nterview with Ahmad Fawzi, Spokesman for Lakhdar Brahimi
In an interview with IRIN, Ahmad Fawzi, spokesman for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, said unprecedented international attention on Afghanistan has raised hopes that things will work out this time.
IRIN: What is your assessment of the situation in Afghanistan?
Fawzi: UNSMA (United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan) has been there for a long time, nearly about 10 years, trying to achieve a political settlement, and [it] encountered some difficulties, to say the least, during the Taliban regime. Things changed radically, of course, after 11 September when international attention focused on Afghanistan.
There were pronouncements, almost confessions, all over the world, of governments realising the mistakes of the past and saying never again we will ignore the situation like this. Had we become engaged with Afghanistan right after the Soviet withdrawal then perhaps this would never have happened. Perhaps Afghanistan would not have turned into a haven for terrorism and drug production and the people would not have suffered as much as they have suffered.
I think that was a major factor in creating an environment conducive to the historic change for Afghanistan in a positive way. And as Mr Brahimi has said time and time again that never before, and perhaps never again, will there be such an interest and commitment to help Afghanistan...
And had there been one tenth of the attention to the country that exists today, 10 years ago, we may not be here... I think the Afghan officials with whom we were dealing with in Bonn were aware of it. As well as reflecting the anguish and the anxiety of the Afghan people, they too felt that this was an opportunity to seize.
IRIN: A lot of people say peace has not worked in the past, why would it now?
Fawzi: A lot of people were asking why this would work this time. For decades this has not worked, and for decades Afghans have been fighting each other, as well as fighting occupation. Why do you think that a deal you make now will make any difference? And the answer has always been that there has never been this amount of attention and commitment.
There are billions of dollars waiting to be poured into Afghanistan to rebuild the country and move it into the 21st century. On the humanitarian level, on the development level, reconstructing the country at every level. So that is really where this mission comes in. To expand what UNSMA has been doing on a political level.
IRIN: Significance and challenges at the Bonn talks?
Fawzi: Bonn was very difficult, very intense. There were four groups, as you know, there was a lot of criticism about the level of representation. But Mr Brahimi and his team forged ahead with the belief that this was the best you could do in the time available, that this was a very exceptional circumstance for Afghanistan. That it's an emergency situation and you [have] got to work with what you have in order to move forward. And that really [it] is a temporary solution that hopefully will lead to a more permanent one.
IRIN: Is the challenge before Afghanistan more of a political nature, say, as compared to, of an economic nature?
Fawzi: I don't think you can divide it. It is a bit of everything. It is a total challenge. It is a challenge, it is a challenge on the economic level, on the political level, on the humanitarian level, on the human level. On the human level, human beings all over the world are concerned with the plight of people in Afghanistan. People are genuinely concerned that these people (Afghans) have suffered for so long and what can we do about it, and we have failed them.
The international community has failed Afghanistan, time and time again, over the two decades. And the time has now come to stand up and make up for these mistakes of the past. I think that there is a feeling that we owe it to these people.
IRIN: But there are fears that Afghanistan may fall back into anarchy?
Fawzi: The new ingredient here is that the international community is backing this administration. An international security force is coming in. It's important to show the involvement on the security side from the international community, to protect the new administration, to not only show its neutrality but to give the citizens of Kabul and immediate surroundings a feeling of safety that did not exist under previous regimes, when they were fighting with each and the people were in the middle, suffering.
And that is why the selection of Mr Karzai and the acceptance by all sides of Mr Karzai is a positive development, because he is a Pashtun, he is not a warlord, and there is lot of hope pinned down on him for the future, and there is this new generation, a troika of defence, interior and foreign [ministers], who are forward-looking, who are putting the past behind them, and who are determined to pull Afghanistan out of the past...
We felt it in Bonn. Mr Brahimi and his team felt that despite the pressures that existed from the old guard, the pressure was quickly eroding in the face of a new generation determined to move on.
IRIN: Role of neighbours, how do you see that?
Fawzi: The immediate neighbours. You see a shift, almost a seismic shift in the position of neighbours. Pakistan being a crucial neighbour, playing a very important role, both pre-Taliban, Taliban and now post-Taliban. I think there is a political awakening here. President Musharraf has been extremely supportive of not only the coalition efforts but also the efforts of the United Nations and the international community to make it work. Everybody without exception has shown a commitment to make Bonn work.
IRIN: How to keep neighbours' involvement in Afghanistan different than from their past role?
Fawzi: International attention is crucial. International attention will translate into international aid, unprecedented for Afghanistan and for the region. It will reflect on the region. The focus is on Afghanistan, but Pakistan will benefit, Iran will benefit. The neighbours will benefit. So its regionally a good thing, everybody stands to benefit in a solution to the Afghan problem....
If good can come out of evil, then we are seeing some good come out of the evil of the past and post-11 September. So that's why we think this is going to work. But let me add a word of caution, we are by no means past the major hurdles.
IRIN: What happens in the immediate future now after 22 December?
Fawzi: We have achieved one major step forward, but it is a small beginning. Bonn was the first major hurdle, to get the parties around a table to agree to a new political system that will take the country forward, and it is only a first step. It is temporary - six months. We are praying that first of all the 22nd [December] goes smoothly, and all indications so far have been that everybody is committed to make it successful.
On the morning of 23rd December, Mr Karzai would have to sit down and make some hard choices and hard decisions about how he is going to run the country, and then he has six months to achieve the next major step, which is convening of the emergency Loya Jirgah [supreme national tribal assembly], and we are here to help him do so. A committee must be formed within one month for the convening of the Loya Jirgah.
Within six months it has to be convened and it will then appoint, hopefully, what will be a broader-based government, more representative than the current one, which will take office on the 22nd - one which is has [the] support of more people, multi-ethnic, gender sensitive, that will run the country for another 18 months, leading up to the constitutional Loya Jirgah. So there are several time lines here, and every phase will demonstrate the maturity and the political determination of the new leadership to move the country forward.