UNAMA – Press Briefings – 2 January 2018

COUNTDOWN TO PEACE DAY

Today, 6 August, marks 45 more days in the countdown to Peace Day 2007 – 21 September.  As you know, each week, we are calling of different parts of Afghan society to join us in our quest have one day of peace in Afghanistan.

Following our call to the press for support, we are happy to announce that several media organisations have now joined the campaign: Ariana Television are planning special programmes; NAI Supporting Independent Media in Afghanistan will celebrate the day with a peace event; the Killid Group, which broadcasts on radio in Kabul and Herat and produces print media to all provinces, will include Peace Day in their programming, and Afghan Scene, the Kabul-based English language magazine, has also pledged its support.

You will recall last Monday that we called on parliamentarians for their support of Peace Day. This Monday we call on all Afghan civil society organisations to support this campaign.

Today, we are delighted to welcome the valuable support of the Afghan Civil Society Organisations Network for Peace. Their activities for Peace Day last year were organised by over 20 different social and non-governmental organisations.

This week, UNAMA would like to extend an invitation to all civil society and non-governmental organisations to commit to joining us all to mark 21 September as a day of ceasefire and non-violence across Afghanistan.

POLIO VACCINATION CAMPAIGN

The Ministry of Public Health has announced a new nationwide polio vaccination campaign, which is being carried out this week. The overall campaign will cover over seven million children under the age of five in Afghanistan.

As you know we are on the verge of eliminating polio from Afghanistan, but we need the cooperation of local communities to ensure we achieve this.

The Ministry has been working with UNICEF and WHO on the campaign, which includes a social mobilisation plan to help with the distribution of the vaccinations at provincial and district levels.

The campaign will continue across the country, every month, until all children receive the necessary immunisation. UNAMA calls on all parents and communities to cooperate with this vital initiative as we all work hard to prevent polio blighting the lives of Afghanistan’s children.

NEW WOMEN’S CENTRE IN KANDAHAR

Construction work has just been completed on a Women’s Resource Centre in Kandahar province. The facility will be used by the Department of Women’s Affairs in Kandahar province, where around 100 women at a time will take part in vocational training and workshops, enabling the women of Kandahar to forge better futures for themselves and their families.

This centre is one of the few facilities where Afghan women in Kandahar can get together, share issues of concern to them and work together on overcoming some of the hurdles they face.

The construction of this centre was halted after the assassination of Safia Ama Jan in September last year. Its completion now is a powerful tribute to her work and the dedication of all the women in Kandahar.

The project cost around $162,000 USD and was funded by the Japanese government through United Nations Development Programme’s Urban Development Group.

NATIONAL YOUTH ADVOCACY CONFERENCE

Kabul this week sees the coming together of over three hundred young Afghans from around the country for a major conference between 5-8 August.

The event will present and discuss issues affecting Afghan youth that have been identified by themselves and will give them the opportunity to share these ideas with the government.

The conference will focus on raising government awareness of key youth issues and includes a list of recommendations on how to address them.  Other items on the agenda include familiarisation with the Millennium Development Goals, the Afghan National Development Strategy and providing feedback to Ministries and UN agencies on the Joint National Youth Programme.

Eight UN agencies, several ministries, USAID and Flag International are jointly organising this three-day conference.

UNMACA – MEDIA VISIT

The United Nations Mine Action Centre for Afghanistan, UNMACA, is offering all media the chance to visit to the Bagram district of Parwan on Sunday 12 August to see mine clearance in action for themselves.

Media representatives will have the opportunity to film the work of UNMACA, to interview local people and the deminers themselves about their vital work.

For more information on this facility, please see the media advisory available on the side table.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Radio Killid (translated from Dari): Afghanistan and Pakistan are still in dispute over the issue of the peace jirga [tribal assembly]. Pakistan doesn’t want any other agencies like the UN to be present at the jirga. I would like to know the UN’s view is on this and can we be hopeful about the outcome of this jirga?

UNAMA: While we have no direct involvement in the peace jirga between Afghanistan and Pakistan, we share the hopes of people from both countries for success of this jirga and fully support these efforts as a step in the direction to bring peace and stability for the people of both countries.

ARD German Radio Network: Has the UN been approached by the Taliban in Ghazni regarding guarantees for the South Korean delegation?

UNAMA: I have a very brief answer to that question – no.

Follow-up question: Have you been approached by the South Koreans?

UNAMA: We are dealing with a live hostage situation. Our focus at this moment in time remains on bringing these people back safely and securely. It is imperative that we support fully the Afghan and the South Korean government’s efforts to see the safe release of these people. I’m sure you will appreciate that it will do nothing to secure their safe release if we start talking about the details of the negotiations publicly. We are very limited in what we can say on this specific issue, apart from the fact that we are fully supporting the continuing efforts that we are seeing happening as we speak by both the Afghan government and the South Koreans.

Kyodo news agency: Is it physically possible for the UN to guarantee the safety of the Taliban in face-to-face talks with the Koreans?

UNAMA: What we are focused on here and trying to achieve, is the safe release and return of these people. I go back to comments that I made some moments ago. It serves no purpose to begin a public debate about what is possible. There are ongoing efforts between the Afghan authorities and by the South Korean authorities. The UN is fully supporting those efforts, but there is no value in having a public debate on what we can and cannot do, which may have an adverse impact on the negotiations.

Shamshad TV (translated from Dari): A statement was recently released by the Taliban warning the people of both countries, not just Pakistan, not to attend the Pakistan peace jirga, saying that this is not a local initiative, but a led by Bush and the international community. What is UNAMA’s position on this?

UNAMA: Those that oppose peace will always try to prevent people coming together.   This peace jirga brings together the people of two countries. We welcome this peace jirga and I think we share the hopes of all Afghan people that this will bring peace, stability and security to the people on both sides of the border.

AFP: Can you tell us the UN position on a prisoner’s swap with the hostages?

UNAMA: We are completely in line with the government of Afghanistan on this particular matter. As the President’s Spokesperson said some days ago, and President Karzai said in an interview yesterday, we all need to ensure that kidnapping does not become an industry in this country, so all efforts must be made to stop this trend from continuing.

Tamadun TV (translated from Dari): I would like to ask a question regarding the interference of foreigners in the postponement of the release of the hostages being held. According to the governor of Ghazni, he said it is the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] who are trying to intervene and postpone their release. I would like to know UNAMA’s view on this?

UNAMA: I think you are addressing that question to the wrong person. That comment came from the governor of Ghazni, and needs to be addressed to him.

Tamadun TV follow-up: Does UNAMA see any interference by foreigners into this issue?

UNAMA: The government of Afghanistan and the South Korean delegation are leading in the efforts to secure the safe release of these aid workers. They are the people who have the most up-to-date information, and the most accurate information. This comment that you are referring to came from the governor of Ghazni, and it needs to be addressed to him, for him to confirm that comment.

Press TV: You have been calling on all media to participate in Peace Day – but we are facing insecurity everywhere from Kandahar to Kabul. Don’t you think it is a waste of time and money to be working towards celebrating a Peace Day in Afghanistan?

UNAMA: Thank you for your question. With all due respect, I think that is quite a cynical view to hold. In the short time that we have been talking about Peace Day to Afghan people across the country, we have been encouraged by the commitment and the desire for peace in this country. The fact that Afghanistan faces major security challenges serves to highlight the need for peace and the commitment to peace from the people. We have been pleasantly surprised at the commitment we have seen from the Afghan people. As each week passes, we have been calling for peace, and each week, we share with you the list of people who are joining us in this quest – to seek peace in Afghanistan. We want to see that continue, and we see no reason for such cynicism. If I may just add, we would welcome the opportunity to speak to you after the press briefing, to see if we can sign you up for Peace Day.

Freelance journalist: There have been recent efforts on the part of the international community to suggest that Iran is involved in the violence in this country. I would like to know the UN’s position on this. Do you think that these allegations, which are as yet unsubstantiated, add to regional instability?

UNAMA: The Islamic Republic of Iran has been a huge supporter of the Afghan people, as we have seen, over the years of conflict. Millions of Afghans are still guests of the Iranian people. We respect and welcome the hospitality that they have shown to the Afghan people over the years.  Iran is also a major supporter of the major reconstruction efforts in this country, and has helped significantly, in many different fields of reconstruction in this country.  It’s important to recognize that point.   As President Karzai said last night, we want to see that support continue. We see a productive relationship between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Afghanistan, and we need Afghanistan to have good relationships with all of its neighbours, because the future of Afghanistan is the future of this region and that’s what we will continue to work towards.

Azadi Radio (translated from Dari): As you say, those who are opposed to peace will always prevent peace jirgas, and there are certain people in Pakistan who are really against it. The representative from South Waziristan will not participate in this jirga. Don’t you think this is a challenge for the jirga?

UNAMA: Absolutely.

IRIN: You said that the UN will support the peace jirga here in Kabul, but it will not have a direct involvement. Will there be a list of suggestions from the UN family to the jirga on issues like humanitarian space in the border areas where the security is not so good?

UNAMA: The agenda for the peace jirga will be decided by the participants of the peace jirga. The United Nations is not a participant of the peace jirga. We do not have a direct involvement. However, on the specific issues that you mentioned, humanitarian space, polio vaccination, we talk to both the government of Afghanistan and Pakistan every day on these and many other issues – how to increase cooperation between these two vital partners of this region. And those talks continue every day.

IRNA (translated from Dari): Regarding the production of heroin and narcotics in Afghanistan, given the increase of production of heroin in certain areas of Afghanistan, what is the reason that the international community continues to fight about the approach to narcotics? In Helmand, although there are many British troops in that province, 50 percent of the total production is coming from that province.

UNAMA: Let’s be clear on this, there have been several media reports over the last few days indicating that opium production in Afghanistan has risen, but there is no confirmed information on this. UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime] has yet to release its report on this year’s crop. But, as we have been saying over the last few months, the likelihood is that we will see an increase in production this year. That report has not yet been published, but will be published shortly.

You suggest in your question that the international community has failed on tackling the issue of opium production. Now is not the time for the final analysis on success or failure. Our experience from other parts of the world, such as Columbia, Burma, India all show that tackling the issue of illegal drugs is not an issue that can be tackled in one year, two years or five years – this is a long term issue and it will take the commitment and efforts from both the international community and the Afghan government – over probably the next ten or twenty years to eradicate the scourge of narcotics from this country. How do we do that? Well, there is a national drugs strategy in place, and we need to see progress in three crucial areas if we are to see drug production in this country turned around.

First of all, we need to see increased provision of alternative livelihoods to farmers, we need to provide them with an alternative to producing opium. Secondly, we need to see, across the board, the strengthening of rule of law in this country, from the judiciary to the police, and we’ve seen great efforts by the government of Afghanistan to reform these key institutions. And finally, we need to see enforcement [control of] the international drug rings that this country is feeding into. There is an international drugs mafia at work, and this requires the cooperation of Afghanistan with the international community, and of all member states in a joint approach to tackling this issue. All of these issues are big, key issues, and they will take time, but as long as the commitment and the effort continues, we are hopeful that we can and will turn the corner on this.

Kyodo news agency: I have a question about the Taliban. Three years ago, there wasn’t this mania, and the number of suicide bombings was much less. It’s obvious that they have changed their tactics, al-Qaeda style, as with Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries. Can you, as the representative of the UN in Afghanistan, can you think of an actual reason behind this change, and what can we do to stop this dangerous flow?

UNAMA: What we are seeing is desperate measures by desperate people. Increasingly, those opposed to peace realise that they cannot win against the military forces, and so we are seeing an adaptation – an evolution in the desperate measures that they are trying to use to intimidate and inspire fear in the people of Afghanistan.

In terms of tackling the threat posed by this – our own Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Tom Koenigs has been very clear on this, and we need to see robust action in some key areas. We need to see increased development – people need to feel the benefit of peace, they need to feel a peace dividend. Secondly, we need to see increased regional cooperation between Afghanistan and all its neighbours, to tackle the cross-border element of this insurgency. Thirdly, we need to see greater political outreach to persuade those that are currently fighting to give up their arms, and commit to give up their arms and commit to the democratically elected government. We have seen progress and success in all of these key areas, but we need to see more. We need to see greater efforts to reach out to those foot soldiers, who can be persuaded to give up their arms and commit to the government. We need to see increased development and we need to see better and increased cooperation between Afghanistan and all of its neighbours.

Ariana TV (translated from Dari): I would like to ask about the international experts who have come to investigate the Dasht-e-Chemtala mass grave. Have they started their work, and if they have, what are the results?

UNAMA: Investigations have not yet started, we have brought in a number of experts to conduct a scoping mission, looking at what needs to be done to protect the integrity of the site, what capacities we need to conduct any such investigation, and what expertise will need to be developed. We are very much at the early stages and no-one should expect quick justice – quick justice is often bad justice. It is imperative that the truth of what has taken place at this site and others comes out. Our experience from around the world shows that this will take time, and it will need to be incorporated into Afghanistan’s transitional justice action plan.