BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has faith in the Afghan election authorities, is confident in the ability of the country's security forces, and says Kabul should take the lead in negotiations with the Taliban.
Rasmussen made the comments in an exclusive interview on June 23 with Radio Free Afghanistan correspondents Mustafa Sarwar and Norias Nori.
RFE/RL: There is no Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) or Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in place between the United States and Afghanistan. You might recall that the Iraqi government declined to sign a similar security agreement, and we now know that Iraq is in crisis. Could Afghanistan follow the same path?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: There are clear differences between Iraq and Afghanistan and I am confident that the Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security [of Afghanistan].
But having said that, there are also clearly some lessons to be learned from the experience in Iraq and let me remind you that it was an Iraqi decision to stop cooperation with the international forces and stop the training of Iraqi security forces by not signing a security agreement.
So, the lesson learned is that the legal framework should be put in place in Afghanistan as soon as possible in order to launch the training mission from the 1st of January 2015.
RFE/RL: Currently there is a dispute over the recent presidential election in Afghanistan, and the announcement of election results might take weeks or even months, potentially delaying the inauguration of the next president and the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States. Considering that it is not the people of Afghanistan who oppose signing an agreement, but the government and, in particular, outgoing President Hamid Karzai, what could happen if the Afghan people support a security agreement but one person doesn't endorse it?
Rasmussen: I am hopeful that we will see the legal arrangements signed but of course it puts some focus on the importance of concluding the electoral process in due time and not delaying the counting of votes too much.
So I count on the Afghan [election] authorities to do their job in a speedy manner but, of course, also in a such a manner that the Afghan people have confidence that the outcome of the election really reflects the will of the people.
RFE/RL: How do you see the future of negotiations with the Taliban?
Rasmussen: Personally, I have my doubts about the sincerity of the Taliban to engage in a political process, but our position in this respect has been very clear right from the outset that any political and reconciliation process should be led by the Afghans.
We have been focused on ensuring the strongest possible position of the Afghan government but it is for the Afghan government to take the lead in such negotiations. And if the Afghan authorities decide to engage in a political process with the Taliban, that is for Afghanistan to decide.