Press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide,

17 Dec 2008

Press conference with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Kai Eide,

KABUL - Kai Eide, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. Transcript in Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good morning to everyone and welcome to UNAMA's press conference today. My name is Nilab Mobarez from the Spokesperson's Office and today we are joined by United Nations Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide. Without any further delay I would like to give the floor to Mr. Eide.

SRSG: Thank you very much. We will soon be entering a new year so I thought it would be good to look a little bit back, but mostly forward and gather you to reflect a little bit and tell you what our thinking is and discuss it with you.

First I'd like to say that next year you will see a larger, you will see a stronger, and you will see a more robust UN mission in Afghanistan.

I believe that we have spoken out clearly on a number of issues that relates to the
behaviour of the international community, but also on the policies of the Afghan government.

I believe it is important to speak out because it is the only way of ensuring the firm support of the Afghan people to the international community and it is the only way of making sure that the public opinion in troop and donor countries are firmly behind what we are doing.

And for me there is one very important objective of everything we are doing and that is to consolidate and strengthen our partnership with the Afghan people.

You know that we have spoken out with regard to the behaviour of international military forces.

And I am convinced that there is a need to revise the agreement that exists between Afghanistan and the international military forces.

There is a need for greater integration, better cooperation and better operational cohesion between the international forces and the Afghan national forces.

And that must be done in recognition of the rights of the legitimate and elected Afghan government. It relates to issues to do with detention, with house searches and also with regard to the use of air power. That is on the military side.

Then on the civilian side – there is clearly a need to make sure that the financial resources that come into the country are spent in the best possible way – that we avoid fragmentation, that we avoid duplication and that we prioritise well.

I believe that we have made progress over the last eight or nine months that I have been here, but there is still quite a way to go.

I said a larger and stronger UN mission, let me just say that when I came into the mission in early April, there was a 30 percent vacancy rate in the UN mission in Afghanistan. Today it is down to 10 percent.

It is not only a question of recruiting quantity; it is a question of recruiting quality – highly qualified experts within the priority areas that we work on.

Such qualified people are coming into the mission – and let me introduce to you today, Mark Ward who is now the donor coordination and aid effectiveness person inside the mission. Before joining us he was the Asia director for USAID and you will hear a lot from him in the future.

Following discussions in New York yesterday, I expect to have a new budget adopted within next few days. That will in fact double our current budget and allow us to raise the number of personnel from 1,500 to more than 2,000. And it will allow us to recruit experts within such key areas as agriculture, power, capacity building and so forth.

We have had great support from many nations in obtaining approval for that budget, and let me single out one person who was here last week and that is Bob Gates, the [US] Secretary of Defence who has always been a staunch supporter of a greater and stronger UNAMA in order to fulfill the civilian tasks that the international community has here in Afghanistan.

We have seen important events over the last year and most prominently the Paris Conference on the 12th June. That conference set out a road map as you know and I believe that we now see that road map being implemented, even if we are still in the early stages.

Of course it is a shared responsibility between the Afghan government and the international community to make sure that we make further progress and we have to make further progress quickly.

We have put in place as you know some new coordination mechanisms around the JCMB [Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board] forum which is starting to work better but it will work even better next year.

I must say that the experiences over the last few weeks have convinced me that we need more than that.

Let's look at aid effectiveness for instance where a number of countries have a significant number of players that are active within the field of providing financial development, reconstruction support to Afghanistan.

We in the UN mission cannot be responsible for running after each and every institution that one country has engaged in the work in Afghanistan. That has to be the responsibility of the country itself.

So, coordination has to be a shared responsibility. I would like to see an international coordination cell established where each of the major donors has one person who is responsible for knowing what that country is doing in total in Afghanistan. That is not the case today.

Only if there is one focal point from each country who knows all the activities of that country in Afghanistan will we be able to coordinate. And only then will Afghan government be able to have a full overview of what is happening on its own territory.

In addition to that, we in the UN mission need closer and regular contact directly with capitals, in donor countries, in order to participate and influence in decision shaping more directly than we are able to do today.

We and I need a constant dialogue at the political level with the major donor countries. We have set priorities for our coordination efforts in the next period to come. That has been done by Mark Ward together with donors and members of the government.

Let me just mention briefly [five more points]. Of course we must expand agriculture production, thereby also increasing employment and stimulating economic growth. And this will help us overcome or avoid the kind of humanitarian crisis that we experience in Afghanistan.

The second is power which will be important for every Afghan in his or her everyday life and also to stimulate economic growth.

The three others are: private sector development; capacity building; higher education; and vocational training. And you can see that the aims of all these five priorities are economic growth and stronger Afghan institutions.

In addition, of course comes our continued support to strengthen the police, which would have an impact on stability, on rule of law, anti-corruption, counter-narcotics and border control efforts.

All this can be summed up in implementing the Paris Declaration. And let me now comment on a debate that is going on in some circles today – which is the question of: do we need a new strategy or not?

I must admit I am afraid of grand strategic discussions. They tend to make us lose time and create confusion, rather than clarity, and in the end, bring us back to where we are today. And we don't have any time to lose.

So, I hope that our focus can be on implementation, implementation, implementation rather than discussion, discussion, discussion.

A few words about the meeting we had in Paris on Sunday. It was co-chaired by Foreign Minister Kouchner, Foreign Minister Spanta, and myself. It was useful because we were able to concentrate on one element that has been neglected which is part of the Paris Declaration and which is part of the UN mission’s mandate – that is regional cooperation.

There are two main topics that I would also like to mention to you here. One had to do with drugs and border control. There was agreement that we do need closer cooperation to ensure better border control. We also need to follow up much better on the triangular initiative that was launched by Mr. Costa last year which includes Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan and which also includes better intelligence sharing.

The second and most interesting debate had to do with regional economic projects –that means transportation – rail and road; energy – electricity and gas; and also better water management.

And we tried to establish an overview of projects that are there, on paper at least, but that can implemented at different stages.

There are some projects that I will say are achievable in the shorter-run and that do not include very difficult and politically sensitive issues.

And then there are projects that because of the security situation will require more time before they can be implemented.
And the third is a category of projects where there are divergent political interests which have to be reconciled.

The conclusion from the meeting was to try to focus on the cluster of doable and achievable projects. I am hoping that if we can make progress on these issues we will also be able to move forward on more politically complex projects.

And the European Commissioner, Benita Ferrero Waldner invited them to a meeting in January - February of experts to help define those achievable projects. The idea being when we then have Islamabad Regional Economic Cooperation Conference sometime as early as possible next year, then we will have identified such doable projects.

As you know there is no lack of projects, but there has been a lack of focus and there has been a lack of opportunities to bring the countries of the region together with the big donors. That is what has just happened now in Paris.

It is my hope if we can follow the road maps of this week that we set Paris via the Brussels meeting to Islamabad, then we can see a kind of a breakthrough in regional cooperation between these countries.

My hope is of course that will bring income, employment and economic growth to the Afghan people and contribute to stability in the entire region.

I apologise for the long speech, but I would now be happy to take your questions.


REUTERS: Could you please give us more details on the agreement you mentioned? You also mentioned Robert Gates saying that the UN should have the right resources in order to do its job properly. The money from New York yesterday is that a response to what Mr. Gates has said?

SRSG: With regard to the agreement I think I mentioned some the main areas that I believe should be covered in it. Those would be the headlines so to speak on the agreement and there could be others. As I said, for me it is very important that the Afghan security forces play much more a prominent role in operations that take place and that is well reflected in such an agreement. That would be my basic answer.

With regard to the budget – we are not there yet – there will be continuing discussions this week in New York – but I believe that I can safely say that we will have a budget that is just about double of what we have today. Of course this has been a lengthy process over months. But I mentioned Bob Gates simply because he has always been, and was last week, a strong supporter of strengthening the civilian efforts led by the UN mission. I am very appreciative of the efforts that he has done and also of the support many other countries have given us in that process.

There has been broad support, but I believe that he articulated that support very well when he was here.

TOLO TV (translated from Dari): You said that the agreement between international military forces and the Afghan Government should be revised. What agreement do you mean as there have been different agreements? Will the Afghan government have the authority to expel foreign forces from Afghanistan? Can you please clarify?

SRSG: I think I have clarified what I want to see in the agreement but it will be up to the Afghan government and the countries which have military forces here to formulate that agreement. I think you have heard what I believe should be some basic elements in that agreement. I believe I have been as precise as I can with regard to the objective of the agreement, but in regard to how is it formulated that is not up to me. Of course, I have spoken to Minister Wardak and to McKiernan – but primarily to the Defence Minister of this country.

IRIN: Whilst you are talking about was doubling the UN presence in Afghanistan, the challenges you are facing have also doubled. Do you think doubling staff sitting in isolated compounds in Kabul and elsewhere in urban cities, will actually meet the challenges the country is facing and will actually reduce the suffering of Afghans who are living in areas you can’t go and don’t have access to?

SRSG: I think it is clear and everybody knows that we have a limited access in a significant part of the country. No doubt about that. But then I must also say that I believe that the UN mission has better contact with the Afghan people than any other international institution in this country. The UN is not intelligence operation. But we have good information I believe about what Afghan think; what their concerns are; what their worries are; and I have tried to reflect those concerns. They are based on what I hear from our staff which primarily is an Afghan staff remember. The clear majority of UNAMA staff members are Afghans. That to us is a tremendous asset. No other organisation is in that situation, so I don’t find us isolated at all. I believe where we can, we have broad network of contact in Afghan communities. But you are right that while doubling our budget the challenges have also become much more complex.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES (translated from Pashto): Could you please tell us what were your main challenges in the past year and what will be your main challenges for the next one?

SRSG: Of course we have the problem of access in significant parts of the country. There is no doubt about that. It has reduced our ability to operate in the way we should. I say “should” because we are here to reach out to Afghans and we have not been able to reach in the way we should. It is a question of access, but it is also a question of resources. We simply have not had the resources here or in our offices around the country to implement our mandate the way I want us to implement it.

And can I just say – it frustrates me profoundly every day to know and to see that we cannot reach out to the Afghan people everywhere where we need to do it and to help meet their humanitarian concerns. Our plan is to expand the number of offices with five more beyond one which we opened a couple of months ago. I hope we will succeed but that will also, to some extent, depend on the security situation as it develops next year. So there are many questions marks but we will have resources that will enable us to do the job better than we have done so far.

GOOD MORNING AFGHANISTAN (translated from Dari): You mentioned strategies and made remarks about new strategies and whether we need one or not – but I did not clearly understand. Do you support having a new strategy or not? The other part of my question is following up IRINs question. Could you give a more precise answer to his question?
SRSG: I believe that the grand strategic debate will only make us lose time and not bring greater clarity. We do have a road map; maybe you won’t call it a strategy, but, we have a road map that is clear and as identified in Paris and through the ANDS. Our task is to move on the ground to implement and to implement better and more effectively than we have done this year. I think we all know what the problems are. So let’s look at them seriously and do a better job next year, based on the road map that we have. But I am afraid of losing more time. I think particularly when a new
administration is coming in, in the United States; the Obama administration; it is so important that all our energy, all our resources are focused on implementation on what we all know is required.

AP: You mentioned issues to be consulted with the Afghan government and foreign militaries – regarding detention, house searches and use of air power. Do you have specific recommendations on what can be done better?

SRSG: With regard to house searches, I believe that Afghans should always be in front. The Afghans are aware of the cultural sensitivities in a completely different way than internationals are or can be. And cultural sensitivity is critically important for those kind of activities.

With regard to the use of air power – I think already changes have been made in the way international forces operate in order to avoid situations where there is use of air power, for instance in populated areas, which can lead to unnecessary civilian casualties.

With regard to detentions, I think greater transparency is required in order to avoid that people are detained and often are held for a long period of time on the basis of mistaken identity or mistakes with regard to whether these people are insurgents or not.

Let me mention, in this respect, not for any agreement, but, we in the UN mission are aware of people having been detained who happen to be among the UN mission’s closest contacts in the community. I think that we can help also, in correcting mistakes, and thereby reducing frustration in communities that result from such mistakes.

DPA: Military commanders on the ground are talking about increased violence next year. Does the UN expect greater security challenges during operations next year? And do you think that the extra troops that are coming from US will help you expand your presence in the country?

SRSG: I don’t want to speculate about what will happen next year with regard to the security situation. I hope we will be able to cope better with it next year than this year, with a greater number of ANA troops in particular. Because it is their responsibility for the security situation and it has to be constantly, month-by-month Afghanised.

I have spent 11 years of my life at Nato headquarters but I am not a military expert – I have been on the political side. Let me say some words about the military surge. I can see that an increased military presence is required in particular for two reasons.

First of all to expand the Afghan National Army as quickly as possible we will need a significant amount of military trainers and mentors. Second, there will be a need for additional military troops to make sure that the elections take place in an environment that is as secure as possible.
I would like to add that any expanded military presence has to be accompanied by that change in behaviour that I have outlined to you.

But, I am quite convinced that when President-elect Obama takes over in January his focus will not only be on the military forces. I’m sure that he will be equally focused on the civilian aspects for stabilising Afghanistan. Greater emphasis on the development aspects; greater emphasis on the capacity building; and institution building elements. I am convinced that that will be just as much on his mind as it is on our mind.

XINHUA: In your opening remarks you said Afghanistan will see a robust UN expansion next year – and open new offices. Which provinces does the UN want to open new offices in?

SRSG: We already opened one office as you know a couple of months ago. We have also announced that we will open an office in Tirin Kot, hopefully as soon as possible next year. And then our plan is to open four more provincial offices during 2009. And where those offices will be – that will be a surprise to you. I must say – whenever we open an office, there are two key big considerations behind such an opening. First, the security situation for our personnel – our people are unarmed and therefore the security situation will have to be the basic consideration. Second and related to that – where can the UN mission have an added value – where can we carry out our job in the most effective way. So, that is an assessment that we will make continuously as we move towards the opening those offices.

ALL INDIA RADIO: You have talked of an international coordination cell for donor countries. I would like to know if this is a new idea – and what was the response from donor countries? And relating to this, there is a demand for routing all aid through the Afghan government – what is your position on this?

SRSG: Yes, it is a new proposal. But I expect donors to accept it. If they cannot coordinate the activities of their own country, how can we do it? So coordination has to be a shared responsibility. That is not only something that is up to UNAMA – it is up to the international community as such. So what I am saying to the donor countries is – you must be able to tell us exactly what your country is doing inside Afghanistan. Be it via aid agencies; PRTs [provincial reconstruction teams]; contractors; NGOs or whatever. What is the totality of your development efforts inside this country? If they cannot tell us – how can we know? And even worse, if they cannot tell us how can the Afghan government know? And we are on Afghan territory.

With regard going through Afghan channels, yes believe that an increasing amount of resources should go via the Afghan core budget. It is the only way of ensuring that the Afghans gradually take charge of the use of resources. But I would say for all resources that are spent inside this country, they must be spent according to Afghan plans and Afghan priorities. There is a tendency to say the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) is so broad that it covers everything so we can continue just as we did last year and the year before. That is not true. The Paris declaration which was based on the ANDS sets priorities that we have all committed ourselves to.

RFE/RL: How would you describe 2008 in terms of progress on corruption, insecurity, aid effectiveness and real transparency? And the priorities you have mentioned – how sure are you that you will be able to overcome these challenges and how long will they take?

SRSG: I am not going to make a speech now, but just to sum it up in a few words. On all the aspects you mentioned, the situation has been unsatisfactory. The security situation we know about; transparency also not satisfactory; aid effectiveness not satisfactory. I have said that many times and I can repeat that again.

How I can be sure that the priorities will be followed? I am not sure. But, that is why we have to be stubborn in pursuing those priorities and in trying to convince the donor community and the government of Afghanistan to follow those priorities vigorously and you can be sure we will do that.

I must say thank you very much for nine months of 2008. Thank you for comments that sometimes were positive and sometimes were critical. That’s how it should be and I look forward to 2009 which will probably be equally a mix of critical and supportive commentaries. This is the way it should be.

Thank you very much.