Press conference relating to UN Security Council visit to Afghanistan

27 Nov 2008

Press conference relating to UN Security Council visit to Afghanistan

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by the United Nations Security Council visit to Afghanistan.

AMBASSADOR GIULIO TERZI, DELEGATION LEADER (ITALY): This visit has been very productive, thanks to the flawless organization provided by UNAMA and to the frankness and openness of our interlocutors. We met with President Karzai, Foreign Minister Spanta, and the speakers of both Parliament chambers and all the members of the Cabinet who are responsible for the issues under the purview of the Security Council. We had very interesting discussions with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Independent Electoral Commission. We also met with the main international players, including UN Agencies, NATO, and the European Union, as well as with civil society organizations. We finally paid an instructive visit to Herat, where we met with the local authorities, including the Governor, and the ISAF Commander for the West Region. The Security Council members will now reflect on how to take advantage of the mission’s findings in its future deliberations.

On the UN role, the Security Council welcomes the strong support from the international actors for UNAMA’s coordination role. President Karzai expressed complete satisfaction with the cooperation of Special Representative Kai Eide.

On the security situation and elements of progress, Afghanistan is faced with a difficult security situation, but not a security crisis. We should avoid any inclination to disillusionment and frustration, or even worse, mutual recrimination between Afghanistan and its friends. This is instead time for the Afghans and international community to redouble their joint efforts in a spirit of partnership. We also noted some important elements of progress which command a sense of cautious optimism for the future: first, the marked improvement in relations with Pakistan; second, the recent Cabinet appointments which have already brought increased energy and efficiency to the Government; third, the significant reduction in opium cultivation: and fourth, the commitment to improve sub-national governance.

On governance and the fight against corruption, President Karzai and his Cabinet have declared to us a strong commitment to uproot corruption and improve governance at all levels. There is a clear understanding on the need to make robust progress in these areas. The empowerment of the Afghan Security Forces is also a crucial component of this process. There is also a strong expectation of more transparency and readiness for coordination from the side of the international community.

On elections, we received a wide range of opinions on the issue of election dates in 2009. We were briefed on the significant financial, security, and logistical challenges. Free and fair elections are necessary to renew the legitimacy of the Afghan authorities and to win back the full confidence of the people. President Karzai stressed the importance of elections taking place in all parts of the country.

On national reconciliation, any dialogue with anti-government elements must be conducted by the Afghan authorities from a position of strength, setting as red lines the renunciation of violence and respect for the Afghan Constitution. The final result of this process must be democratization.

On civilian casualties, the Security Council has repeatedly expressed its concern for all civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The majority of these are caused by the insurgents. We have called on the international military forces to take robust efforts to minimize the risks while conducting military operations. We were reassured on the very close attention that ISAF pays to avoiding civilian casualties.

On food security, we learned that unprecedented measures are being adopted to ensure food security for the winter season, but there are concerns for the months after March 2009, for which additional funding is required.

On regional cooperation, we were glad to hear that regional cooperation and integration are part of Afghanistan’s security policy. We agree with the Afghan Government that relations with Pakistan bear great potential, and that areas of cooperation can be found with all the neighbours.

On human rights, we were extensively briefed on the progress made on human rights since 2001, and at the same time on some reversing trends with respect to freedom of expression, intimidation of human rights defenders and impunity. We encouraged the Afghan authorities to reinvigorate their efforts to uphold human rights, in particular those of women and children, and fight against impunity.


KILLID GROUP: We have essentially witnessed that President Karzai has asked for a timetable for the withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan. What is your answer to them and what is your assessment of Afghanistan? Is it going towards progress or it is going another way?

AMBASSADOR TERZI (ITALY): In our meeting with President Karzai as well as in discussions with the other members of the cabinet, a very clear appreciation was expressed to the international community for the overall support and stabilisation of Afghanistan and also for the developmental aspects of our intervention.

In fact, as far as the military activity is concerned, there is a wish by the President and everybody else which is fully shared also by members of the Council. There is an expectation that this military activity and this international presence may last for the future as short as possible. But it must be very clear and it is clear also to our Afghan interlocutors as it is to the international community that the situation requires increased engagement by the all actors which are operating to tackle the insurgency situation, and especially to tackle terrorism.

We have seen how dangerous terrorism is continuing to be. Just this morning we had, very close to here, another example of these activities. It is a very much an asymmetric threat. It is a concern for the international community.

We join the Afghan Presidency and the Afghan authorities in the conviction that it is an engagement which must be sustained as long as it is needed. As it was clearly said by a colleague of mine a few hours ago, military activity is not everything which is needed to fight terrorism, because there are many other things which are needed too. Political approach, economic development… but the military action must succeed. And both the international community and the Afghan national army and national forces are committed that this will be achieved.

ASSOCIATED PRESS: I have a question for [UK] Ambassador John Sawer. How much of what you are reporting, reflects the criticism that Mr. Karzai voiced in a long meeting that he had with you? Criticism such as the PRT’s are operating ‘parallel governments’ in parts of the country, and the wave of the civilian causalities is caused during international military operations.

AMBASSADOR SAWER (UK): Well of course we listen very carefully to everything that President Karzai says and indeed his ministers and his government. And we are here tackling some very difficult problems. For example, the contribution the United Kingdom makes is concentrated in the most difficult provinces in Afghanistan. And it is not surprising that it remains a serious challenge to make progress down there against the twin and linked problems of insurgency and drugs. Of course we take seriously criticism of our approach. But our approach is here in support of the Afghan Government in partnership with the Afghan Government. And it was very helpful I think that Foreign Minister Spanta was able to visit Helmand and see the international efforts on the way there which is a particular province led by the UK – together with my own minister, David Milliband earlier this week. I think it was very helpful for Minister Spanta to be able to see first-hand what we are doing on the ground and to allay some of the concerns that have been expressed by the Afghan Government.

WAKHT NEWS AGENCY [translated from Dari]: I would like to know your [Security Council] position on the issue of talks with Taliban.

AMBASSADOR TERZI (ITALY): The position of the members of the Security Council is a position of understanding exactly what the cause of this issue is within the Afghan society and the Afghan Government. We have heard a number of voices, not always coincidence among our interlocutors, but we have drawn the impression that any dialogue with the Anti-Government Elements (AGE) must be conducted by the Afghan authorities from a position of strength, a position which could be able to set red lines, and mostly important the renunciation of violence and respect for the Afghan Constitution.

This is what we believe as the main body of the United Nations that has deliberated on the issue of Afghanistan a number of times with a number of resolutions. There is a clear identification of elements of the insurgency as a terrorist threat not only to Afghan society but also to the international community.

There is also the need to see what the decision of the Afghan authorities is. It is mainly an Afghan responsibility within red lines that they have anticipated which are coherent with the decisions and principles established by the Security Council. All in all, the final result of any process of dialogue under reconciliation should improve clearly the democratic process, but not to do contrary to it or undermine the democratic process.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: President Karzai has recently offered talks with some people that are on the blacklist of the United Nations Security Council, if these elements do come forward, will their names be removed from the list?

AMBASSADOR TERZI (ITALY): We cannot work on hypothesis; we can only reaffirm what we said: the Security Council is following all the main issues which pertain to the situation in Afghanistan. This issue is one of them, if there are any developments; we expect to be duly informed to follow up our discussions accordingly.

AMBASSADOR SAWERS (UK): If I could just add, that there is a procedure for any exceptions for sanctions arrangements for those listed under the Taliban and Al-Qaida sanctions regimes. It requires a prior notification and agreement among members of the Security Council. So that is the procedure, that is very different from delisting, which is a separate arrangement which would require more thorough considerations.

BBC PERSIAN TV: Ambassador Terzi, as you may know 4,000 people have been killed in the last 11 months in Afghanistan either by coalition forces or the Taliban. If you still say that the conditions in Afghanistan is not a crisis then what is your definition of a security crisis? Secondly we have seen lots of concern from the Afghan Government on a timeline for the withdrawal of the coalition forces from Afghanistan. Would you be pushing for this when you return?

AMBASSADOR TERZI (ITALY): As you know the question of civilian victims has been very high on the agenda of the Security Council for quite a long time. More recently, it was highlighted again in precise terms by resolution 1833 which was adopted last September unanimously. This is an issue which has to be seen in a situation of asymmetric warfare. This is the difficulty of the security problems in Afghanistan. In an asymmetric warfare where a very large part of civilians are victims and are maimed or injured deliberately with the open purpose of killing civilians by the insurgents with the aim to create effects of terror and via media, with appalling cruelty.

They do so either directly or by creating situations whereby unavoidably civilians may suffer consequences of military actions.

We have had a number of discussions on this and especially the most important was two days ago at the ISAF headquarters where we and the ISAF commanders discussed this issue in detail. It was very evident first of all that there has been a very strong concern and effective measures adopted by the international coalition of 41 countries in order to avoid the occurrence of these problems. Obviously in a condition of warfare civilian casualties are always very regretful but there is always a possibility that they may happen. We came up with certain reassurances and conclusions that the commanders are improving conditions considerably. All measures are in place to avoid this problem.

The second aspect which came up, at least for me, and I believe that also other colleagues around the table share the same impression, is the very large number of civilian casualties, by a very high percentage, that are caused directly or indirectly by the insurgents. It is evident that every civilian loss is a loss for every one of us and it is a loss especially felt. I would like to say it is emotionally felt by the military structure which is operating in the international coalition but this is something that we have to monitor as the Security Council and will continue to monitor. The sooner we stabilise the insurgency situation, the better it will be especially for civilians who are the targets of these forces.

ALJAZEERA: You mentioned that regional cooperation has improved but now Pakistan complains that attacks happen in Pakistan from Afghanistan. President Hamed Karzai said that he has no power to stop civilian killings caused by air strikes of coalition forces. Does the Security Council have the power to stop these killings?

AMBASSADOR TERZI (ITALY): My comments on regional cooperation were referring to contacts which are taking place between the Afghan and Pakistani leadership. This was underlined in our meetings with the President and with the Ministers. So there is confidence here that the atmosphere, the content of the dialogue, is improving and we took note of that and that there is significant progress. We also believe that there are other regional partners that are involved in good dialogue with Kabul and it is another element which may have effect in the future. I don’t have elements to judge whether it has a direct impact already on the security situation on the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But the improved atmosphere and some additional initiatives at the international level like a conference which has been announced in France in few weeks. Some other initiatives, we as the Italian Government, expect may take place on the occasion of the G8 presidency in Italy involve other countries of the region for some specific aspects. Especially all these factors give a momentum for discussions of political problems but also for more specific ones like contra-border control, trans-border cooperation and some aspect of economic initiatives and also the very big problem of drug-trafficking which can be tackled at national level in Afghanistan but must be tackled in the regional level.