Transcript of the Press Conference by the SRSG for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi

News and Press Release
Originally published
Q: Could you just give us - we are heading up to the anniversary of September 11 - could you give us your appraisal of how things have gone in the last year and the successes or failures if you like and what progress has been made?
SRSG: How many hours do you want us to speak about that? Well I think that one of the things that has happened in the next year is that international interest has revived for Afghanistan and that is certainly a very welcome development. I think that the people of Afghanistan, remain consistently conscious of the desperate need for peace for their country and I think that there is very little appetite amongst the Afghans - I think practically everyone - for going back to the nightmare of conflict of war. But I don't think that peace is firmly established, there is no room for complacency, neither for the people of Afghanistan nor for their friends. There is certainly every reason to be hopeful that the consolidation of that peace will happen.

Q: Could you let us know what you know about the investigation going on up in the north as well as the war graves? What do you think that war lords who are involved in this kind of thing should be held accountable and whether could destabilize the situation?

SRSG: These are many questions. As far as I know there is no investigation actively going on now. I would like to remind you that when Physicians for Human Rights published their first report some months ago, they approached us and we went together up there and had preliminary investigation which established that the three bodies that were examined by three [experts], two of whom came from Physicians for Human Rights and one from the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Those three forensic experts established that there was indeed a serious case to look at but they also very strongly recommended that no investigation should take place until there is real possibility of really protecting potential witnesses. We have endorsed their recommendation.

They also recommended that the site be protected. The way it can be done was by us visiting the site regularly. We have been visiting the site regularly and the site has not been disturbed. The government has, following the Newsweek story, said that they would like to investigate but I don't think that they have capacity to do so. We are in touch with them, we are in touch with Human Rights Commission, we are in touch with the local authorities, factional leaders and we will see when and how an investigation and by whom an investigation can be undertaken seriously.

A very important point to remember here is that I think we have a responsibility, certainly to find out what has happened, but I am sure you will agree that our responsibility to the living has to have precedence as far as we, the United Nations are concerned and we can not take a risk of putting anyone's life in danger.

Q cont: If it does turn out that Dostum or troops were to have done something bad, a lot of people worry at what that may mean to stability.

SRSG: That is a good question, a very good question. You see the representative of the European Union has been quoted by some of you as saying that accountability is indispensable. I asked him how he intended to do it and whether the European Union was interested in doing anything about it. He said no and I told him if he thought he knows Afghanistan - you know he was one of our colleagues - whether he thought that something can be done now and he said no. So one has, at least we think that Physicians for Human Rights, human rights organizations are on the same side as us. We work, I think, for the same purpose but we do different jobs. And, if I may say so, the press, I hope, also works for the same objectives. Journalists can go up there and write an article and say I have spoken to somebody; I can't give his name and go away. If we start an enquiry we have got to give names, addresses and if we do that we want to be certain that nobody is in danger.

Q: One the same issue, we seem to have entered a stalemate at the moment. Everybody seems to want an investigation, [inaudible], but nobody is actually doing it. Isn't there a danger that time is running out. [inaudible] as witnesses report protection of the site isn't taking place 24 hours a day. Isn't there a danger there has to be something soon otherwise there will never be anything?

SRSG: You are absolutely right. Politics is the art of the possible. Afghanistan has lots of problems and it is extremely difficult to establish priorities. There is no judicial system that you can really expect to face up to a situation like this. There is no proper police to protect people. So, I think that choices have to made. We will definitely do our outmost to follow this up. We certainly owe it to the people who have been killed, to their relatives and to the principles we believe in. But as I told you, our responsibility to the living has to take precedence and also you have to do what is possible. Making statements to please yourself is very cheap. I don't think we want to go for that.

Q: During the Loya Jirga you made some similar kinds of comments. People were complaining about intimidation and problems and you said you should not judge Afghanistan by western standards - this is not Sweden or Switzerland.

SRSG: Do you think it is?

Q cont: No, but there is trade off between Justice and Stability. You are making similar comments right now. Do you think more broadly and perhaps even more in depth that the trade off is more stark - that there cannot be justice in an variety of issues in order to preserve or even attempt to obtain stability?

SRSG: I will tell you a story. Chilean friends from the resistance in 1993, I asked them the same question. You have fought 20 years, and finally at the end you made a deal with Pinochet. They told me that we have been trying; we've been fighting for peace and justice. After 20 years we realize that we can have peace but not justice. It wasn't an easy decision but we have accepted to take peace without justice. I was also in South Africa and the discussions that took a very long time between giants like Mandela and I think DeKlerk was also a great man. And, they found a system where accountability had to take second place to peace and stability. They went for truth and reconciliation. They had the state. There is always decisions to be taken on what can be done and what cannot be done. And, as I told you, you can choose to please yourself and make statements of principle or you can see in a situation any given situation, at a given moment, at a given place, what is possible.

Yesterday, we had - the meeting is continuing today - meetings with our people from our regional offices. One of them was telling us that they were receiving in the office women complaining about harassment and worse. And, as they were talking, the people they were complaining about walked in because they were also partners of that office. What do you tell people in this office? They can either tell the women don't come here because we are working with the people who are a nuisance to you or they can tell those people we don't want to speak to you because you are misbehaving. I don't think they had either luxury. They have got to deal with, and of course see what they can do for those women, but they have to go on talking to the other people.

Q: [Translated from Pashtu] It was pledged that the international community would give USD 1.8 billion for the rehabilitation of Afghanistan and so far we have only received USD 600,000. Where is the rest? Could you please explain that?

SRSG: I think there you are right and we are doing our best to talk to the donors and make sure that help comes at an increased pace. But this is a slow business, unfortunately. We are going to take the opportunity of the General Assembly. I am looking forward to the visit there of President Karzai and that will be an opportunity to talk to the major donors. I feel fairly confident that the pace of support for the reconstruction of Afghanistan will quicken as we go along.

Q: You said that you can have peace but not justice. Does that mean the future for the sake of peace and stopping of destruction, there might be a deal with the Taliban and al-Qaida to bring peace?

SRSG: I don't think I said that you can forget about justice, what I am saying is that given that moment in time, you may have to take difficult decisions. As you know, ten years later justice is being talked about in Chile so I think that in Afghanistan also, it is not a question of condoning or forgetting about crimes, serious crimes. It is about moving the peace process in the interest of the people of Afghanistan.

Q: There was a series of explosions around in Kabul and one was at the UN guesthouse. Can you give us assessment of the security? Do you see that it is improving, or on the contrary is it getting worse? Are there any new security measures around the country?

SRSG: We are very concerned about these series of explosions in Kabul. We are relieved that so far nothing horrible has happened; we are very concerned. I can't give you an assessment of the situation of the security situation in Kabul, please check with ISAF. What they are telling us is that they think that these explosions, serious as they are, sort of concern that they are, they firmly consider that the situation in Kabul is still improving. I think what they are considering with the Ministry of Interior and other security organs in the country to lift the curfew altogether in Kabul. So, I am very concerned. The fact that the last bomb was against the wall of UNICA is of course of particular concern to us, but this is the assessment of the people who are in charge of security in Kabul.

Q: Some UN officials produced a preliminary report on the US attack in Uruzgan province which killed scores of civilians. Why not make that report public and have a firm, clear UN voice on what happened there and an assessment of the [inaudible]?

SRSG: I think that we haven't run an enquiry about what happened there. We have sent people who are mainly humanitarians to see whether the damage that was inflicted on that civilian population required any help for the people there. And, those people have made a report in which they have also described what they saw. This is not an inquiry. The report that they have sent us, which we have refused to publish, is an internal report, the like of which we send several every week to New York and with all respect that we have for the press, we are not going to publish these kinds of internal reports every time you ask us to. If we feel that it is necessary to speak out on this question, we will. And, I think we have said what is necessary. The Americans must be careful. This is not good for anybody. It is not well for them to start with and we hope that the inquiry that they have started will be conducted and the results will be made public.

Q: To follow on from that question. There are many Afghans and [inaudible] the emphasis between the amounts of money that is being spent by the United States on the hunt for al-Qaida and the Taliban which has yielded so little and what the United States is spending in supporting the rebuilding of Afghanistan is disproportionate. A billion a month they say against 290 or 300 million for an entire year. Do you think that is a fair criticism or not?

SRSG: In similar situations you invariably find that, of course, military exercise - even peacekeeping - the military side is always far too expensive. And, we are certain that in many cases that money spent on the military would have been better spent on reconstruction and helping the people. But generally that is always with hindsight. I remember in Haiti we had 6,000 soldiers. After one year, I was the head of that mission and I participated in preparing the report that recommended 6,000 soldiers. After one year I think we could have done it with 500 soldiers. If we could have used the money we spent on 5,500 soldiers on Haiti it would have been much better. Here I think, of course, the military expenditure of the United States is not part of what the United Nations as a whole is doing. But certainly you are absolutely right. If we spent a little bit more on helping the people of Afghanistan it would probably do much better for helping Afghanistan stop being the breeding grounds for terrorism.

Q: [Translated from Dari] During the Loya Jirga, President Hamid Karzai promised the nation that after the Loya Jirga projects will start development. Projects will start work on the highways and other rehabilitation activities would start. It has been a long time since the fall of the Taliban but we have not seen any substantial improvement in the rehabilitation process. What is the reason? Is it that the international aid is not coming or is there any other reason?

SRSG: I think it is a combination of reasons. If I may, it is very little time. Hamid Karzai took over as the head of the Interim Administration on the 22 December. That is not a long time by any standards. It is a long time by the standards of the legitimate impatience of the people of Afghanistan. But I can assure you that Hamid Karzai and everybody else are working very hard to make that development, road construction happen as soon as humanly possible.

Q: Could you give your assessment of how the Karzai administration has done in the preliminary [inaudible]? And, to what extend to you hear the government has extended its authority beyond Kabul to the various provinces?

SRSG: It is a struggling government. It is a government that is trying to establish running departments and also trying to take stock of what needs to be done. I think that they are really - some of the ministers are really very impressive. The new younger breed that has joined the government are really working extremely hard. They are going everywhere. They are preparing plans and we are working very closely with them. I think that is all can say. I am sure you appreciate the difficulties you have in setting up an administration when you barely have a building with practically nothing else in it. And, with all your people having gone, some of them starting to come back. With resources being as scarce as they are. These are real difficulties.

Q: [inaudible] Question on Afghan stability and outside military presence.

SRSG: Yes. The short answer is yes. Of course they can. Look, during the Loya Jirga the Afghans organised huge meetings in 400 different places where everything between 1,000 and 15,000 people got together without any protection from any American or non-American force. I think if development work takes place, I am sure that will help stability. Parallel to that, I am very encouraged by the discussions and the work that is being done to prepare the ground and actually build a national police and a national army. I think if this work continues and accelerates as I hope it will do. A year from now, maximum two years, we are going to have enough soldiers and enough policemen for the country to stand on its own two feet.

Q: What have you done to ensure that all this financial assistance will go to help the Afghan people without being wasted?

SRSG: Well, I hope that we will do our best. There is a problem of accountability. Money is being given openly, publicly and the people who are spending it are doing so openly. So, I hope that it will be delivered without waste.

Q: I have a question on stability in the regions. Are you still calling for ISAF expansion to the regions? How likely is it that this is going to happen?

SRSG: I am told that it is not going to happen. But I continue to say that it would be a good thing if you did. But if it doesn't, I think the people of Afghanistan will find ways of doing without it. But I still say that it would help very much and shorten as a matter of fact the time spans for everything that [inaudible]. What I am saying now and what I told the Security Council is that a few months ago in February, I was saying that my impression is that it doesn't need a lot of soldiers. It won't be expensive. Not for a long time. And it is not dangerous. After the Loya Jirga I said that I feel confident that if that expansion took place we won't need a lot of soldiers. We won't need a lot of money and we won't need them for a long time and there will be no danger for them.

Q: [Translation from Pashtu] There was a particular criteria for the selection of Delegates at the Loya Jirga. Did the UN facilitate or as you say 'help' some commanders, warlords, to participate in a special way in the Loya Jirga?

SRSG: I don't think that the UN helped or facilitated their participation. I think that the Loya Jirga was a reflection of what exists in Afghanistan. And this is what the Loya Jirga is supposed to be. I think also that those you call warlords, yes they were there but I think they were exposed to a language they probably have not heard before. People telling them what they thought of them and people asking them to leave the scene. Asking them questions about what they did. So, this is behind us. It was not a perfect exercise but I think the Loya Jirga was fairly representative and the whole exercise was, I think, very positive. Those meetings that have taken place in 400 wolaswalis gave an opportunity for people to express themselves and ended up here as a whole process that was eminently positive although it was certainly not perfect. I think it was a small step in the right direction and I hope it will be followed by other steps.

Thank you very much.