Representatives from different countries of the International Contact Group (ICG) on Afghanistan met in Helsinki, Finland, to prepare for the upcoming ministerial meet in Tokyo in July. The focus of the Tokyo meet would rest on the Afghan economy. European Union’s (EU) Special Representative and Head of the EU delegation Vygaudas Ušackas (Prior heading Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was Ambassador of Lithuania to the United States and Mexico from 2001 through 2006, then Ambassador to the United Kingdom.) spoke to Kunal Majumder about the challenges the international community, especially European countries, is facing in Afghanistan.
List three main challenges in Afghanistan from a European perspective.
There are three basic challenges. First is to translate all the respective commitments that we all made as international community into concrete and tangible. The challenge is to create foundation for long–term sustainable development of Afghanistan. And that is first and foremost having security, institutional security and national security force in place; both Army and police will be able to take over stability in the country.
Second is about putting the foundation of sustainable economic development in the country. So as a country, Afghanistan moves gradually from recipient of aid to a trade partner. In that context, I would like to comment on an initiative of India to hold an international investment conference in New Delhi on 28 June.
Third is how can we contribute and support Afghan led peace and reconciliation process. So we have laid foundations for the process that would take place post 2014 through the inclusive political process towards elections and, of course, future peace reconciliation.
How optimistic are you about negotiations going on between the Taliban, which is being facilitated by Pakistan, and the Americans?
We know from the statements issued around 15 March that the Taliban have frozen the negotiations at the moment. However, it is important that international community retains the commitment to support Afghan-led peace negotiations. We believe that insurgency poses a threat to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And therefore both governments need to tackle insurgency together.
But when you say Afghan-led negotiations, does that include the Taliban?
It includes Afghan-led negotiation process among Afghans themselves and with insurgents.
In terms of the role of India in Afghanistan, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was in New Delhi few days back and Los Angeles Times quoted some American official saying that , “US is looking forward to defence cooperation with India”. From the European perspective, does India have any military role in Afghanistan?
India is a friendly and much appreciated partner in Afghanistan. We look forward to working together with India especially first and foremost in capability building. But if chosen and if requested by Afghan government, India can be involved in development or rule of law. It is already training Afghan national police. But that again anything has to be based on Afghan request and Indian readiness. We at EU are making significant contribution to the Afghan national police development. And also through our European Union Police mission, which has been in place for last five years, in training civilian police and justice officials and we recognise that the future lies in a distinct civilian police where training can be provided by many countries.
An Afghan minister mentioned that there is a need for international partnership to respect Afghan leadership. Time and again we have seen reports that say President Karzai lacks the jurisdiction or hold over the country beyond Kabul. Do you think that the international community is not respecting current leadership demands?
We respect the Afghan national institution; there is no question about it. High chamber of Parliament is our partner and we work with ministry as well as provincial councils. However, it is increasingly clear and what Afghan officials are increasingly acknowledging is to put in place functional local governance in Afghanistan and aid provided by international community would be distributed and implemented on the provincial level. And that balance has to be achieved by the Afghans in a transparent and inclusive process.
Last presidential elections saw a lot of controversy about who got the votes and who did not. Opposition leaders claimed the existence of rigging. President Ahtisaari too mentioned the need for free and fair elections in Afghanistan for stability. With 2014 elections approaching, do you feel there will be a credible election after international troops leave?
Well, in any country, elections are an indicator of the health of the society and degree of democratic values and processes of the country. So for EU, inclusive and credible election process and peaceful preservation of power in 2014 would be one of the key criteria according to which we will measure and continue support. And that’s why EU is supporting financially and politically the elections for 2014. And independent election commission recently presented amendments to electoral law to the minister of justice, which will have to be considered by the government and approved by the Parliament. And we are looking forward to working together with the Afghan government and also the election organising authority such as an independent election commission so as to help make organise elections in a credible, transparent and inclusive way. Last but not least, it is important that those elections are seen and perceived first and foremost as free and fair by the Afghan people.
Pakistan and America are caught in deadlock over NATO supply lines. How can EU facilitate to resolve this issue?
Both Pakistan and America have a sufficient readiness to negotiate themselves. I don’t think the other side is requesting mediation and we are not offering that. We wish that the governments will come to agreement. Pakistan is a very important neighbour; historical neighbour to Afghanistan. We welcome great cooperation, engagement of two respective governments who move forward as well as help move forward.
How do you look at the role played by India and Pakistan in Afghanistan post 2014?
I just visited Pakistan months ago and I was very impressed with the health of those of realism and forthcoming behaviour, coming from my Pakistani colleagues, especially in Lahore and interest to promote trade between India and Pakistan. The process made in bilateral relationship especially with respect to trade. Those countries have significant potential to shape entire regional dynamics. We are very pleased with successful outcome of Kabul conference, which frankly went beyond my personal expectations in seeing a clear regional participation of Pakistan in all CBMs. Participation of India in CBM’ and leading some of them, especially on chamber of commerce. I think that the future of this region will certainly be influenced by the health of bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan which we support.
But in terms of support to Afghanistan, do you see a continuance in the role of India and Pakistan?
I think all countries around Afghanistan have a role to play and I think the most important is that we will see the dynamics of reconciling interests of the neighbours and genuine support for building the foundations for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
This Interview was originally published in Tehelka weekly magazine.