Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

18 Jan 2010

Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique

KABUL - Transcript of press conference in Kabul by Aleem Siddique, Spokesperson, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.


Most of you have been hearing the ongoing gun fire and the attack currently taking place in Kabul. While details remain unclear, early reports indicate the involvement of numerous gunmen and suicide bombers near Pashtoonistan square. We are aware that the Taliban have claimed responsibility for this attack and we condemn this attack unreservedly. It is of particular concern that the attack took place in an area where so many civilians are present and going about their daily work. The fact that this attack took place in such an area with such a high number of civilians is a matter of concern for the United Nations. You will recall that only recently, we issued a report on civilian casualties which clearly indicated that suicide bomb attacks and roadside bombs are the biggest killers of civilians in Afghanistan, and last year alone over 1,000 civilians were killed in such attacks. We are monitoring the situation closely as we speak and we hope to be able to give you an update on the situation later during the day.

The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board will meet for the thirteenth time on Wednesday (20 January).

This JCMB will be presented with the Government of Afghanistan's key plans ahead of the London Conference on 28 January.

Economic development plans and the effective use of aid money; increasing the size of the Afghan National Army and Police and the support provided by the international community to support and train both of these institutions; and peace and reintegration plans will be among the topics on the agenda and presented for approval.

The JCMB is the forum where Afghanistan’s leaders and the international community identify top development priorities and finance them. It is chaired by Minister of Finance Zakhilwal and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Kai Eide.

UN supported customs capacity building in Afghanistan has resulted in the increment of revenue collection by 700 per cent and trade by 300 per cent.

Since 2003, UNOPS, UNCTAD and UNIDO have been working with the Afghan Customs Department (ACD) under the Ministry of Finance on a customs modernization and trade facilitation project to improve the capacity of the ACD to effectively manage custom clearance processes and revenue collection.

Six years back, trucks could wait up to 7 hours for their turn. Today, they can be back on the road in less than two hours.

The time to clear customs for trucks has now been reduced from 428 minutes to around 90 minutes. This in turn has increased trade volume by 300 per cent from US$ 2 billion to US$ 8 billion per annum, according to World Bank estimates. Customs revenue collection for the Afghan Authorities has been boosted by almost 700 per cent from US$ 50 million to nearly US$ 400 million and the capacity of the ACD strengthened to deliver better and more transparent services through the implementation of electronic customs processing systems and training

The project, which is financed through interest-free credit and grants by the International Development Association (IDA), has been such a success that based on the Government of Afghanistan’s request, IDA is considering financing a follow on project to ensure that the reform process within the Customs Department continues.

From 2003 to 2009, the major focus of the project has been on establishing a more efficient and transparent customs system; improving the revenue collecting capacity of the ACD and other agencies; decreasing the obstacles and costs related to customs clearance through improvements in infrastructure, communications and administration systems; and facilitating Afghanistan’s international trade.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has signed an agreement with the Government of Afghanistan to develop and support local Governance as part of its Sub-national Governance Programme (ASGP II).

The five-year project, aims to improve delivery of Government services for Afghan communities.

US$180 million has been allocated for the project which will cover all 34 provinces. And it will help set up National systems, procedures and legal frameworks to implement, coordinate and monitor sub-national governance policy. Build Provincial and district governors’ capacity to manage local government services. Boost local Government effectiveness to collect revenues and deliver basic public services.

The United Nations Development Programme through Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) has launched a new development initiative as part of the Disbandment of Illegal Armed groups DIAG initiative.

This new series of small development projects support the community by providing alternative livelihood’s for former fighters who denounce violence and wish to live peaceful lives in their communities.

Communities in eight districts in the North, North- east, East and Central parts of Afghanistan and more than 700 families of former fighters will benefit under this new initiative.

The maximum budget per district is US$ 50,000 which covers various livestock projects like honey bee keeping, dairy sheep keeping and poultry production programs.

Nationwide there are currently over 90 infrastructure and community assets development projects on-going for DIAG compliant communities.

So far, 260,000 families have benefited from these development projects.

US$ 300,000 has been allocated for these projects with the support of the Government of Japan.

So far, 88 districts have been declared as DIAG-compliant and 695 Illegal Armed Groups (IAGs) have been disbanded. DIAG is being implemented in more than 139 districts across Afghanistan.

More than 45,830 heavy and light weapons have been collected since the inception of the programme in June 2005

During 2010 UNHCR will focus on the needs of the most vulnerable returning Afghan’s with reintegration activities such as shelter, water, and income generating projects.

The agency will also continue to monitor the situation of returnees, provide free legal advice, and run a special programme that provides assistance to extremely vulnerable individuals.

Recognizing shelter as one of the priority needs of returnees, UNHCR expects to build shelter for a further ten thousand returnee families in 2010. This will bring the total number of houses constructed since 2002 to an anticipated 200,000 units, assisting more than 1.2 million returnees.

As in previous years, cash-for-work activities will be implemented in selected rural communities with high returnee population. Income-generating projects for vulnerable groups including female-headed households and other women at risk will also continue.

Water and sanitation activities will remain one of UNHCR’s priorities for assisting returnees. The agency has helped built or reconstruct over 10,000 water points since 2002.

UNHCR will also continue to advocate for the longer term reintegration needs of returnees to be fully mainstreamed into national development programmes so as to underpin the sustainability of voluntary repatriation.

To date, UNHCR has assisted over half of million Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) to return voluntarily to their home provinces.

More than 4.4 million Afghans have been assisted to return home by UNHCR since 2002, including 3.4 million returnees from Pakistan and nearly 1 million from Iran. There are approximately 2.6 million Afghan refugees still living beyond the country’s boarders of which 1.6 million in Pakistan and slightly less than 1 million in Iran.


SABA TV [translated from Dari]: Given the current security situation which is very tense right now, previously President Karzai’s government captured such suicide bombers, but he released them and even gave them some money. I would like to know the position of the United Nations whether you have advised the president on such issues and asked him not to repeat such moves and release such suicide bombers when they are caught again?

UNAMA: Without a shadow of doubt, the United Nations position is where such callous attacks take place that have such a dramatic impact on the civilian population, particularly in such an urban area, this is an issue that is a real concern to the United Nations. We need to see accountability according to the laws and constitution of this country without exception for those perpetrators.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: Coming back to security issues and as we know there are hundreds of thousands of foreign troops in Afghanistan. Besides that, the Afghan National Army and National Police are being assisted by the increase in foreign troops. But what are the reasons behind the insecurity of the people inside Kabul city? How can these suicide attackers can manage to enter the city and launch such attacks? What’s the point of the presence of troops in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul, if they are not able to provide security to Kabul citizens?

UNAMA: We will always hear about those attacks that do succeed in reaching their targets. We never hear about those attacks that are stopped and are prevented and where security forces interject and succeed in protecting the population.

Let us not underestimate the efforts of Afghan security forces and international forces take to prevent such attacks. The reality of the situation is that when you have insurgents willing to blow themselves up in civilian population areas where there are such large numbers of civilians it is extremely difficult for the security forces to take the action that needs to be taken to protect the people. This is the very nature of the asymetric manner in which the insurgents are conducting war in this country. We are reminding all parties to the conflict, that they have the obligations under international law to ensure that the conflict does not have a detrimental impact on the civilian population. No side of this conflict will ever win if they continue to bomb innocent civilians in market places, in the streets of Kabul, they will never win the confidence of the Afghan people, they push themselves further away from the Afghan people and alienate themselves from the vast majority of Afghans who simply want peace, stability and progress.

RFE/RL: My question is about the security situation, about today’s attack and the attack on the UN guest house in Shar-e-Naw: Will it affect the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan. At that time we heard that the United Nations was thinking of transferring some of its staff to Dubai. Will you accelerate that process? Besides that, there are reports that the Italian PRT in Herat province is helping Taliban leaders who have surrendered to the Afghan Government, so will the reintegration process of the United Nations support that process as well?

UNAMA: The United Nations remains committed to the people of Afghanistan. We have been here for over 50 years, helping and supporting those people who need our help the most. And we have no intention of leaving anytime soon. As the Secretary-General made clear, Afghanistan will be one of the key priorities for the United Nations family in the coming year. We recognize, of course, the fact that the security situation has deteriorated, and this has had an impact on the United Nations. However, we are adapting our programmes and our activities to ensure the continuation of our support for the Afghan people in light of the difficult security situation.

While I am unaware of the particular details that you referred to in Herat, generally speaking, on reconciliation, you heard me and the Special Representative say many times before, that military efforts alone will not succeed. There is a need for a peace process to begin in this country. However, that peace process must be owned and must be led by the Government of Afghanistan for it to have any chance of progress. We are aware that the Government of Afghanistan is currently working on a reconciliation and reintegration plan that they hope to present soon. We look forward to seeing that plan, and the Government of Afghanistan can rely on the support of the international community in those efforts to reconciliation and reintegration former fighters.

IRNA: In such a situation the Afghan Government has asked for the removal of the names of Taliban leaders from the UN Security Council black list. So I would like to have the UN view on this matter?

UNAMA: Decisions on the UN blacklist as it is known here in Afghanistan, UN Security Council Resolution 1267 imposes sanctions and travel restrictions on senior members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Decisions on who is on that list and who is off that list are made by the United Nations Security Council, they are not made by the Special Representative and they are not made by UNAMA. Changes to that list are made at the request of either, the Government of Afghanistan, the Secretary-General or any other member state of the United Nations. The Government of Afghanistan is at liberty to make such a request to the Security Council for the removal or addition of names to that list. And in the interest of peace I am sure the Security Council would be willing to receive any suggestions for changes to that list from the Government of Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: Just a follow-up to the previous question. Yesterday, when I raised this question with Richard Holbrooke, he said that there are many blacklists and the international community is not united on just one blacklist and he said that there might be some people on the blacklist. But besides some of the most dangerous people in the world are on that blacklist and the United States stands ready to withdraw the names of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Mullah Omar from that blacklist.

UNAMA: The most important aspect of beginning a reconciliation process in this country is not the views of any particular member state, not the views of anybody from the international community for that matter. It is the views of the Government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan. That is the most important aspect and it is for the Government of Afghanistan and the people of Afghanistan to decide who they can reconcile with. And the Government of Afghanistan is at liberty to make whatever request it feels is necessary to begin a reconciliation process and that’s the prerogative of the Government of Afghanistan and it can make that request at any time it likes to the United Nations Security Council. And, I am sure there are many lists but the one that’s the most relevant and the most pertinent to Afghanistan is the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267 also known as the blacklist here in Afghanistan.

ARIANA TV [translated from Dari]: Coming back to the issue of reconciliation with the Taliban. Previously the Taliban set up a precondition for joining the peace process and that was the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan. Given the current situation, if the Taliban again make the same condition for joining the peace process, what would be the position of the United Nations?

UNAMA: Can I refer you to the comments that the Special Representative Kai Eide made in the Security Council just two weeks ago, where he indicated that if the insurgents were to denounce violence that would significantly increase the prospects of troop withdrawals. And, that’s simply common sense, as the fighting subsides, as the capacity and the capabilities of the Afghan security forces increase there will be less need for an international troop presence in Afghanistan.