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Strong Afghan state vital to political settlement: NATO

Strong Afghan state vital to political settlement: NATO

Mar 15, 2018 - 16:01

KABUL (Pajhwok): A strong Afghan state is essential to create the necessary conditions for a political resolution to the current conflict in the country, NATO’s senior civilian representative (SCR) says.

In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Cornelius Zimmermann made clear there can be no room for legitimate governance and no sustainable security outside the Afghan state.

A German diplomat, who has served in Mazar-i-Sharif, he believed the national unity government would continue to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan, for the benefit of all Afghans.

The SCR touched on a number of important issues, including the ongoing conflict, warlordism, corruption, drugs, election preparations and lingering tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Q: 1: Since you are in Kabul working as SCR, how do you see NUG? How do you see the political conflict inside NUG?

A: I have had the pleasure to serve in Afghanistantwice, first as German consul general in Mazar-i-Sharif from 2013 to 2015, and now as NATO’s senior civilian representative since March 2017.

I witnessed the establishment of the national unity government (NUG) coming into existence in 2014, and I have been observingits work over the last year.

My own country has been governed by coalitions for a long time. We are all very well aware that political coalitions are ultimately partnerships based on mutual respect and responsibility.

I admire both the courage and statesmanship that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah demonstrated in 2014, when they opted to govern together.

Afghanistan needs an inclusive and decisive government; inclusive of all ethnic and social groups and decisive in enabling reforms, providing essential services, and leading Afghanistan towards lasting peace and security.

I am well aware that President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah are working hard to live up to this standard.I also think that political disagreements are not necessarily a bad thing. In a democracy, sharing different – even opposing - views and negotiating different interests is how consensus and unity are to becreated.

Q: Is NUG fulfilling its commitments and pledges to combat corruption and narcotics or implement reforms?

A: Just recently, I was at a graduation ceremony for students from ministries who completed a course supported by NATO. There,I once more witnesseda will to learn, to evolve, and to better oneself for the good of the country that I find simply extraordinary. 

There is an encouraging momentum in the country on so many different levels. Let me provide a few examples. The Afghan government has made tangible progress on macroeconomic reforms. Recent procurement reforms have garnered significant international praise.

The new Anti-Corruption Justice Centre is courageously taking on high-profile corruption cases. And the appointmentsof qualified young professionals on merit represent an important "generational change" in the government and instill a culture of responsibility.

So, I believe that a lot has been done and is being done. Having said that, NATO would like to see the momentum for implementing reforms in all sectors be preserved and if possible increased.Peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved if the government succeeds in delivering services and governance to its people.

Let me add that NATO’s commitment to stand by Afghanistan is rock solid; but NATO expects that the Afghan authorities continue their efforts to live up to the commitments to reform that they have undertaken.

Q: Do you think NUG and IEC could conduct elections this year? Do you agree with the idea of parliamentary and presidential election being held simultaneously in 2019?

Setting election dates is theresponsibility of Afghanistan’s election management bodies. The holding of timely and credible parliamentary and presidential elections in 2018 and 2019 is importantfor Afghan democracy and stability.

It will also inform the international community’s positioning towards the Afghan government. The government has committed itself to credible, inclusive and transparent elections in various multilateral documents, including the 2016 NATO Warsaw Declaration.

NATO is supporting the Afghan institutions in election preparations as part of the international community’s comprehensive approach.

Q: On the issue of Balkh, what is your advice to President Ghani and former governor on how to solve the problem? How does your office see Noor -- as a former governor or a current governor?

A: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the domestic political matters of the sovereign nation of Afghanistan. However, I feelconfident that all parties involved are working towards a fast and peaceful solution in accordance with Afghan law.

Over the past 16 years, I have seen that Afghan political leaders have wisely managed to find proper solutions for much more complicated scenarios.

Q: After recent deadly attacks in Kabul, the US president ruled out talk with Taliban. Is this NATO’s stance as well?

A: President Trump had spoken in the aftermath of these horrendous deadly attacks here in Kabul, and I very much share his sentiments. He gave an understandable response to a barbaric act of cruelty. The Taliban must stop their brutal attacks. For far too long, they have inflicted misery on the Afghan people. However, our efforts towards peace continue.

US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central AsiaAmbassador Alice Wells, recently reaffirmed that the door for peace talks remains open to the Taliban.

President Ghani has made a courageous offer to the Taliban at the Kabul Peace Process, offering the Taliban a dignified way out of a life of violence and towards becoming a legitimate part of Afghan society, through peace talks without preconditions.

Today, Afghanistan has a historical opportunity to achievepeace. It is now up to the Taliban to respond. It is for them, ultimately, to make peace achievable in Afghanistan.

NATO Allies and partners have always been clear that the solution to the conflict in Afghanistan can only be a political solution,but strong Afghan security forces are needed to be able to create the conditions for such a political solution.

The Taliban must understand that they cannot win on the battlefield; they have to come to the negotiating table and hold talks with the Afghan government.

We, NATO, continue to support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and continue to backall efforts carried out within that framework. So we are encouraging the Afghan government to maintain its focus on and momentum towards peace.

Q: What do you think about 2018 on terms of security in Afghanistan?

A: Undoubtedly, 2018 will again be another challenging year. We have witnessed horrible attacks in January. However, those attacks do not mean the Taliban are winning.

In 2017, the Taliban did not capture a single provincial capital. Faced with failure on the battlefield against an increasingly capable Afghan security forces and institutions, the Taliban have again turned to targeting civilians.

Meanwhile, NATO’s commitment remains steadfast. NATO has helped, is helping and will help the Afghan forces to improve, through our train, advise and assist Resolute Support Mission, so that they can keep their country and their countrymen and -women safe.

We are currently increasing the strength of our Resolute Support Mission, even though this will not be a change of mandate; Resolute Support will remain a non-combat mission.NATO Allies and partners will also continue to sustain the funding of the Afghan security forces beyond this year.

Q: Can NATO play a role in resolving disputes between Afghanistan and Pakistan?

A: Afghanistan’s neighbours, to include Pakistan, need to support peace and stability in Afghanistanin their very own interest. The Afghan government has shown at the Kabul Process that it is ready for a constructive dialogue with Pakistan.

NATO will continue to support such efforts. At the same time, it is clear that this is not a one-way-street. Pakistan needs to engage, too. It was very encouraging to hear Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif offer his wholehearted support to President Ghani’s peace offer at the Kabul Process Conference.

So, we expect Pakistan – and for that matter – all regional actors to play a constructive role. A more secure Afghanistan will ensure a more solid regional stability. Stabilising Afghanistan is also stabilising the region. I call on all regional states to actively contribute.

Q: For how long NATO RS mission will continue in Afghanistan?

A: We have beenconducting this mission at the request of the Afghan authorities.We need a strong Afghan force to be able to create the conditions for peace and sustainable security.

Our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan is a conditions-based missionWe will continue to support Afghanistan as long as is necessary and so long as the Afghan government plays its part. There is no end-date for our mission. This does not mean, though, that this will represent an infinite mission.

Q: What’s your message to the Afghans?

A: My message to the Afghan people is simple: Your security forces are committed; they are improving daily; and they are making important achievements for the benefit of all Afghans.

NATO will continue to stand by you. At the same time, we expect the NUG to continue its efforts on reform, peace and reconciliation. Our steadfast commitment and continued efforts are two sides of the same coin. Both are key to lasting security in Afghanistan.

Finally, we expect all of Afghanistan’sneighbours to take a constructive approach. A stable Afghanistan is in Afghans’ interest, in the interest of regional security, and in our own interest.

Q: What do you think warlords,who are a big problem for Afghanistan and its people, because they create security and political problems? They have been given chances to join politics and some of them did, but they still indulge in challenging the government’s writ?

A: A strong Afghan state is essential to create the necessary conditions for a political resolution to the current conflict. There can be no room for legitimate governance and no sustainable security outside the Afghan state. I trust that the NUG will continue to strengthen the rule of law in Afghanistan, for the benefit of all Afghans.

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