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London International Conference on Afghanistan

London International Conference on Afghanistan

Published on February 1, 2010
Interview given by Bernard Kouchner, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, to the “Le Figaro” newspaper.

Paris, February 1, 2010

Q. – What conclusions do you draw from the London International Conference on Afghanistan?

THE MINISTER – We opened the path of peace at it. President Karzai proposed national reconciliation by reintegrating the Taliban. He made it clear that this overture was being made to all insurgents agreeing to the Afghan Constitution and rejecting any link with al-Qaeda and global jihad. This political programme is ambitious and necessary. Ambitious because the war is harsh, with daily clashes, and because the Taliban have gained ground thanks to their terror strategy. They are burning girls’ schools, killing moderate citizens who cooperate with the government and attacking NATO supply convoys. And, thanks to drug trafficking, they can pay their young recruits three times as much as the Afghan police and ANA (Afghan National Army) soldiers. I think this programme is necessary because we’re not fighting against the Afghan people, but alongside them, against religious extremism and poverty.

Q. – But do you believe that the country can be developed in the middle of a war?

THE MINISTER – In the valleys which NATO entrusted to us – in the framework of a general mission approved by the United Nations –, it’s what our soldiers are doing every day. Irrigation, repairing cultivation terraces, supplying seeds and fertilizer and building schools and clinics. In two years, France has won over very many hearts in our areas of Sarobi and Kapisa. On every visit, I detect increasingly humanistic commitments on the part of our officers and soldiers. They like building. They are well aware of whom they are doing it for. They were very proud that 47% of the people from these rocky valleys risked their lives to go and vote on 20 August 2009. That’s 10% more than the country’s average turnout. Above all it was women who took these risks. Afghanistan’s future will have to involve women and education.

Q. – Do you really believe in the possibility of the country’s democratization?

THE MINISTER – I wholeheartedly believe in Afghanization. It’s the strategy we had proposed back at the June 2008 Paris Conference. What is this Afghanization? Four phases: protecting civilians, gaining their confidence, proposing viable development projects to them, and transferring to them responsibility for everything. It is more efficient to provide security and develop the productive areas of the country than wearing ourselves out chasing after elusive insurgents in deserts and mountains. Of course, at times some offensive operations are necessary.

As for democratization, it can’t obviously be a European model. It’s a composite country, divided into ethnic communities, which has never known unity or conquest by an external master. The loyalty of most Afghan citizens goes to their community before the central State. And Kabul, where there’s a mixture of people, is not Afghanistan. Each of these communities is linked to another country, the Tajiks to Tajikistan, Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, Turkmens to Turkmenistan and Hazaras (Shi’ites) to Iran. The only ones who so far have had no national land to which to refer – and they are the largest community – are the Pashtuns.

Q. – Are you sorry there is no Pashtunistan?

THE MINISTER – I am not saying that at all. But clearly while all Pashtuns are not Taliban, all Taliban are Pashtuns. This Pashtun insurrection knows no border. It is growing too in Pakistan, since the same Pashtun tribes, the same families, are on both sides of the Durand Line (named after Sir Mortimer Durand, governor of India at the end of the 19th century). It’s the only part of the world where membership of a tribe carries more weight than any concept of border. It’s the place where all the trafficking takes place. I know. These are dangerous areas where tribal membership is all important. With my humanitarian doctor friends, I crossed these tribal areas on foot many times to get to our hospitals during the Soviet occupation. Let us remember that it was the United States and Pakistan who used the Pashtuns’ Islamic radicalism for their own ends in order to beat the Red Army, and that this was the source of the Taliban culture. Nevertheless, today, we have to support Asif Zardar’s Pakistani government and convince the army to pursue more extensively its battle against the Taliban safe havens in the tribal areas.

Q. – Why the refusal to increase the number of our soldiers on the ground?

THE MINISTER – 16 months ago, France increased her troops from 2,000 to 3,750 and placed them in the combat area which NATO wanted to entrust to us, on the strategic route from east Kabul towards Pakistan. No one is criticizing us for not doing our work. Other than possible adjustments, linked to the security of the French soldiers or training of the ANA, President Sarkozy, armed forces chief, has decided not to increase the number of our combatant forces. He has also confirmed our long-term commitment and the increase in our civilian aid.

Q. – So how can France’s policy in Afghanistan be summed up?

THE MINISTER – First of all, build a model in the area for which we are responsible. National reconciliation can be achieved only incrementally, on the basis of local agreements. I have followed all the discreet attempts at comprehensive negotiation, in the Gulf and elsewhere. I don’t believe in the immediate availability of Mullah Omar, who has taken refuge in a secret place in Quetta (Pakistan). When through the success of our development projects, we have won over the hearts of the overwhelming majority of Afghan families, working with the Karzai government, and of course with our allies, we will be able to talk to the nationalist insurgents from a position of strength. Without ever vaunting our values. It is the large number of local peace arrangements which will encourage the major nationalist Taliban chiefs to think about political reintegration.

There will not be any national reconciliation without a dual effort: NATO will have to limit its military operations to the strict protection of civilians; the Karzai government will have to put an end to the corruption of its administration. For this, we will have to help the Afghans train their soldiers and police better and improve their pay.

Our aim is to entrust the Afghans as soon as possible with the task of making Afghanistan safe and secure. Since their country’s political destiny is not up to us. It is for them alone to determine it./.

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