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Norway plays an important part in Afghanistan’s development sector: Ambassador Manizha Bakhtari 

Norway plays an important part in Afghanistan’s development sector: Ambassador Manizha Bakhtari

 She’s an author, a journalist and a remarkable person- Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Nordic countries Manizha Bakhtari, prior to her ambassadorial assignment in September 2009 , was the chief of staff of the Afghan foreign minister and a part-time lecturer at Kabul University. In 2002, she was accredited as lecturer in the faculty of journalism in Kabul University. She  is also the author of two journalistic books: “The interesting World of News” and “Ethics and Law in Journalism” which are currently taught at the Journalism Faculty, of the University.

Ambassador Bakhtari, In an exclusive interview with the The Oslo Times International News Network, spoke to the network’s editor-in-chief Hatef Mokhtar, about the present scenario in Afghanistan and the challenges the country faces as a new democracy.

The Excerpts below are an edited version of the interesting talk that followed:

The Oslo Times (TOT), would like to firstly state that it is an honor and privilege to do this exclusive interview with you, and  we really appreciate that  you were able to slot this short rendezvous with TOT, into your busy schedule.

After 2014, the coalition forces are slated to leave Afghanistan. This means that the Afghan Army will soon have to take over national security. But are they capable of handling the growing threats and challenges both in and outside the country?

First of all let me thank you for giving me this opportunity to voice my opinions through Oslo times.

map_of_afghanistanAfghanistan has begun a new chapter in its history. Firstly, the withdrawal of the ISAF from the country and then the
presidential elections have marked a new pages in the country’s history, as the two parties form a coalition government, which I think will be welcomed and handled very well by the Afghan security forces, as well by the government and Afghan citizens.Afghanistan had established the National security forces for quite long time. They have received training and mentoring from the International community and from Afghan experts.Let me also add,  that it is now time for us to take over our own responsibilities. As we are seeking-Afghan leadership and ownership. So, it means that we need to now become more capable and competent. Also, it has been quite a while that our security forces have taken full responsibility of the security in the country and they have proven that they are capable of defending the nation at times of crisis.

 What challenges do you think the new government will face?

We hope the new government will strengthen democratic beliefs. I think installing and practicing democracy across the country is a big challenge on its own.

However, the peaceful transfer of power from one government to another, proves that we are on the right path despite the allegations that the election was rigged. Though I really cannot comment on this,  I  think the Independent Election Commission will be able answer to these allegations.However, the Afghan Government was neutral in its stance with the Election commission.  Because, independent observers have said that the election was not fair nor transparent, the authenticity of the election results has been questioned.AFGHANISTAN-ELECTIONWe need to put that behind us, as a new chapter in the Afghan history unfolds. I am both happy and positive that a new democratic government has been installed, because, this new government is the reflection of the peoples mandate.On  the other hand, Afghanistan needs combat ethnic intolerance, and, though it’s really too early to judge the government I am certain our political parties will work together on strengthening Democracy and unity in Afghanistan. Hopefully, they will bring about positive change in the country.

You know Afghanistan is taking a very good step towards democracy and we have a strong civil society so, hopefully, the civil societies will play the role of the opposition.  I believe that the Afghan people are smarter than they were in the yesteryears and, that a great opposition will be born from civil society.

I am pretty optimistic in this regard, and I agree that every government should have an opposition, as oppositions are also a  part of democracy.

 If both the contestants who fought each other in the elections, agree on a mutual government than where is the opposition?

You know Afghanistan is taking a very good step towards democracy and we have a strong civil society so, hopefully, the civil societies will play the role of the opposition.  I believe that the Afghan people are smarter than they were in the yesteryears and, that a great opposition will be born from civil society.

I am pretty optimistic in this regard, I also agree that every government should have an opposition, as oppositions are also a  part of democracy.

 How will the cabinet be formed, will it include ethnic tribal  groups and systems or will it constitute of intellectuals from various walks of life?

I  hope the future government will select people on the basis of knowledge, intellect and expertise and not only on the basis of ethnicity/tribes. I am confident that both the parties will choose cabinet members who will lead their ministries efficiently and who will be able to meet and mitigate the challenges of  modern day Afghanistan Today the People of Afghanistan require ministers who know their work and who are experts in their field. I am sure that in the future our cabinet will be formed on the basis of expertise and not nepotism. I am happy that people today understand that it is very important for the government to be formed by people who are educated and who can lead Afghanistan towards peace and prosperity.

Since both the parties have extremely educated party members I am certain that our new ministers will be well equipped to handle their ministries with ease.

What is the situation of women rights in Afghanistan, today?

The society in Afghanistan is patriarchal and therefore it is a male  dominated society where women were not entitled to their rights. Fortunately, in the last 12 years we have seen a dramatic improvement in the situation of women in Afghanistan.

All employment sectors in Afghanistan have observed a substantial growth in women employees. Be it the education, media, government or Non-Government sectors, there has been a  rise in women employment rates.

Today we can proudly say that despite, everything we have 28 percent representation of women in the parliament including women ministers, as well as a lot of women our diplomatic sectors. We have 100s of women journalists and human right activists around the country. So, over the years, we have seen improvement in the situation of women in our society.
Today, we have  a new generation of women who are very bold, educated and intellectual. Many of them have completed their academic studies from both inside and outside Afghanistan. When we look at this achievement it shows us how the society in Afghanistan is evolving. We now see our women as the driving force towards a  democratic, peaceful and prosperous nation. The Establishment of Ministry of Women Affairs, Independent Human Rights Commission in 2001, the presence of women in cabinet, parliament, provincial councils, the National Action Plan for Women in Afghanistan, Afghanistan National Development Strategy, Protocol of forced marriages and child marriages elimination on November 24, 2005, Commission of elimination violence against Women on 9th July 2003, accession and ratification of all discrimination against women on 5th March 2003 are some examples of  government efforts to curb gender inequality.

Despite this progress, we still have lots of more to do to improve the lives of women in the country. Over the years our women have faced violence, extremism, illiteracy and therefore we still have a lot to do, especially in the rural regions where societal norms still prevent women from taking the next step.

Like I have already mentioned, Afghanistan has always been a patriarchal country, because of this women have been considered as marginalized and second-class citizens. So we need time to change the minds and attitudes of people. However, this is just the beginning of a new era for us and I am confident that in the years to come women will be seen as equals. And gender inequality will be a thing of the past.

 Can you please shed light on the state of Human Rights in Afghanistan, Today?

In every nation, the constitutional law protects the  rights of the people. With the dawn of this new democracy, we hope to reinstate the fundamental rights of all our citizens.However, it is easier said than done, as we have gone through years of civil unrest, which has destroyed our economic sectors, especially in the rural regions which are mostly dependent on agriculture. Old traditions and way of life is still prevalent in the rural regions so it really will not be easy to establish the practice of human rights. Nevertheless, I am certain that our government will work vigilantly on establishing and implementing laws that protect the rights of the people in every nook-and-cranny of the country.

Since the start of the American War on Terror in Afghanistan, there have been reports of serious violation of human rights, undermining the country’s progress and position in the international platform. What’s your reading of the situation?

I do not agree with the way you have asked your question. It was not only an American war on terror in Afghanistan. Like what, president Obama said, it is not a war of choice, it  is a war of necessity. The war is against organized terror involvements in our region. Afghanistan is the victim of this terrorism and most of its people are suffering from this stigma.

That is the reason that why the international community is present in Afghanistan. When it comes to the violence and particularly violation of human rights, I must say that Afghanistan has been experiencing  different kinds of violence for centuries.Even I feel that, violence has decreased, in a way. I do not want to hide the fact that violence still exists in the country.

How would you define the role of the peace commission in Afghanistan in ending inter-group armed hostilities, resolving unsettled issues and bridging the gap among the rival groups? How far do you think the commission was successful in achieving its desired goals in establishing peace?

I would like to say that the government of Afghanistan is interested in conducting peace talks in order to bring peace and stability in the country.Now that we have realised that military action alone cannot end a war, a political solution must go shoulder by shoulder with military actions. Peace-making is a process that has its ups and downs. Hopefully, we will be able to reach  a consensus in this regard.

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The Iranian Government has been accused of training and supporting the Taliban, what are your views on this?

I have, of course, heard a lot of such  claims but, these are just claims. According to the information I have from our national security, these are just hoaxes.However, of course, there is some kind of interference but we can’t really say that they are training the Taliban. That is just a baseless accusation until proven otherwise.Afghanistan is a very responsible country and we do not want to hold other countries responsible for something on a basis of information that might as well just be a tall-tale. We want a good relationship with all our neighbors including Pakistan.

 The relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan remains unimproved despite frequent reconciliatory efforts and cross-border threats proved detrimental to the interests of both the countries. So what’s your opinion about the future of the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and how will those challenges be addressed? 

Afghanistan and Pakistan are neighbors. They know that any kind of conflict and war will hurt both the countries. Without a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot survive. There are many challenges which need to be addressed by diplomatic efforts.

The most important challenge is that Pakistan continuously supports Taliban, and has it has affected both the countries so we hope that Pakistan and Afghanistan will come to a mutual understanding.

 How will you define the role played by the media in Afghanistan? Is it negative or positive? Please explain with reasons.

One of the most tremendous achievements we have made in the last 12 years is the freedom of media and freedom of speech. It is interesting to know that there are more than 400 printed newspapers and magazines being published only in Kabul. At the moment, there are more than 30 TV broadcasters and around 1200 Radio stations all over the country. Even comparing to neighboring countries That are amazing. Afghanistan has witnessed  many changes which are the direct result of free media. In general, the role played by the media is very positive, but  we have also seen a few negative sides to the media. A few media houses have taken undue advantage of the free media concept. In my point of view, Media plays three roles in a society: Informing and raising awareness, training, and entertaining, and maintaining a balance between these three aspects is essential. There are times I haven’t been able to find this balance. Free media are an important democratic practice.

 Last but not the least, How are the Bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Norway?

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We share very strong ties with Norway. Our ties with Norway dates back to even earlier than 2003, when Norway opened its Embassy in Afghanistan. The following year in 2004 we established our embassy in Norway.Norway gives around 700 Million Kroner in grants to the Afghan government every year, most of this money is used for humanitarian purposes in Afghan. There are 100s of projects that have been completed and implemented by Norway. Norway has also helped in developing training programs in humanitarian sectors such as, gender equality, and there are tonnes of NGOs active in Afghanistan that have been funded by Norway so the ties between these two countries is very strong.

Apart from that, Norwegian military trainers have helped train our national army. There were around 500 Norwegian troops in Afghanistan, which have all returned to Norway now, but their presence there had helped strengthen our national army.

The People of Afghanistan love Norwegians very much and in February 2013 the Afghan President Hamad Karzai visited Norway on an official visit,  a strategic cooperation between the two countries had been decided and signed.  My experience tells me that the people of Norway are very peaceful with high morality and love of humanity.

 

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  • The views and opinions published in this interview belong solely to the interviewee do not represent any view or opinion held by The Oslo Times International News Network. The Oslo Times practices, defends and promotes freedom of expression. The published interview is in accordance with Article 19 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.