Afghanistan: Press briefing by Jamil Danish, UNAMA Public Information Officer and Aleem Siddique, UNAMA Spokesperson's Office 16 Jul 2007

News and Press Release
Originally published
Jamil Danish, PIO: Good morning and welcome to today's press conference. We have a few announcements to make from the UN family here in Afghanistan before we turn to your questions.



Some of you may already be aware that over the weekend UNAMA opened its latest new office in Chagcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor. With this new office, UNAMA has nearly doubled its field presence across Afghanistan over the last 12 months. Our new office is set to play a key role in helping local communities by coordinating and encouraging development assistance, monitoring human rights issues and strengthening good governance.


In other news from western Afghanistan, UNAMA welcomes the opening of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission office in Herat yesterday. This office will play a crucial role in promoting and protecting human rights for the people of western Afghanistan.


In news from the UN's refugee agency (UNHCR), 160 internally displaced families (around 800 people), mainly from Zhare Dasht camp in Kandahar and Mukhtar camp in Helmand, have been helped to return to their homes.

Returnees are being provided free transportation and a reintegration package which includes blankets, jerry cans, shelter materials and sanitation supplies while the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing essential food stuffs. According to UNHCR there are currently a total of 130,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Afghanistan. This has reduced dramatically since 2001 when there was nearly one million IDP's across the country.

An estimated 111,000 IDPs are located in four camps in southern Afghanistan, many of them are Kuchis who were forced to give up their nomadic lifestyle due to drought and landlessness. UNHCR will be continuing its efforts to voluntarily repatriate Afghanistan's IDPs over the coming months as the situation allows.


As many of you are aware, Afghanistan's economy is primarily based on the agricultural sector. Irrigation for farmers is vital if we are to encourage the economy to continue growing and enable farmers to provide essential crops for their families and the wider community. Decades of conflict have left many of Afghanistan's irrigation systems in a state of real neglect.

The World Bank is helping to rehabilitate Afghanistan's irrigation systems and today announces the completion of an irrigation complex in the Gozrah and Kurokh districts of Herat province in western Afghanistan.

This irrigation complex is set to benefit around 120,000 people and is part of wider programme being implemented by the World Bank which will see over 85,000 hectares of land being irrigated by September 2008.


During the first week of this month, nearly 900 people in Kunar received 54 tons of food under the World Food Programme "food for work" scheme. The recipients were involved in road and canal rehabilitation in Watapur, Asmar and Sikanay districts.

In Nangarhar, 600 tuberculosis patients received over 37 tons of food rations as they attended clinics in Jalalabad city, Chaparhar and Rodat. The food rations encourage tuberculosis sufferers to keep up with their treatment. Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world, accounting for 80 percent of the estimated new cases arising each year globally.

To cope with the recent flooding, WFP has also provided over 50 tons of food to affected families in Nangarhar and Kunar. This assistance helped 570 families.

In Nangarhar, Kunar and Nuristan, 13,200 girls received nearly 50 tons of oil over the last two weeks. The oil acts as an incentive for families to send their girls to school. The oil was distributed in Deh Bala district in Nangarhar and Nurgram district in Nuristan. In Kunar, oil was distributed in Nari, Dangham, Dara-e-pech and Asmar.


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that, following the completion of their polio campaign in Afghanistan's eastern region, vaccination against Hepatitis-B will now be an integral part of the coming vaccination drives. WHO will continue with this drive over the next three years.

On the avian influenza front, UNICEF, in collaboration with WHO, conducted a workshop last week on its "Disease Early Warning System" (DEWS), with DEWS officers and national health coordinators of WHO. Emergency kits to combat a pandemic in the event of an outbreak have arrived Kabul and will be distributed to provinces over the coming weeks.


This coming Thursday at 10:00 am we will be holding a press conference with UNICEF and a high-profile film celebrity on preparations and plans for the forthcoming International Peace Day which will be marked across the world on Friday 21 September. This day has particular relevance to Afghanistan and we hope to be able to engage and involve all parts of Afghan society with this over the coming weeks and months.


Radio Killid (translated from Dari): As you know a suicide bomber was forgiven by President Karzai yesterday. I would like to know the UNAMA's view on this and whether UNAMA supports his decision?

SIO: I think we all share the shock and concern of the Afghan people to see a child of such a young age being dragged into the conflict. Yesterday's pardon by President Karzai of this young boy underlines the compassionate nature of the President, while at the same time highlighting the cynical and despicable use of children by those who are fighting against the Afghan people's government. The use of children in such a heartless manner with absolutely no regard for their safety or welfare is against all norms and international law and we condemn this strongly.

IRIN: Regarding the IDP's [internally displaced people] situation, you said in the talking points that there are 130,000 IDP's in Afghanistan. Does the figure of 130,000 include the recent battle-affected IDP's in the south? If not, how many displaced persons are there now who have recently become IDPs due to military operations?

UNHCR spokesperson: There are conflicting figures about the total number of people who have recently become displaced. The United Nations, due to poor security in those provinces, do not have full access. Based on local government officials, there are an estimated 15,000 families who have been displaced, but it is important to remember that there is no precise, verified figure. There are an estimated 15,000 families who were displaced in southern Afghanistan last year as a result of increased hostilities between Afghan government, NATO forces and insurgents. Last year's displacement was mainly to the provinces of Kandahar, Uruzgan and Helmand. This displacement adds a new hardship to a population which is already hosting a large number of displaced people who were uprooted because of earlier conflict and the effects of drought.

UNHCR expects that this displacement may continue for some time, until conditions are safe for the population to return to their homes. Under the leadership of UNAMA, UNHCR together with UNICEF has distributed non-food items (plastic sheeting, blankets and clothes for children) in addition to food assistance provided by WFP.

SIO: Also, I would like to highlight that in the past six months the World Food Programme has been delivering assistance to the very vulnerable IDPs. Around 19,000 families have been helped by WFP over the last six months with food supplies. So efforts are ongoing to reach these people and get these people the assistance that they need.

IRIN follow-up question: Are these 19,000 families in the south due to the conflict or those all over the country?

SIO: This is throughout Afghanistan. If you would like more information on this please talk to the WFP representative who is present here who, I am sure, would be happy to go into more detail with you.

InterNews (translated from Dari): What is the reaction of UNAMA to the recent arrest of a journalist from Kabul Press and what has UNAMA done for the journalist following his arrest?

SIO: As many of you will be aware, UNAMA has repeatedly taken a strong stand on protecting and promoting freedom of expression in Afghanistan, and the rights of journalists to report in a fair and balanced manner on the issues and concerns of the Afghan people. But it is, nonetheless, very important that with that right to freedom of expression comes important responsibilities for all of us in the media community.

The best protection for journalists in this country is to ensure that they are operating within the scope of the media law of this country. While at the same time, the government authorities must ensure that their treatment of journalists and the media community also falls within the remit of the media law.

Aina TV (translated from Dari): I refer to the figures of 111,000 IDPs located in four camps in the south - containing mainly Kuchis. Don't you think that a number of Kuchis located in Behsud have caused tension among the settled people there? What is your reaction to this?

SIO: The current situation in Behsud is of great concern to UNAMA. In response, UNAMA has already despatched two delegations to Behsud to see the situation on the ground for ourselves, and to work towards mediation with both sides to resolve this conflict. A provincial government delegation, with support from UNAMA, have facilitated an agreement between the Kuchi and Hazara peoples involved to end the fighting. This is a document, which has been signed by both parties, and we welcome this. In addition, UNAMA has prepared a number of recommendations and submitted these to the government, including one recommending the increased deployment of security forces in the area to ensure calm. Our regional office continues to monitor the situation closely. We are there to assist the authorities in any way that we can and further visits are planned to the area.

Tamadon TV (translated from Dari): With regard to the opening of the new office of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Herat, where there are many human rights violations taking place, including self-immolation, I would like to know whether such an office will contribute to the reduction of human rights abuses in that province?

SIO: Of course, our hopes and our efforts will be focussed on improving the human rights situation in western Afghanistan, and that's why we strongly commend the opening of the new AIHRC office in Herat. But let's be clear about this. If we want to see better human rights in Afghanistan, this is not just the sole responsibility of UNAMA or of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This is something that we all play a role in, and it is something that we all have responsibility for, if we are to improve the human rights situation in Afghanistan. Also, just to clarify, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission has opened an office in Herat, and UNAMA has opened one in Ghor province. UNAMA already has an office in Herat.

Pahjwok (translated from Dari): There are rumours coming from Peshawar that the Kuchis who are clashing with the Hazara people in Behsud are equipped with heavy weapons, and that the Taliban are providing these weapons in order to de-stabilise the security situation there. I would like to know UNAMA's view on that. I would also like to know the assessment results of the visit to the area by the UNAMA delegation.

SIO: The key thing here is that, one: UNAMA deals with facts, not with speculation and rumours. So we do not respond to rumours. Secondly, we need to see this conflict end. There has been enough conflict in Afghanistan, and there is very little appetite for more fighting from the vast majority of peace-loving Afghans. The question we face now is how to bring this fighting to an end. What UNAMA is focussed on doing in this area is bringing the parties together, and getting them to talk. This is how we will bring peace to the area. This may take time, and continued effort. It will not happen overnight; it will take the continued efforts of the authorities, UNAMA and the local people to bring this conflict to a close.

The Afghan government has already appointed a delegation to mediate between the two parties, and UNAMA is playing an essential role in facilitating that process. UNAMA has also made a very strong recommendation to the authorities to increase the presence of security forces in the area to ensure calm while the mediations are taking place. Our hope is that these efforts will see peace prevailing for the people of Behsud district.

Radio Farda (translated from Dari): You mentioned that UNAMA reacts to facts. Do you not consider the Behsud issue as a fact? Secondly it is more than a month that Kuchis attacked Behsud and so far UNAMA has not officially expressed its view. Doesn't this show UNAMA's double-standard approach towards issues in Afghanistan?

SIO: My answer highlights UNAMA's impartiality. In your questions you want me to point to a particular party saying which one is right and which one is wrong. Quite frankly UNAMA will not do that. We have always been an honest broker in this country between different parties. We make great efforts to maintain our impartiality. The only way we can help to bring peace in this area is to ensure UNAMA remains impartial and treats both parties fairly. This is what we are focused on doing. It is clear that both parties in this conflict have grievances. Pointing fingers at Kuchis or Hazaras will not bring peace. We need fewer guns and more talking.

Follow-up question: Why UNAMA has not officially expressed its view on the issue?

SIO: I'm sorry but you are mistaken, allow me to refer you to the transcript of UNAMA's press conference last week. If you had read this you will know that we have spoken about this specific issue before, and I am speaking in an official capacity regarding this issue right now.

Radio Liberty (translated from Dari): Yesterday the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a new strategy for the return of Afghan refugees. Are you aware of it and if so, would you please tell us what are the priorities in the new strategy?

SIO: I think you have to address this question to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I don't have information about the new strategy but my colleague from UNHCR may have some information on this for you. But just allow me to highlight some of the key principles that are a priority for UNHCR and UNAMA on this issue. In any strategy we need to see three principles respected. Firstly, the dignity of people returning must be respected, secondly, repatriation must happen at a pace that Afghanistan can absorb and finally, reintegration assistance must be provided to those returning to help them restart their lives in Afghan society.

8am newspaper (translated from Dari): The representative to Behsud district some time ago had a meeting with President Karzai regarding the dispute there. President Karzai told them to keep quiet and it is a warning that Hazara people cannot move around. I would like to know UNAMA's reaction to this and secondly, you stated that UNAMA is always acting impartially. My question is, what is the need of UNAMA in Afghanistan if you are acting impartially?

SIO: On the issue of Behsud, we are dealing with a difficult situation and the important thing here is that the negotiations and talking must continue and giving a running commentary to you on the every step of this process will do nothing in bringing the two parties together. What we need to see is the mediation continuing, the talking continuing and less finger-pointing. Giving you running commentary on two parties that have grievances with one another is going to do nothing to bring peace to this area which we all want to see happening.

On the second part of your question, what is the point of UNAMA being in Afghanistan if UNAMA is impartial? - the answer is quite simple, we believe that every Afghan is equal, whether you are a government minister or you are a villager in southern of Afghanistan, you are equal in the eyes of UNAMA and that is why we are impartial. People need to be reassured that in everything that we say and do is in the interest of the Afghan people and we are not coming at this with vested interests.