April 9, 2002 - MSNBC: Afghanistan’s security woes

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Afghanistan’s security woes

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Afghanistan’s security woes*

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Afghanistan’s security woes

NBC interview with Foreign Minister Abdullah

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, left, advises the country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai.


KABUL, Afghanistan, April 9 — Amid a week of security threats in Afghanistan, including an assassination attempt on a government minister and a foiled coup plot, Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah sat down with NBC’s Ned Colt to discuss the country’s security woes.

NED COLT: How would you characterize the current security situation in Afghanistan?

Abdullah: Overall, I should say the security situation has improved, from the establishment of the Interim Government up to now —- in the cities, on the highways. And then there are security incidents here and there, which have happened like [Monday’s] incident in Jalalabad. A few days ago we had to arrest a group of people in Kabul — they wanted to make attempts against the members of the government. Again there have been occasions of pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban engagements in some parts of the country. From one side we see it’s a great change, to see the country is not ruled by the Taliban and al-Qaida. From the other side we see there are security risks posed by the remnants of Taliban, pockets of al-Qaida here and there. It is not over.

Ned Colt: Is it your sense that anyone in the interim government can be a likely target for assassination attempts?

Abdullah: I think so. The enemies of peace are the enemies of peace. The enemies of the political process and the interim government are the enemies of the political process and the interim government. Every (security) incident will be of concern for us while our own whole effort is focused on creating stability and security, but realistically one shouldn’t expect it will be a smooth round all the way.

Ned Colt: You mentioned the enemy being Taliban and al-Qaida, but there are other sorts of enemies, whether it’s the warlords who’ve had power here for generations and are still vying for power in various parts of the country, and even within you own government there are clear schisms.

Abdullah: I will not say this is the ideal type of government which one could have, but I think under these circumstances this government is functioning in an extraordinarily coordinated manner. And one shouldn’t expect miracles from us. The issue of local authorities, in some cases we call them warlords, is also an issue which will be a part of the peace process, the political process. A continuation of the political process will affect that situation.

The start of developmental activities will help. Back to school day [schools reopened two weeks ago] from one side it means two million children returned to school, and will have already started their education. But if you see it deeply, the impact is much more than education for a number of people. It is an element for stability. It is an element for national unity. The start of developmental activities will create jobs for the people in different parts of the country. It will help. Overall, I am not trying to say this is the most ideal situation but I’m saying we are moving in the right direction. To deal with the local authorities, it will take time, (including) the creation of a national army, the creation of a national police force. And the revival of the judiciary and penal systems. These all should be conducted in a sort of interactive way, to help the situation. Time is important. We have no time to waste, but I think we have made good use of time so far, and we hope that we will be able to do it better.

Ned Colt: What do you think is the minimum amount of time that peacekeepers should stay in Afghanistan?

Abdullah: I would say I hope that nobody would get cross with me by giving a timetable ahead of time, but I would think (they will stay) ... beyond the two years of the mandate for the interim government and the transitional government.

Ned Colt: How critical is the outcome of the loya jirga, the gathering of Afghan elders in June, to determine the continued stability of the new government?

Abdullah: It is important, it is an historical moment. If you ask me what were three or four events in the past few months ... I’ll start with Sept. 9 (the assassination of Ahmad Shah Masoud, the Northern Alliance leader), Sept. 11, the Bonn agreement, the Tokyo Donor’s Conference and the loya jirga in June. It is historical. It is after so long that that there are opportunities provided for our people to make a peaceful choice. That should continue and it is important.

Ned Colt: You’re confident that all of the ethnic groups are going to be represented?

Abdullah: I have no doubt in my mind for a single second that it will have full support from all ethnic groups, but that does not necessarily mean from every individual in this country because there are people which helped al-Qaida for so many years. This doesn’t have anything to do with ethnicity, it has something to do with a different agenda which was the agenda for this country and has been defeated. And those people if they are capable of posing threats, they will.

Ned Colt: The return of King Mohammed Zaher Shah was delayed until April 16. What are the security and political concerns regarding his return?

Abdullah: I think the role that he is going to play, our mind is clear what role he is going to play. His role will be like a unifying factor. It will add to the element of stability, national unity, [and we] welcome that role. And in regards to the issue of security, he will return to Afghanistan and he will stay with us in the same security environment as we are. And the interim government has a responsibility to focus on his security more than other figures because of his specific situation.

Ned Colt: Is there a schism within the government that is obstructing efforts to bring the country together?

Abdullah: If you ask me whether this government is functioning as a normal government in a normal situation, I would say no. If you’re asking me if everyone in this government is trying to make things work on the same level, I would say no. But overall if you’re asking me whether the efforts of this government are coordinated with the same purpose, focused on the same goals and objectives, I would say yes. We do not expect from everybody to make the same effort at this stage.

Ned Colt: You sound optimistic, but many describe constant jockeying for power in the interim government.

Abdullah: There will be all sorts of perception in that regard. For example, there was a security incident (the arrest of 160 people in Kabul last week, accused of trying to destabilize the government) a few days ago. When I read the reflections in the media, I worried because once again it was interpreted in the ethnic line, which is not the case. If there is a security threat, if it comes from a Tajik, a Uzbek, from a Hazara or a Pashtun towards the interim government or one figure in the interim government or the whole interim government, it should be dealt with as a security threat. That threat has to be dealt with in the most implicit, explicit manner because a security threat against the interim government is a security threat against stability and the political process. We cannot afford it. We should deal with it accordingly, but we see that there are different perceptions. And that’s not a complaint — it’s something which happens. I hope that it will change. The media puts everything, which is happening in the frame of ethnic division in Afghanistan which is not the case.

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