The Secretary-General arrived in Kabul this morning to offer moral support to the new Interim Administration and to thank members of the United Nations staff in Afghanistan for their sustained effort to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people. United Nations deminers formed an honour guard for his arrival and he was greeted by two Vice-Chairs of the Interim Administration, Finance Minister Hedayat Amin Arsala and Minister for Women’s Affairs Sima Samar.
At the United Nations compound, he met representatives of United Nations agencies working in the country who briefed him on their programmes. He then thanked a gathering of about 200, mostly local, United Nations staff members, telling them “there is lots of support around the world for the work that you are doing here.” He singled out the Afghan staff, who carried on the United Nations’ humanitarian work under war conditions after the international staff had to be withdrawn. “Do us proud”, he said. “You have done a lot already and I urge you to carry on.”
Two local staff then rose to speak. A man urged the United Nations to spend the money pledged in Tokyo on building Afghan capacity rather than bringing in thousands of international staff. An Afghan woman staff member then got up and said that during the war, women suffered the most. Now, she said, “they are enjoying their freedom and they’re enjoying the visible change that took place within the initiative of the United Nations . . . but they really need more attention,” she added.
The Secretary-General then went to the Presidential Palace where he met privately, accompanied only by his Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, with the Chairman of the Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai. He also had a tête-à-tête with Mr. Karzai, and then met with Mr. Karzai’s full cabinet. “You’ve been busy in Afghanistan for years,” Karzai said in the second meeting, “but we ask insistently that you stay with us until peace becomes imprinted on us.”
The Secretary-General recalled the appeal he made to the international community at the Tokyo donors' conference earlier this week to stay with Afghanistan for the long haul.
The Chairman repeated his commitment to spend the money pledged in Tokyo with full transparency and accountability, but said he would need United Nations help through the reconstruction phase. On the political process, he vowed to stay true to the spirit of the Bonn Agreement, saying he would respect the decisions that will be taken by the Loya Jirga, or supreme council, when it is convened in the next five months to form a transitional government. On social matters, he again said he would fight against drought as well as poppy cultivation, with United Nations help. He reaffirmed his commitment to human rights, especially to the rights of women.
He then thanked the Secretary-General for his role in organizing the conference held in Tokyo on reconstruction assistance for Afghanistan. “Be our spokesman,” he said, “and thank the international community for their generosity.”
The Secretary-General asked Mr. Karzai about security in the country. Chairman Karzai called on his Defence Minister, General Mohammed Fahim, who said that while there were still Taliban and Al Qaeda elements in the country, the Afghan army, working with the United States-led military coalition and the International Security Assistance Force, would eventually eliminate them.
Interior Minister Yunis Qanooni said that the security situation in the country was “not bad.” A national police force needed to be created, from representatives of all ethnic groups. He asked for the assistance of “peacekeepers” to assist in policing the provinces until the new force could be established.
The Secretary-General then visited the Zarghuna Girl’s School, which is assisted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Girls from the ages of six through sixteen were preparing to resume their education after a Taliban-imposed break of five years. They held up handwritten signs in English and their language Dari saying, simply, “PEACE”.
He returned to the United Nations compound to meet for an hour with representatives of civil society, including women’s groups. Overwhelmingly, they emphasized their concern over security in the country. He concluded by saying “I hope you’ll remain a vibrant civil society.” He then added “I know there may be times when it is us, the United Nations, you’ll be criticizing, but if we deserve to be criticized, why not?”
The Secretary-General then visited the headquarters of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for a briefing by ISAF Commander Major-General John McColl. The Major General reported that ISAF troop strength was at 2,000 and could grow to 5,000 from 17 nations by the end of February. He described as one of his objectives the training of a battalion of Afghan national guard troops drawn from all parts of the country.
After a tour of the ISAF premises, the Secretary-General returned to the Presidential Palace for a working lunch with Chairman Karzai and his team. After lunch, he and the Chairman gave a joint press conference. The Secretary-General took the occasion to announce the appointment of Nigel Fisher, the current Regional Coordinator for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in Afghanistan.
Chairman Karzai announced the members of the Special Independent Commission for the convening of the emergency Loya Jirga. The Secretary-General commented, “It was not easy to put the list together. Lakhdar Brahimi went through 300 names to select the 21.” He added, “we have asked them . . . to work in the interests of Afghanistan and the people and not to be pulled in any direction by one group or the other and we expect them to operate that way. It is a good list,” he concluded, “and let’s support them”.
Asked if the ISAF would be deployed outside of Kabul, Chairman Karzai said, “Yes, our feeling is if there is a need for that, they are welcome, and we will have them in those provinces.”
Before proceeding to the airport, the Secretary-General toured West Kabul which had suffered massive destruction in the civil war of the early 1990s. He flew to Tehran that evening.