Saturday, January 12, 2008

NATO optimistic on Afghanistan

Secretary General says Kosovo volatile, Pakistan restive

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on January 10 expressed optimism for the situation in Afghanistan amid criticism of allies’ apathy in the region. Welcoming a recent decision by the United States to send an extra 3,000 Marines to Afghanistan, de Hoop Scheffer called for patience and cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions on the situation in the country.

Addressing journalists at a New Year reception hosted by NATO, de Hoop Scheffer denied that allies “are not active enough” adding, “If you look at the recent past, you see a number of allies stepping up to the plate. Even yesterday, we heard that Poland has made a very substantial and considerable offer, including eight helicopters, which is a lot, and ground forces for Afghanistan.”

“Nations like Slovakia, Hungary, Georgia, France, the Czech Republic, Australia, Norway, Singapore, Azerbaijan - all of course according to their capability - ...have recently contributed or are contributing forces,” he said. “The Afghan National Army is doing better and better. Health care is up. Child mortality is down. Two-thirds of villages in Afghanistan have received development projects worth up to USD 50,000. Comparing situation in 2001 to start of 2008, lots of progress has been made, but the problem is that we, the international community has no patience. We want to see instant progress, but that is not possible. We need ‘patience.’ This is a long-term commitment,” he said.

Stressing, “The answer in Afghanistan is not military but civilian. Reconstruction and development is something for the long-haul,” the Secretary General reiterated that Afghanistan is the key in the fight against terrorism.

According to NATO figures, the number of troops in ISAF - now provided by 39 nations - rose from around 33,000 in January 2007, to almost 42,000 by December. With around 140 suicide attacks, 2007 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted from power in late 2001, according to a United Nations survey.

Answering a journalist’s question, de Hoop Scheffer expressed concern over the situation in Pakistan. “That’s the situation in Pakistan, it’s very relevant for the NATO operation, the ISAF operation in Afghanistan.”

Refusing to comment on the internal situation in Pakistan, the Secretary General said, “I’ll not comment on the internal situation in Pakistan. That’s not up to me. What is important is that those people who are trying to make life in Afghanistan more complicated than it already is, are adequately dealt with in Pakistan as well.”

On the issue of Kosovo, Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer said NATO had a clear “key” role in Kosovo and “KFOR will stay and protect minorities and majorities alike.” Highlighting the presence of about “16,000” peacekeeping troops in Kosovo, the Secretary General said, “KFOR is there to stay with 1244 UN resolution... (and will stay) unless there is another resolution from United Nations.”

“The situation (in Kosovo) is volatile now ... (But) Let nobody be under the illusion that he or she could get his way by violent means,” the NATO chief said. “Although I prefer a negotiated solution, the chance seems remote now,” he added.

Asked to comment on the changes if the European Union will send its own mission to Kosovo, de Hoop Scheffer told journalists, “KFOR’s mandate as such will not change ...But the ESDP mission, as you know, when it would come, would have a police element and KFOR is not a police force in Kosovo.”

He described the need to have a close EU-NATO cooperation in Kosovo as “very important” and said all of the Western Balkans should one day be allowed to join NATO and the EU. Kosovo, a province of 2.2 million, has been under UN administration since 1999, when NATO bombs stopped Serbian ethnic cleansing in the area.

Commenting on the Western Balkans in general, the Secretary General said, “Now, we have ...the only recipe, in my opinion, which will create lasting stability and security in the Balkans is the road to Euro- Atlantic integration. And at the end of the day, and I don’t know when the end of the day will come, but my ideal would be that I see all those countries in the European Union and in NATO. That is the only recipe for stability.”

NATO leaders are due to meet in Bucharest, Romania, for a summit scheduled to take place on April 2-4. The NATO chief de Hoop Scheffer said the summit would address “future threats and challenges,” such as cyber defence and energy security, and would consider the applications of three potential new member states: Albania, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Saying, “the level of scrutiny has never been more intense,” and without committing himself on their chances to join the alliance this spring, the Secretary General urged them to continue reforms up to “the last moment.” “NATO allies will take a political decision,” he added.

Asked to comment on others (Georgia and Ukraine), de Hoop Scheffer said, “Ukraine has a distinctive partnership, Intensified Dialogue. So has Georgia, Intensified Dialogue. We should use that to the full ...I do not know what Bucharest exactly will result in as far as Ukraine and Georgia are concerned. For the moment my advice would be let’s at least use the Intensified Dialogue we have with Ukraine and with Georgia to the full. And I say again we’ll certainly, and I’ll certainly establish sooner rather than later contacts with the new Ukrainian government and with the Georgian government for that matter, after the moment there is a new Georgian government.”

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