KABUL (Pajhwok): NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says preserving human rights gains is essential for continued international support to Afghanistan.
In an exclusive interview with Pajhwok Afghan News, Stoltenberg said NATO had always been clear that there could only be a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Afghan conflict.
During this interview the NATO Secretary General also talked about the Afghan conflict, the peace process, the US-Taliban deal, the capabilities of the Afghan security forces, NATO role in support to the Afghan peace process, the evolution of the NATO-led mission and the gains made in the past 19 years.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Q: Do you believe Afghan peace talks will end 40 years of war, especially with such a high-level of violence caused by Taliban attacks?
A. NATO has always been clear that there can only be a peaceful, negotiated solution to this conflict. That is why the Afghan peace negotiations, which started in Doha in September, are an important step in the right direction, which we fully support. These negotiations are fragile, but they are the best chance for peace in a generation – and all Afghans should seize this historic opportunity. Peace processes are always difficult, with hurdles and setbacks along the way. Afghanistan University is a stark reminder that terrorism affects us all and that it is important that we collectively fight against Daesh.
As part of the peace process, we have adjusted our presence to less than 12,000 troops, most of which are non-US. We continue to help the Afghan security forces become even more effective and sustainable through our Resolute Support training mission and with funding through 2024. And the recent meeting of NATO defence ministers restated our commitment to Afghanistan’s security.
Q. After the Doha deal with the US, the Taliban think they have won the war and defeated the US and NATO in Afghanistan. What are your views in this respect?
A. These are decisive months for Afghanistan. Afghans want peace, and we support their efforts to make it possible. We now face a historic opportunity for peace after decades of conflict, and all parties should now focus on the negotiations. It has taken a lot of effort and sacrifice to reach this moment. It has been made possible by the courage and determination of the Afghan security forces and their increasing capability, and achieved with significant support by NATO Allies and partner countries over two decades. The Afghan security forces are now more professional, better equipped, better commanded and more sustainable than ever before. The Taliban must realise that continued violence can only undermine the chances for peace, which goes against the clear will of the Afghan people and the aspirations of the international community.
Q. How does NATO view the role of countries in the region at this juncture in Afghanistan’s future?
A. We welcome the Afghan government’s efforts to forge regional and international consensus on the peace process. A peaceful Afghanistan will benefit the region, bringing stability and economic prosperity. Therefore, all regional neighbours must play a constructive role in further advancing our common goal of a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. This is in everyone’s interest.
Q. The Afghan security forces continue to face many challenges. What are your views on their performance? And will NATO continue to support them?
A. The Afghan security forces are a crucial institution for the unity. They are defending against Taliban attacks, securing provincial capitals and putting pressure on Daesh. They also continue to develop their combat capabilities, notably their Special Operations Forces and Air Force. And the cooperation and coordination between the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Interior and the National Directorate of Security continues to improve. They will continue to play a key role to ensure the successful completion of the negotiations and to safeguard peace for the benefit of all Afghans. Thousands of troops from NATO Allies and partners remain in Afghanistan to continue to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions. We will also continue our financial support through 2024, as recently stated at the meeting of the NATO-run Afghan National Army Trust Fund Board. Afghanistan’s long-term stability and security ultimately depends on effective and sustainable Afghan national security forces, and NATO continues to support them.
Q. President Trump has announced that before the end of 2020 all US troops will be home. Will this affect the redeployment of NATO troops?
A: All NATO allies have agreed that our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based. As part of the peace efforts, we have adjusted our presence. Resolute Support Mission consists of less than 12,000 troops, deployed across the country. Any further adjustment of our force levels will be made based on our assessment of the conditions on the ground. We went to Afghanistan together, we are adjusting our force posture together, and when the time is right, we will leave together.
Q. How important to the US and NATO is the preservation of the important gains made these past years in Afghanistan in many domains, including governance, democracy and human rights?
A. Afghanistan is a different country from what it was 20 years ago. Afghans have come a long way with the help of the international community — including NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, and donor countries. You now have professional, capable and multi-ethnic security forces, higher life expectancy and lower child mortality, more children in school, including girls, and a higher representation of women in all areas of public life. There is a vibrant media scene and better infrastructure, including for mobile communications. Sports and arts have come back to Afghan public life, with remarkable achievements in the international arena. Afghans have fought hard and worked hard to achieve these gains. So for peace to be sustainable in the long-term, it has to benefit all Afghans. The gains made over the last two decades – including in the domain of human rights, not least for women, girls and minorities – have to be preserved. The international community is watching developments in Afghanistan very closely. It will be challenging to maintain support from international donors for Afghanistan if the progress made on human rights, democracy and the rule of law is not protected.