Press conference with UNAMA Press Officer, Nazifullah Salarzai

30 Mar 2009

Press conference with UNAMA Press Officer, Nazifullah Salarzai

KABUL - Press conference by Nazifullah Salarzai, Press Officer, UNAMA.

Dari - Pashto

Tomorrow (Tuesday) the international conference on Afghanistan is being held in The Hague. We expect there to be two main elements to this meeting: first, it will be an opportunity to review progress on and consolidate support behind the priorities for Afghanistan agreed last June in Paris. Second, it will be the first time Afghanistan and its international partners have come together at high level since the US Strategy Review. This is a one day meeting only, but the result we are looking to see is a renewed and tighter collective focus on the priority areas of security, jobs, and better governance. The United Nations will be represented at this conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Representative Kai Eide.

Today UNAMA, in cooperation with the Afghan National Journalists Union (ANJU), the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) and the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), is hosting a multi-stakeholder consultation on “freedom of expression in Afghanistan”.

The one-day event will bring together a variety of stakeholders, including Afghan journalists and editors, the media and civil society organisations, the Government, parliament, donors and policy makers, human rights activists and international organisations with the aim of providing a platform for constructive dialogue and discussion on ways to enhance the promotion and protection of freedom of expression and the safety and security of those working on the issue.

It is anticipated that the outcome of the multi-stakeholder event will be a Kabul Declaration on “Freedom of Expression on Afghanistan” which will identify commonly agreed key concerns and set out an agenda for collective action aimed at supporting, promoting and protecting freedom of expression in Afghanistan

There are more details on the event at the Serena Hotel on the side table. The conference is by invitation only but there will be a press conference at 5:15pm.

On Wednesday this week the UNHCR-assisted voluntary repatriation of registered Afghans in Pakistan will resume from Peshawar.

The programme is traditionally suspended during the winter months when few people opt to return to Afghanistan. Registered Afghans, living in NWFP-Punjab-Sind-Islamabad, who choose to voluntarily repatriate with UNHCR assistance during the year can approach the Voluntary Repatriation Centre (VRC) located in Peshawar.

A start date for Quetta will be communicated to registered Afghans later.

In 2008, a total of 280,000 Afghans repatriated under the UNHCR voluntary repatriation operation. UNHCR estimates around 220,000 people may opt to return to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran in 2009.

Registered Afghans returning to Afghanistan with UNHCR assistance will get an average of US$ 100 per individual as a transport and re-integration grant to help them settle in Afghanistan based on distances to their destination.

Afghans approaching the centre must bring their own and family members’ Proof of Registration cards along with two family group photos in colour. UNHCR will not process Afghans without the cards and the photos.

A large scale voluntary return programme in Pakistan and Iran began in 2002 following the fall of the Taliban regime. Under the programme which has been governed by the Tripartite Agreements between UNHCR and the Governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, more than 4.4 million (some 20 per cent of the total population) have returned.

There are still some 2.7 million registered Afghans in Pakistan and Iran. The majority have been in exile for more than twenty years.

Many of you will know that this coming Saturday is the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action which has been marked every year since a UN Security Council resolution in 2005 created the day.

Here in Afghanistan we’re all only too familiar with the threat landmines and unexploded ordinance pose.

Today we’re asking all the media to help promote this day, not just on Saturday, but in the following days with special reports, articles and awareness programmes – whatever you can do to raise awareness and help stop more people being killed or injured. Let’s make this a week and whole year of mine awareness.

In Afghanistan alone, an average of sixty Afghans are injured or killed by landmines of Explosive Remnants of War every month, making it one of the worst affected countries in the world.

This year’s global commemoration of the international day focuses on the needs of the ever-growing number of landmine survivors and other victims and it celebrates the vigorous movement towards the vision of a world free from the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war.

In 2008 alone, more then 84,000 anti-personnel mines, 900 anti-tank mines and 2.5 million Explosive Remnants of War were destroyed by the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan. This resulted in the clearance of over 50 square kilometres of minefields and almost 113 square kilometres of former battle areas.

In terms of the number of hazards, the programme is now 76 per cent of the way towards achieving the target set by the Afghanistan Compact and 53 per cent towards the complete clearance required by the Ottawa Treaty (otherwise known as the Mine Ban Treaty).

More details are on the side table and there are also extracts from the UN Secretary-General’s latest report on Afghanistan which highlighted the successes in de-mining and the concerns for the future.

Civil service reform, best practice and guidance for the future are the subject of a major two day UNDP and Administrative Reform and Civil Service Commission conference starting this Wednesday.

The discussion will be amongst the key stakeholders of Government partners, donors and UNDP that are providing capacity development assistance to the public sector in Afghanistan.

Over the past few years, in close partnership with the Government and the civil service commission, UNDP has supported the efforts of building a capable and effective Afghan public sector. UNDP is currently collaborating with the commission at both central and sub-national level through three UNDP supported projects.

The projects support training and mentoring for civil servants and the implementation of the Government’s public administration reform process.

The conference takes on April 1 and 2, 2009 from 8:30 to 15:30 at the Serena Hotel in Kabul.


NOOR TV [translated from Dari]: The Supreme Court of Afghanistan has issued a legal order to extend the term of the president after 22 May 2009. The parliament of Afghanistan and some of the political parties in the country have objected to the decision and called it unconstitutional. Does UNAMA support the decision of the Supreme Court?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: As you can recall the position of UNAMA expressed by SRSG Kai Eide is that this is entirely an Afghan issue and it is up to Afghans to find a solution. There should be national consensus in this regard.

RFE/RL [translated from Pashto]: The new US strategy talks about sending more troops to Afghanistan and aid to Pakistan. What is your position on this new strategy?

UNAMA [translated from Pashto]: We think it's positive. SRSG Eide has been calling for some time for a better balancing of civilian and military efforts, and more focus on building Afghan institutions and better governance. And these vital elements are clearly reflected in the US strategy. UNAMA does not have a mandate for issues on the other side of the border. You may recall that SRSG Kai has expressed on many occasions that a political surge is necessary besides a military surge.

PAJHWOK [translated from Dari]: I wanted to ask about the Hague Conference. How many countries are attending it and at which level?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: Eighty countries and 20 international organizations will come together in The Hague under the auspicious of the United Nations. The United Nations, the Government of Afghanistan and the Netherlands will host this international conference on 31 March called “A Comprehensive Strategy in a Regional Context.” The United Nations will be represented at this conference by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Special Representative Kai Eide.

CHANNEL ONE TV [translated from Dari]: It is said that the request of the Afghan Government will be an increase in the numbers of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Police. What does the UN expect from this conference?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: We expect there to be two main elements to this meeting. First, it will be an opportunity to review progress on and consolidate support behind the priorities for Afghanistan agreed last June in Paris. I would encourage you to read the Paris document to see what the priorities were that Afghanistan and its international partners agreed on during the Paris Conference. Second, it’s the first time Afghanistan and its international partners will come together at a high level since the US Strategy Review. This is a one day meeting only, but the result we are looking to see is a renewed and tighter collective focus on the priority areas of security, jobs, and better governance.

BBC PASHTO RADIO [translated from Pashto]: The number of returnees is decreasing every year. What is the main reason behind this and do you think that US$ 100 per person is enough to cover their expenses?

NADER FARHAD, UNHCR [translated from Dari]: The number of Afghan refugees willing to return to Afghanistan has decreased since 2005. There are two factors behind this: one internal and another external. The internal factors are the lack of employment, economic opportunities and insecurity in some parts of the country namely in the south and south-eastern parts. The external factor is that some Afghan refugees have been living outside the country for 25 years. We are talking about the second and third generations of these refugees. For these refugees to make a decision and return is not an easy thing and these things will take time. We should note that last year 280,000 Afghan refugees returned to Afghanistan. It is the highest number in the world of refugees voluntarily returning to their homeland. Since 2002, 5 million people or 20 per cent of the whole population of Afghanistan have returned home. About the money: if a family has five members they will get US$ 500 and if it has ten members then they will get US$ 1000 when they return. In addition to this UNHCR’s plan for this year is to construct 10,000 shelters for those returning. Another project is a US$ 1 million project for providing safe drinking water.

AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: You said that UNAMA’s mandate is only to work in Afghanistan not in Pakistan but the activities across the border directly affect Afghanistan and there is a place for this in the new US strategy. The Pakistani Government has repeatedly been accused of supporting the Taliban. But the increase in the number of troops takes place on this side of the border instead of eliminating terrorist bases on Pakistani soil?

UNAMA [translated from Pashto]: I repeat again that it is not our duty to comment on things that happen on that side of the border. When issues like that arise it is up to the two sovereign countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to mutually solve these problems. What is important for the UN is to try and strengthen regional cooperation between the two countries so both countries can live in peace.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: You said that the UNHCR process of repatriation of Afghan refugees has decreased. Don’t you think that it is due to the lack of attention by the Government, as we have all been to see refugees who had returned from neighbouring countries? They were living in miserable conditions, even nothing to eat. Don’t you think if people return they will face the same situation?

UNHCR [translated from Dari]: The return of more than five million Afghans certainly puts pressure on the existing infrastructure across the country. I can’t remember in recent history when such a movement of more than five million, which makes almost 20 per cent of the total population, was absorbed to the extent that it has been in Afghanistan. So, many of the people that have repatriated were able to go back to their places of origin. We do have a small number who are living in very poor conditions. But again repatriation of Afghans has a direct link to the level of instability in Afghanistan and with the improvement of the socio-economic conditions inside the country. And of course, more stability and improvements in every dimension will have an impact on the decisions of Afghans to repatriate to Afghanistan.