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Afghans’ rights, rule of law must be respected: NATO

Afghans’ rights, rule of law must be respected: NATO

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Jun 11, 2020 - 10:29

KABULinfo-icon (Pajhwok): The global fraternity and donors want Afghanistaninfo-icon to protect human rights and promote democracy, says the top NATOinfo-icon diplomat in Kabul.

In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, NATO Senior Civilian Representative Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo said gains made in the area of the rule of law should not be scaled back.

Here are some of the excerpts from the interview:

Q: Do you think the US-Talibaninfo-icon agreement will hold, allowing for a political settlement in Afghanistan?

A: First of all, it is a pleasure to talk with Pajhwok Afghan News. Your outlet and many other Afghan outlets are doing outstanding work in keeping the public informed and the authorities accountable on many issues affecting the daily lives of the Afghan population, despite ever present security concerns. Thank for doing this important job.

The US has been consulting closely with the other NATO allies on peace in Afghanistan. NATO allies and partners fully support the Joint Declaration between the US and Afghanistan and the Doha agreement between the US and the Taliban. Both represent a unique opportunity for peace in Afghanistan that all sides must seize.

These agreements pave the way for a comprehensive political settlement of the conflict - for the benefit of all Afghans - through intra-Afghan negotiations, while ensuring Afghanistan will never harbor international terrorists again.

It will not be easy but it is important that we see further steps to build confidence, such as an immediate reduction in violence leading to a full ceasefire, finalizing the prisoner releases and promptly moving towards intra-Afghan negotiations.

This is not only important for ending the armed conflict in Afghanistan but also to enable a more effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic which is tragically increasing suffering across the country. This all-encompassingthreat cannot be underestimated as Afghans wrestle with the disease, food insecurity and ongoing violence.

It posesdaunting challengesto all nations, including Afghanistan. It is imperative that all parties to the conflict live up to their respective commitments to peace and focus their efforts on the people of Afghanistan who have already suffered somany decades of violence. 

Q: After the US-Taliban deal, the wider international community publicly opposed the notionof the Taliban Emirate and stressed the importance of the Republic. However, the Taliban still insist on the Emirate.What’s NATO’s position?

A: Real peace in Afghanistan can only be sustained if it safeguards the human rights of all Afghans and preserves the gains made over the last 19 years. NATO Allies and partners subscribe to this principle. A lot has been achieved in Afghanistan. We cannot go back in time; for Afghanistan’s security, regional stability and NATO’s own security.

Half of Afghanistan’s population is under the age of 18. They do not remember the times under the Taliban. Many have benefited from the post-2001 era when it comes to educationinfo-icon, improved healthinfo-icon care, freedoms and liberties. Many more can benefit as we continue to strengthen and enhance these gains.

Afghanistan has a lot to be proud of. With the help of the international community – including through the efforts ofindividual donor countries and international institutions, such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Worldinfo-icon Bank and NATO itself, just to mention a few - much has improved. \

Achievements include the establishment of strong democratic institutions, a vibrant civil societyinfo-icon, and a free press. We have seen remarkable advancements in the representation of womeninfo-icon in public life – as military and police officers, members of parliament, civil servants, journalists and activists.

As the international community and donors look ahead, it is important that we see Afghanistan as a nation where human rights are protected and advances gained in support of democracy and the rule of law are not scaled back.

Q: A recent UN report claims the Taliban still maintain a relationship with Al Qaeda and other terror groups.What do you say to that?

A: NATO and our partners are monitoring the situation very closely. It is essential that the Taliban live up to their commitments, including their agreement to prevent Al-Qaeda or any other terrorist group from using the Afghan soil to threaten our security.

Ambassador Khalilzad said last week that the United States monitoring group assesses there has been progress. We will all continue to watch developments carefully.The Taliban must engage in meaningful intra-Afghan negotiations and make real compromises for lasting peace.

Q: If, according to US-Taliban deal, all US troops leave Afghanistan in 2021, will NATO continue its mission and financial support to ANDSF?

A: NATO allies are closely coordinating on the process of forces drawdownin support of the peace process. Together with our partners, NATOhas around 16,000 troops in Afghanistan. We are reducing our overall number to around 12,000 troops by the summer. No decision has been taken for further reductions and all our next steps will be conditions-based.

We have to see progress in the Afghan peace process. All parties have to live up to their commitments, start intra-Afghan negotiations as soon as possible and be prepared to make real compromises for lasting peace and security of all Afghans, the region and the world.

Our Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces continues. We remain committed to our Afghan partners with troops and funding.

This conflict has no military solution. The Doha agreement offers a unique opportunity for peace in Afghanistan and we are all playing our part. We don’t want to stay here forever, but we will not leave until the situation allows it.

All NATO allies and partnerscame to Afghanistan together; together we are adjusting our presence, according to the conditions on the ground; and when the conditions are right, we will leave together, ensuring that Afghanistan remains stable and does not serve anymore as a safe haven for international terrorists.

Q.  How do you see ANDSF right now with regard to training, capabilities and operations?

A: The ANDSF have come a long way and we are proud to have been part of this transformation. Theystill face challenges, but in 2015 theANDSF assumed complete responsibility for Afghanistan’s defence and security.

They have carried out this task with bravery; and they have been able – ultimately - to drive the Taliban to the negotiating table with our support. Their commitment ensured the Taliban understood that a victory on the battlefield would not be achievable.

Our Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces hashelped the ANDSF to become a professional and capable force. Afghanistan’soutstanding commando forces, advanced air force, and quality leadership are just a few achievements to highlight.

The ANDSF are a crucial institution exemplifying the unity of the Afghan nation. We will continue to support the ANDSF with advisors and funding as they ensure security and stability in the country for the benefit of all Afghans.

Q. Next week NATO defence ministers will hold a virtual meeting. Will they discuss Afghanistan?

A: Yes, Afghanistan will be discussed at the NATO defence ministers’ meeting. We will take stock of the mission and the progress that has been made towards peace. It will also be an opportunity to reaffirm NATO’s strong commitment to Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability as we navigate this crucial period in the peace process.

Q: How do you see the political feud resolved between President Ghani and Dr.Abdullah? Will it help the Afghan peace process?

A: NATO welcomed the agreement between President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. I am very pleased that they managed to resolve mutual differences and move towards an inclusive government.

Both leaders now must maintain unity and cohesion as we go forward. Unity is important leverage for the Republic as it enters negotiations with the Taliban. All parties should seize this unprecedented opportunity for peace. 

We need to see a comprehensive agreement which ends violence; safeguards the human rights of all Afghans, including women; upholds the rule of law; and eliminates terrorist safe havens once and for all.

Q. What is your message to the Afghans about their future, NATO’s future commitments and long-term cooperation?

A: NATO stands with you in this uneasy and complicated yet hopeful time. I grew up in Afghanistan in the 60s as a child of an Italian diplomat and I have seen what Afghanistan can look like when this country is at peace. I wish this for every Afghan – to be able to study, work and prosper, free from fear and violence.

NATO is here to help along that path. We wish the Afghan people a futurein which they enjoy peace and security. We wish security for all as we strive to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for international terrorism.
Looking to the future, it will be up for the government of Afghanistan and NATO to mutually determine what our relationship will look like. NATO stands ready to continue supporting Afghanistan’s security institutions and forces long-term for our mutual security.

Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo is the former Italian Ambassador to Pakistaninfo-icon where he served until the 9th of February 2020. In this capacity he has followed closely Pakistan's involvement in regional politics with a particular focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan's role in the recent developments.

Previously, from January 2013 to October 2015 he has been Diplomatic Advisor to the Italian Defence Minister serving under Minister Giampaolo di Paola, Minister Mario Mauro and Minister Roberta Pinotti.

In this capacity, Amb. Pontecorvo has followed directly events in Afghanistan due to the large military contingent Italy has in the Country and the Italian role as Framework Nation in the region of Herat, travelling often to Herat and Kabul.

He has also served as Deputy Head of Mission in the Italian Wmbassy in London (2010–2012), as Deputy Director General for Sub Saharian Africa in the Italian MFA (2009-2010) and as Deputy Head of Mission in the Italian Embassy in Moscow (2007-2009).

From 2005 to 2007 Pontecorvo has been Chief of Staff of the State Secretary for Europe, Sen. Roberto Antonione and Chief of Staff of Vice Minister for Africa and Development Cooperation Hon.le Patrizia Sentinelli.

He has also held the position of Head of the Financial Division of the Directorate General for Development Cooperation (2004-2005).

In his earlier career he has held various positions in Brussels, in the then EU Council General Secretariat (1997-1999) as Head of the Balkans Desk in CFSP, then attached to the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe as Head of the Table responsible for Stability and Security in the Balkans (1999-2001) and finally posted to, in the Italian Permanent Delegation to the EU where he served as RELEX Counselor and Deputy PSC Representative from 2001 to 2004.

Amb. Pontecorvo served as political counselor at the Permanent Delegation of Italy to NATO from 1992 to 1995 and subsequently (1996-1997) as PA to the Secretary General of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Boris Biancheri.

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