In an interview with this newspaper, Omirtai Bitimov, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to Afghanistan, discussed the challenges and opportunities the current situation is presenting there and Astana’s policies in that regard. Bitimov, 63, who served in Afghanistan during Soviet times and later directed Kazakhstan’s intelligence service, brings a lot of experience to his current job, which he has occupied since June 2011.
How would you evaluate the internal situation in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan is going through a difficult transition period. Before the end of this year, the withdrawal of the main part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) should be completed. The transmission of full responsibility for security from ISAF to Afghan authorities is continuing.
The country faced a number of ambiguous political events, including problems with the presidential election. An audit of ballots and counting of votes, with the participation of national and international observers, was completed. On Sept. 21, the candidates signed an agreement to createa government of national unityand the Afghan Independent Election Commission declared Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzayas president and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah as chief executive.
I regret to point out that theTaliban movement, Haqqani network, faction of the Islamic Party of Afghanistan organised by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (IPA-G) and Al-Qaeda are actively continuing their efforts. The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) successfully confront them, although they suffer losses. The situation is complicated by the fact that the national economy is still heavily dependent on external donor assistance.
However, with the support of the international community and various major donors including Kazakhstan, the Afghan government achieved a number of positive results in economic recovery.
What is the state of bilateral relations between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan and the prospects for their further development?
Cooperation between our countries is steady and not limited by the provision of humanitarian assistance. Within the framework of donor assistance, the Taluqan-Kunduz-Shirkhan-Bandar road was reconstructed, a school was built and construction of a hospital is almost complete. Financial support of $1.5 million for project development is being prepared.
The successful implementation of the state education programme to train 1,000 Afghan students in Kazakh higher education institutions should be highlighted. We believe this is a tangible contribution of our government to Afghan stabilisation efforts in the international community.
Afghan universities have expressed a desire to build partnerships with institutions, such as the Al-Farabi Kazakh National University and the S. Asfendiyarov Kazakh National Medical University.
Within the framework of the Kazakhstan-Afghanistan Intergovernmental Commission (IGC) on trade and economic cooperation, relationships between business people of the two countries have been established.
Contacts between female representatives of our countries were established and developed this year when Minister of Women’s Affairs Hussn Banu Gazanfar visited Kazakhstan and was accompanied by female members of the Afghanistan National Assembly.
We haveevaluated the possibilities of Afghanistan as an important trade and economic partner. Its market has a great practical interest for us.
In which spheres of activities is Kazakhstan more likely to contribute to the reconstruction of Afghanistan?
Kazakhstan’s leadership considers Afghanistan as a potential partner in the region. It has extensive transit opportunities with access to South Asian states. In this regard, our country is interested in the speedy restoration of Afghan stability that will really contribute to the active development of trade and economic relations.
Astana’ssupport of the Istanbul Processis a practical step in cooperation development. A ministerial conference under the Istanbul Process was held in Almaty last yearinvolving the Heart of Asia countries.
What is your assessment of the presidential elections in Afghanistanand how do they impact the future development and situation in the country?
Despite difficult political and military terms, nationwide democratic elections were held for the first time. From recent history, we know statepower was mostly transferred unconstitutionally by forcible seizure and now we observed the first peaceful transfer.
Afghanistan and the international communityare expectingpositive changes with the election of a new president. It is predicted that this could radically change the situation in the country in terms of achieving social stability and economic recovery. In pre-election programmes, both Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullahexpressed a commitment to the continuation of democratic reforms, further development of the national economy, taking into account the country’s rich natural resources, preparation of qualified personnel and opportunities for regional and international cooperation.
The new president will have to lead a delicate interethnic policyin order to meet the needs of all ethnic groups. This can be achieved only through using democratic tools, a parliamentary system anddeveloping a strategy for national unity. The experience of Kazakhstan in this area would be useful.
What is the attitude of the Afghan people to further military and humanitarian presence of the United States and its allies?
The U.S. and Afghan governments intendto sign the Agreement on Security, which will determine the nature, number and legal status of American troops in Afghanistan after 2014. In general, Afghan society has an understanding of a further U.S.military presence and seesthe U.S. as the guarantor of preserving the internal stability in the country and the avoidanceof another civil war, as well as subsequent progress in the social and economic development of the state.
At this time, a number of local residents are working in foreign military bases, which couldlead to a higher rate of unemployment and a possible resurgence of social tension. On the other hand, the United States and other members of the international communitypromise to provide the government with financial support and training security forces in the post-withdrawal period. The UN will continue also its significant work.
On a bilateral and multilateral basis, a large number of higher and secondary educational institutions were established in Afghanistan.
What are the prospects for regional cooperation of the Central Asian states with Afghanistan against drug trafficking?
Without cooperation with neighbouring countries, it is impossible to solve the problem of drug trafficking in the region. The activity of a confidence-building measures groupin the framework of the Istanbul process on Afghanistan, in which Kazakhstan is an active participant, is useful.
In fighting against drug trafficking inthe Central Asian states, the development of partnerships seems appropriate between law enforcement agencies and the special services of the Central Asian countries and Afghanistan.