Transcript of Ambassador Olson’s interview with TOLO news (April 10, 2016)

April 10, 2016

TOLO NEWS: Ambassador Olson, thank you for your time and welcome to Kabul.

AMB. OLSON: It is very nice to be back. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Afghanistan and the United States signed a strategic partnership agreement in May 2012 and then a bilateral security agreement two years later in September 2014. Some Afghans are still skeptical that the two agreements resulted in positive changes in their lives. Explain to them what the two countries have achieved since signing those two accords.

AMB. OLSON: The purpose of the enduring strategic partnership is to demonstrate to the Afghan people that we are committed to remaining engaged with Afghanistan, and I would say that Secretary Kerry’s visit yesterday was an important example of that. We held a meeting of the bilateral commission in which we reviewed the work of three working groups that have been focused on making life better for the Afghan people. And I would highlight a couple of other areas where there have been important developments and actions taken by the government of the United States. First of all, President Obama’s decision last year to extend 9,800 U.S. forces through this summer, and to keep a residual force of 5,500 beginning next year; I think that is an important signal of our ongoing commitment.

We are also working with other members of the International Community to address two big conferences that are coming up this year; The NATO Summit in Warsaw, and the European Union’s Development Conference on Afghanistan in Brussels in October. These are two conferences where the International Community will come together and express solidarity with Afghanistan, first on the security side, and then on the development side.

QUESTION: President Karzai refused to sign the bilateral security agreement arguing that it would not bring peace to Afghanistan, and in the past 18 months since signing the BSA it was the deadliest for Afghan civilians. 12,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives, were killed and wounded. And 40 Afghan security forces lost their lives on average every day and thousands of Afghans left the country. Is that the part of legacy of this agreement? If not, what was the loophole?

AMB. OLSON: I would say that what the events of the past year show is that it is really important to the Taliban to come to the table and to make peace. This is what United States and the other countries of the Quadrilateral Coordinating Group have called for. The United States is committed to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process. All the members of the quad, including Afghanistan, have signaled that they are prepared to enter a peace process without any preconditions. But, unfortunately, the Taliban have not taken up the offer to come to the table. So Secretary Kerry yesterday called on the Taliban to enter peace negotiations with the government of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Do you think the Taliban were pushed enough to come to the negotiations table?

AMB. OLSON: We have repeatedly called on them and we will be in a position of supporting the government of Afghanistan as it takes appropriate measures to defend itself against the Taliban. But we continue to believe in peace and reconciliation as the best way forward for Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Let’s come back to the Government of National Unity. It is widely known that it was the U.S. government who created this setup in Afghanistan and your boss Secretary Kerry is known as the father of the NUG in Afghanistan. And the National Unity Government’s sustainability is the question today. So the question is whether it was the right blueprint or prescription for Afghanistan?

AMB. OLSON: Well, I think Secretary Kerry was very clear about this in his discussions here, including in his media appearances. We continue to believe in the importance of the National Unity Government.  We accept that there were some political costs, and the Secretary was very clear on that. He expressed appreciation to President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah for the commitment they had shown to putting the nation first – above their political ambitions – and we continue to believe that the National Unity Government has a way forward. It is in 18 months into its five-year term. We do not believe that it expires and we continue to support the National Unity Government.

QUESTION: the National Unity Government promised to bring massive electoral reforms in its first year and now we are in the second year. A parliamentary election has to happen to make sure the Loya Jirga is going to happen by September 2016. They are not happening. So, why the deal is not implemented?

AMB. OLSON: Well, these are the questions – of course – you have to direct to the National Unity Government. I think President Ghani was very clear yesterday when he pointed out that there have been some electoral reforms undertaken. I believe by means of presidential proclamation there have been some changes in personnel in the electoral commissions. The timing of elections is up to Afghans and we will be supportive of the decisions that they make with regard to elections but we do think that it will be useful and important to have elections.

QUESTION: So nothing would change, you are saying, if there is no election this year and no Loya Jirga. Business is going to continue as usual.

AMB. OLSON: Well, what I am saying is that those decisions are up to the people of Afghanistan and the government of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: What is going to happen to CEO Abdullah if we look at the political framework on the 30th September 2016?

AMB. OLSON: Well, as my boss, Secretary Kerry was very clear yesterday and he is someone who as you noted before was very involved in the brokering in the National Unity Government and bringing together President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, there is no expiration date for the National Unity Government as it has a 5 year term. The president and the Chief Executive at the time agreed on some goals and there has been a lot that has happened since that time and they have done a lot to move the country forward. But there is no question that the government does not expire in September.

QUESTION: Ambassador Olson, you served in Pakistan for two years, and in Afghanistan as well, and you know both countries well. And recently the four-nation talks began and you attended some of them. Why it did not result into a continued process? Why it stopped?

AMB. OLSON: Well, it has not stopped. The Quadrilateral Group has met a number of times and has made some very important steps forward.  It has agreed on terms of reference and a roadmap for peace and has called several times for the Taliban to come to the table and we continue to call for the Taliban to come to the table. The Quadrilateral Group was convened to test the proposition that the Taliban be prepared to come to the table and negotiate. Unfortunately, they have chosen not to come to the table but we continue to call on them to come to the table.

QUESTION: You think Pakistan is pushing them enough or specifically if I ask is ISI supporting the Taliban?

AMB. OLSON: Well, Pakistan is critical to the peace process, and we commend the approach that both the government of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan have taken to come together on these issues, and Pakistan has been an important member of the Quadrilateral Group.

QUESTION: And the ISI you think is still enjoying a relationship to the Taliban?

AMB. OLSON: Well, I don’t know what the particulars are of the operations of the intelligence agencies.  But what is important I think is that Pakistan has been a good partner on peace process issues. We encourage Pakistan to use its leverage and influence to help bring the Taliban to the table.

QUESTION:  I’ve my last question, Mr. Ambassador, how concerned are you with the emerging threat in Afghanistan called Daesh, in eastern Afghanistan? How serious is the threat for Afghanistan and for U.S. interests?

AMB. OLSON: I think all of us have to be vigilant about appearance of Daesh anywhere in the world and I think it is very important that Afghanistan has joined the global coalition against ISIL. And we will be very supportive of the government of Afghanistan in dealing with any threats that emanate in this sector.

TOLO NEWS: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.

AMB. OLSON: Thank you very much.