Transcript of press conference by the SRSG for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi 20 Mar 2003

Spokesman: Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan (SRSG), will hold his end of the Afghan year press conference that we announced last Sunday. He will make opening remarks and then we will take your questions. We will do this with consecutive interpretation.
SRSG: Good morning. As Manoel told you, what we were thinking of today is really to congratulate the people of Afghanistan and express our best wishes to them on the occasion of Nawruz.

We wanted also to take questions. I'm sure that you have a number of questions for us about the coming year in Afghanistan with all the challenges and the activities that are scheduled both on the political and on the reconstruction field.

The third issue was the question of security. Incidents have increased a little bit up and down the country. I think you are aware that we had taken the decision that if the war started in Iraq we would ask our staff to stay home for up to 48 hours. This has been interpreted as the UN closing down - we are not closing down. This is just a security precaution while we see how things are developing but essential staff is working and whoever is needed is in his or her office. So we are not shutting down, we are not contemplating shutting down.

Now the war has started unfortunately. I think you know the position of the Secretary-General. He said repeatedly that there was a possibility of solving this problem peacefully and he said last night that this is a very sad day for the United Nations and for the international community. I think that the overwhelming majority of people all over the world think that this war is not justified and that the so-called disarmament could have been achieved by peaceful means. The Security Council had adopted a resolution and sent inspectors into Iraq who were doing their job and who were saying that they were doing their job and making progress. So we can only express our regret, we also have to say that we think that at this moment of the millions of Iraqi women, children, men who are already experiencing, I suppose, the terror of this deluge of fire that is falling on their heads or going to fall on their heads.

So I'll take your questions. I hope that in spite of this development you will keep some interest in Afghanistan; this is also one of the things that we have been saying - that interest for Afghanistan should not fade away because there is another crisis somewhere else.

Q: You mentioned that the war in Iraq is not justified, however the Afghan government has declared it is justified, there's a contradiction between your point of view and the governments, how do you see that?

SRSG: I said the people not the governments. I really think that, I think it's a fact. In Britain there is something like 75 per cent of the people who are against this war, in the United States, something like 40 per cent, in the rest of Europe it's 80-90 per cent against war and I think in Asia, Africa and Latin America the proportion is about the same. So I think that the majority of the people is against this war.

Q: How do you think the war in Iraq will affect reconstruction in Afghanistan?

SRSG: I think it may affect us in two ways. One is that the people of Afghanistan are against this war and therefore the feelings against the international community may increase. The second is that the international community and especially the big powers, starting with the United States, may have less time and less resources for Afghanistan. I would like to add that the United States and the international community again in Brussels just two days ago reaffirmed their continued support and commitment to Afghanistan. These reassuring statements are welcome but we will keep demanding that these commitments are honoured.

Q: I have two questions, the first question is regarding Iraq, the people of Afghanistan and of the world have found out that the United States did not care about the United Nations, despite the United Nations not agreeing they launched a war, there is a perception that the United Nations has no power and is weak, what is your view about that. Secondly what has been the significant progress in democracy in Afghanistan since last Nawruz?

SRSG: On your first question I think I said that the Secretary-General said yesterday that this was a very sad day for the United Nations and for the international community so on Iraq there is certainly a failure of the United Nations and in particular of the Security Council. But I think the Secretary-General also said important as it is, the crisis of Iraq is not the only thing for the United Nations and the United Nations is already and will continue to be very important for other issues, other problems and other situations and certainly Afghanistan is one of them. Another point I would like to make is that the United Nations is already preparing to resume a role in Iraq at the humanitarian level. There is a role that only the United Nations can play and they are preparing to play it to help the people of Iraq after this destruction. I'm sure there will be refugees, there will be hunger, there will be disease and the United Nations will be playing an important role in Iraq on the humanitarian level. On your second question about the differences between Nawruz last year and this year; there are many differences. Of course this has been saddened by the beginning of this war but I think that reconstruction, although not at the speed and level we want it to be, it is still at a much, much higher level than last year. Work has started for the preparation of the constitution that we have every confidence that it will be submitted to a Loya Jirga before Ramadan. Work is also starting for the preparations of the elections next year. The Judicial Commission is also working. And very importantly, [something] that was not there at all last year. Work that is starting and that is very, very important and that we very much hope will continue effectively is the creation of the national army and the creation of the national police.

Q: I have two questions, you just mentioned that the international community may have less time and resources for Afghanistan, is there anything that Afghans should do to keep the world's attention on them besides just hoping? Secondly there were reports that you might be playing an important role in Iraq. There has been a strong denial from you but people are still worried about your departure from here.

SRSG: I think your first question is an important one. Briefly, what the Afghan Government and people have to do is to show that they are making progress, that they are implementing the programmes that they seek resources for. I just spoke about the army and the national police, I think that if people see the government is really moving ahead with the creation of a truly national army, with the creation of a truly national police, resources will come. If they see that the resources that are being provided are used effectively, efficiently and transparently I think that also will help keep the international community's attention. I would like to say we are encouraged by all we heard from the meeting in Belgium (the Afghanistan High-Level Strategic Forum held in Brussels). All the countries who were there reaffirmed their commitment and their readiness to continue supporting Afghanistan. On your second question the only thing we can say is [to] repeat what we have already said. I am the Special Representative of the Secretary-General here. My mandate is not limited in time that means it can last as long or as little as the Secretary-General decides. I also confirm our denial and say that the Secretary-General to whom I have spoken regularly until very, very recently has never mentioned Iraq in our discussions as a possibility for me.

Q: How much can you assure me that if the United States continues to be committed to war with Iraq, its attention will not be diverted from Afghanistan?

SRSG: I think you'll have to ask the Americans. That's what I can tell you. You know that the Americans have told the Afghan Government repeatedly, they have told me repeatedly that no matter what happens in Iraq they will not lose interest and they will continue to support Afghanistan.

Q: As you know the New Year will start tomorrow and you've been a good friend to Afghanistan for the last year, what are the plans for the coming year? What is your message for the Afghan nation for the coming year?

SRSG: I think on the programme for next year President Karzai will speak, if not tomorrow in the coming few days, to set the programme for the Government of Afghanistan for the coming year. And our role, as you very well know, as the United Nations, as the international community, is to support the programme and the agenda of the Afghan Government, we do not have a separate, different agenda. As for my message to the people of Afghanistan, apart from saying Tabreek (congratulations) to everyone in the country, I think that Afghanistan needs national reconciliation and national unity. There is still too much division. I just came back from Kandahar two days ago, there are a lot of internally displaced people who are afraid to go back to their wolaswalies (districts) to their villages because of the tensions betweens the people of Afghanistan. The second thing that the people of Afghanistan need is security. And insecurity is most of the time caused by people who call themselves mujaheddin, by people who call themselves commanders, by people who claim to be part of the state. So we would very much like to see active work being done to ensure that national unity is a reality. And that people who cause insecurity are rejected by their community and by the people of Afghanistan, and are brought to accept to live by the rule of law and not by the rule of the gun. This year should be the year when all the people of Afghanistan everywhere feel that their government is the government of all of Afghanistan and that everybody is comfortable living anywhere in the country.

Q: The role of the United Nations last year was very prominent, particularly in the Loya Jirga. Those things, which happened in the Loya Jirga, did not satisfy the people and the cabinet which was brought as a result of the Loya Jirga was not according to the wishes of the people. And the military forces, which were already there on the ground, were only one part of the nation and it did not have ethnic balance. So, people are sort of discouraged. Don't you think that the United Nations has not fulfilled those promises, which it has made to the nation of Afghanistan?

SRSG: I am sure there are problems and there is dissatisfaction in the country. I will disagree with you about the cabinet. As far as members are concerned there is ethnic balance in the cabinet. It is in the security sector that there are very serious problems and it is about the security sector that there is a lot of dissatisfaction in the country. And in this field the situation is that there is no national army and there is no national police for the moment. There are de facto armed formations that are there since the civil war, since the war that existed before the Bonn agreement. And the challenge for the Afghans and their friends, including the United Nations, is to create a truly genuinely national army and national police. Work is being done, the beginning is promising. Everybody really has to accept, understand that this national army has to be formed, that the former existing factional armies have to disappear with some of their members being retrained, if they wish and if they fulfill the criteria, they have to be retrained to become part of the national army. Whereas, others will be helped to go back to civilian life.

Q: In your opinion, what would be the role of women in the coming 2004 elections of Afghanistan? In the last election we did not see any prominent role of the women.

SRSG: It depends on the women of Afghanistan and the role they want to play. One of the most important and complicated activities that need to be undertaken in preparation of the election is registration of voters. On of the first things that the national commission for the preparation of the election will do when it is created - but national commission is not yet created and we hope that it will be very soon - when that national commission starts working one of the first thing it will do is to recruit probably 1800 people to go all over the country to register voters - men and women. We hope that 900, half of those [1800] people who are going to be recruited will be women, so that they go and register women. So, I hope that your magazine will help the recruitment of those 900 women throughout Afghanistan to register women, so that every woman who wants to vote will have a chance to vote.

Q: The opposition of France and Germany against the war in Iraq with United States. What will be its impact on its coalition presence in Afghanistan?

SRSG: We hope it will have no impact. These are very mature democracies. They accept that they may have difference of opinion on one subject, but that will not prevent them from working together elsewhere. This is what we definitely hear from all of them.

Q: Are there any lessons learnt for post war Iraq from post war Afghanistan?

SRSG: I think these are two totally different situations and I do not have any lessons for anybody.

Q: We did not talk about the security threat posed by former Taliban and Hekmatyar forces. How would you assess with the war just beginning, do these groups have the desire and ability to attack the forces here? Has that increased in the last few days?

SRSG: What I see is that there are incidents up and down the country. What we are saying is that there is a possibility that the war in Iraq will be seen as an opportunity to further increase these efforts at destabilizing the situation in Afghanistan. We have absolutely no information to that effect. This is purely conjectural attitude on our part and just a precaution on our part. Hence, our request for our people to stay home for a day or two. I repeat that we have no solid information, but I think that prudence orders us to be careful and to take into consideration the possibility that this war may be used by those who are intent on destabilizing the situation here, to do so.

Closing remarks by the SRSG: Happy Nawruz to everyone in spite of this rather unhappy situation that has started this morning. We, in the United Nations, certainly remain committed to Afghanistan and we think that this may be a bumpy road, but it is a road that will lead Afghanistan to peace and stability. Inshallah. Thank you very much.