Press conference with United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy,
KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Kai Eide, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Adrian Edwards, Director, Office of Communications and Public Information.
UNAMA: Salaam Aleikum and Good morning everyone and a very warm welcome to today’s UNAMA press conference. With us today we have Alain Le Roy who is the head of United Nations Peacekeeping, and UN Special Representative Kai Eide.
USG: Good morning to everyone, Salaam Aleikum. I wanted to say at the beginning that, of course, I am very pleased to come to Afghanistan. I arrived here last week with the Secretary General, and I wanted to stay a further five days in Afghanistan to underscore the point that this mission, UNAMA, and the work of the whole UN family here is extremely important for us in New York.
The purpose of my visit was to understand better Afghanistan, the challenges that the people of Afghanistan are facing, the challenges the authorities are facing, and the challenges the UN family and UNAMA are facing.
I have met many people in this country in these past several days. Starting with the President, along with the Secretary General, many ministers, both Speakers of the upper house and the lower house and also I have been visiting the provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan. And I have met of course the governors here and other actors both in Kunduz and Puli-khumri.
Of course I have met also members of parliament, and various groups and various professors and representatives of civil society.
The first clear impression I got is that UNAMA, indeed the entire United Nations family here, has a very unique role to play in this country. The UN has been here in this country for over 50 years.
So UNAMA has been created in 2002 and someday will terminate its operation, but the UN family has been here for more for than 50 years and will remain to serve peace, stability, and development for the Afghan people for many more years.
The UN has a long history of working in the field with local communities, and for the benefit of the country’s most vulnerable people. One of our attributes is that we are comprised of both internationals and Afghans, all working side by side as members of the UN family.
Just for UNAMA itself, with the new budget there will be something like 2,000 people working just for UNAMA. And of them 500 will be international and 1,500 will be Afghan citizens.
And if I consider the whole UN family, UNAMA and UNICEF, WHO, WFP, etc. there are more than 8,000 Afghans who are employed and working with us in our agencies and missions. And we are very proud of that – it is at the core of our values.
Now turning to my impressions of the political situation, it is clear obviously to everyone that 2009 will be a very important year, especially because of the coming election.
We appreciate that the date has now been fixed by the Independent Electoral Commission.
And it will be our task, within the UN family, to ensure that this very complex and costly operation is performed with best criteria, or the best efficiency.
We will try to do our best to help because it is clear that this election is very important for the country. It’s clearly both a challenge but also a huge opportunity for the country to be able to work together.
And of course we will consider it a successful outcome for elections to take place on time, with fairness and transparency. My hope it that it could bring political stability and renewed legitimacy.
But we all have to work together, of course from the military side, and for the political side and development side to try to reduce this level of insecurity.
And we hope that the election could be an opportunity to bring more stability once a result is accepted by everyone.
We all have the security problem in mind, but I want also to stress some of the clear achievements that the country has made, has performed in the recent years.
I’ll just mention one or two items.
Clearly, lots of progress has been achieved in the health sector. There has been a clear strategy by the Afghan authorities in the health sector and the donor community has been able to help on that sector and to improve the situation.
It’s the same in the case of education. A clear strategy has been defined and again the donor community and the international community have been able to support that effort. And the numbers of those in school, both boys and girls, is encouraging.
There’s also been progress in demining. Thanks to MACCA [Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan] more than 80,000 anti-personal mines have been destroyed.
And we are pleased now with new progress in fields such as the police sector, with the new Minister of Interior. There is clearly recent and very encouraging progress in strengthening of the police.
We all know that the Afghan National Army has been strengthened, and now the police is also headed in the same direction hopefully.
We are pleased also with the new development in the fight against poppy cultivation, with significant reductions last year in poppy cultivation in several parts of the country.
We are pleased also that the Office of Oversight for Corruption has been established. And we hope that implementation will go on as soon as possible of the work of this office.
Clearly our strategy, I don’t want to go too long so I will stop here, but just to say that our strategy is aimed at helping make sure that development strategies are Afghan-led. Being Afghan-led by the authorities and with the donor community, together with the help of the UN and UNAMA specifically, could help.
And to conclude let me say that from the New York perspective, the Secretary General was extremely pleased by the work of UNAMA and UNAMA leadership and would like to express his full support to Mr. Kai Eide, his Special Representative and to the leadership and employees of UNAMA.
There are clearly huge challenges. But a lot has already been achieved and the UN commitment is to be here for the long term to help these achievements to be sustained into the future.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
SABAH TV [translated from Pashto]: It is said that Afghan problems have emanated from a lack of coordination between national and international military forces. The US military has said that this problem has created a gap between the people and the international community and the Afghan Government. Do you confirm this and in your view is it the main problem or are there other problems also?
USG: It is clear that there are many important international players and actors in Afghanistan. It is a complicated situation because you have so many players. But I must say that I have the feeling, and it is my impression and it is the impression of other actors, since almost a year especially when Mr. Kai Eide came to Afghanistan, that efforts of cooperation between military and civilian and between the various donors have clearly improved. So we have to continue to work in that direction. But at the same time it is important for the authorities to see that the Afghan National Development Strategy is clearly implemented and to help the donor community better coordinate donor assistance.
SRSG: This is not my press conference, but since you asked about the military; I would like to have a couple of comments perhaps. I think that over the last couple of months you have seen an increasing awareness of the need for international and national military to work more closely together. I think you have seen that developing on the ground.
I see that as a positive development because it is clear that the Afghan security forces should play the lead role where they can. This is their country. They know their country, they know the cultural sensitivities. I think this is something we in the UN have said for a long time. I think there is a shared awareness also between us, the international military and the Afghan authorities. So there is clearly a positive development.
AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: Afghan authorities have been accused by US officials of being incompetents who have failed to tackle security issues and corruption causing a ‘failed state’. How does the United Nations assess the Afghan Government now?
USG: I wanted to stress the achievements of recent months. We all have to recognize the achievements. The country is facing huge challenges. We know our challenges and security is one of them. But when I have been visiting the country I have witnessed several developments and I want to mention one, which is the Directorate for Local Governance. It is a good step in the right direction. If you empower more of the provincial and district governors it is a good way to not have a ‘failed state’ at all. So this is to empower the state to have decentralized and functional government. So there is clearly some improvement. And it is clearly our role as the UN to strengthen the legitimate institutions, institution building, rule of law and also what has been done to strengthen Afghan National Army and Police. All this is to help build a sustainable and functioning state. And lots has to be done in the justice sector as well as other sectors but institution-building is clearly progressing.
SRSG: It is so simple to just call Afghanistan a ‘failed state.’ But it takes attention away from what is happening and what has been happening over the last few years. There are many things we can complain about but if you look how poor the country is, the illiteracy rate, and if you see what has been happening in the last few years; building up gradually the ministries. The ministries are functioning much better today than ever before. Most of the governors’ offices are functioning better than they have for a long period of time. The ANA [Afghan National Army] is being built up. The police are starting to be strengthened. There are so many positive things that exactly have to do with state building. And to call this a ‘failed state’ is mistaken completely and ignored totally the developments that are taking place in this country. It is a nice description if your purpose is to get into the headlines in the media, but it is very bad if you want to really analyze the situation in the country.
SHAMSHAD TV [translated from Pashto]: You talked about security challenges and the Afghan Ministry of Defence has also confirmed that 2009 will face lots of problems in terms of security, but besides that there will be achievements. So how do you assess this year? And the second question is that the authorities at the Iranian Embassy in Kabul have accused the international community of failing to fight against terrorism and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, what is your position on that?
USG: It is obvious that 2009 will be a year of challenges and new opportunities. It is probably clear that some groups will try to derail the process especially when the elections are coming. But I think now the work, the cooperation between the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, the military, the international military and the whole international military has clearly improved. I met yesterday the ISAF Commander General McKiernan. He knows the challenges. I think he will have the determination also to make sure that the level of incidents is reduced to a minimum.
From me, I want to stress, of course, that it depends a lot on all these structures including ANA and ANP [Afghan National Police] but also from the local communities. If the whole country wants to go to elections in a proper way, or local communities have to help in reducing the level of insurgency or incidents. I must say I have tested the determination both of the Afghan authorities and of the international community. And it is very strong. There is determination to make sure we can pass this year without too much insecurity.
That is their judgement – of course at the same time I can say that a lot has been achieved to reduce the impact of the insurgency. I have seen yesterday that for example in Munich, President Karzai welcomed the increase of troops and of course that probably will also be an important factor to reduce the level of insurgency.
KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: There are concerns expressed among the people and parliament regarding the postponement of elections, and there is a fear that it will not be held on the date announced. Since you have been visiting people and authorities in this country, how sure are you that these elections will be held on time? And if the election is not held on time, will you support a government that is not constitutional?
USG: We want to make sure that we respect the institutions. When we speak of institution-building the first task of the UN is to strengthen and to respect the legitimate institution. It is clearly the role of the Independent Election Commission to fix the date. They have done it and we appreciate that. And soon there will be the question of the constitutional problem for the three months between 21st of May and 20th August. The legal solution shall be found between the Afghan representatives of course in the Parliament and Supreme Court. And we will support any consensus to make sure there is a legitimate and powerful government in place after the elections.
RTA [translated from Dari]: You have mentioned the purpose of your visit and you have met with Afghan authorities. What are the main challenges to the people of Afghanistan to reach peace and stability in the country?
USG: The purpose of my visit is to understand more, so that when I am sitting in New York I am better able to support Afghanistan, UNAMA and the UN work in this country. And the main challenges are obviously security, coordination and maybe the public image of Afghanistan abroad. These three things there have seen improvements and I think it will continue in 2009. And again the elections could be a good opportunity – to have what Kai called a ‘political surge’ to help provide support to the authority which will come out of the elections.
But of course it is very important to realise too that an underlying cause of instability is poverty. We have to work, both the Afghan authorities and the international community, to make sure that the Paris Declaration is fully implemented. And the pledges made at that conference will be channelled to the populations most in need throughout the country.
REUTERS: What is your position on President Karzai’s talk of reconciliation with Taliban? And will the UNAMA mandate be renewed at the end of March this year or not?
USG: We always say that the solution is not purely military in this country. And it is very important to have a political process that is as inclusive as possible. There must of course be some clear red lines in any kind of dialogue. First, it must be within the framework of the Afghan constitution. That it lies with the consensus of the Afghan representatives. And that the dialogue should also be led by the Afghan government, and the authorities should speak from a position of strength both in the military front and in the political front.
I am very confidant, from sitting in New York and discussing with the Security Council very often, that the UNAMA mandate will be renewed at the end of March. And there is no doubt about it and probably for several more years. There is no doubt about this. The mandate can be adjusted as it had been last year to adapt to newly evolving situations but the mandate will be renewed, I am absolutely confident of that.
ASSOCIATED PRESS: What do you feel is the biggest challenge in terms of creating a secure environment for elections, and what is most needed from foreign troops coming in?
USG: Of course it is more for the military to answer that question, but I can give you my first impression. We all know where the areas of insecurity are in this country. And from my discussions with General McKiernan yesterday, the new troops will go where they are more needed and where there is more insecurity. I just hope as President Karzai said in his speech in Munich that there will be consultations between the Afghan authorities and the military authorities. Because it is clear that it is so important for this country that the outcome of the election be accepted, and that the turnout will be sufficient to make them free, fair and effective. Thank you very much.