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Afghanistan wants to be free, friendly and decide its own destiny – Afghan FM

NATO plans to withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan in four years’ time. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul told RT it is time for the country to stand on its own two feet.

RT: Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, thank you very much for being with us today.

Zalmai Rassoul: It’s my pleasure.

RT: When Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan you had been publishing a resistance journal for eight years. What did you and your compatriots expect for your country’s future back then?

ZR: As usual, Afghanistan wanted to be a free, independent and sovereign country, to be friendly with its neighbors in the region, and to have its destiny in its own hands. This was something that we wanted, and something that Afghans will always want.

RT: How would you describe the state of your nation as of today?

ZR: The Afghan people have been at war for the last thirty years. Since 9/11 2001, when the international community came to Afghanistan to liberate it from the rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan has been facing tremendous challenges to rebuild itself. Because for thirty years, for a country which solidly was a poor country, has been completely destroyed. So the challenges are to rebuild the country, to give a normal life to all people, to allow our children to go to school, to have healthcare, to have education. And that is what we're trying to do now with our friends.

RT: British Defence Chief, General Sir David Richards said that NATO should prepare to stay in Afghanistan for another thirty or forty years, which makes a mockery of the planned transition in 2014. Why do you think NATO changed its strategy? And do you think its strategy in the first place to defeat the tribal opposition was right?

ZR: Firstly, it's not a tribal opposition. It is a fight against terrorism and extremism. And the tribal chief and the tribal people are the first victims of terrorism, being killed every day. The date of 2014 is the Afghan proposal. President Karzai in his first inauguration speech for the second term said that Afghanistan should take the responsibility of its own security starting from 2011 and finishing by 2014. That has been proposed and adopted in London and at the Kabul Conference by the international community, and it's been concretized during the recent Summit in Lisbon a couple of days ago. That’s the real thing, that Afghanistan should be in hands of the Afghans, and security of Afghanistan is the responsibility of the Afghans. So starting from 2011 and finishing by 2014, the Afghan national security forces will be in charge of the security of Afghanistan, and the remaining forces of the international community, NATO and others, will be a supporting force, not a fighting force.

RT: How is the Russian effort to help the war effort perceived in Kabul?

ZR: I think that Russia is a great country, a great power in the world, a great partner of Afghanistan in the region. And we seek the support and cooperation of Russia for peace and security in Afghanistan, because the security and stability of Afghanistan is not only for Afghanistan. It affects security and stability in the region, including Russia. So, one of our priorities in our foreign policy, as well as the fight against terrorism and extremism, and stability of Afghanistan, is regional cooperation. Because the fight against terrorism and extremism is not only in the village of Afghanistan; it's a regional issue. So if we cannot find a regional solution for it, we'll be in deep trouble, because that will continue and take longer.

RT: Is NATO presence threatening your internal security in relation to your immediate neighbors?

ZR: We have been working from day one to assure our neighbors that the presence of NATO and allied forces in Afghanistan is for security and stability in Afghanistan, for the fight against terrorism and extremism, and is not directed against any other country. And so far, we have kept reassuring our neighbors that we need to have regional cooperation, as I mentioned, to defeat terrorism and extremism.

RT: Kabul has very good relations with Washington and with Taiwan, just like Russia. Is your government in a position to mediate between Obama and Ahmadinejad's administrations? And maybe, are you afraid of a repeat of the Iraqi scenario when war is waged just to satisfy American demands?

ZR: Iran is a great country, a great neighbor of Afghanistan with which we have a long historical relationship, and we're seeking and having good relations with Iran. The United States is also an ally of Afghanistan which is fighting against terrorism and helping Afghanistan a lot. We see a better relationship between Iran and the United States as being of benefit to Afghanistan and the region. But at the same time, we don't want to pay the price of the problem between Iran and the West.

RT: Sir, you told the UN General Assembly, and I quote you, “To complement our efforts towards eliminating poppy production, we wish to see greater action to counter smuggling of precursors into our country and to reduce demand and consumption of drugs in other countries”. As of today, over 2.5 million Russians are addicted to Afghan heroin. Mr. Foreign Minister, why has your administration and you allies failed to tackle the poppy production?

ZR: First of all, poppy production in Afghanistan is a result of thirty years of war and lawlessness and despair of the Afghan people who didn't know if tomorrow they'd be alive or not, and had no security for their future. Secondly, when they came back to Afghanistan in 2001-2002, we didn't have any institution to fight it, no police, no judicial system and no army. And it takes time before you can put our institutions in place. But the fight against narcotics is also one of priorities in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan will pay first for it, it will suffer before others suffer from it. And we're not getting the benefit from it, because the money produced by drug traffickers will go outside Afghanistan and not stay in Afghanistan.

So definitely, it is a major fight that we're engaged in. This fight cannot be fought by Afghanistan alone. We need the support of the international community, we need the support of the regions, by enforcement of law, by, as I mentioned, the precursors which are not produced in Afghanistan, they're produced outside Afghanistan and brought inside Afghanistan. We will do our job to reduce and eliminate poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. But also, the world and the region should do their part to reduce the demand. Because there is demand, the production of poppy is there.

So it's the common effort of reducing cultivation, giving the farmers of Afghanistan an alternative which they'll accept, to grow something other than poppies.

RT: Do the farmers that cultivate poppies have any viable alternative?

ZR: In the regions of Afghanistan, which are under the control of the Afghan government, which has been able to give an alternative – yes, the result is very positive. We have seen it in two important provinces of Afghanistan, which have been traditional poppy-growers: Nangarhar in the South and the East and Badakhshan in the North. When some project has been delivered, an irrigation project, alternative agriculture, the production of the culture of the poppy has been reduced significantly. In other areas where there is insecurity and where we are not in full control, of course, the production has increased. So, more and more security will come in those areas and the more and more the Afghan government is in control, the less and less there is going to be poppy cultivation, according to the experience that we have in other parts of Afghanistan.

RT: Mr Foreign Minister, the outside world gets some impression that you and your government colleagues are only safe within Kabul compounds and are unable to travel across your own country. Doesn’t this send a signal to the Taliban that they are maybe winning?

ZR: I don’t know what the outside world’s impression is. I am inside Afghanistan, I travel practically in all provinces myself. We’re appointing all the governors ourselves, all district chiefs ourselves. A small pocket of Afghanistan, of course, is still not under the control of the Afghan government, but the majority of Afghanistan is ruled and controlled by the central government of Afghanistan. I think that’s a perception which we are not sharing with them.

RT: So, US forces have been accused of creating ‘black prisons’ in your country, where your citizens have been illegally detained and tortured. Can you curb the widely documented military excesses against your countrymen?

ZR: I think the issue of prisoners has been an issue that has created great tension between the United States and Afghanistan. There are two issues that create great tension: the issue of detainees and the issue of civilian casualties. And the issue of night raids in houses. These issues have been discussed very frankly and in a friendly manner. I think we are on the right path to solve them. Soon, at the beginning of 2012 Afghanistan will be in charge of the detainees all over Afghanistan. It will be the beginning of this taking charge of the detainees. And we are working with our allies to reduce to a minimum or eliminate civilian casualties. But also the issue of night raids should be dealt with by Afghan national security forces. More and more Afghan forces will be charged after combat, less and less there will be these kinds of problems.

RT: Also the Afghan elections have been in the news lately. Two elections have taken place since the NATO-led invasion, both derided for fraud and vote-rigging, and results have just been published some two months after polling. What do you say to those who claim that you and your allies are planning an unsustainable political system?

ZR: Afghanistan has a democratic system. Afghanistan after thirty years of war and lawlessness and no government practically, a different kind of government, now has a system. The democratic process is taking root. But you know you can’t make democracy in one day in any country, especially a country that has been at war for thirty years. So, I think that there are problems, there are going to be problems. And I think that problems with elections are not specific only to Afghanistan. A lot of countries, even more developed countries, have had problems with elections. But the process is going on and people are now believing in democracy. That’s the reason people are complaining. Millions of people in very difficult conditions of security went to vote. A lot of women for the first time in the history of Afghanistan are winners in the election, they beat men in a lot of places. There is good news for Afghanistan. But Afghanistan cannot be Switzerland or Sweden in nine years.