The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Nicholas Haysom said Tuesday that the international community must not take its “eye off the ball” when it comes to Afghanistan – adding it would be “disastrous” if the country was forgotten about amid more pressing global issues.
Haysom, who was speaking to the UN News Center, warned that the country was facing numerous challenges that will take time to sort out. He said that although there has been progress in meeting the country’s challenges in the economic, security and political fields, failure in any one of these areas would have consequences for the overall success of the Afghan transition.
When asked whether there was a sense of hopelessness among the Afghan people, Haysom said the nation was resilient despite them having lived in an unstable, insecure position for 30 years.
“While they are resilient, there needs to be cause for hope. With hope, I think people can withstand quite difficult circumstances. So really, one is in the business of measuring, as it were, a ‘hope barometer,’ which looks at a wide range of factors including the state of the economy, the functioning of government and whether they think things are generally moving in the right direction,” he said.
According to him the ‘hope barometer’ was evenly balanced but said “there is cause for concern, which the Afghans express. But on the other hand, things are more or less on track. I think it would be accurate to say that Afghanistan is muddling through. And I would also not undervalue that.”
He said “the truth is that Afghanistan first has to address serious economic problems. It has to sustain its overall coherence in its security agencies and security response. It has to make progress politically, which, given tensions within government and the challenges facing it, are quite significant.”
According to him, Afghanistan is more or less meeting the benchmarks and may be modestly succeeding them, but said he thought that everyone is aware that if something were to go badly wrong in any one of those areas – if the government was to fall apart for some reason, the economy was to dip badly or there was to be some serious security reverses – all of those would go into the mix.
On a less positive note he said he did not foresee any miraculous transformations to the economy, to the conflict that plagues the country or to the political achievements.
On the matter of security, Haysom said the nature of the challenge is evolving, but that one needs to bear in mind that this is the first year the Afghan Security Forces have taken sole responsibility of managing the security of the country. “Five years ago, some would say that was unthinkable. There are steady achievements… but we’ve always got to be realistic; the Afghans are realistic.”
Referring to the issue of foreign troop withdrawal, he said Afghanistan has not simply seen a military withdrawal but also an international civilian withdrawal.
“There has undoubtedly been an economic contraction with more visible signs of poverty, even in Kabul itself. In the three years that I’ve been in Kabul, there has been a deterioration of security. The way in which we do our work is more circumscribed. We are now unable to make use of social networks in the way we used to, to engage not only Afghans but also the non-Afghan non-governmental organizations and diplomatic communities. The space for the engagement of society has shrunk because of the deterioration of the security environment.”
Politically, it has also been testing for the UN, he said adding that they are working with a government that has made it clear that it expects value from the UN.
“It is not prepared to accept the mandates of any given agency, fund or programme as a self-evident virtue. It wants to see what we bring to the table and how we are contributing towards growing the capacity of Afghans to manage their own affairs.”
Despite the UN’s firm commitment to Afghanistan, questions have been raised on whether the rest of the international community is losing interest, with corners worried it might become a forgotten crisis.
But Haysom said he felt it was a two dimensional issue. “Internally, there has been a reduction in size of the international community’s presence. You see that in regard to the media, in regard to the size, the number of diplomatic missions and maybe in the engagement of economic entities as well. One would hope that those remaining are more committed and engaged and that there is still a lot that can be done.”
On the other hand, externally, “we would recognize that there are more pressing issues outside of Afghanistan. Those issues occur in places that are closer to Europe and the traditional European-NATO type countries that are heavily invested in Afghanistan,” he added.
“On the one hand, Afghanistan needs to acknowledge that it is not the only case that has a compelling claim to international attention. But on the other, it needs to make the case that it would be disastrous, and lead to potential reversals if the international community would lose attention – take their eye off the ball, so to speak .”
In conclusion, Haysom said that “once you adjust to the hurdles you think the country must meet, to the level of realism, I am optimistic. As I said, there is not going to be any miracles, there is going to be gradual engagement with challenges it meets, against realistic benchmarks. And they have the potential to meet them.”