Afghanistan: Press conference by Chris Alexander, DSRSG and Nilab Mobarez, UNAMA Spokesperson's Office

from UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan
Published on 10 Mar 2008
UNAMA: Good morning to all of you; my name is Nilab Mobarez from UNAMA Spokesperson's office and welcome. For our press conference today, we are joined by Mr. Christopher Alexander, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Afghanistan, and without further delay, I will hand over to Mr. Alexander to speak to you.

DSRSG Alexander: Thank you very much Nilab, tashakor, Asalaam aleikum, sobh bekhehr to everyone, good morning. It is a pleasure to be with you again and I apologise very much for delaying the start of this press conference, we were finishing our meeting with the United Nations Country Team. Most of you will now be aware that the Secretary-General of the United Nations, in agreement with the Government of Afghanistan, has proposed a new candidate for the position of Special Representative for Afghanistan.

We hope that this appointment will be approved shortly, formalised shortly, and that the new SRSG will be able to join us in Afghanistan in the coming weeks; we look forward to having the opportunity to introduce him to you in more detail and in person.

Under this renewed leadership, UNAMA will reinforce its mission of assistance to the Afghan people and support to Government institutions under the leadership of President Karzai. And one of the main messages from UNAMA this week in light of this appointment, in light of our expanded presence both in Kabul and across the country, is that we are looking to work with the Government of Afghanistan to accelerate the process of implementing the objectives, implementing the goals of the Afghanistan Compact and the Afghan National Development Strategy.

In brief, our new SRSG and the UNAMA of today will be looking to accelerate the strengthening of national institutions and the improvement of Afghan lives. As you all know, the past six months have seen the level of international engagement in Afghanistan continue to increase.

There remains a strong consensus among partners and donors that this commitment should continue and even deepen. This remains the broad consensus with over 40 countries contributing military forces or military support to Afghanistan, and over 60 countries, nation states and institutions contributing development assistance and reconstruction assistance to Afghanistan. But the conviction now, in Afghanistan and among the partners of Afghanistan, is stronger than ever that the key to peace and security here remains the success of state institutions. For this reason, all of us, international organizations and donors, are preparing to support the Afghanistan National Development Strategy (ANDS).

This is the Afghan blueprint for a stronger Government, backed by a vibrant civil society and private sector. In recent months we have seen the international community rally around the ANDS. We in UNAMA are preparing to ensure a coordinated effort in support if this common plan, in support of the ANDS, by strengthening our field presence, which is now in 17 provinces - one out of every two.

One of my key messages today, for you, the media of Afghanistan, but also to international audiences, is that the Afghan Government is now stronger than ever, certainly stronger than ever since 2001. A network of clinics, schools and village-based development councils now literally blankets the country. The Afghan National Army now numbers 74,000 members, and is reinforcing security in Musa Qala and across the board.

Police coordination is now a focus of attention, both for the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board (JCMB), this oversight body for the Afghanistan Compact, and for a new body, the International Police Coordination Board chaired by Interior Minister Zarar.

I mention these bodies because they were not giving attention to this extent to police reform 6 months ago, certainly not one year ago, and this represents a very strong commitment, both by the Government and its international partners, to ensuring a coherent police reform process.

And while there are serious problems still with the police, our offices report that the quality of policing has improved in most parts of the country. The vision and institutional structure of the Afghan National Police are now being refined, and it was confirmed to me yesterday that over 1,090 police trainers, advisors and mentors are now in place across Afghanistan - and by that I mean international police mentors, advisors and trainers who come from CSTC-A (US military), the European Union Police Mission and other directions.

As part of the ANDS, the Government-led National Justice Programme is now being implemented and the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG) has already had a very positive impact. You have been following, I am sure, the recent appointment of governors and other officials at sub-national level.

By empowering governors, strengthening coordination -- Afghan coordination -- by supporting social outreach, this Directorate is setting conditions for sustainable security and development.

In less than two weeks, a new school year begins -- over 6 million children will return to 9,000 schools. In this week of International Women's Day, it is important to note that over 330,000 of these students will be girls who are coming to school for the first time.

There are challenges. Some inside and outside Afghanistan will question these achievements, some may ask whether a nation-building process is really underway at all amid such insecurity.

Our response is to ask you all to take a hard look, a serious look, across the 18 sectors that constitute the Afghanistan National Development Strategy, to take a look at the 34 provincial development plans that underpin that ANDS, to sense how substantive these plans and activities have become across this country, to acknowledge successes for what they are and to prepare for the tougher work of planning and implementing this ANDS.

One challenge is that high food prices have made many families vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition in a year when, quite frankly, economic growth should be helping everyone to eat more and eat well.

In the coming week, the UN World Food Programme will start delivering food to over half a million Afghans, just in the area in and around Kabul. You all know how many people have come to Kabul looking for work, seeking a better life; some of these returnees, some of these economic migrants are among the most vulnerable to food insecurity. But by June of this year, we need to deliver food assistance to over 2.5 million Afghans across the country

The United Nations is here, has in a sense always been here, at least in recent memory, to coordinate, to meet basic human needs, and to support state and civil society institutions as they continue to rebuild their strength.

Take Afghanistan's disarmament programme, now known as DIAG - this is a slow, steady effort to clear away the legacy of conflict, opening the door to stronger, growing, educated and prosperous communities. In spite of the insecurity, DIAG is close to being implemented, being completed in 20 per cent of districts of Afghanistan. DIAG has already collected 30 or 40 per cent more weapons than were collected under the DDR programme. And the DIAG programme has been associated with an ammunitions programme that has brought together, consolidated and mostly destroyed, the largest amount of ammunitions ever dealt with by a United Nations programme. What does it mean to have DIAG implemented in a district? It means there are no commanders who have active armed groups that are separate from or challenging state authority. It means that there are no active Taliban or terrorists. DIAG is coming to more of Afghanistan.

The United Nations role under the Afghanistan Compact is central and impartial. We are here to ensure that the international community supports the common plan now expressed in the ANDS.

We count on you, our hosts and partners to help us safeguard this impartiality in the cause of those values - peace, development and human rights - that Afghans continue to champion so fiercely.

We are here for all Afghans, regardless of language, of ethnicity, of district, of region. We call on all of you to help us and to join us in support of the legitimate Government of Afghanistan as we all seek to help Afghans make better lives for themselves and their country.

Thank you very much.


BBC (translated from Dari): Given the fact that the former candidate, Paddy Ashdown, was refused by the Government of Afghanistan because of his roles and responsibilities under this mission in Afghanistan, could you please talk about the roles and responsibilities of the coming SRSG in detail?

UNAMA: The Special Representative of Secretary-General in Afghanistan has a strong mandate, that has been renewed now for six years by the United Nations Security Council and will be renewed again, subject to debate and adjustment later this month. It is a mandate to give advice, to deploy what we in the United Nations call good offices. It is a mandate to coordinate the work of international community, the support of the international community and then it is a mandate to lead some specialised forms of work for which the United Nations has particular responsibility, in the field of human rights, in the field of humanitarian coordination, in the field of disarmament, in the field of electoral systems. By the standards of UN mandates, it is a strong mandate and it is not one that has changed significantly over six years. The key message is this: This is a mandate of support and assistance for the Afghan Government and for the national institutions of this country. My message for you today is that, while the international community is more involved than ever, more supportive than ever of Afghanistan, the Government of Afghanistan is also stronger than we have ever previously seen, certainly in the life of UNAMA, and our new SRSG will be talking full account of this new reality.

Reuters: In a way you highlighted some of the problems that are here, you said there are 40 nations in NATO, 60 nations and institutions involved in development work. What role will the new representative have in trying to coordinate all of these institutions, given what you have just said, that the mandate has not changed, so we are going to expect more of the same lack of coordination that we have seen so far?

UNAMA: There is strong coordination in Afghanistan under the Afghanistan Compact, within the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board. To bring over 60 countries and international organizations together behind a single plan, a single Afghanistan National Development Strategy is no mean feat. To say that there has been no coordination and that there is only confusion is both a fallacy and a clear indication that you have not looked at that document. The consultative groups that have led the work to elaborate the ANDS are also places where serious discussions and coordination take place. No one is saying, either from the Government side or from the international side that from now on it will be businesses as usual. We need to accelerate our work. We need to coordinate an effort that is larger than ever and that is more complex than ever before and we need to focus on implementation.

Having the ANDS is one thing but the challenge now is to implement it. It is easy to dismiss the work of 25 ministries and hundreds of development experts just with a single comment. But it is unfair and it diminishes what is an important reality, an inescapable reality, for 25 million people in this country. Quite frankly it matters for an Afghan in the depths of Sari Pul province whether he or she has to walk two hours to get to the clinic or two days. And happily, because of the work of very dedicated people, there are now many more Afghans who have to walk the shorter distance.

Pajhwak (translated from Pashto): It is a reality that bringing together 40 or 60 countries under one goal or objective is not an easy task, and we can see that here in Afghanistan. But on the other hand, in the field of security, the Taliban have reached within 30 km of Kabul. Also, you have said that there is strong coordination, but the President of Afghanistan has said that there is lack of coordination among the international community, for example poppy cultivation has increased. How can you say that Afghanistan is stronger compared to previous years?

UNAMA: I am certainly not saying that coordination is perfect, but please accept that it is wrong to say that there has been no coordination. Coordination actually succeeds best when it is not only happening here in Kabul, but when it happens in provincial capitals and even in districts. There has to be coordination as well among Government agencies and departments. The President is working to improve this; many ministries are working to improve this; the Independent Directorate of Local Governance has the responsibility to improve this at sub-national level. And as a result of this kind of work, take the province of Wardak; security has improved in Wardak. I am going to dare to claim that security has improved in Wardak. I know almost none of you will accept that, let alone write it, but it is the truth. In January of this year, there were fewer security incidents by our measures than in January of the year before, 2007. We have quite simply not seen that kind of decline ever in the past five years, year on year decline. It does not mean that Afghanistan is heading toward peace immediately but it does mean that, through hard work, security can improve district by district, province by province.

Tolo TV (translated from Dari): The Afghan Government rejected the candidacy of Paddy Ashdown for the SRSG position while it has accepted the new candidate. What is the reason why they have now agreed to this new candidate? Is it related to the fact that Paddy Ashdown's terms of reference were beyond UNAMA's mandate?

UNAMA: I think that is a question for the Government. And there were clearly some misunderstandings over the past few months. But this new appointment enjoys the support of everyone, as far as we can detect. And it is very important not to think in terms of candidates and individuals but in terms of the model, the framework for assistance and support in this country. UNAMA, the United Nations, ISAF and the international community are here to assist the Government of this country and to provide support to their institutions. The new SRSG will have the responsibility to make that system work as well as it possibly can. And I think everyone in the international community looks forward to supporting him in that task.

Tolo TV (follow-up question): So there is no difference in the terms of reference of this SRSG and Paddy Ashdown?

UNAMA: The mandate is clear; it is in a UN resolution. Watch the debate in New York. There may be slight changes, but it will be as strong as it has ever been.

AP: Do you think that the mandate is strong enough and that it is up to the list of all the things you have said that you need to do and coordinate? And secondly, we know that NATO was criticised for not being able to have as many troops as the commanders want, but you guys have staff shortages yourself. How would you fill the 30 per cent vacancies in your mission to carry out coordination and reaching out to the provinces?

UNAMA: You are right that we have vacancies, but we also have more people working for UNAMA and for many UN agencies than ever before. One of the reasons why we have the vacancy rates we do, is because new positions were created on January 1st, and they are not filled within weeks. It will take a couple of months. But there are parts of the mission that are fully staffed in all our 17 offices. Political officers, for instance, we don't have any vacancies. It is sometimes harder to find people for specialized roles like rule of law, police advice or human rights. But we always find them, and our best colleagues are always our national Afghan colleagues. So we feel we are getting the support we need. And I know there has been a lot of debate about this, but the challenge is not the mandate. The challenge is implementation. How we come together with all the resources the Government has and the support the international community can provide to make security better? How far can we get in establishing the rule of law? What can be done with all of the resources now available to improve the climate for business in Afghanistan? These are challenges of implementation. We have the mandate and authority to work on these things.

IRIN: This March, UNAMA's mandate will be extended by the Security Council. Do you expect new tasks to be added into your mandate, as last year civilians in armed conflict was added to your job list?

UNAMA: It is possible. I really can't say because those debates are happening in New York as we speak. Something may be added but we don't expect dramatic changes. We expect the focus in New York, in Bucharest, in Kabul, in Paris, to be on the implementation of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy. That is the Government's challenge, Afghanistan's challenge but it is also our challenge.

And anything that helps us take an approach that is truly coordinated, and approach that is truly integrated to this implementation challenge will be welcome.

Ariana TV(translated from Dari): The Government of Afghanistan has always said that the roles and responsibilities for the new SRSG should be the same ones as for Tom Koenigs. It means that he or she should work under the supervision of the Afghan Government. What is your view on this issue?

UNAMA: In my view that simply means that the mandate should be the one that is approved by the Security Council. And we agree with that entirely. UNAMA has always worked best in close partnership with the Government of Afghanistan and the other institutions of this country. And that is what our mandate calls for.

Reuters: The role of the new special representative was originally seen as somebody who would head the ISAF mission as well. Now that is not the case. Will there be closer cooperation with ISAF under the new special representative? You said that the new representative is going to do more. But what is going to be different?

UNAMA: We will have to hear from him obviously. But I think what we will see is acceleration. We need to be demanding of each other as we approach this challenge of implementing the ANDS. You will see dynamism and a determination to ensure that coordination across all the three pillars of the Afghanistan Compact is strong -- and remember those are security, governance and development. That Compact says that the UN has a central and impartial role to coordinate the work of the international community to implement the compact. The new SRSG will be eager to show, to demonstrate in this new phase of ANDS implementation that those words mean what they were intended to mean.

AFP: I am a bit puzzled because you have said that you are going to implement and we are going to do a lot of things, and suddenly we have the impression that nothing has happened. My question is, what are the results, what is the resume of the situation during the last two years?

UNAMA: Most of what I have said is about two years quite frankly. The Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board was set up only after the Afghanistan Compact was adopted two years ago. Most of the growth in the Afghan National Army has come during last two years and it is an accelerating growth. Police reform has really only started seriously over these past two years. The same goes for justice reform. But we in UNAMA would be the last ones to imply that nothing has been done in the last two years or in the last six years. The focus under the Bonn Agreement was on restoring political legitimacy, political issues, new constitution, emergency Loya Jirga, new Government, two elections. The focus of the last two years has been on strengthening state institutions that can deliver services. I was in the province of Kunar two weeks ago. In Kunar there is a program hambastagi millie (National Solidarity Programme) in every district. Two years ago only one or two districts had it. That is not just a programme; it is 380 community development councils in one province. In Kunar there are over 300 schools. None of them was closed over the past year because of insecurity. Thirty more schools are being built by the Ministry of Education. The same for clinics; there are 200 clinics and 20 more are being built this year. And road building in Kunar has never been as intense as it is today. And there are plans, as you know, over the next eighteen months to put four bridges across the Kunar River, in the province of Kunar which has never had a bridge. And those projects are from the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) but in close collaboration with the Government and the Ministry of Public Works and so forth. So we never imply that nothing has been done. But we do challenge you to convey the story further than it has been conveyed. Because life in most parts of the country is changing for the better. There is a huge amount still to do. There are serious security challenges. But theses changes are more substantive than we have seen at any time before. And our challenge is now to accelerate this progress.

Thank you very much.