Interview With Zheela Noori of VOA

James F. Dobbins
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Washington, DC
July 7, 2014

VOA: Today was a very important day in Afghanistan. I’m sure you have already called on the results.

Your reaction to the Afghan elections which announced today?

Ambassador Dobbins: We were disappointed that the announcement didn’t also include agreement on a set of further audit measures that need to be taken to address the substantial allegations of fraud that have been made by both campaigns. We would have preferred that the announcement be postponed until there was agreement on those further audit measures. There are several million ballots that still need to be carefully examined, so we’re not sure what the point was of announcing a result while you still had that much work to do.

The UN has proposed a series of audit measures. Both campaigns are largely agreeing with the UN proposal. But it’s not necessary for the campaigns to agree. It’s the responsibility of the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaint Commission to take these measures, whether or not the campaigns or the candidates agree.

So we’re urging them to go ahead and take the measures that the UN has recommended and we believe they need to do it quickly if we’re going to meet the August 2nd date which is scheduled for the inauguration of the new president.

VOA: Can you respond, what is the negotiated agreement? What does the U.S., if they have supported a political solution involving the power sharing between the two candidates?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think there are two things that are necessary. First is a legitimate process designating the person who has been chosen by the Afghan people; and secondly, equally necessary, a discussion between the main parties and the leaders in Afghanistan in order to construct a government of national unity that includes all of the major elements of Afghan society. So we believe that the process needs to go forward to an acceptable conclusion which is legitimate and respected by the Afghan people, and at the same time, the process of government formation needs to go forward with a view to ensuring that the government is broadly representative and secures the active support of all elements of Afghan society.

VOA: Then the question comes with [inaudible] two candidates. Both are trying to stick to their positions. Like Abdullah Abdullah continues to [inaudible] the election process. So what are the worst concerns if this process continues?

Ambassador Dobbins: We’re hopeful that it will continue. We want the process to go forward, to examine these charges of fraud, to disallow those ballots that are clearly fraudulent, and to designate a winner. We want political discussions between the two candidates and between the two campaigns also to go forward. That discussion has already begun. So the resultant government is one that’s broadly based.

Clearly if either or both of these efforts fail, Afghanistan would be badly divided and this would have a very deleterious effect on the process for peace and prosperity in that country and for the continued commitment of not just the United States but the entire international community to Afghanistan’s security and prosperity.

VOA: You mentioned about the question of ballots. Do you think, do you have faith in the ability of the Afghan Election Commission to carry out such a task and produce a credible outcome?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think that if they begin the audits now they can carry it out within the time frame envisaged. The UN has offered its technical assistance and is prepared to act as an advisor and also to observe the process to ensure that it does meet the best, broad international standards.

VOA: What is important for election results to be seen as credible and widely accepted by Afghan people?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think there are two things that are required. First of all that the electoral institutions need to examine and then dispose of these charges of fraud which have been made by both campaigns, some of which are clearly well justified. It needs to disallow those ballots that are the product of fraud and come to a conclusion that’s seen by the Afghan people to be transparent and legitimate.

Secondly, there needs to be continued discussion among all of the Afghan parties to ensure that you have a broadly based government of national unity.

VOA: Why are you stepping down at a critical time, and also the divisions [inaudible] and new Afghan [inaudible]?

Ambassador Dobbins: There are always agenda items on the U.S.-Afghan agenda. If you waited until everything was solved you’d be here forever. This is the second time I’ve been Special Envoy for Afghanistan, having done this for the first time back in 2001. I agreed to do it for a year when I was asked to come out of retirement. I’ve now been several months more than that year, and I feel it’s time to pass the baton and allow my successor to begin to address some of these. But I do hope that before the end of the month when I leave that the election issue can be resolved to everybody’s satisfaction.

VOA: The other question comes [inaudible] Washington [inaudible] when you were the principal there. What do you think caused the dificult relationship between Kabul and Washington?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think there were misunderstandings and there were allegations which I think were somewhat unfair. But I don’t want to exaggerate the difficulties. We have cooperated very closely with the government of Afghanistan over the past year. We’ve had a major partnership in the security sphere, in the economic sphere, in the social sphere. Afghanistan has continued to make progress over the last year. Its security forces have continued to improve. Its economy has continued to grow, albeit it a little more slowly than was the case before. And the society has continued to make great strides in terms of democracy, in terms of human rights, in terms of the freedom and the level of prosperity of its citizens. We’ve cooperated in this despite our differences over the past year, and I’m hopeful that we will continue to do so well after I leave my current office.

VOA: Thank you so much. The last question, where do you see the future of Afghanistan in five or ten years?

Ambassador Dobbins: I think if we can get over this current electoral impasse, if Afghanistan produces a government that has broad support within Afghanistan from all sectors of the community, that it will also continue to receive support from the international community. I think it will continue to grow economically. Perhaps not as fast as it has over the last decade, but it will still continue to grow. I think social progress will continue and be consolidated. It will become one of the few democracies in the region and in that sense an example to many of its neighbors.

VOA: Anything else to add?

Ambassador Dobbins: No.

VOA: Thank you very much.

Ambassador Dobbins: My pleasure.