A few days after his visit to Kabul
last week, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke with RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Sultan Sarwar about the challenges facing Afghanistan after 2014 and how the NATO alliance is helping prepare Hamid Karzai for the departure of foreign troops.
RFE/RL: During your recent trip to Kabul, you delivered a strong message of long-term military support to the Afghan government. Will such support include air-defense systems and aircraft?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen:
The whole NATO Council and some of our partner countries visited Afghanistan to show our strong commitment to Afghanistan, also after 2014. We aim at making the Afghan security forces fully capable of taking full responsibility for security all over Afghanistan by the end of 2014. And in that respect, individual allies are also providing the Afghan security forces with some military equipment.
RFE/RL: Many Afghans are concerned that the Taliban will recapture Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in Pakistan after NATO troops leave in 2014. What are you doing to address the long-standing issue of extremist safe havens in Pakistan?
First of all, I would like to stress that when our ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] combat mission ends by the end of 2014, we will have built up a very strong Afghan security force of 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police. And this very strong Afghan security force will be able to take full responsibility for security all over Afghanistan. That is the first thing.
Secondly, I agree that it is a matter of concern that terrorists have safe havens in Pakistan, in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and we urge the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military to step up their fight against terrorists and extremists in the border region.
RFE/RL: There are reports that Afghan security forces are plagued by desertions and low morale. What are you doing to ensure that Afghan forces sustain themselves after NATO leaves?
I don't agree that there is low morale within the Afghan security forces. On the contrary, I have visited Afghan military units and spoken with Afghan military commanders and they are strongly determined to take full responsibility for security in Afghanistan.
We continue the training and education of Afghan security forces and gradually we hand over lead responsibility for security, province by province. And we will continue these training activities after 2014.
Last time I visited Afghanistan, I had an opportunity to observe Afghan security forces in action and I was very impressed by what I saw.
We have seen Afghan security forces taking the lead of a majority of security operations. Actually, 80 percent of security operations in Afghanistan are led by Afghan security forces. That is quite remarkable. So I am confident that the Afghan security forces will be fully capable to take full responsibility by the end of 2014.
RFE/RL: In your estimation, how big a threat does the Al-Qaeda leadership in Pakistan pose to global security?
We know that the Al-Qaeda leadership has been significantly weakened during recent years. There is still a threat of international terrorism; there are still terrorist cells. But the Al-Qaeda network, as such, has been significantly weakened during recent years.
RFE/RL: As NATO secretary-general, during the past three years, have you ever been approached by the Taliban for peace talks?
No, and it is not for NATO to engage in such political talks. We have made clear right from the outset that a political process, a reconciliation process, must be led by the Afghans themselves.
In other words, it has to be the Afghan government that is in the driver's seat. I think a political process makes sense if certain conditions are fulfilled: firstly, that the process is led by the Afghans; secondly, that groups and individuals involved in that reconciliation process abide by and fully respect the Afghan Constitution, including human rights -- and, of course, that also includes women's rights -- and finally, such groups must denounce violence and cut links with terrorist groups.
If these conditions are fulfilled, I think it's a good idea to see if a political process could lead to a constructive result."
RFE/RL: Let me ask you about current events in the broader region. NATO played a crucial role in bringing down the Qaddafi regime in Libya last year. Why is the alliance now reluctant to play a similar role in Syria, where civilians are apparently suffering on a much larger scale?
There is a clear difference between Libya and Syria. In Libya, we took action based on a clear United Nations mandate to protect the civilian population and we got clear and active support from countries in the region.
None of these conditions is fulfilled as regards Syria, and there is no international call or no regional call on NATO to take action in Syria, and we have no intention to intervene militarily in Syria.
Having said that, we strongly condemn the security forces' crackdown on the civilian population in Syria and we urge the Syrian leadership to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.
RFE/RL: What are the main objectives you wish to achieve in a post-2014 Afghanistan?
First and foremost, it's important that Afghan security forces maintain a capacity to take full responsibility for the security all over Afghanistan, with the aim of preventing the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists. That is, of course, the first and most important goal.
Secondly -- but that's not part of our mission -- I have a very strong desire to see improved governance in Afghanistan. I think it's of utmost importance to fight corruption; it's of utmost importance that the national and regional authorities provide the Afghan people with basic services. So, these are my main goals.