Deputy Special Representative Ambassador Pearce: Good afternoon, and thank you for coming today. [inaudible] I’m delighted to visit Kandahar on my first visit back. I would really like to thank Governor Wesa for hosting me; he’s been a very generous host. And I had a good chat with him about the developments here in Kandahar, and he told me about the achievements of the government and the progress that has been made in transition.
He also told me security has been improving, and I understand forces are demonstrating increased capacity and professionalism, including assuming responsibility for the protection of all of Kandahar City.
Kandahar Province is making gains in strengthening its institutions and the government is, of course, providing services as well as a platform for people of Kandahar to meaningfully engage their Afghan officials. These things haven’t come easily, but with the help of its leaders, the province is making great strides.
Transition, though, is something which is an evolving event.
So I’d like to congratulate the governor and Kandahar City Mayor Mohammad Omer. Last month, I understand that Mayor Omer received the top award at the National Mayor’s Conference for generating the highest revenue among all of the Afghan municipalities. And the city is using that money to build and strengthen the services that the people of Kandahar need.
There have also been significant strides in Kandahar agriculture, led largely by the private sector. Farmers have learned to protect their produce through improved sorting and grading and packing techniques. And we’ve seen agriculture exports reaching Dubai by air, and your very good melons being sold to markets in India. And since Kandahar has always been known for its exceptional produce, I’m glad to see those exports increasing.
I’m also happy to see Kandahar standing with the international community as part of the “16 Days Against Gender-Based Violence” campaign. That’s why we’re all wearing these ribbons. You know, more important than the ribbons, Afghanistan has joined other nations in passing legislation addressing violence against women. And the next really critical step is to improve implementation of those laws, and we saw support for this movement in Kandahar this past week. Hundreds of Kandaharis, both women and men, joined the Kandahar Director of Women’s Affairs in an event that was supported by members of the Peace Committee, the Provincial Council, the Ulema Council and many others.
And I would also… the last thing I’d like to mention explicitly is that I understand there have been real improvements in communications capacity here in Kandahar City during the last year. I’ve heard numerous times that KMIC is a model regional media center – I heard this from my colleagues in Washington before I came here – and that it is providing accurate and timely information to the public, and working with some of the area’s top journalists. Before joining the Foreign Service, I was a journalist myself, for 10 years; and I was a reporter and foreign correspondent. I worked for the Associated Press, United Press International, Washington Post and the National Geographic Society and so can tell you your role is really important in Kandahar’s progress in it moving forward. I was pleased to hear that Kandahar University has added a journalism faculty to its school, and there are more than 120 students have now started their first semester. So it looks like you will have some competition. But a vigorous media is really the backbone of free society.
Transition means that we, as Afghanistan’s international partners, are going to start stepping back as Afghans step forward. And that process is moving ahead as we can see here, and there will be elections in 2014 in accordance with the constitution and that will be a really important step in the process, one that the whole world will be watching. But a transparent, orderly, and legitimate transfer of political authority reflecting the will of the Afghan people is the key to Afghanistan’s future stability. I’m confident that we will see that. And we will work very closely, we and other countries, with Afghan electoral institutions, at all levels of the Afghan government and with Afghan civil society to help in building a sustainable, independent, and credible electoral systems in preparation for those elections and for future elections.
So I’d like to thank you all again for the opportunity to visit Kandahar, and I’m told that time is very, very short but having been a reporter myself I think if I tried to leave without answering any questions you’d all be mad at me, so I’ll take a few questions but then I really do have to move along.
Question (translated): His name is Aziz Popal, he works for Hewad TV in Kandahar. He has two questions; first, is about the Pakistan role in peace negotiations with Taliban. He says that Taliban have some conditions to let the key Taliban insurgents be freed from the jails. First is that there should be interest by the United States of America in these negotiations [inaudible]. The second is about Iran. Recently this government has been facing interest from the international community and recently the two parliaments of Pakistan and Iran have met with each other to discuss their national interests and [inaudible] and Afghans are considering these negotiations are against Afghans and they think that both countries are acting like enemies of Afghanistan. What do you think of this?
Ambassador Pearce: Well thank you for the question. I know these are things that are on everyone’s minds. First of all, with regard to Pakistan, you know, Pakistan is a very important country and neighbor of Afghanistan, and I don’t think I’ve met anybody who doesn’t consider that Pakistan’s help and assistance with the peace process would be a very good thing. So that’s what we would like to see. And now the way we manage – the way we’re working on coordinating with Pakistan and Afghanistan – has been a three-way discussion, and there are three parts to that: the U.S.-Afghan discussion, and there’s an Afghan and Pakistan discussion, and there’s a U.S.-Pakistan discussion all in support of this effort. And so we’re consulting with both the Afghan government and Pakistan government on ways to try and make that work better.
And as for Iran, I’m not familiar with the exact negotiations and meetings that have been going on between the two parliaments, but again Iran is a very important and large neighbor of Afghanistan, and of course a relationship is going to be very important for both sides to manage. But I’d like to make a broader point in relation to this, and that is that over the past two years a lot of work has been done to put in place international support in many ways for Afghanistan, both until transition and beyond. There were a whole series of conferences, and we’ve worked very hard on this and many of our friends in the international community joined us in working very hard and the Afghan government also worked hard. And in the course of meetings in Bonn, in Istanbul, in Chicago, in Tokyo, in Kabul a whole series of agreements were arrived at. Not just promises. These were actually written undertakings, including commitments to assistance; security assistance for the Afghans and security forces going forward, not only to 2014 but beyond, and development assistance for Afghanistan going beyond and into the decade of transition after 2014. So this is a significant development. It was a significant development that wasn’t there two years ago, this support.
And in addition, there is a whole slew of countries, including ours, who have signed strategic partnership agreements with Afghanistan. These are concrete agreements about partnership into the future, so I think there is a whole structure there now, which wasn’t there before. This is an important thing, and I think it has helped to set the conditions for progress in the peace process more [inaudible]. And also, now everyone is talking about peace and reconciliation in a way that they weren’t two years ago – this is also new – and we’re seeing progress in areas like the visit of head of the Afghan Peace Council, Mr. Rabbani, to Islamabad; and I believe that we’re seeing more positive signs from Pakistan in the course of all this and we do hope that Afghanistan’s neighbors will support this [inaudible] process that all the rest of the international community is making with Afghanistan for an Afghan led peace process.
I think I’ll take one more question.
Question (translated): Thank you, his name is Sarwar Amani and he works for the Voice of America. He says Pakistan has always made promises to support Afghanistan and your role is very important as mediator. [Ambassador Pearce asks him to repeat the question]. He says Pakistan has always made promises, promises to support Afghanistan in peace negotiations, but they are not real. The promises are not true or real support. [Iinaudible] are making promises but at the same time are warning and threatening the Afghan government that the Pakistan military is going to start operation inside Afghanistan to attack those insurgents which are trying to disrupt security in Pakistan and the second thing is that they have warned to expel all the Afghan Refugees living in Pakistan. What do you think about their recent commitment and promises to Afghanistan. Are those real? Or are they fake like always?
Ambassador Pearce: Well, I prefer to think they’re real. And I’ll tell you why. I don’t think that Pakistan, or any other country, including Afghanistan and the United States, or Iran or anybody else who has an interest here is going to be acting as a favor to you or to me or to anybody else. If they take a decision, they will probably do it as a result of a calculation that it’s in their interest to do so. And so we have test that proposition, engage our friends in Pakistan, and see if we can work with them for them to play a positive and constructive role in Afghanistan, which is what we hope and what I believe the Afghan government wants as well.