The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today's briefing in Islamabad by the United Nations offices for Pakistan and Afghanistan (including parts of question and answer session).
** Eric Falt, Director, UN Information Centre
Good afternoon. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, came back from Kabul earlier today and he was going to leave Islamabad, but there has been a change of plans and he will now be staying here overnight. This has given me an opportunity to invite Ahmad Fawzi, his spokesman, who will brief you on the latest developments.
** Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesperson for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan
Thank you Eric. I am very happy to be here today and speak at this podium.
The Special Representative has just met with President Musharraf. They had a very cordial and friendly meeting, in which Mr. Brahimi expressed his appreciation to the President, and the Government and the people of Pakistan for their support to the UN's efforts to achieve peace in Afghanistan. Mr. Brahimi also briefed the President on the outcome of his visit to Kabul and his meetings with political leaders there.
I will be happy to take your questions now.
(Question on opposition to the deployment of a multinational force in Afghanistan?)
In all the meetings that Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi had in Kabul yesterday in the wake of the talks in Bonn, the political leadership --including Professor Rabbani, General Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdallah Abdallah, Ayatullah Mohseni. Professor Sayyaf-- were all supportive of the Bonn agreement and they were all understanding the need for a security force.
Such a force, when it is deployed, will be a friendly force. We are not talking of a force that is going to oppose one faction or the other. This is a friendly force, going in to assist the people of Afghanistan to maintain security and also to assist in rebuilding the country and in rebuilding the countries armed forces. So the answer to your question is no. We did not detect outright opposition to the force. However there were many questions about the force, questions that we couldn't answer, simply because the decision to deploy such a force rests with the Security Council in New York.
(Question on the United States' view to a multinational force?)
Why don't you ask them? They sit on the Security Council, and once the Security Council decides to issue a resolution, it will be with the agreement of the United States. I can't comment on the position of the United States. I speak for the UN.
(Question: It has been claimed by the Northern Alliance leadership that a Northern Alliance force will remain inside Kabul and that the role of a multinational force should be confined only to protecting foreign embassies. What is the real position?)
I can understand your interest in a multinational force. There is a lot of focus on this. But that is not all the Bonn agreement is about. The "real position" is that the matter rests with the Security Council at the moment. Once there is a mandated force, this force will operate in cooperation with the new interim administration in Kabul. At that time, they will decide together what the best modus operandi will be, whether they will be guarding buildings, personnel or other issues.
The question of the multinational force can only be answered at the time they are constituted and when they are deployed in Kabul. I just can't speculate any further on the composition, mandate or anything regarding this force, until it is actually mandated by the Security Council. The Bonn agreement stipulates that the Afghan parties have asked the Security Council to consider the early deployment of such a force. Nothing will be imposed upon the Afghans, so it is going to be done in full cooperation and collaboration with the Afghan administration of the day.
(Question: Is there any pressure from the Northern Alliance to limit the number of the multinational force coming into Kabul?)
Sir, there is no pressure from anyone on anyone. There is no pressure from the UN on the Afghans and no pressure from the Afghans on the UN. This is a collaborative effort. We are not going to impose anything on the Afghans. As Mr. Brahimi said several times: "Any solution to the Afghanistan problem has to be an Afghan solution - a hundred per cent". Numbers have been flying around, we've all been reading reports in the media ranging from 200 to 2,000. The answer is still, and these are the three words that any spokesman and journalist dreads: I don't know.
(Question on demilitarisation)
Once again: The agreement is very, very clear. There is a reference, not to demilitarisation because that word is not mentioned, but to the withdrawal of military units from areas where the force is deployed. And in fact, the agreement says that the Afghan parties pledge to withdraw. We are not talking about total demilitarisation. Police force will still be permitted to operate in those areas, always in coordination and collaboration between the multinational force and whatever police force exists. But let me just emphasize here that there are also clauses in the agreement, and there is understanding, that the United Nations will assist those military units who wish to be integrated into the new Afghan armed forces, or to be integrated into civilian life, whatever their choice is.
(Question about the type of cooperation President Musharraf promised to extend to Mr. Brahimi)
I am not sure exactly what my words were, but, in general terms, President Musharraf has been providing support for a long time for the UN mission. He has been very supportive in the talks leading up to the Bonn Agreement. And Mr. Brahimi expresses appreciation for this support.
(Question: Some say that the Bonn agreement is not representative of all the factions inside Afghanistan. What do you think?)
I agree. We never said that the agreement is fully representative. We agree that the agreement has its flaws but it is the best we could do during the time available. You are not going to solve the problems of Afghanistan after two decades of war in a few days in Bonn. We got these groups together because it was the best selection that we could get together in that period of time.
The agreement provides for an interim administration for a period of six months, leading up to the convening of an emergency Loja Jirga, a council of elders in Afghanistan which makes momentous decisions when needed, and that Loja Jirga is fully representative of the people of Afghanistan. The Loja Jirga will be appointing - within six months from 22 December- the next phase which is a transitional administration and will hopefully be much more representative, broad based and multi-ethnic than the one that will function up to 22 December. Everybody agrees that it is not fully representative. This administration, however, is a very good step along a very long road towards a new constitution and free and fair elections for Afghanistan within two years from the end of the six months period.
(Question on General Dostum's stand towards the formation of the interim government)
The day before yesterday, just before midnight here in Islamabad, Mr. Brahimi received an envoy for General Dostum. He also received a letter signed by General Dostum. Both the envoy and the letter conveyed to Mr. Brahimi the problems that General Dostum has with the new interim administration and the lack of seats for his party. But the concluding part was the most significant: regardless of the differences we have with our colleagues in the new administration, we will continue to support your efforts and those of the international community to bring peace for Afghanistan. We will continue to support the Bonn process and we will not allow anyone or anything to hamper the implementation of the Bonn accord and the transfer of power. Furthermore, he goes on to make a commitment to exert every effort to ensure a secure environment for humanitarian aid convoys, and for the activities of the UN agencies and NGOs in Afghanistan. That is a very positive development and a very encouraging one indeed.
Thank you very much.
** Chulho Hyun, Spokesperson for UNICEF
Good afternoon. The United Nations Children's Fund continues to deliver life-saving emergency supplies and assistance to the most vulnerable children and women of Afghanistan, with the first snow having already fallen in parts of the country--a clear sign of winter's advance.
The latest UNICEF relief items, for distribution in the Central Region, were sent this week from Kabul to Bamiyan. There, the aid will benefit 9-thousand families that have either left their homes in search of shelter and safety, or have returned to the region from elsewhere. We are talking about 5,000 sheets of tarpaulin, nearly 6,000 warm sweaters and pullovers, and 1,100 pairs of shalwar kameez, the traditional garb in both adult and child sizes.
Earlier, from Peshawar, meanwhile, UNICEF was able to send two convoys the Eastern Region of Afghanistan, directly sending non-food items to local non-governmental organizations active in the Noorgal, Behsud and Sarkhano Districts.
Clothing for babies and children, shoes and blankets in that consignment had been donated in-kind by a German NGO.
With the immediate focus on the survival of children and women during winter, these are critical times. Times that are also marked by hindrances to the work we're trying to do. We are, for example, watching the developments very closely out of Kandahar, where it has been difficult to operate from in the past weeks.
We recently heard unconfirmed reports from Kandahar that in the fluid situation of the past weeks, unknown elements entered the UNICEF office there and removed computers, furniture and other property. The whereabouts of office vehicles are still unclear. Fortunately, there have been assurances that the UNICEF storage facility for vaccines is intact, with all vaccines accounted for.
Looking ahead to the months ahead, basic education for both girls and boys remains a vital goal in the recovery and rehabilitation efforts that UNICEF is committed to.
UNICEF's priority for education during the winter will be to continue supporting community-based education and home-based schools; to increase educational and recreational activities for IDP children in different locations; and to step up planning for the start of formal schooling for boys and girls, and the return of female teachers to the classroom, next March.
Such support will be possible, in part, due to the positive response UNICEF has been receiving from the international donor community. The recent donation, for instance, of some USD 5.8 million from Italy, will go to procuring educational supplies and learning materials for 450,000 children, as part of the winter education program in Kabul, the training of teachers, repair work on six schools in Kabul and other activities.
But again, the task at hand --right now-- and the race against time.
UNICEF predicts that in a worst-case scenario, some 100,000 children may die in the coming six months unless enough emergency relief aid reaches them and reaches them quickly. By "worst case," we assume limited humanitarian access and increased mortality rates, linked to preventable diseases and exacerbated by high rates of malnutrition.
The challenge during the winter will then be to minimize, as much as possible, the loss of young lives.
** Jordan Dey, Spokesperson for WFP
Good Afternoon. WFP has now delivered more than 34,000 metric tonnes of food into Afghanistan during the first 10 days of December.
In other words, we've dispatched more in a week-and-a-half than we did during the entire month of October. In November, as you may recall, we dispatched 55,000 metric tonnes of food, which was the most food we have ever delivered in Afghanistan in one month.
WFP is continuing to be as aggressive as possible in delivering food throughout Afghanistan, but especially to those who live in the highly food-insecure areas of Central and North-eastern Afghanistan. As you know, we are using rail, trucks, barges and planes from five countries, utilizing six supply routes. We are serving 6 million hungry people - more than a quarter of the total Afghan population.
WFP is continuing to work against a backdrop of harsh winter conditions; mountainous terrain; narrow and treacherous roads, highway banditry, looted offices, little telecommunications contact with our field staff, unexploded ordinances and landmines. In short, WFP like all aid agencies is working in a complicated post-conflict environment.
On Monday 10 December, for example, a truck carrying WFP wheat was destroyed by a land mine on the road to Gorband (120 km outside of Kabul). The driver received relatively minor injuries. Initially reports note that the load of wheat he was carrying saved his life. Apparently, the truck went just slightly off the road, where it hit the landmine. We will have a full report from the mine clearance team tomorrow.
WFP currently has international staff in Kabul, Herat and Faizabad and we are hoping to re-establish an international permanent presence soon in Kandahar - as soon as security permits. WFP is doing a rapid needs assessment of our Mazar office, with initial reports indicating that the office has been looted and virtually destroyed. Even the window frames and doorframes were ripped from their hinges and stolen. Each office, of course, will need to be quickly repaired with computers and telephone lines installed, and furniture and vehicles replaced. Our field staff is operating with the bare minimum right now. Our NGO partners face similar challenges.
The food distribution for the vulnerable residents of Kabul is progressing well. Yesterday, WFP distributed wheat to another 150,000 people, raising the three-day total to 648,000 persons (5,400 metric tonnes). We will continue to distribute tomorrow and Friday, reaching a total of 1.3 million people. Each family receives a 50-kilo bag of wheat, which will last them one-month.
We moved 4 rail wagons across the Friendship Bridge today between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, but the rail tracks are in bad shape and will need repair. Therefore, WFP moved 300 metric tonnes via the barge today and will move another 300 metric tonnes via barge tomorrow into the Balkh region.
WFP now has 15 international staff in Afghanistan. Before the current crisis WFP had 34 international staff.
** Fatoumata Kaba, Spokesperson for UNHCR
Yesterday morning UN staff, including UNHCR, crossed the Friendship Bridge into Mazar, using this route for the first time since 1996. The UN convoy reached Mazar at 3:00 p.m. after a stop in Hairaton.
This is UNHCR's first major return to Mazar after 3 months. Our staff there will be meeting with the various agencies to get a better view of the IDP and the returnee situation in the region. One of our teams could soon be going to Maimana where we received information that trucks are arriving on daily basis with refugees from Iran. We do not know the extent of this return yet. We also plan to re-open our offices in Kunduz and Pul-I-Khumeri shortly.
There is still cautious optimism on the security situation in this northern Afghan City. Our security officer reports tell us that the town seems calm and stable, although the security situation is not yet perfect.
We now have 4 international staffs in Mazar and more will be deployed there. The total number of UNHCR staff deployed for the Afghan crisis is nearing 100 as we expand our presence throughout the region. UNHCR considers that an immense task lies ahead of us in our attempt to address the needs of 500,000 internally displaced persons and the returning Afghan refugees whose numbers are expected to swell after the winter season.
There are currently some four million Afghan refugees in the region and even if a quarter of them were to return soon, that would be one million people who would be returning to a massively destroyed country. They will therefore depend on shelter and other material assistance in order to reintegrate. UNHCR plans to re-start its rehabilitation projects, including those we call Quips-quick impact projects that allow returning refugees to start a fresh life.
The number of Afghans heading for Pakistan is going down, while return movements are on the rise. We reported yesterday about nearly 1,500 persons crossing back into Afghanistan on Monday, the single largest return movement observed here in one day. This number has now gone up to 1800 persons that crossed the border into Afghanistan yesterday. They are believed to be heading for Kandahar, Herat, Ghazni, Zabul, and Kabul.
Some 1,500 vulnerable families in and around Kabul began to receive UNHCR assistance this morning. It is UNHCR's second wave of emergency aid to destitute Afghan families whose survival depends much on humanitarian assistance to make it through the winter season.
Further northeast, at the Afghan border with Tajikistan, UNHCR is also providing aid to displaced Afghans who had crossed the Pianj River into Karavul Island, which lies between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. We plan to increase that assistance tomorrow by delivering more blankets, mattresses, soaps, candles, matchboxes, clothing, kitchen sets and buckets to 800 families on Karavul Island. The aid is coming from our office in Tajikistan. There are an estimated 10,000 internally displaced Afghans on the border island.
** Einar Holtet, Spokesperson for the Office of the UN Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Afghanistan
Good afternoon. The UN flights from Islamabad to Mazar-i-Sharif have started and the first flight left Islamabad airport today Wednesday. As a rule, there will be two flights a week to Mazar, except for the coming week. Due to the Eid holiday there will be no flights until Monday 24 December.
The United Nations' agencies activities in the area are facilitated by the flights and the return of international staff to Mazar. They will have a greater capacity to deliver urgently needed humanitarian aid as winter is on, making extreme living conditions even worse day by day.
Security in Mazar has been described as relatively OK. UN staff has travelled from Termez to Mazar. As from today, up to five UN staff members will be based in Mazar to cover areas in the North where an estimated total of three million people depend on humanitarian assistance.
In Herat, the United Nations is by now fully operational with 23 international staff. Together with a number of non-governmental organizations, the UN is providing aid to more than 200,000 internally displaced people in camps in and around Herat.
** Umer Daudzai, Assistant Resident Representative, UNDP Afghanistan
I am an Afghan. And my work with the United Nations has lately been dedicated to my homeland. We Afghans look at the current situation with a mixture of hopes and fears. Our hopes are based on the fact that after 23 years of tragedy, we now have an opportunity to bring a lasting peace. We want to take this opportunity what ever the cost may be.
So far the international community has given us nice words on their possible generous contribution to the process of reconstruction. We hope these words are soon translated into figures. We appreciate the efforts of international institutions in this regard.
We Afghans are committed to rise from the ashes and rebuild our country so that our children and our future generation can live with dignity and honour in the world community.
We have some fears too and those are rooted in the fact that over the last decade peace deals were made and broken soon after they were made. We also fear that the previous authorities took our society to one extreme and future authorities may take us to another. We are a modest society and we want to remain in the middle.
International help is badly needed for reconstruction of our country but we should be mindful of the fact that we Afghans should be empowered to lead all affairs of our country.
We would like priority attention to be paid to women and children, to give Afghan women jobs and income and give children a better future through good education. De-mobilization of ex-combatants and their re-integration into their society is critical for lasting peace and stability.
As an aid worker, I know that there cannot be a lasting peace unless the persistent poverty is reduced dramatically. Poverty cannot be reduced through handouts but through helping Afghans to produce their food needs internally.