Afghanistan: Interview with Afghan President Hamid Karzai

KABUL, 28 January (IRIN) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai is a man with a mission. He was nominated to head the Interim Administration in Bonn, Germany, in November 2001, and elected President by an overwhelming majority at the Emergency Loya Jirga in Kabul last June. The 45-year-old has worked arduously for years to bring peace and stability to his fractured nation, devastated by over two decades of war.
In an exclusive interview with IRIN, Karzai, the son of a prominent tribal leader, assessed the pressing humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, but emphasised the importance of reconstruction.

QUESTION: What in your view are the most pressing humanitarian issues in your country today?

ANSWER: The most pressing humanitarian concerns or issues in Afghanistan are the continuing effects of drought and war in the country, and the help for refugees returning from neighbouring countries and the internally displaced people. That is, the issue of continuing to provide them with assistance such as food and shelter and all that. That's what we are concerned about. That's where I think we should continue to assist people.

Q: How would you appraise the current humanitarian effort underway in your country?

A: I'm satisfied with the results. I'm satisfied with the humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan by the United Nations. But I would also like to concentrate more on removing the causes of humanitarian difficulties rather than treating the symptoms. We would like to slowly move from a humanitarian operation and more towards one of reconstruction. Moving towards removing the causes of the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan so people can make a living on their own.

Q: Are there any areas in which you have found yourself disappointed with the assistance you have received from the international community and UN?

A: We are generally happy with the assistance we have received. What I would like to know - and we are working on that with the UN and with the NGOs - is to have a clearer account of where our work has taken place and how much it costs. In other words, we would like to have a better detail of the areas where work is taking place or work has taken place, and the accountability of it. That applies more to NGOs than to the UN.

Q: In terms of capacity building for the government, where does your administration stand now?

A: It has shown it is taking more responsibility in the past year and I'm glad that the international donor community and the UN see that as well. There is increasing control by the Afghan government. But we still need to do a lot to increase the administrative capacity of Afghanistan. It will take us some more time - quite a bit of time. But we have to continue to pay attention to this problem in the country. I'm glad we have had good support from the international community in this regard.

Q: This past year has been a major challenge for Afghanistan and yourself. How would you rate your own performance?

A: I think the government - as a whole - has been very, very good. There are too many things that we have done that we don't even talk about. In a few months time, I should be giving the Afghan people an account of what we have done. That will show there are some major successes. There are areas in which we have had difficulties with regard to disarmament and all that - and also which work is being speeded up now. In general terms - whether I am happy with the performance of the government or not - I would say largely yes.

Q: What have been the greatest achievements and failures this past year?

A: The greatest achievement is the change of the Afghan currency to the new currency, which went smoothly and nicely in such a short time for a country destroyed like ours; the return of so many refugees in such a short time - more than two million of them; the success in the education programmes is significant; the freedom of the media - lots of other things in the pipe that we have stuck to the datelines that we set for ourselves and own, is a success.

Economy generally. There are more jobs for people, thanks to the international community's participation, and the UN's as well.

The area where we have not been able to make significant inroads was to provide the Afghan people a life free of armed gangs who are fighting each other in parts of the country. That's the only area I'm not happy about. There is [however] work going on. Some matters will take time - some should be done sooner rather than later.

Q: Security remains a major concern within your country. What efforts are you making to improve security over the next year and how do you feel those efforts will be received by local warlords?

A: Security is largely good in Afghanistan. The countryside is even better than it is in Kabul. Other than the skirmishes that I mentioned between groups fighting each other, the overall security situation is all right. Our campaign against terrorism is going on very, very successfully. Just now, from time to time, there have been assassination attempts or rocket attacks occasionally in some places, but generally the country is quite secure, very much secure.

With the increase in the number of soldiers in the national army, with better training of the national army, and the work that is going on with the national army, in a year we should have a much better security situation than we had last year. It should be increasing on the positive side.

Q: There has been much discussion about the lack of reconstruction in the country. What needs to be done?

The reconstruction activity since the holding of the Loya Jirga last June is much better. I'm happy with the way the world has responded to our reconstruction needs. I'm happy with the way the world has given us money and resources. It's much better than the first six months of the interim government. It's picking up more speed so I'm quite satisfied. It's not true that the world is not helping. No they are helping; they're helping quite well.

Q: Afghanistan has been at the forefront of international media attention for over a year. With growing speculation of a potential US-led strike on Iraq, how concerned are you that there could be a shifting of attention away from your country?

A: I am not. First of all, I hope that there will be peace, that matters in Iraq will be resolved peacefully. If that were not the case, than I would wish the people of Iraq a smooth transition to a better regime, to a better government without much problem for them.

With regard to Afghanistan, I'm not concerned. I think the international community will continue to pay attention. It's an effort that we must win wholesomely; making sure the Afghan people see the benefits of international attention and the peace that they have. I am quite confident the world will stay with Afghanistan - even if there is something in Iraq.

Q: If you could give the international and donor community one message today, what would it be?

A: First of all I should thank the international donor community for what they have done for Afghanistan, and to the United Nations. At the same time, I would request them to continue to pay consistent attention to Afghanistan, to rebuild this country, and to enable the Afghan people to stand on their own feet.


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