Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Press Conference by Adrian Edwards, Director, Communications and Public Information; Dr. Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Spokesperson's Office (near verbatim transcript)

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Originally published
Kabul, 10 November 2008

UNAMA REACHES OUT TO BAGHLAN PROVINCE WITH NEW OFFICE

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) opened its 18th office on Saturday in Pul-i-Khumri, the provincial of Baghlan.

Our new office will play a crucial role in the coordination of development efforts, monitoring of human rights issues, strengthening of good governance and the rule of law, assisting local institutions in combating corruption and facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, presided at the opening. A press release is on the side table.

FOOD DISTRIBUTION

WFP's winterisation activities are currently ongoing throughout the country, with the pre-positioning and distribution of 36,000 tonnes of food.

On 3 November, under the food-for-work programme, WFP distributed over 15 tonnes of food items, including wheat, cooking oil, lentils and salt to 250 workers for the construction of a flood protection wall in Gurziwan district, Faryab.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs advises that the ICRC has commenced the distribution of relief food packages to over 10,000 people in Dawlatabad and Shirin Tagab districts.

In addition, ICRC has provided ten water tanks for the delivery of potable water to Astana valley, Shirin Tagab district.

On 4 November, in Dai Kundi, WFP had distributed food for 15,000 students in Kitti district.

The International Organization of Migration (IOM) and UNHCR are targeting displaced families and vulnerable households with non-food items and fuel.

300,000 ADULTS TO BE PROVIDED WITH LITERACY EDUCATION IN NINE PROVINCES

300,000 adults, 60 per cent of whom will be women, will be given the chance to benefit from literacy education as well as skills development and income generation opportunities in Badakhshan, Balkh, Bamyan, Dai Kundi, Ghor, Nangarhar, Paktika, Samangan and Wardak over the next three years.

The Enhancement of Literacy in Afghanistan programme is now in its preparatory phase to start massive literacy intervention in nine provinces from early 2009.

A pilot programme will be launched tomorrow in Bamyan province to test the operational methodologies of the programme.

The second phase of the Enhancement of Literacy programme is expected to start from 2010 and will target another 300,000 adults in nine other provinces of Afghanistan.

Further information can be found in a press release on the side table.

IOM PROVIDES CLEAN WATER, SANITATION FOR RETURNEE COMMUNITIES

A nationwide water and sanitation initiative designed to support communities hosting returnees from Pakistan and Iran was launched last week by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Government of Afghanistan.

IOM with financial support from Japan will help local authorities provide 114 water points and 342 latrines, benefiting some 20,000 people in Herat, Farah, Nimroz, Kunduz, Bamyan, Kabul and Nangarhar provinces.

This programme aims to promote population stabilisation through community-based activities as part of IOM's Socio-Economic Reintegration of Afghans Returning from Iran and Pakistan (RARIP) programme.

The launch follows the signing of a tripartite agreement between IOM, the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and the Ministry of Finance last week to provide water and sanitation facilities in areas with high numbers of returnees.

UNMACA: COMMUNITY BASED MINE CLEARANCE PROJECTS LAUNCHED IN KUNAR AND HELMAND PROVINCES

Two community based mine clearance projects were launched in eastern and southern provinces last week. Field offices have now been established in these areas and de-miners were recruited from the affected communities.

These schemes are effective because de-miners come from and are part of the community. This again underlines the importance of grass roots involvement to see success.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

AFGHANISTAN TIMES [translated from Pashto]: My question is about the recent abductions and killings of internationals in Kabul. Don't you think that these were carried out for political motives? Isn't it a new technique and a threat to foreigners in Kabul?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: In most cases the abductions appear to us to be purely criminal in nature and not related to the insurgency. Overall we have seen a decrease in security incidents countrywide over the past week except in the south. Asymmetric attacks have continued and as you all know we are seeing a higher than normal level of kidnappings in some areas - including affecting the aid community. We're all relieved to see the recent releases of two female journalists.

And on the other part of your question about the implications of these incidents on the aid community: in no way does it affect our commitment to the people of Afghanistan and we remain committed and will be with the people of Afghanistan.

RFE/RL [translated from Dari]: Recently we heard about the execution of some of the prisoners in Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul. Do you think the judiciary in Afghanistan has matured enough to sentence a criminal to death? And how effective will these executions prove to be in reducing criminality?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: SRSG Kai Eide is meeting the President today and we understand that this issue will be on the agenda. As you may know, the UN General Assembly voted in December last year in favour of a worldwide moratorium on executions. Afghanistan was among those who voted against.

Regarding the judiciary in Afghanistan, it is still in the process of being rebuilt. We all want to see it working well.

PAJHWOK: Is UNAMA concerned about the recent executions? And secondly please comment on the UN vehicle that recently went missing.

UNAMA: I believe I've already commented on the first question. On the second question, we can confirm that one of the UN's cars was stolen and security measures are in place to locate the missing vehicle. Car thefts are of course not unique to the UN or Afghanistan.

ALL INDIA RADIO: I would like to know the progress of the World Food Programme here in Afghanistan. The winter has set in and in a couple of weeks many areas will be inaccessible. Do you think all the regions have sufficient food stock for the upcoming winter?

UNAMA: On the winterization food activities, I refer you to the updates for Faryab and Dai Kundi and Badakshan we provided last week. There are some districts in these provinces that are difficult or nearly impossible to reach in the winter. The work to preposition food for the winter programme is going on throughout the country. 36,000 tonnes of food from WFP has already been allocated for this purpose to be pre-positioned and distributed throughout the country and out of this 36,000 tonnes of food, 38 per cent has already been pre-positioned in those areas. I do not have the latest update on the remaining part but I may have more details later. To conclude, not only WFP but also the Government and the Afghan Red Crescent and ICRC are also involved in these activities and we are hopeful we will be able to reach all those areas and meet the food needs of all the people in the winter.

ARIANA TV: You said that the United Nations is supporting executions as the people of Afghanistan are doing according to the resolution. Would you like to give more clarifications on the moratorium and if you do agree with the executions of assassins and kidnappers in order to prevent crimes?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS): Allow me to correct you on what was actually said: A General Assembly resolution was passed on 18 December 2007 by 187 of the 192 UN member states. This resolution called for a suspension, or moratorium, on the death penalty worldwide. 104 member states voted in favour of the resolution and 54 member states voted against. One of those who voted against was Afghanistan. We can provide you with a copy of that resolution.

8 AM DAILY NEWSPAPER [translated from Dari]: You said security incidents have been reduced in Kabul recently. I would like to know whether this is happening just in Kabul or also in other parts of the country and what are the reasons behind it?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: There has been a decrease in security incidents throughout the country. And I think it has been due to the efforts of the security forces.

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS): If you look at the situation over the past ten days or so you will see differences in some areas of the country. In the southern region we saw an increased number of incidents, in other areas we saw static levels or decreases. So overall, and as Nilab said, there has been a net decrease.

IRIB: There are talks about changes in Afghanistan and a change of strategy in Afghanistan. Does the UN see the need for change in Afghanistan and if yes in which areas?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNCIATIONS): You are absolutely correct that there is talk of fresh initiatives and new strategies. Our perspective is that for any new initiative to succeed, the needs of the Afghan people must come foremost. People want security, and they want jobs and development. What we seek to communicate to everyone is that Afghanistan has to be seen as a country, not as a conflict.

BBC [translated from Dari]: You said that you are concerned about insecurity in the country. What negative impact do the recent security problems have on the activities of the international organizations?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS): I'd like to take a little of your time to try and give you the context here. If you recall back in 2004 and early 2005, Afghanistan's expected trajectory was thought to be in the direction of deepening stability and a development takeoff, following the initial period of recovery and reconstruction.

But as you all know in late 2005 and early 2006, we saw the start of a change in circumstances with the uptake in the insurgency. Against earlier expectations, Afghanistan entered a period of reignited conflict, leading to where we are today. This is our understanding of the situation, and it's this conflict that is robbing people of the development takeoff they had every right to expect. Continuing insecurity makes it difficult for humanitarian workers, for aid workers and for development workers to do their jobs. Just as an example: if you build a school where there is a risk of it getting burnt down you will need protection for the builders, you will need protection for the school. And if the school gets burnt down, and you have to rebuild again the costs go up further and nothing is delivered but a single school. I'm sorry for such a long answer but it is important for people to understand the context.

Even in such an environment it is our view that there is serious progress in many areas. These include the areas of education, in health and that five million individuals - refugees - have returned to Afghanistan. You have progress in Information Technology (IT) and you have huge progress in the media sector, notwithstanding difficulties. So there are positives happening in Afghanistan even in a difficult environment, and it is those we want to build upon.

PRESS TV: US President-elect Barack Obama in his presidential campaign mentioned about an increase in the number of US troops in Afghanistan particularly in its southern parts. What is the stance of your organization on the increase in the number of troops and will it be the best approach to the growing instability in Afghanistan?

UNAMA (ADRIAN EDWARDS, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS): I don't want to comment on one member state's policies in particular. I will just say this though: that if the need for Afghanistan is for better security then we need more security provided. If you have been here in the past weeks you may have heard the UN Special Representative talking about other needs too. These needs include what we call a "political surge": a huge push behind accelerating growth of institutions, accelerating growth of processes that may lead towards peace in Afghanistan. Since 2002 we have been saying there can't be a military solution alone in Afghanistan and that very much remains our view now.

IRIB: [translated from Dari]: You mentioned about the process that needs to be looked at that leads to peace. What do you mean by this peace process? Is it a political process, which would include talks with the Taliban and Government opponents or do you point to construction or any particular process?

UNAMA [translated from Dari]: If you look at the complexity of Afghanistan, for example, security has many dimensions so it requires different approaches. For instance, rising crime does not have any link to terrorism. Therefore, there are different strategies and the UN has always said that without underestimating the military operations, it is very important to have political and social outreach to bring peace in Afghanistan. We have always said that we want to be close to the people of Afghanistan and this will definitely help stability in Afghanistan. On the other hand the humanitarian actions are very important. So you could see that several different efforts like providing humanitarian assistance to the community are contributing. In regards to the reconciliation process, based on our mandate if the Government of Afghanistan will request us to help then we are ready to provide services.