Nicholas Haysom, a former South African law professor, is the special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan and head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). He sees unity among the leaders of the current Afghan government and regional cooperation as prerequisites for success in Afghanistan amid insecurity and economic and governance challenges.
RFE/RL: How do you see the situation in Afghanistan right now?
Nicholas Haysom: I think Afghanistan is facing very significant challenges at the moment. It faces a security challenge at a time in which international forces have largely drawn down, and it is being tested by the insurgency to see whether the Afghan National Security Forces have the capacity to act alone. There’s also evidence that they are holding their ground. I think for Afghanistan to come 2015 and 2016 having been able to manage its own defense on its own will, on the other hand, have been a significant achievement.
RFE/RL: What are the main challenges that the Afghan government or Afghanistan in general is facing right now?
Haysom: Political challenges: the challenge of making the current government arrangement work and evidently deliver on what is a very significant reform program, a reform program that really requires a degree of national unity to be effective and successful. And then, of course, there is the economic challenge. And I think it’s important to recognize that the economic challenges facing the country are not of the making of the government of national unity. They derive directly from the withdrawal of the international presence in Afghanistan and the reduction of the levels of aid and also simply [less] money in the economy.
RFE/RL: There are still differences among the leadership of the national unity government. Do you think this will affect the political, security, and economic situation in Afghanistan?
Haysom: Well, I think there is an obligation on the leadership of both parts of the national unity government to make this arrangement work. I think there has to be demonstrable leadership if it's going to work effectively. Quite frankly, it's had its ups and downs. At the moment, I think it’s on an up, which is not to say it’s not going to go through some strains later on in the year.
RFE/RL: What kind of stabilizing role can the UN play in Afghanistan right now?
Haysom: We will play whatever role will assist the stabilization and assist Afghanistan in meeting the economic challenges. The UN doesn’t have a military force here so we play a very limited role in the military and security challenge. And we are not a major donor in our own right, so what we can contribute is to try -- by working closely with the Afghan people and the Afghan government -- to ensure that what economic assistance is provided is provided to the best effect [and] has the greatest impact.
I think there is an assumption increasingly that Afghanistan has met its challenges and now it’s just a question of implementing reforms and continuing to strengthen governance. On the contrary, I think Afghanistan really needs continued international attention and support at the moment.
RFE/RL: Can you give us a few details about how UNAMA is helping the current Afghan government?
Haysom: [UNAMA is helping] in regard to peace and trying to get off the ground a coherent peace process in which, face to face, the principal combatants engage each other to find arrangements and agreements on how Afghans can live together in peace and harmony.
If they don't do that, it threatens the very viability of Afghanistan. And in the short term it's possible to continue fighting but in the long term Afghans not only need peace -- they deserve peace. So we will do whatever we can to promote and support any viable peace process.
Secondly, in the short term, we are assisting the electoral reform agenda, in particular the Electoral Reform Commission, and we participate in that commission and provide expertise. We think it’s very important to consolidate Afghanistan's democratic tradition, nascent as it is.
We place a great emphasis also on the economic integration of Afghanistan into the region, into its neighbors. We share the president's vision of Afghanistan as an economic roundabout, a transit route, a hub, so that it can take the greatest advantage of its geographical location, squeezed as it is between the East and the West, between an energy-rich north and an energy-starved south, so that it can establish a basis for long-term economic growth.
RFER/RL: What kind of role can UNAMA play in building regional cooperation in the war on terror and the peace process in Afghanistan?
Haysom: We've played a strongly supportive role in the 'Heart of Asia' initiative, but that's just one initiative. In our view, [it is] an imperative for the region to support Afghanistan in facing down the challenge of terrorism, for a number of reasons. We don't think terrorism can be engaged just by one country on its own. It affects the region; it has consequences for the region; and we think the region should be giving the fullest support -- direct support -- to Afghanistan to do this.
In addition, we also have foreign fighters present in Afghanistan. These foreign fighters come from [other] countries in the region. They are going, some of them, to countries in the region, so it is unfair to expect Afghanistan to deal with these foreign fighters on its own.
RFE/RL: Afghan official recently blamed Pakistan for not helping in the fight against terror. How do you see this situation?
Haysom: I think what we’ve seen in the last year is a much greater degree of commitment to work together, a degree of commitment that we haven’t seen before. Of course, the development is uneven, but I think the pressure has to be maintained. I think what we can see are some positive developments.
We’ve seen China clearly indicate its own interest in making a contribution and promoting reconciliation and peace in the region. We’ve seen the Pakistani government make commitments we haven’t heard from them before. Of course, translating those commitments into practice is where the next front line is.