Press conference with UNAMA Acting Spokesman, Aleem Siddique

28 Apr 2008

Press conference with UNAMA Acting Spokesman, Aleem Siddique

KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Aleem Siddique, Acting Spokesman, UNAMA.

Dari - Pashto

UNAMA: Good morning everybody. My name is Aleem Siddique from UNAMA Spokesperson’s office and welcome to our weekly press conference this morning. As usual we have a number of announcements from the UN after which we will be happy to take your questions.

As some of you may be aware, the United Nations Secretary-General made a statement last night on the incident at the parade ceremony here in Kabul, which I would like to re-iterate:

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack against President Karzai that occurred at a victory parade in Kabul yesterday. This attack against the legitimate institutions of the Afghan state and the Afghan people is unacceptable.
I would like to express again the United Nations’ support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan through legitimate state institutions, in a manner that addresses the needs of the most vulnerable and that provides both justice and security.

I call on the international community and the Afghan Government to continue their joint efforts towards these goals, undeterred by vicious attacks such as the one we saw yesterday. I congratulate the Afghan security forces for reacting quickly to the attack, preventing further loss of life, and protecting the Afghan officials and foreign diplomats attending the event.

I send my condolences to the families of those killed and my best wishes for a swift recovery to the injured lawmakers, and my sympathies to President Karzai and his Government.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (SRSG) Kai Eide is in North America this week. Today and tomorrow, Tuesday, the SRSG is in Washington, D.C., where he is meeting with both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On Wednesday and Thursday, the SRSG will be in Ottawa , Canada, to meet with senior Canadian officials including the Minister of Foreign Affairs Maxime Bernier and the Minister of Defence Peter Gordon MacKay. On Friday, the SRSG will be at United Nations headquarters in New York, where he will meet with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The purpose of these meetings is to look ahead towards the Paris conference which will be held in June this year, and also to speak with Afghanistan’s international partners about how we can step up coordination efforts and increase assistance for the Afghan State over the coming months.

In recognition of the impressive progress made by the people of Badakhshan province in reducing opium poppy cultivation, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is holding a workshop for the international donor community on 30 April to generate support for the province and sustain the reduction in poppy cultivation achieved by the farmers there. The aim of the workshop is to generate donor funds for labour-intensive road construction projects, which would provide employment opportunities in the short-term and improve Badakhshan’s infrastructure in the longer term.

The farmers of Badakhshan province have responded well to the Government’s programme to reduce opium poppy cultivation: the area under cultivation in the province dropped from over 13,000 hectares in 2006 to 3,600 hectares in 2007, with a further substantial decrease expected in 2008. A UNODC assessment has highlighted the urgent need for immediate action in Badakhshan to ensure that farmers do not return to opium poppy cultivation.

The workshop is being held in Kabul by UNODC in partnership with the Afghan Independent Directorate of Local Governance (IDLG), the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry for Counter Narcotics and the Parliamentary Counter Narcotics Commission.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has distributed food to 1,200 vulnerable families in Kandahar and 500 in Helmand, in order to help the families cope with rising food prices. Under this programme, WFP plans to assist a total of 14,000 families in Kandahar and 7,000 in Helmand.

In Nimroz province, 500 tons of food arrived in the province last Thursday. Of this food, 350 tons will be distributed in Chakhnasur district under WFP’s food for work programme and 150 tons of high-energy biscuits will be distributed to schoolchildren in Zaranj and Chakhnasur districts.

Moving to the north of Afghanistan, in Baghlan, 3,200 residents are receiving food while at the same time learning new skills with the help of WFP. WFP is providing wheat, cooking oil, salt and peas under its food-for-training programme, which will encompass vocational training, literacy classes and teacher training, to be implemented with various Government departments.

Over 700 families in Bibi Aina village in Faryab province now have access to safe drinking water thanks to a deep well dug by the Department of Rural Rehabilitation and Development with the assistance of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

The UNDP-supported Centre for Policy and Human Development (CPHD) and the National Centre for Policy Research (NCPR) will launch a joint “Postgraduate Training Programme in Human Development and Social Research Methods” on Tuesday 29 April 2008 from 1.30 to 2:30 pm, at CPHD, Kabul University.

This is a five-month postgraduate training for the lecturers of Kabul University, Kabul Education University, Polytechnic University and Afghan Academy of Sciences that will familiarize them with Human Development issues as a neglected part of university subjects in Afghanistan. Indian and Afghan lecturers will train the young lecturers on Human Development and social research.

A topic that is on many people’s minds at the moment: we are seeing a world-wide rise in food prices; we are seeing shortages of food, not just in Afghanistan but across the world. We will be joined this Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Director for Asia Anthony Banbury, who will be talking specifically about the impact of food price rises, both in Afghanistan and in the wider regional context. He will be highlighting some of the efforts that UN agencies and particularly WFP are making in conjunction with the Government of Afghanistan to tackle this challenge.


BBC [translated from Dari]: Given the fact that the responsibility for the security of Kabul will be given to Afghan security institutions, what picture does yesterday’s incident draw in your mind?

UNAMA: What we can judge and assess from yesterday’s incident is that, while it will always be difficult to prevent those who are determined to undermine peace and stability in this country, we saw yesterday an effective response from the Afghan security forces. They were successful in protecting the President and his cabinet as well as the foreign dignitaries that were present at the event. They played a crucial role in preventing further loss of life. We have complete confidence in the Afghan security forces and the role they played yesterday in ensuring the security of the President and the foreign dignitaries that were present.

Let us be clear about one thing: this was a one-off incident at a public event where Afghans were uniting to celebrate the sacrifices they have made for their independence. This attack should not be viewed as a reflection on the overall security situation in the country. This was a one-off attack, where we saw Afghan security forces responding effectively and calmly, according to the situation with which they were faced. We commend the Afghan security forces for their actions yesterday, which prevented so much more loss of life that could have occurred. What we saw yesterday was the Afghan authorities taking responsibility, taking leadership for security of their own country, their own President and their own people.

NOORIN TV [translated from Pashto]: I was an eye witness of yesterday’s incident, and for almost an hour the security officials were not able to identify the location of the target and were just shooting in panic. My second question is how much opium was cultivated in Badakhshan province last year?

UNAMA: On the second part of your question, I do not have this figure now but we can provide this to you later.

[The Spokesperson added later that, according to the UNODC Opium Survey 2007, an estimated 152 tons of opium were produced in Badakhshan province in 2007, which was down from an estimated 503 tons in 2006.]

On the first part of your question, you vividly describe the scene of yesterday’s ceremony. Is it a surprise that there was some confusion at the scene? I think with such an event happening, this should not come as a surprise to anybody. The important thing that you need to recognise and acknowledge is the response of the Afghan security forces, who acted calmly and effectively, to protect the President and protect the foreign diplomats and prevent further loss of life. We saw three of the attackers apprehended by Afghan security forces and we saw military action taken against the other attackers. What we saw yesterday was an effective response from Afghan security forces. We all need to recognise that fact and acknowledge the fact that they performed a good job under extreme circumstances yesterday.

IRNA [translated from Dari]: I would like to know your view on the psychological impact of the incident. The security forces responsible for this dispersed when they saw the attack and disappeared.

UNAMA: I think what you need to distinguish between is what you saw on much of the TV coverage last night, which focused on ceremonial soldiers marching to demonstrate the sacrifice that the Afghan people have made for their own independence. These are ceremonial soldiers, they are not carrying bullets, they are not carrying guns; they are carrying trumpets and drums. These are ceremonial soldiers, they are not fighting soldiers. The important thing that you need to note and acknowledge is the action by those who were around President Karzai and the foreign dignitaries who were present at the event. By all accounts those security officials who were armed and who were mandated to protect the attendees all responded swiftly and calmly to protect the President, to protect the foreign dignitaries, to remove them from the scene and then to advance upon the attackers. And they did a good job – I want you to recognise this fact. Three attackers have been captured; military action was taken against the other perpetrators, so the job was well done by those security and military personnel present to protect the people present at the ceremony. One should not judge upon seeing TV images of ceremonial soldiers who were not there to fight, but who were there to commemorate the sacrifice that the Afghans have made for their own independence. The question you need to be asking is how such people could disrespect the sacrifice that the Afghan people have made for their own independence at such a ceremony.

RFE/RL [translated from Pashto]: You praised the successful response of the security institutions at yesterday’s incident. Don’t you think it might have been better if they had proactively avoided such incidents? The President was protected but we lost a Member of Parliament. Don’t you think that this is an indicator of the long way ahead for the international community to fight terrorist who can still launch such kinds of attacks directly on the President? It would be better for the United Nations to propose to the international community to do much more in the fight against terrorism.

UNAMA: You know better than I do that building security in this country is a process, not an event. One should never take one event or one incident and make judgments on the entire security situation in this country. There are two aspects to what happened yesterday: one, we need to look at the immediate response of the Afghan security forces, and two, we need to look at what could have been done to prevent such an incident from happening. And we are seeing action on both of these fronts. One: we saw an effective security response from the Afghan security forces to minimize the innocent loss of life yesterday; two, we have heard from President Karzai that he has announced an investigation into this incident to look what more could have been done. This is exactly what we need to see happening if we are to see peace and stability secured in this country. We need to see an effective response and we need to reflect upon yesterday's incident to see how can we improve our security response in the future and that is exactly what we are seeing happening at the moment.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: It is said that the former communists and pro-Russian figures were involved in yesterday’s incident and also high-ranking government officials. What do you think?

UNAMA: I think this is pure gossip. Sir - we all need to wait for the outcome of the Government's investigation before jumping to any wrong conclusions.