Nicholas Kay, NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, says that both the Afghan security forces and civilians need to see a significant reduction in violence as part of an imminent peace deal between the Taliban and the United States.
RFE/RL: Ambassador Kay, thank you very much for your time. What does a reduction in violence really mean?
Nicholas Kay: There is a lot of talk of that as you know. I think it means something that Afghans can feel and see themselves. So, a significant reduction in people being attacked and losing their lives and also one imagines that it should also be an enduring thing. Nobody wants this to be a short-term provision. It’s a step eventually toward a complete cease-fire.
RFE/RL: Does it mean that the Taliban will cease targeting U.S. troops, Afghan troops, or Afghan civilians?
Kay: Afghans need to see the benefit of this. The majority of violence and enemy-initiated attacks at the moment are against Afghan targets, government forces, and Afghan civilians. And it’s important in a reduction in violence that the Afghans see that reducing significantly.
RFE/RL: You know that in the long conflict in Afghanistan Afghan civilians have been hard-hit during years of war. How concerned are you about civilian casualties in Afghanistan?
Kay: Very concerned. The death toll for civilians in the last year was one of the highest ever and unacceptable. Any civilian casualty is a tragedy. Certainly, NATO in its train, advise, and assist mission gives every advice possible to the Afghan forces on how to avoid and minimize civilian casualties, and that’s because NATO is not a combat mission. We are not fighting, we are training the Afghan forces, and part of the training is to avoid civilian casualties.
RFE/RL: Reports say a deal could be signed between the U.S. and the Taliban in February. How feasible does that look to you?
Kay: This has been, as you know, a long process of negotiations between the U.S. and the Taliban. NATO has fully supported these efforts, and the U.S. kept NATO fully briefed on what it’s doing. We hope there will be an agreement signed. And it’s important because it opens the door to intra-Afghan negotiations when the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan, and other Afghans sit at the negotiating table and solve this conflict through negotiation. That is where we need to get, and the U.S. Taliban agreement is a way to open the door to that.
RFE/RL: You know that the Taliban have been talking and fighting simultaneously so far. What if the militant group launches its annual spring offensive in March under a new name?
Kay: This is really the time for peace. And people have expressed so clearly on so many occasions that they are desperate for peace. They have called upon the Taliban to cease their violence. The Taliban should respect the will of the people. And neither side should be preparing for a spring offensive. Reduction in violence should mean exactly that. A reduction in violence that is noted by the Afghan people and that is enduring. And that would not be compatible with the spring offensive.
RFE/RL: Many Afghans are concerned about their hard-won rights gained in the past 18 years. Especially women are concerned that in any possible potential deal their rights might be compromised. How can you reassure them?
Kay: When the Afghans sit with the Taliban at the negotiating table, these issues, I am sure, would be front and center of the negotiations. From the point of view of NATO, we want the Afghans to agree something that would be enduring, a peace agreement that will last. Our best advice, as the train, assist, and advise mission, to the Afghans will be to base that agreement on the achievements of the last 18 years: democracy, full respect for human rights, including women's’ rights, freedom of expression — all of those will lead to lasting peace.