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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

AFGHANISTAN: Interview with Afghan interior minister

ISLAMABAD, 25 July 2003 (IRIN) - Although allies in the US-led coalition to fight terrorism, relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan hit a low recently when an angry mob, protesting against alleged Pakistani border incursions, ransacked the Pakistani embassy in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The Afghan interior minister, Ali Ahmed Jalali, is currently in Pakistan to resolve a range of bilateral issues, including the border dispute and alleged cross border attacks by Al-Qaeda and Taliban renegades. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have been poor in recent years, with Islamabad being blamed for creating and supporting the Taliban - the fundamentalist movement that ruled Afghanistan until it was ousted by the US-led coalition in late 2001.

In an interview with IRIN in Islamabad on Wednesday, Jalali said that he remained concerned about cross border attacks from alleged Taliban and other anti-government forces hiding in Pakistan’s tribal belt adjacent to the Afghan border. He highlighted the need to rapidly improve Afghanistan's police force in order to challenge the authority of warlords and keep extremism at bay.

QUESTION: What are the major objectives of your visit to Pakistan, and what is your impression after holding a series of high-level meetings on Wednesday?

ANSWER: This visit was planned several months ago as Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Saleh Hayat had invited me. I met him and Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali and we discussed issues of mutual interest including the issue of Afghan refugees here, Afghan prisoners in Pakistan and Pakistani prisoners in our country. I also conveyed to them that the attack on the Pakistani embassy was the work of a small number of people and does not reflect the feelings of the Afghan nation.

Q: Did you discuss the recent border dispute with Pakistan and what is your official position on that?

A: Our stated position is to strengthen the friendly and brotherly relations with Pakistan and we always have attached significant importance to that. The good relationship between the two countries does not only serve the interests of the two countries, but also is a very important element in establishing regional peace and security.

We want friendly relations with Pakistan based on mutual respect for the sovereignty of each other, and non-interference in the territories and affairs of each other. Today, fortunately, I found major commitments from Pakistani officials that they wanted the same, and this was very encouraging for me.

Over the past few months there were some issues that caused concerns. One was the operations of the Pakistani military in the [northwestern] Mohmand tribal agency, which were aimed at establishing firm control in the area in order to curb terrorist activities. This is something understandable, but during the same operation Pakistani armed forces made incursions into certain areas, particularly the two districts of Lalpura and Goshta in the eastern Nangarhar Province. There were some other concerns in the past that the people of Afghanistan raised about Pakistani armed forces entering Afghan territory and moving the border posts.

Q: What actually transpired in the past week’s tripartite commission meeting held in Kabul, in which Pakistani, Afghan and US officials participated?

A: My visit also came in the wake of the tripartite commission meeting in Kabul, during which we also discussed the issue and set up a subcommission to go to the area and investigate the matter. Pakistan has promised that if its forces made incursions into Afghanistan, it will definitely withdraw.

At the same time, another issue, which has been discussed with our Pakistani friends for a long time, is the issue of cross border attacks on Afghanistan. Although Pakistan is a member of the international coalition against terrorism, at times terrorists and anti-Afghan government elements cross the border into Afghanistan and conduct subversive acts against the country. Our information is that some of these elements are based in the tribal areas across the Afghan border. Although Pakistan has been cooperative in fighting terrorism, we have been asking them to cooperate in curbing such cross border operations.

Q: In a recent interview, President Bush’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said that although Pakistan had captured and turned over hundreds of Al-Qaeda suspects, it had done very little to help bring to justice any of the Taliban leaders allegedly hiding in the country?

A: I discussed this with my Pakistani interlocutors and sought their cooperation in tracking down elements who are openly making statements against our government and inciting people to revolt against the Afghan government. The Pakistani authorities assured me that they will do that. However, they said that such elements are mingled with the Afghan refugees across the country.

What actually causes concern in Afghanistan is that people are crossing the border and they launch assaults and attacks. After they are defeated they escape to Pakistan. The Pakistanis are very forthcoming on some of these issues. Our border is a very unstable place and without cooperation from both nations it will be very difficult to stabilise the region, and that was the focus of some of my talks here.

Q: How big a challenge is the lack of resources in your efforts to create a new national police force?

A: I have complained about the lack of resources several times. One area is the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA) - this is a fund, which pays the salaries of the police, buys equipment for them and looks after other needs related to the development of the police in Afghanistan. The United Nation’s Development Programme (UNDP) administers this fund and pledges were made by the international community to contribute to this.

However, the flow of cash is very slow. We have now mounted a new campaign to encourage the international community to contribute to this fund and by doing so enable us to implement the police development programme. Germany is the lead nation in the development of the police force and they are helping us to the extent they can.

But it should not only be Germany, and other nations should also participate. I am encouraged by some recent talks, pledges and indications that the international community has realised that helping the police is vital in Afghanistan. This will ensure security for reconstruction and the upcoming elections [next summer]. I hope that in the near future there will be major changes in the contribution of the international community to the police programmes.

Q: Given your experience with efforts to control the police force in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif, how successful is your campaign to bring regional warlords under Kabul's authority?

A: In Mazar-e Sharif, a major project of police reforms is under way and I have held talks with regional leaders, including General Rashid Dostum, General Atta Muhammad and Sardar Saedee, the three major factional leaders, and other major figures. Fortunately, all of them are in agreement about the demilitarisation of the city and moving the military garrison out of the town.

The 7th and 8th military corps would be moved out of the city and then the illegal and unauthorised military check points will be removed and full security responsibility will be given to the police.

Now we have problems with the police too. The police there are comprised of the three factions controlling the city. Unless you have an independent and non-factional police force in Mazar-e Sharif it's very difficult to provide security for the people, who are very vocal against the factional police. We have a contingent from the capital there and we are trying to gather a new group of well-trained police officers to go there and patrol the city.

At the same time, I have tried to streamline the administration of the area by proposing transfers of officials and other changes to the government. I think it's time to bring changes to the north. To our advantage, a British-led provincial reconstruction team (PRT) is now being established there and I believe that it will also contribute to improvements in the security, because the PRT is the US-led military coalition’s initiative aimed at providing security for reconstruction.

Q: The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) would take over the command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul; do you think the move will give an opportunity for extending the peacekeepers outside capital?

A: Currently no extension plans are on the table. After the takeover of the ISAF by NATO, I do not think much will change because ISAF will maintain it's name, the mandate will be the same, and the composition of the force will be the same and mostly the same countries will be contributing troops at current levels. Thus basically nothing is changing, and the move will only give ISAF a continuation of its command.

Q: Keeping in view the current trends, what kind of future you see for Afghanistan?

A: I am optimistic, otherwise I would not be here in this position. I think there is a lot of potential for improving things in Afghanistan. First, the people of Afghanistan are tired of war and they are determined to fight any situation that will facilitate violence.

Secondly, the international community is very strongly committed to help Afghanistan, and recently I have seen the need felt by them to accelerate the process of rebuilding Afghanistan.

Thirdly, the government of Afghanistan has no choice but to commit itself to development and reforms in the country. Otherwise, it will lose credibility and legitimacy.

Themes: (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Human Rights



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