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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Update on Afghanistan Elections

Dan Feldman
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 

New York, NY
September 25, 2014

1:15 P.M. EDT


MS. STAVROPOULOS:  Good afternoon.  My name is Daphne Stavropoulos.  Thank you so much for joining us here in New York and to those in Washington at the Foreign Press Center and everyone viewing online.  We have with us today Daniel Feldman, the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the State Department.  I’ll be turning the podium over to him in just one moment.  After he makes his remarks, we ask that you put your hand up and wait for the microphone to be passed and state your name and your media affiliation when you receive the microphone.


Thank you again, and thank you for joining us. 


MR. FELDMAN:  Good afternoon.  Thanks for taking a few minutes to come and hear the updates that we have regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan.  I just wanted to make sure that I could help to answer any questions that the press may have given that I’ve just returned from over two weeks in Kabul where we were there to witness the signing of the political agreement between President-elect Dr. Ghani and Dr. Abdullah.  We were – we really commend both leaders for taking this very, very important step for Afghanistan.  We firmly believe, as does seemingly the entire rest of the international community, that this presents really the best opportunity for a long-term stable future for Afghanistan, one that focuses, as both candidates have done through the course of their campaign, on a reform agenda, one that provides for inclusivity and representation of all Afghans within the new government, and one that honors the millions of votes that were cast by Afghans for change and stability within their country.  And so we believe it’s in the best interests of Afghans and we strongly support this and look forward to continuing to play a robust role in facilitating and supporting this new Afghan government.


I look forward to your questions on that.  We’re not trying in any way to minimize or sugarcoat the many hurdles that remain.  Afghanistan’s grappling with a range of interlocking transitions – the political transition, the security transition, its economic transition – and there’s much that’s – will continue to need to be worked out in this agreement, which we fully recognize.  But the fact that these two leaders have come together and really delivered this for the – in the best interests of the Afghan people is one that we want to keep the focus on and continue to support.  And I think that the very welcome, tangible steps that have been taken since the agreement’s signing on Sunday are also significant and – both in Dr. Abdullah’s speech today where he noted very specifically that this government of national unity represents the votes of all Afghans is very important – similarly Dr. Ghani’s speech from several days ago.  So the fact that they are taking these concrete steps to ensure that this government is effective and functional from its very first days, that they’re planning the inauguration for next Monday, and we look forward to continued engagement with them.


I did not have a chance to go to Pakistan on my most recent travels to Afghanistan but look forward to getting there soon.  And we’re very pleased to welcome Prime Minister Sharif to New York.  And we have a series of engagements with him and with his senior leadership in the Pakistani Government over the course of the next few days, including Vice President Biden having a bilateral meeting with the prime minister tomorrow.  So we look forward to touching base with him and continuing to further and strengthen the very comprehensive critical bilateral relationship that the U.S. and Pakistan have. 


QUESTION:  Ambassador, my name is Muhammad Atif.  I’m with Voice of America’s Urdu television service.  I have two questions.  First of all, if you could comment about the ongoing political crisis in Pakistan, and secondly, President Karzai’s allegation towards U.S. and Pakistan for the Taliban-led insurgency and the way he criticized Pakistan and the United States.  Thank you.


MR. FELDMAN:  With regard to the protests that have been ongoing in Pakistan, although appear to be – they certainly appear to be drawing far fewer people at this point and so we’ll have to see what continues to happen with them in the coming days and weeks.  But as we said kind of throughout this process, that we believe all parties should work together to resolve their differences though peaceful dialogue in ways that strengthen Pakistan’s democracy and rule of law.  We’ve always strongly opposed any efforts to impose extra-constitutional changes to the democratic system, and we’ve been closely monitoring the demonstrations through our embassy and with others, but encouraging all sides to refrain from violence, to exercise restraint, and to respect the rule of law.  So peaceful protests, as we know from the U.S. example, and freedom of expression are very important aspects of democracy.


And we’ve seen the numerous reports through our embassy’s engagement that there have been many efforts, obviously, to resolve the current situation.  We are in no way, obviously, involved in this process, or in any discussions between parties.  So we don’t have any further kind of analysis in terms of what may actually be occurring, but we look forward to discussing the current status with Prime Minister Sharif and his senior advisors.


With regard to President Karzai’s statements yesterday, we give great credit to what President Karzai has contributed to over the course of the last 13 years in Afghanistan, the stability that he’s helped to ensure, and to the very significant strides that Afghanistan has taken in a range of issues – on social services, on media rights, on the role of women.  And what we’re looking forward to now is working very closely with the next government that will be in place within a week and ensuring that those rights and those gains are solidified and strengthened.   So we’re really seeking to continue to build on what he helped to establish.


MS. STAVROPOULOS:  Let’s take one more question in New York.


QUESTION:  Faisal Qazi from ARY News Pakistan.  I have a question that prime minister of Pakistan have spent so much while staying in Waldorf Astoria.  So is there any chance of meeting President Barack Obama?  And secondly about Afghanistan, do you think that this resolution or a makeshift arrangement of having a president and CEO can last long?


MR. FELDMAN:  With regard to the prime minister’s schedule and the President’s schedule, I can’t comment on any sort of logistical arrangements.  Obviously, they both have very, very full calendars and though I know the President hopes to see him at some point soon.  I’m just not sure it’s logistically feasible at this point, given the very short amount of time he’s here and a range of other commitments.  But that’s why I know the Vice President was eager to do so to signify the great importance that we place on the bilateral relationship at the senior levels.


With regard to the agreement that was reached, the intent is certainly for it to last throughout the duration of this Administration.  Obviously, it provides for calling of the Loya Jirga within two years, potentially constitutional changes to Afghanistan’s political framework, and we’ll see what emerges from that.  But yes, both parties appear to be completely committed to trying to overcome the tensions of the electoral process from the past year and really to working together to ensure that this government delivers for the Afghan people.  And so going into it with that degree of good faith from both parties and a real effort to work through the many issues that will come up is what’s most important, and we certainly hope and expect that it will last throughout the course of the Administration.


QUESTION:  Do you think at this point meeting with Vice President Biden of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, do you think is it enough for – at this point for bilateral issues?


MR. FELDMAN:  It’s the most senior-level meeting that we could offer other than the president, and I’m not sure what the President’s schedule is.  I mean, there’s many, many demands on that.  So obviously we want to signal to Prime Minister Sharif that we are – consider this bilateral relationship deeply important, that we ascribe the highest significance to it, and that our most senior officials are available to try to continue to meet with him on a very regular basis.


And this is in addition to all the engagement that’s already ongoing.  I know I was with Secretary Kerry when he last met with the prime minister in The Hague.  He’s obviously visited; he will no doubt visit again at some point.  We look forward to continuing the strategic dialogue at the ministerial level and the many working groups that have been formed as part of it, and to building on the prime minister’s own visit to Washington last fall.  And so there were a number of issues there that were tasked for kind of follow up, which have been ongoing.  And so I think I wouldn’t read too much into any one single meeting but look at it as the entire spectrum of the depth and breadth of the relationship, and that, I think, is very strong and much stronger than it has been in recent years.


MS. STAVROPOULOS:  Let’s go to the journalists in D.C. and then come to you.  Washington, please go ahead.


QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Iftikhar Hussain.  I work for Voice of America Pakistan-Afghanistan border region, VOA Deewa Radio and TV.  Thank you very much for the opportunity.  I have a couple of questions.


At this important time when the United States and the international force (inaudible) Afghanistan are withdrawing this year, Pakistan and Afghanistan distrust continues across the border.  I just wonder how the United States is reflecting this distrust to bring them together on the same page in its policies.


And the second question is the – given the Karzai legacy, the frustration with the United States in Pakistan, this agreement is – people think in Afghanistan that it has been done for sharing power between two candidates; it’s not the verdict of the people of Afghanistan.  And you also referred to it that you will not sugarcoat the difficulties ahead.  How the United States plan to work ahead at this difficult time when this is considered one of the fragile agreement given the power sharing in Afghanistan?


If you have time and could comment on the Pakistan military operation in North Waziristan, especially the questions being raised at the “good” Taliban and the “bad” Taliban. 


MR. FELDMAN:  With regard to border issues – or actually, the far broader bilateral relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, I think the beginning of a new administration in Afghanistan provides an ideal opportunity to try to reframe that narrative and work towards much broader coordination and cooperation.  There are many, many opportunities here, and obviously, there are significant issues that Afghanistan and Pakistan need to work directly with each other on, from security-related issues to refugee issues to economic and trade issues.  And through a continued effort to bring those two nations together, I think there will be great dividends for the people of both countries. 


So I would look at this as a way to try to build and renew that relationship, and it could provide some great opportunities that will ultimately have benefits for the Pakistani people as well as the Afghan people.  And as the U.S., we continue to always recommend to both parties that they take these opportunities and continue to work together to see where their common interests are and how to better coordinate in pursuit of those. 


With regard to the North Waziristan operation, we don’t comment on internal matters of other countries.  And so – but we have always strongly supported, obviously, Pakistan as a close partner in the effort against terrorism.  And frankly, terrorist acts that have impacted the Pakistani people so significantly – I mean, the tens of thousands of Pakistani citizens that have been killed in terrorist actions over the course of the last few years – and so there is a common nexus here; we have a very shared interest.  And so we hope that the North Waziristan operation is successful and we speak frequently with Pakistani officials about their assessments of it.  And we encourage them to ensure that there is no safe haven for terrorism in Pakistan, and that those have – that have been disrupted over the course of this operation are not allowed to find new safe havens or return to their old ones after the operation has concluded.


With regard to the agreement in Afghanistan, I would strongly disagree that it doesn’t honor the vote of those Afghans that were courageous enough to turn out and cast their ballots, not once but twice in this process.  And as Dr. Abdullah himself said today, the fact that this government of national unity represents the votes of all those that were cast, because there is such common purpose in what both these men ran on – the fact that they both sought inclusivity in their administration, the fact that they are both committed to undertaking fundamental reforms, including on economic issues and anti-corruption issues and electoral reform issues, and the fact that they can do this together in a manner that provides most stability for Afghanistan is the way that I think truly honors the votes of – that were cast.


QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  My name is Nazira Karimi, I am correspondent for Ariana Television Network from Afghanistan.  Thank you so much for your time.


MR. FELDMAN:  Thanks.


QUESTION:  As they mentioned, my question (inaudible) connect with those questions, nowadays Pakistan still continue to fire rocket toward Afghanistan in this sensitive time.  As you mentioned that you met with Mr. Nawaz Sharif.  Have you discussed?  Because people in Afghanistan, they are really tired about it. 


And the second question – some of the expert that I interviewed with them, they’re concerned about the United States decision that they are pulling out their soldiers in Afghanistan, do you think that it’s fair time to pulling out the soldier?  Because the experts say it’s not fair time.


And the next question if you have time:  What will be the U.S. commitment toward Afghanistan after 2014?  Thank you so much.


MR. FELDMAN:  On the question about Pakistan’s role, we have not yet met with Prime Minister Sharif.  The meeting with the Vice President is tomorrow.  And I’m sure that as part of the very comprehensive bilateral relationship we have with them – with Pakistan – we’ll be talking about the full range of issues, including regional security issues and regional relationships.  And so as part of that, the Afghan-Pakistani relationship is key to that. 


As we said kind of numerous times, we will continue to encourage and support and help to facilitate, if it’s helpful, continued and increased discussions between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the whole range of issues – on security related issues, on economic and trade related issues, on political issues.  And so there’s a very rich agenda that can be discussed, and I think that this – the opportunity of a new administration hopefully provides that.  And so we hope that they can continue to strengthen that bilateral – their own bilateral relationship in the interests of the Afghan and Pakistani people.


With regard to the troop decision, the Afghan National Security Forces have already been doing a quite remarkable job in securing Afghanistan over the course of the last year or more since they’ve had lead security responsibility.  The decision, as announced by President Obama, has not changed in terms of drawing down our troops by the end of this year, but that there will be a residual force there over the course of 2015-2016 for very targeted purposes, two in particular: one of which the continuing training and advising and assisting of the ANSF to continue to ensure that they are able to operate as effectively as they have been to date; the other for counterterrorism purposes. 


And so we’ll have to see what happens over the course of these next few years.  That’s not a decision that is being revisited at this point, but it’s one that’s been taken in a very considered manner in conjunction with the rest of the international community that’s also involved there, as per the most recent NATO summit in Wales just recently, and with the Afghans.  And so given the recommitments by NATO just a month ago and given the commitments by the U.S., we have full confidence in the abilities of the ANSF and others to continue to provide stability for their country.


In terms of U.S. commitments to Afghanistan, particularly in light of this decision on government and national unity, as we’ve said repeatedly, we look forward to finding ways that we can continue to facilitate and help to support this new government.  There’s a range of challenges that they’ll have.  And we look forward really to hearing from the government in its early days about what its key priorities are, where its reform agenda is, and what they need from the rest of the international community, and to engaging very intensively with them on those issues.


So there will be a range of opportunities, including at the upcoming London ministerial, to assess what Afghanistan’s own needs are as presented by the new government and then to work with the rest of the international community that’s been engaged for so long in helping to ensure that the trajectory that Afghanistan has in front it is as stable as possible.


MS. STAVROPOULOS:  Thank you very much.  That was the last question.  You have been very generous with your time. We really appreciate it.  And the transcript of this will be on the FPC’s website at later today. 


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