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U.S. Official: 'Good Governance Is Best Defense Against Afghan Insurgency'

James Jones
James Jones
KABUL -- U.S. national security adviser James Jones talked to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Jawad Mojahid about the security situation in Afghanistan, and what the United States aims to do to improve it.

RFE/RL: As the national security adviser, how do you assess the security situation in Afghanistan and are you also afraid that the security situation is deteriorating day by day in Afghanistan?

James Jones:
Well, I think the overall security situation in Afghanistan has to be measured on three fronts: one is obviously the traditional security in terms of violence against the people, but also security can also be measured in terms of economic progress and good governance and rule of law, and I think those three things, working together, are really what determine security. My feeling is that I've seen a lot of progress on all three of those fronts, and I think we are moving in the right direction.

RFE/RL: How confident are you that the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan will really solve the problems in this country?

Well, I don't think the U.S. strategy is designed to solve the problems in Afghanistan. I think, ultimately, Afghans will solve the problems, and that is what we really want to set up, is the opportunity for Afghan to take charge of their own destiny and determine their future. All we can do is set the conditions to allow that to happen, and that really is not only what the U.S. is about, but I think 44 countries that are here are trying to do that in as short a time as possible so that Afghans can be in full control of their destiny.

RFE/RL: There are so many concerns regarding the mood toward the foreign forces' operation, because Afghans don't like when someone enters their home without their permission, especially during the night. Do you think any change will be made in this regard?

I think General [Stanley] McChrystal and the commanders are very sensitive to that. There is always a balance between trying to protect the people and making sure that insurgents aren't able to operate with impunity. But we are sensitive to the fact that civilian casualties [are something] we wish to avoid, and we also wish to respect the culture of Afghans. So within that framework, I am sure that we'll strike the right balance.

Dealing With Corruption

RFE/RL: It's said that there have been some confrontations between the U.S. government and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. How do you respond to this issue?

Jones says Presidents Obama (left) and Karzai have a "clear understanding" of what they want to do.
Jones: Well, I think that there are no confrontations between the president and the government. President [Barack] Obama and President Karzai have spoken and reached a clear understanding of what both leaders are trying to do and the timelines in which we want to do this. So I think we have a very fine national team here, and we are trying to do our very best to support the legitimate aspirations of the government and the people of Afghanistan.

RFE/RL: People say the Afghan government is much more corrupt, especially at the higher level, but the Afghan government says that the funds -- they are helping Afghanistan and 80 percent of the money is spent by the international community, so in fact, they are also corrupt. Is that right?

Well, I'm not the expert on who is corrupt and to what degree there is corruption, but corruption, in general, in any government is a cancer that eats away at the trust of the people. So if you really want to find out about corruption, you ask the people. They generally know the truth, and they can tell you who is corrupt and not.

But corruption is something that eats away at the very fabric of society, and wherever we find it, we have to deal with it, and we hope that President Karzai will show very strong leadership on this front this year.

Regional Security

RFE/RL: What do you think about the role of neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iran in the peace-building processes in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan doesn't live in isolation, it lives in a region, and it is a region that has young democracies, particularly here in Pakistan, and I think that we have to have a regional focus to make sure that, at the end of the day, the people in the region are more secure, they don't live in fear of radicalism, and they can have better lives for their families. And that is really what this is all about.

RFE/RL: Did your country do anything to promote their cooperation in this regard?

Of course. We're working with all countries in the region because everybody has equities in how this comes out. After all this effort, we certainly don't want to see Afghanistan revert back to the very difficult days when the Taliban was in charge. We take great pride in the fact that schools are open, and young Afghan men and women, boys and girls, are being educated. Those are long-term projects that will have a lot to do with the future of the country.

But right now, the short-term job is to make sure that we provide the security that is required so that instruments of governance, sound economics, and the good practice of rule of law can be instituted.

RFE/RL: What are the main obstacles against the reconciliation and reintegration processes in Afghanistan?

I think that that is something that, again, Afghans will have to decide, because this is a sovereign country and I think we should be careful about -- our advice would be to proceed carefully to make sure they don't go too far too fast, but there is no question that in order to bring an end to the violence that there has to be a national program to reconcile and reintegrate into society those people who wish to serve as functioning citizens in a stable democracy.

Eliminating Reasons For Insurgency

RFE/RL: On the one side, the international community, especially the United States, supports the peace draft made by President Hamid Karzai and, on the other hand, they are launching wide-ranging operations, especially in the southern province of Helmand. So don't you think they are contradictory or will it reflect negatively on the peace process?

Well, no. Look, the situation is not the same throughout Afghanistan. I was up in Panjshir Province yesterday, and I saw peace, I saw stability, I saw security, I saw good governance, and I saw the beginnings of an economic process. So they can do that.

But in the south, where I was in Helmand and Kandahar, you have to reestablish the security parameters so that, immediately, you can bring in some economic development and foster the rule of law with good governance, good leaders that the people of Afghanistan can look up to. You know, fundamentally, the people just want to see which way this is going to go, and they want to be associated with the winning side, and we intend to be the winning side.

RFE/RL: And my last question: there are also concerns that the recent spreading of insurgents to the north may cause a threat, not only to security in the north of Afghanistan, but it also could threaten the security of the Central Asian countries. Do you agree with that?

I think it is very clear that this radical fundamentalism in insurgencies can spread anywhere. But generally, where you have good rule of law and stable governments, insurgents can't get a foothold. So our goal is to make sure that Afghanistan becomes one of those countries where insurgents can't get a foothold and, frankly, don't have a reason to form an insurgency in the first place because they are well-governed, the society is moving in the right direction, and people are generally happy.

But we live in a century where radical fundamentalism is on the move. We have to be vigilant, we as freedom-loving societies, and we have to be resolute in our determination to be successful. So I think the instruments of awareness are here in Afghanistan with the increase in the security forces and the increase in the focus on the three pillars that I talked about, I think we'll be successful.

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