BRUSSELS – Outgoing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says he has faith in Afghan authorities to oversee safe, transparent elections. In an interview with RFE/RL Afghanistan Service correspondents Mustafa Sawar and Norias Nori, Rasmussen called on Afghans to go to the polls on April 5 so that the country’s next leader reflects the will of the people.
RFE/RL: How crucial are Afghanistan's presidential and provincial council elections?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: It’s now crucial that these elections are credible, inclusive and transparent. The outcome must be acceptable to the Afghan people and any alleged violations must be swiftly addressed through established institutions. This is what the Afghan government has committed to deliver. That’s what the international community expects, and that’s what the Afghan people deserve.
RFE/RL: What are your main concerns regarding these elections? Are you concerned about security and fraud?
Rasmussen: Obviously, security is a matter of concern. We’ve seen the Taliban carry out terrorist acts during recent days and weeks in an obvious attempt to disturb the elections. But as I mentioned, we’ve seen that Afghan security forces addressed the security challenges in a very professional manner. So, I’m confident that the elections can take place in a secure environment. And as I said, in the case that we see violations of the electoral rules, I urge the authorities to address any complaints swiftly, so that we can see an end to the electoral process as soon as possible.
RFE/RL: Despite the allegations of widespread fraud during Afghanistan’s 2009 elections, the results were eventually accepted by the international community. Is a repeat of a similar scenario acceptable this time too?
Rasmussen: I do believe that there are lessons to be learned from the electoral process in 2009, and I am confident that that Afghan authorities will do their utmost to ensure an electoral process that is free, fair, and transparent, in order to ensure an outcome that reflects the will of the Afghan people; because that is essential for the future of Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: Recent attacks in Afghanistan, including an attack on the Serena Hotel in Kabul, prompted some foreign electoral observers to leave the country. How might their departure affect the credibility of the elections?
Rasmussen: The presence of foreign observers is a very important contribution to ensuring credibility. But once again, I would like to emphasize that first and foremost it’s the responsibility of the Afghan government that Afghan authorities ensure credible elections, and I feel confident that they will do the utmost to ensure such credibility.
RFE/RL: As you know, NATO will be deeply involved in Ukraine now. How will this affect its engagement in Afghanistan?
Rasmussen: The Ukraine crisis will not affect our operation or our plans for Afghanistan or in Afghanistan. We have laid out a clear roadmap according to which we will gradually reduce and complete our ISAF (eds: International Security Assistance Force) combat mission by the end of this year. And we will carry out that plan as scheduled. Furthermore, we are still planning a support, training and advice mission that will enter into force by the first of January 2015, provided that we get the signature on the security agreement.
RFE/RL: The Bilateral Security Agreement between Kabul and Washington and the Status of Force Agreement between Kabul and NATO have not been signed yet. At the same time, there are signs that Russia is returning to Afghanistan through reconstruction projects. How do you view these developments?
Rasmussen: First of all, actually, NATO has had quite good cooperation with Russia when it comes to its operation in Afghanistan. Russia has provided transit links through Russia. We’ve also established a special trust fund to finance helicopter projects, including training of Afghan helicopter crews, and we have, within the NATO-Russia Council, established a quite comprehensive counternarcotics project. Now, if Russia wants further engagement in and with Afghanistan, it’s for Afghanistan to decide. It’s for the Afghan government to address that issue in a bilateral relationship with Russia. We’re not going to interfere with that.
RFE/RL: What is your message to Afghans ahead of the elections?
Rasmussen: My main message is to encourage Afghan voters to actually go to the polling stations and ensure a high turnout so that the new president will have a strong mandate in an electoral process that really reflects the will of the Afghan people.