Corruption a serious issue for Afghanistan: Aramaz
KABUL (Pajhwok): Following the departure of most of international combat troops, the Afghan government has been able to deal independently with most of security challenges, a senior NATO diplomat says.
In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative Ismael Aramazpraised the Ashraf Ghani administration for providing relief to the victims of the Badakhshan earthquake, without international assistance.
He also acknowledged progress on electoral reform and the government’s intent to hold parliamentary elections next year. It has also done well in recapturing Kunduz City and organising the strong defence of Ghazni and Helmand.
“But corruption is still a serious issue and the country badly requires an Attorney-General to provide leadership on the work against corruption,” the diplomat believed, supporting President Ghani’s policy of reaching out to Pakistan.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: You’ve had one year as NATO Senior Civilian Representative. Tell us about your experience of living here in Afghanistan.
Ans: Afghans are resilient and friendly, and unfortunately going through a difficult period in their history. But I have every confidence in the country’s future. Afghanistan often hesitates and runs late, but always gets there in the end. South Korea became a developed nation in two generations; so it can be done. As far as my job is concerned,
I am always conscious of the fact that I am outsider. I do not wish to interfere in domestic affairs. But NATO has more than 13.000 troops in the country. NATO allies and partners are contributing more than five billion dollars annually to the ANDSF. I am therefore also conscious of the need to sustain our strong security cooperation.
Q: Will you share with us your observations on the national unity government and what it has achieved in 2015?
Ans: The two leading candidates in last year’s presidential elections agreed to form the national unity government. So, it is legitimate, and has a sound political basis. President Ghani knows how to lift the country out of poverty. He is the country’s greatest hope in a generation. If he is allowed time and space, I am confident he will achieve the development that Afghanistan badly needs.
The national unity government was a difficult decision for Dr Abdullah. Many people would have walked away from that arrangement, but he has not. I think most people would also agree the Chief Executive has been graceful in government and a stabilising influence. He has provided a degree of calm and experience.
The two leaders do, however, need greater alignment, especially in appointments. I believe they will do that, not for themselves, but for the sake of the Afghan people, the majority of whom live on two dollars a day. Perhaps, they should agree they will promote only people who do not have blood or the stain of stolen money on their hands, and then allow each other greater room on appointments.
Q: But has the incumbent government achieved anything so far?
Ans: The government has had some successes, yes. It provided relief to the victims of the Badakhshan earthquake, without international assistance. It actually secured many appointments and has almost reached the end of the appointments cycle. As a result of the security transition, it has had to deal with challenges almost by itself.
Afghanistan no longer has the benefit of ISAF’s presence which had 130.000 troops in the country at one stage. It has secured progress on electoral reform and reiterated its intent to hold parliamentary elections next year. It has avoided a rupture in relations with Pakistan, even after the announcement of Mullah Omar’s death and the selection of his successor in Pakistan, and the devastating truck bomb attack in Kabul.
It has also done betterafter the brief fall of Kunduz, both in recapturing Kunduz and organising the strong defence of Ghazni and especially Helmand. But corruption is still a serious issue and the country badly requires an Attorney-General to provide leadership on the work against corruption.
Q: But how about migration?A lot of people are leaving because of security concerns and economic problems.
Ans: I don’t believe scores of people are leaving because of a sudden drop in security or economic conditions, because there has not been a big drop in those conditions. But there has been greater opportunity on the supply side, so to speak. Human smugglers have taken advantage of the surge of migrants from Syria and the positive welcome they enjoyed in 2015 in West European countries.
Q: What do you think of Sayyaf’s Council of Protection and Stability? How do you assess the activities of opposition figures?
Ans: Domestic opposition is a legitimate endeavour. All NATO countries have opposition parties. Professor Sayyaf is a senior personality. He is a credible interlocutor. He has the stature and authority to characterisethe tactics of the Taliban and Daesh as un-Islamic.
Many other opposition figures are experienced former politicians and officials. Most of them are patriotic and constructive. I should, however, add that, as in NATO countries, the opposition here has an obligation to stay within lawful and constitutional boundaries. It should not resort to undemocratic means just because they have a vision that is different to the government’s.
I would also like to appeal to opposition figures to work with the government to sustain the strong NATO-Afghanistan security cooperation. On the other hand, the government has to keep the democratic process open, so that the opposition can channel its alternative vision through a legitimate process.
That means keeping electoral reform on track, preparing for parliamentary elections sometime in 2016 and holding the constitutional Loya Jirga after that. Nevertheless, the government should be allowed to prepare the ground adequately for the constitutional Loya Jirga and ensure it can implement the Loya Jirga’s decisions. I recall that after the last Loya Jirga in 2013, the government did not respect its clear preference.
Q: I believe you are referring to Karzai’s refusal to sign the BSA in 2014. What do you think of his opposition to the NUG?Especially with respect to NUG’s policy of engagement with Pakistan.
Ans: The former president is Afghanistan’s senior statesman. He oversaw the first democratic, peaceful handover of power. The government is doing the right thing by treating him with respect and dignity. Karzai tolerated a lot of criticism when he was in power.
The government should do the same now. This is freedom of speech in action. However, Afghanistan has a new, democratic government and it must be allowed time and space to put its vision into practice. That is also a part of democratic maturity. And on Pakistan, the government has the right to try a different tack, because the previous approach did not work.
Q: How does NATO help Afghanistan tackleits current security challenges? Even the Pentagon has said security has not been good in the last six months.
Ans: You don’t need me to tell you that significant security challenges remain in Afghanistan. We all knew 2015 would be a difficult year, because of the security transition. This is the first year the Afghans are in charge of their security in the decade of transformation. The Afghan security forces are solely responsible for the security and stability of the country.
While they are responding bravely and continuing to prevent insurgents from achieving their objectives, they still need training, advice and assistance. That is what we continue to provide, through the Resolute Support Mission. NATO allies and partners decided at the meeting of foreign ministers on December 1 to maintain their current troop deployments in Afghanistan. This should be interpreted as a strong sign of our commitment to the country.
Q: What do you think of the ANDSF and their capabilities?
Ans: The Afghan security forces continue to make steady progress. They are brave and professional. Their special forces are exceptionally good. They have as a whole demonstrated resilience and courage in combating the insurgency. They have conducted pre-planned large scale operations across the country by themselves and regained lost territory.
So, they have proved to be operationally effective. But they still need our support in certain areas, including planning, command and control, leadership development, and logistical support. They need to work on their agility and reactive operations and also on ensuring they have the correct leaders in the correct positions.
Q: Some people say NATO is not doing enough. The ANDSF needs more close air support.
Ans: NATO members and partners have been very generous in their support to Afghanistan and the ANDSF over the past decade and more, and continue to be so. This is an effort that will take many years to accomplish. We must not forget that, in many ways, Afghanistan is paying the price of destroying the effective, national army it had in 1978.
NATO allies and partners are doing much to enhance the ANDSF’s air power as well, and more capabilities will come on stream in the near future. Air power takes a long time to develop, as pilots and technicians require extended periods of training. The ANDSF have introduced MD530 helicopters and employed them with considerable success this year.
Q: The Taliban are about to capture Helmand. It is rumoured the Taliban may capture six or seven provinces in 2016.
Ans: I don’t believe the Taliban will capture Helmand. They have been throwing everything at the fight in Helmand; yet the ANDSF are holding. Thanks to the efforts of the ANDSF, the Taliban have failed to capture and hold any significant population centres in the country.
And they are unlikely to capture and hold any provinces next year. The ANDSF need political unity in the country and a sense of identity. I am sure President Ghani and the government will manage to provide this sense of purpose.
Q: Do you see a role for personal militias in the presence of Afghan security forces?
Ans: Only if they are integrated into the ANDSF. They must be subject to full ANDSF command and control, and disciplinary processes. Individual militia members must be paid by the ANDSF as well. Any other arrangement will undermine government control, and Afghanistan’s democratic gains over the last decade and a half.
Q: What will be on NATO’s agenda at the Warsaw Summit in 2016?
Ans: Afghanistan will be one of the main topics at the next NATO Summit in Warsaw on 8-9 July 2016. NATO allies and partners are already resolved to maintain their troop deployments longer than originally foreseen. In Warsaw, I hope allies and partners will make pledges for the financial sustainment of the ANDSF for the period from 2018 to 2020.
The summit will also consider plans for an enhancement of the Enduring Partnership agreed at the Lisbon Summit in 2010. NATO foreign ministers have already endorsed the principles of a follow-on presence under this Partnership when the current mission, Resolute Support, comes to an end.
But our partnership with Afghanistan is a two-way street. While we stand committed to Afghanistan, the Afghan government has commitments to keep as well. By the time of the Warsaw Summit, allies and partners will be looking for signs of tangible improvement in the country on good governance, counter-corruption, electoral reform, and the promotion of human rights, including women’s rights, and the protection of children.
NATO allies and partners remain concerned about persisting violence against women and abuse of children. I would personally like to see stronger police and judicial action against cases of violence and abuse. The pervasive sense of impunity in these cases is difficult to accept.
Q: How do you see Pakistan and China playing a role in the Afghan peace process?
Ans: I believe Pakistan and China are key. Pakistan has cracked down on terrorism under its National Action Plan and accomplished a lot through “Operation Zarb-i-Azb”. We should all appreciate those contributions. More effort is needed, however, in the sphere of denial of sanctuaries. Banning the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network would also be useful.
This should not be too difficult, since Pakistan has already banned TTP and Daesh. But reduction of violence is where Pakistan could be most helpful. I believe China is willing to help Pakistan and Afghanistan work together to tackle these important issues. China has the economic and political clout to play a decisive role in the security and stability of this region.
Q: President Ghani says Pakistan has been in an indirect war with Afghanistan over the past 14 years. What do you think of this? Should we first talk to Pakistan and then to Taliban?
Ans: President Ghani’s policy of engagement with neighbours, including Pakistan, is a constructive approach and should be further encouraged. This policy requires time and space to bear fruit. Afghanistan and Pakistan should have sympathy for each other’s concerns. However, direct talks with Taliban groups would also be helpful. After all, this is an intra-Afghan issue.
No insurgency ever achieves anything through violence alone. If the insurgent groups wish to see international forces leave, the quickest way to achieve this would be by reaching an understanding with the Afghan government and people as a whole. Adopting a multi-pronged approach would, therefore, make sense, like the government is doing already.
Q: Is Islamic State (Daesh) a significant threat to Afghanistan? What do you think about it? How should the Afghan government and the international community handle the threat?
Ans: I don’t believe Daesh is a significant threat yet. And I have seen no signs of a significant flow of foreign fighters from Iraq or Syria into Afghanistan. Nevertheless, this is an issue which requires monitoring. Many people, including Professor Sayyaf, have characterisedDaesh (and Taliban) tactics as un-Islamic.
Daesh ideology is alien to Afghan culture and traditions. I am pleased the Ulema have also spoken out against the continued violence and bloodshedat the National Ulema Conference last October. This is a welcome development, but we need to see more examples of that. Over the medium term though, and speaking as a Muslim myself, we need to turn to the Holy Quran itself. The 109th sura stipulates: “To you your religion, to me my religion (lakumdinikum, veliye din).
I believe this should be the approach of Muslims to those who do not think like them. There are other passages which also recommend co-existence and tolerance.Furthermore, the personal conduct of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has many examples of deals with other tribes and non-Muslims, based on tolerance and the principle of “live and let live”. We need to revert to that approach of trying to be good Muslims ourselves, and not interfering with others.
Download “Pajhwok” mobile App, on your smartphone to read and access latest news, features, interviews, videos and photos about Afghanistan.