25 September 2014
With the British deployment to Afghanistan coming to an end, Chief of the Defense Staff of the British Armed Forces Gen. Sir Nicholas Houghton stated that the United Kingdom will continue to support Afghanistan, stressing, however, that military and combat responsibilities now lie mainly with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
"Our legacy is one of political achievement, one of security achievement and one of developmental achievement," Houghton said in an exclusive interview with TOLOnews. "I think it's now the Afghans' responsibility to exploit that opportunity, but I also think it is the international community's responsibility to continue to support Afghanistan from a military perceptive to the Afghanistan national security forces," adding that Britain will continue an "advisory role" as the ANSF continue their training and capacity-building.
"The Americans and ourselves will continue to assist in the development of Afghanistan's counter-terrorism capability, but it is not the United Kingdom's position that we ourselves be involved in the counter-terrorist operations."
Moreover, Houghton expressed optimism about the abilities of the ANSF to takeover after the drawdown of foreign forces, adding that the security forces are now up against the 'residual state of Taliban insurgency,' and will be successful in defying threats.
He praised the ANSF's performance during both rounds of the presidential elections calling it an "immaculate security operation", which allowed millions of Afghans to brave the threats of insurgents to partake in this year's, prolonged, presidential election. Houghton applauded the ANSF adding that the security forces "won this fighting season against the Taliban."
Houghton emphasized that the advancements made by the ANSF will be supported by the international community until 2017.
"We have built up the Afghan security forces to this significant scale and international pledges of money will be able to maintain that till 2017."
In the end, Houghton stated that it would be "wrong" for the international community to continue combat operations in Afghanistan, but emphasized that their help in tactical levels are still much needed.
Since 2003, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) UK forces in Afghanistan have continued combat operations under the name "Operation Herrick." The operation is planned to come to an end on December 31, 2014. British officials have confirmed that the forces would leave the country as planned.
July 14, 2014
VOA Reporter: Thank you very much Mr. President for your time and your kindness to give us time to talk to you.
President Karzai: Welcome.
VOA Reporter: My first question is about elections. As a part of an agreement brokered by Secretary Kerry, both the candidates accepted that the winning candidate will form a new national unity government. But nobody has exact information about this new government named National Unity. What are your understandings of such a government?
President Karzai: The idea of a national unity government is always welcome. It is something that all presidents and any president elected by the Afghan people must have in mind, must do. All the Afghan people must see themselves in the Afghan government. In the system of governance that represents this country. If by the national unity government, we mean a government that has the Afghan people in it, that is a matter of Afghanistan, it is a great idea, is welcome. But if it is an arrangement of a sort of coalition of political parties, well, that is a different issue. And if it is a division of posts, governmental positions, that is a different issue. But as far as the idea of a government representing the entire Afghan nation is concerned, the Afghan people is concerned, it’s a good idea and I support it. I have heard that there was talk of a government whereby the winner would accommodate also the runner up, the second vote winner. It’s not a bad thing. We should do that for the good of all of us.
VOA Reporter:Is it true that the agreement also involves the creation of a new chief executive position followed by amending the constitution to create a parliamentary system in the country? You were against this in 2009.
President Karzai: Yes I was.
VOA Reporter: Do you approve of this notion?
President Karzai: If we are speaking of a change of system from presidential to parliamentary, it is something that can be done. The Afghan Loya Jirga can change the constitution from a presidential to a parliamentary form of government. But in order for Afghanistan to have a parliamentary form of government, we must before that, make sure that we have strong institutions. The civil services of the country must be entirely and totally apolitical and protected by law where politicians and parliamentarians and those in government will not be able to intervene in appointments or have dismissals as they wish, have appointments as they wish, and we should have consolidated and institutionalized national security forces, the military, the police, and also the judiciary. So those four very important national institutions must be in place and sorted in place before we go to a parliamentary system. The parliamentary system itself is a colorful system. It doesn’t have the complications of a presidential system like we saw during the two elections in 2009 and 2014. Why not, yes.
VOA Reporter: Again, about election, you were against foreign interference.
President Karzai: Strongly,
VOA Reporter: Yes, in the beginning, but now you welcomed the agreement between the two candidates, with the international community’s involvement and the U.S’s involvement. Are you not worried about?
President Karzai: I did not welcome it. I simply accepted it as a bitter pill at this time in our life. I changed the Afghan election law to one that is now entirely Afghan-run and Afghan-owned. The reason I agreed to it is because of the particular conditions in which we were during this election where one of the candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, did not want any Afghan institutions working to correct if there is a problem in the election.
He demanded the United Nations intervention and intermediary role to be played. I accepted it because I wanted to get past this stage very quickly because the elections have already taken a lot of time in this country. No country in the world has such a lengthy electoral process and this must be corrected as well, and the Afghan people are waiting very much, very impatiently, to have their new president. So to reach that objective sooner, I accepted it. Not accepting it would have caused more complications for the people of Afghanistan and I believe I did the right thing.
VOA Reporter: With all ups and downs that happened in the elections, can the wounds of the election be healed? Especially through this new national unity government?
President Karzai: There is no wound. The Afghan people voted. The Afghan people voted all over the country for the candidates that they liked. Dr. Ashraf Ghani got good votes in Badakhshan, got votes in Panjshir. Dr. Abdullah got very good votes in Nangarhar. He won over 91,000 votes. That’s great and he won tremendously good votes in Herat, Kandahar, and Faryab. So the Afghan people have voted across the country to the candidate that they liked regardless of where the candidate comes from or what affiliation the candidate has. We are a strong country in terms of unity, deeply rooted. These are the hiccups of election time. They occur in all countries around the world.
VOA Reporter: Should America continue to care for Afghanistan, what America didn’t do that it should have, and what do you expect from Obama’s administration for the next government in Afghanistan?
President Karzai: Well, from the U.S. administration I expect a true relationship as a partner. Where the United States, while looking after its own interests in Afghanistan and in the region. They’re here for their interest. They should also be mindful that we have an interest. No entity, especially no nation, is without an interest.
Ours may be very small by measure to that of the United States, may be different in ways to that of the United States, but if the United States follows a wiser policy, with regard to the formulation of its pursuit of interests and also having in mind that other people also need to be respected and need to be given the right to have an interest.
If this is understood in the United States, Afghanistan will be a great ally to them. So, to put it in short words, the United States of America will be an ally of Afghanistan, will be a partner of Afghanistan, if it sees that Afghans have an interest too and that they respect that interest.
VOA Reporter: Once you were darling of the West, but now there is a huge gap in between [you and western nations]. What would you respond to that?
President Karzai: Well, I was asked this question by the BBC as well. And I answered that in a way that did not make me happy afterwards. First of all, I would like to be the darling of the Afghan people rather than the darling of another country or the leadership of some other country. And then why was I the darling of the West? Did the West think that I would serve their interest as against the interest of the Afghan people? If it’s a compromise of interests, then I am sure there would be our darlings and there would be their darlings. It would be a two way business. But if it is coming from a viewpoint of reminding us of Kipling’s, Rudyard Kipling’s burden of the white man, that we need to look up to the West all the time and that they always will lead us, will provide us, and that without them, and if we are not their darlings, then we are bad and a failure. Well, that is a troubling thought if that thought is in the West then I am very unhappy about it.
VOA Reporter: And one other important question: what would you tell American troops that are soon to be departing from Afghanistan?
President Karzai: Well, I would show tremendous respect to the American people. They are hardworking people. They earn their daily bread and butter through sheer hard work. It’s an admirable society. It’s a compassionate society. The help that they have given to Afghanistan through collecting their taxes and then sending them to Afghanistan is highly appreciated.
I have not only no complaints against the American people but I have tremendous regard for them and admiration for them. I have complaints and at times anger, very strong anger, at the U.S. government at the way they behave to Afghanistan and the interest of the Afghan people.
VOA Reporter: Many think that you will be very active and will not go quietly into retirement. What are your future plans, Mr. President?
President Karzai:I will be a retired president. I would stand firmly behind the next Afghan president. If ever the next Afghan president or the next government asks for advice, I will humbly come and provide that advice. I will be trying my best to be a factor of help and assistance in stability, and if the Afghan people would need my services as a citizen of this country, as a fellow citizen of this country, that will be there but I will be not at all involved in the issues of government. The next president, the next government, should have complete authority to determine how they rule and how they appoint.
VOA Reporter: But some say that you want to be the power behind the next president. What would you tell them?
President Karzai: No, no that’s not my nature. I did not exercise power even when I was President the way that any other president would have done. I’m completely disinterested in power, or in the idea of power, I don’t believe in the thing, ‘power’.
VOA Reporter: And Mr. President, if you could go back in time, and change one thing. What would that be?
President Karzai: I have an answer for that. But I will not give that answer now because I am still the President of this country. And I need to be very cautious with my words and my feelings. But I would do something if I were to begin again. There would be a massive change. And that I will tell you after I am no longer President.
VOA Reporter: What would you like your people to remember you like, as a President, as a leader?
President Karzai: Well, as a human being with the good and bad in the human being as I am, with faults, but with passion for the Afghan people, for human being itself, for our society, and for the well-being of the Afghan people that this country deserves better that suffered massively the Afghan people. No people suffered so much as we have and I want this suffering to end to be turned into happiness and prosperity.
VOA Reporter: And what was the most valuable lesson you have learned from your experience as President of Afghanistan?
President Karzai: That’s a very good question. The lesson is that the Afghans are a great people. They would give you all that you want to serve them and they would give you their trust and often, that trust has been betrayed by those to whom they deliver the trust. We saw it in the past 13 years. I’ve seen them extremely forgiving and wanting this country to do well.
I’ve called people who lost children, very often, including today and the man that I spoke to today, and as I have all along, none of them ever have told me, ‘Why President? Why did I lose my wife? Why did I lose my child? Why am I suffering?’ Rather he says, ‘President, thank you for calling.’ And that’s a tremendous nation. That’s a tremendously courageous people to have.
VOA Reporter: And let’s end it with that. Thank you very, very much.
President Karzai:Thank you ma’am. All the best.
Associated Press July 14, 2014
Declaring his nation "is not Iraq," one of two contestants in Afghanistan's deadlocked presidential election told The Associated Press on Monday that both he and his rival are committed to lead their war-ravaged nation inclusively in cooperation with international partners.
Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai credited a U.S.-brokered deal for a full ballot audit with pulling his country back from the brink, putting the rule of law and government legitimacy back on track. "What happened in the last days should show you our commitment to inclusiveness," Ahmadzai said of the deal for a national unity government, reached late Saturday with his opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
He said there can be no comparison to Iraq, where politicians from the two main Muslim sects and ethnic Kurds have failed to reach a political accord to either keep or replace Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. In the meantime, Sunni militants have routed the Iraqi army and seized control of much of the country, even threatening to attack the capital, just 30 months after U.S. forces pulled out. "I am not Maliki and Afghanistan is not Iraq," Ahmadzai added sharply.
It was the only time in the interview that he obliquely suggested he would emerge after the ballot audit as president, instead referring respectfully to Abdullah and the need to let the process take its course.
The former finance minister said his fears of a return to Afghanistan's darkest days helped motivate the two politicians' agreement. The negotiations, mediated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, were tense he said, but not dramatic, for him at least. "It is the calmest I have been in my life," Ahmadzai recounted. "I have a characteristic that might be good or bad-- that when there are large stakes, I am like cold ice. There is no emotion."
Ahmadzai is a Pashtu technocrat who spent decades outside of the country after the Soviet invasion of 1978, eventually working on development issues for the World Bank. He served as finance minister from 2002-2004. Erudite and an expert on financial governance and development, Ahmadzai has a slight, gentle appearance and speaks fluent English. The interview was conducted in a reception room at his home on the edge of Kabul.
He showed his wonky side, discussing what he sees as the path to prosperity for the country, taking advantage of its water resources, channeling remittances from Afghans working abroad and exploiting mineral deposits and rare earth ores wisely and not to the benefit of only a chosen few.
But all that will take security, accountability and rule of law to create a virtuous circle, he said. He would in principle serve under Abdullah in some capacity if the election results go against him, Ahmadzai said. But he would not go into any detail and shrugged off any hint that Afghanistan might have a prime minister eventually in addition to a president. "Let's wait for the results of the audit," he chuckled. "We've refrained from a declaration of victory. We are also going to refrain from a declaration of other eventualities."
Ahmadzai noted that both he and Abdullah are on record with their willingness to sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States in their first days in office. He said the agreement would allow U.S. forces to remain in the country, while leaving Afghanistan with a tight timeline to get its own security sector in order.
At the same time, he says he is ready to negotiate with any Taliban who puts Afghanistan first. "We must negotiate," he said. "What conflict do you know that is not ended through negotiation?"
But that does not go for the looming "violent networks" that are not confined to national boundaries and "want to disrupt order in any known form" -- including groups seeking an Islamic state, or caliphate, as Sunni militants have declared in Iraq.
One of the under-heralded achievements of the election, he said, was widespread participation by Afghans in the democratic process, even in areas where Taliban attacks and threats of reprisal were rife.
"When people choose ballots over bullets, it is an incredible step toward peace and I hope that this fact is appreciated," he said.
Ahmadzai attributed it to hard-won lessons for a people who have known war and destruction for two or three generations.
"The larger Middle East is imploding. But because we experienced the first wave, our people are incredibly wise," he said. "And even if at times we reach a brink, we will make sure that during these (next) five years, we are able to stop the very sense of brink and brinkmanship from developing."
VOA News July 15, 2014
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he has reluctantly accepted a U.S.-mediated deal to audit all the votes from the country's presidential runoff election, following allegations of fraud during the voting process. In an exclusive interview with VOA's Afghan Service, President Karzai said he did not welcome the agreement, but accepted it as a "bitter pill" due to the current political conditions in Afghanistan.
"I accepted it because I wanted to get past this stage very quickly because the elections have already taken a lot of time in this country. No country in the world has such a lengthy electoral process and this must be corrected as well. The Afghan people are waiting, very much, very impatiently, to have their new president," said Karzai.
Tensions were high in the country after presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, both claimed victory in the June 14 runoff to replace Karzai. Former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah dismissed the runoff results that put Ghani ahead by one million votes as tainted with irregularities. He accused Ghani, election authorities and President Karzai of colluding against him to rig the vote.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Kabul and held hours of intense negotiations with Ghani and Abdullah on July 12, and both candidates agreed to a U.N.-supervised audit of the eight million ballots. According to the deal, the new president will immediately form a government of national unity. A senior U.S. official said whatever the outcome of the election audit, the candidate who does not emerge as winner will play a formal role in the new Afghan government.
President Karzai says he welcomed the idea of a national unity government, saying all Afghan people should see themselves in their government. But he was more cautious about reports the candidates agreed to create a parliamentary democracy.
"In order for Afghanistan to have a parliamentary form of government, we must, before that, make sure we have strong institutions, the civil service of the country must be totally apolitical and protected by law," he said. Karzai said institutions like the military and judiciary should also be protected from political intervention. He said Afghanistan still needs time to strengthen these institutions in order to move from a presidential to parliamentary system.
As Afghanistan undergoes this transition and his decade in office nears its end, Karzai says that whatever the outcome, he will stand firmly behind the next leader of Afghanistan. "If ever the next Afghan president or the next government would ask me for advice, I would humbly come and provide that advice. I will be trying my best to be a factor of help, assistance and stability," said Karzai.
And when VOA asked if Karzai could go back and change one aspect of his presidency, he declined to reveal the "massive change" he would make, noting that he is still president of Afghanistan and must choose his words cautiously.
Associated Press 15 July, 2014
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah says his country was on the verge of a "very serious, serious situation" before he struck a U.S.-brokered deal with his rival to avert the crisis by holding a fully audited vote count.
The ex-foreign minister, who is in a deadlocked contest to succeed Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that he holds out hope that the outcome will bring Afghanistan closer to his vision of a country ruled by democratic institutions and laws. "It's not like a win-lose situation, it's a sort of win-win situation," he said.
Asked about a published report that some supporters were ready to seize the presidential palace by force before the deal, because they feared the June 14 runoff was being decided fraudulently, he declined to discuss details.
"But it was a very serious, serious situation, not just in Kabul but throughout the country," said Abdullah, an opposition leader with strong support in northern Afghanistan, especially among the ethnic Tajik community and loyalists of the former Northern Alliance militia.
There already had been widespread reports that Abdullah was under pressure from angry backers to declare himself the victor in the contest against former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, and that he was resisting their pressure.
The 53-year-old veteran of the movement that resisted the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in the 1990s and swept into Kabul after it allied with U.S. forces following the 9/11 attacks said he decided on the deal with Ahmadzai for an audited ballot return followed by a national unity government because "this was the right decision for the country, and for the future of the country."
But his demeanor indicated he is still bitter that many ballots may have been cast illegally for his opponent. "We didn't need this and we don't need this," said Abdullah, who has had experience of vote fraud before — he reluctantly conceded the 2009 presidential election to Karzai in spite of widespread reports of stuffed ballot boxes.
On a brighter note, he said he had just held his first meeting with Ahmadzai since the declaration of the political accord — "our first meeting one-on-one after quite a while." They embraced at Ahmadzai's home and Abdullah said he invited Ahmadzai to continue their planning at his home in two days.
He suggested that they would be able to work together, no matter whom the internationally supervised ballot audit eventually declares a winner. "Before the elections, before both of us becoming candidates, we used to both of us get together to meet. We used to discuss issues," Abdullah said. He said they discussed how, together, they would "strengthen the trust of the people over the process." Abdullah said the formula for the national unity government still needs to be worked out.
"I think now we have a better prospect for the future of this country. One is that the technical side, the votes of the people of Afghanistan, will be counted, will be audited — thoroughly — through ... an internationally supervised mechanism. That was the key for us because the legitimacy of the future government of Afghanistan is important."
"Then there is framework for cooperation between both sides in political terms — based on the agendas for reform for good governance, for strengthening the national unity, and so that is also good," he said.
"Hopefully everything will stay in the right track." He confirmed that the agreement envisages, eventually, a constitutional grand council, or Loya Jirga, that could see Afghanistan switch to a parliamentary form of government with both a president and a prime minister. "That has been our idea. This has been a part of our platform for many, many years," he said. "So that is something that will help Afghanistan, but it's a long way to go."
Abdullah said it has taken Afghanistan 13 years to reach a stage in nation-building that is still "a mess." He said Karzai had had better opportunities than any leader in Afghanistan's history — military backing, billions of dollars in support from the international community, and a sense of national consensus in the beginning.
"That opportunity was not utilized in the best way. I have no doubt that Afghanistan could have been a very different place." But despite that, he said he has hope that it is not too late. "There is an opportunity — that opportunity will not be there forever," he said. "We need to save Afghanistan."