Asia-Pacific, Headlines

Q&A: ‘We will not leave you alone’

Killid* interviews FRANCIS J. RICCIARDONE, acting U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan**

KABUL, May 9 2009 (IPS) - U.S. President Barack Obama has made Afghanistan and Pakistan his number one foreign policy priority. As acting U.S. Ambassador, Francis J. Ricciardone, outlined his country’s strategy for long-term peace, justice and prosperity in the region in an exclusive hour-long interview. Excerpts:

KILLID: Many Afghans are confused. Why has President Obama called for an end to U.S. military action in Iraq but increased military involvement in Afghanistan despite his Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, saying there is “no military solution” to defeating the Taliban and al Qaeda.

FRANCIS J. RICCIARDONE: We believe there is not a purely military solution; we never believed it. However, military means are necessary although they are not sufficient.

We are after three things: peace, justice and prosperity. We have to have security, your government wants it and I think the majority of Afghans will worry if we pull out our military forces like we did after the Soviet withdrawal.

So our military are part of our commitment to you; this time we are not going to leave you alone, we are not going to leave you to the mercy of fanatics who are killers. We stand with you; we will lose some of our sons, too, we know that, but you are worth it.

KILLID: Could you please explain your strategy in more detail?

FJR: We are working not only with the government and civil society in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and then, more broadly, we are speaking with neighbours.

We have also put the emphasis on development. President Obama has just gone in for much more money to promote agriculture projects here, educational projects, good governance projects to help the best people who are already in your government to clean it up and prevent corruption.


FJR: There are ways to do this, you can strengthen the rule of law; you can train prosecutors and judges, you can train policemen, you can pay them properly so they are not tempted to accept bribes. Indeed, my own assignment here is part of what we call a civilian uplift. Along with those extra soldiers we are bringing more American civilians; specialists in agriculture, education, higher ranked, greater numbers and greater expertise working with your government and private individuals.

KILLID: How realistic is “civilian uplift” when it is already difficult for U.S. embassy and USAID mission to get permission from your security officials for site visits?

FJR: We are able to get out even now; I expect we will get out even more. I know that security is difficult, dealing with it is causing greater expense and loss of time but despite that we insist on going out in Kabul and in provinces. One of the first things I did was to remove the barbed wire outside and on our walls in order to open the embassy to the outside …

KILLID: If they will be allowed to get out, so to speak, which region of the country will they focus on?

FJR: In fact, most of the American civilians like most of the American military will be concentrating in the south and in the east, precisely where most of the problems are. We are here to help your very brave policemen and soldiers defeat a terrible enemy – for us that is al Qaeda and the people who support them.

We want to go where the need is the greatest, where the Afghans are suffering the most. We are planning to open consulates in the north and in the west to keep up the person-to-person ties in civilian areas wherever it is possible.

In the south and in the east, where the enemy is the most violent in killing Afghans, we are concentrating in training your troops, helping your troops to fight.

Wherever we create a little secure space you will find our agronomists, our experts. We will work in power, in water, in waste water projects, finance projects, education projects, we will have civilians in all those areas.

KILLID: Afghanistan’s next presidential elections are just four months from now.

FJR: We (have) made it clear to all candidates, including President (Hamid) Karzai that we have one candidate in mind for this election and that candidate is legitimacy! We want the Afghan state to emerge stronger from this election and I think the only way for it is that there is a strong challenger to the presidency. And that the Afghans the day after the election feel that the election was fair!

KILLID: There are media reports that your Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, views President Karzai as leading a corrupt and inefficient government. Is this the US government’s way of sending a message to the Afghan voters not to re-elect President Karzai?

FJR: No, we have not sent such message to the voters either pro or con! The message we sent repeatedly is please do vote, register and do vote… We are trying to be absolutely, strictly neutral.

KILLID: Nevertheless, corruption and inefficiency was underlined by Clinton.

FJR: The question of corruption is a very important one, though. It is common perception of the people of Afghanistan and therefore of the world community that the government is not only corrupted but is deficient in delivering the basic services -such as health care, education, security- that any government should provide.

And therefore, we are working with your government to make it better able to provide such services and we are trying to help the private sector where it should be.

*Killid is an independent Afghan media group which has been an IPS partner since 2004.

**Not for publication in Italy.

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