companies programme, with the reform of the Ministry of Interior itself. In the end, enforcing the law is never destabilizing -- on the contrary, peace and security must be based on justice.

RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: My first question is for the DSRSG: You mentioned that during the enforcement of DIAG you will face challenges. What are these specific challenges; are they due to the government officials linked with illegal armed groups or other factors? Deputy Minister Mangal, you said that the number of illegal armed groups is between 1,800 and 2,000, while it was announced three years back that it was the same number. Over the last three years only 300 illegal armed groups were disbanded; how long do you think it will take to disarm the remaining ones?

DEPUTY MINISTER OF INTERIOR [translated from Dari]: The numbers I gave you are the old ones and they still need further assessment to make sure they are accurate. This process is not time-bound, we still have time ahead of us and every year we have good achievements. The number I gave you includes also small illegal armed groups. In the meeting we had in Japan we agreed that the process would be completed by 1390 (2011).

DSRSG: In a sense the DIAG process will never be over. No one expects zero illegal armed groups in Afghanistan. If you had zero in any country, you wouldn’t need a police force, you wouldn’t need security forces. There will always be a certain amount of criminal activity. The challenge is to bring the problem under control, to make it manageable, make it a normal law-enforcement, criminal challenge, rather than a national security challenge.

And I would ask all of you not to attach too much importance to this number, 1,800-2,000. Yes we have this number in a database but none of us can be sure that so many groups are still active in the country and many of us feel that the number is much less. The illegal armed groups problem is being brought under control, both by the natural process of self-disbandment and by the Government’s efforts that have led to over 300 groups disappearing. We are arguing that enforcement will accelerate the process.

What are the limits to enforcement? -- The Government has to be able to set its priorities, which are the most important groups to attack. The Government has to have the capacity to go to these places -- often very distant places -- and act effectively, and this is difficult for a Government that is facing an insurgency, that is facing terrorism on the scale we see today in Afghanistan. The Government agencies need to be well-led, disciplined and well-trained. And we know that sometimes, even if a Government official is not directly linked to a group, the group may be someone that that person fought with in jihad or had a relationship with through tanzim, and this can make the challenge more complicated. So enforcement is not easy at all, but we have seen more serious initiatives from the Government over the past four or six months under the DIAG programme than we have ever seen before. And when the General reports that within two months over 900 weapons were collected and many groups disbanded, this shows that there is some momentum. The more enforcement there is, the more momentum there will be.