Press Conference by Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan

14 September 2012

Press Conference by Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan

14 September 2012
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference by Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan

Human security and human development must be at the “centre of the equation” if Afghanistan was to find peace and prosperity, Michael Keating, Deputy Special Representative for that country, said at a Headquarters press conference today.

Noting that much of the attention had been on security, corruption and the recent video that had incited unrest in the Middle East, he said that, unless there was a refocusing of policy and activities towards the human security and development needs of Afghans, and towards self-management and self-sufficiency, the broader efforts of the international community supporting Afghanistan in managing its own affairs would be “unlikely to succeed”.

It was amazing how much actually worked in Afghanistan after 34 years of conflict, rather than what did not, and how high was the Afghan people’s solidarity, including those in need of humanitarian assistance, said Mr. Keating, who is also the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in the country.  The statistics were significant, he said, noting that they included the 500,000 to 600,000 people internally displaced by conflict, “which by any global standard” was high.  Another group included more than 200,000 people affected by disasters such as avalanches, earthquakes and floods just this year.  The third category was that of the chronically vulnerable, he said.  As one the world’s poorest countries, and given the “stunning negative features”, more than half of Afghanistan’s children under 5 were malnourished and permanently stunted in human and physical potential, a situation with extensive political, social and economic consequences.

He said that, to bring attention to such concerns, he was visiting a number of capitals around the world, and hoped to discuss with relevant parties some of the development and security policies of Afghanistan and the international community.  There was also a need to test the efficacy of those policies in preventing the perpetuation of humanitarian problems, and to help people “escape chronic vulnerability”, he said.

“We are particularly concerned, as you know, about the protection of civilians”, which included ensuring the human rights of detainees and women, he continued.  Those concerns were not specific only to violence by insurgents, but also by criminals.  It was, therefore, highly important that a civilian police force be put in place.  The Afghan National Security Forces and the International Security Assistance Force, as well as anti-Government elements did much more to protect civilians, he observed.  However, with the transfer of security responsibility looming, everything was being done to anticipate some of the possible negative effects of the transition in relation to jobs, security, the humanitarian situation, and the State’s ability to manage its own affairs.

Responding to a question about the cultural and religious sensitivities capability of the security forces, Mr. Keating said Afghanistan had a long tradition of civilian policing which had been “seriously blown off-course” by 34 years of conflict.  Efforts were being made to strengthen civilian policing, he said, underlining the importance of distinguishing between that and the military defence forces so that victims of crime, particularly women, would have someone to whom they could turn.

Unfortunately, conflicts, both local and from the insurgency, would occur, he said, expressing hope that a sustained peace process, presently not in place, would “kick in”.  The other critical component was ensuring that the 2014 transfer of political authority, including presidential and parliamentary elections, would be seen as credible by the Afghan people.  “What is remarkable is the high degree of international commitment to staying with the Afghans,” he added.  However, ensuring international support beyond 2014 depended on the peaceful transfer of power, the strengthening of human rights and the fight against corruption.

When asked whether he thought that a police force and a credible transitional Government could be formed by 2014, he said there was growing recognition from the Afghan Government and the international community that civilian security and policing was as important as a national security force and army.

Asked about the impact of the United States withdrawal, he said the important issue was protecting the laws ensuring the rights, economic opportunities and political space of women.  There was a higher percentage of women in the Afghan Parliament than most legislatures around the world, and such protection was crucial to the success of the Afghan agenda, which was led and driven by women.  Further, the international community’s presence supported the protection of women’s rights, and the United States departure would have an effect, but it was too early to say what that would be, he said.  Much depended on what might happen to the security system, and the important thing was to ensure that the protection of women and women’s rights was “hardwired” into security measures.

When asked about irregularities in the United Nations training programme for police, with some audits showing double payment and a lack of records, and with the European Union’s possible withdrawal of funding, Mr. Keating emphasized the essential need to have a zero-tolerance attitude to corruption, and to get to the bottom of any irregularities.  He welcomed and supported any investigation, pointing out that the particular incident in question underscored the need for oversight and management.  It was also important to note that such risks of impropriety were inevitable in a programme of such size, and that it was important not to hide them, but rather to be “much more explicit” about what could happen, especially when engaging national systems in such a complex and conflicted country.

Afghanistan was a very young democracy, established only since “9/11”, he said in response to a question about how to address elements opposed to women and girls participating in public society, education and Parliament.  Political space and freedom of expression were greater now than they had been in all its history, but they needed protection at all times.  Compared to other countries in the region, the situation in Afghanistan was “not bad” in terms of women’s participation in politics and the freedom of the media, he added.

He described the parliamentary transcripts of debates and discussions that he received daily as “vigorous” and “frank”, the likes of which might not be seen in some neighbouring countries.  However, there was clearly scope for supporting a “more robust democracy” and ensuring that the Constitution, an enlightened document, was respected and implemented.

Mr. Keating said there were people in conservative Afghanistan who took issue with public roles for women.  What the international community could do, among many practical things, was to support the rule of law, strengthen the capacity of justice institutions and support a democratic political system.  It was important to continue to send a political signal that Afghans fighting and campaigning for democratic rights and space were being supported.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.