France is one of the few countries in the world with which Afghanistan has had good and friendly relations since the beginning. The history of Afghanistan’s friendship and relations with France dates back to the years of Afghanistan’s declaration of independence by King Amanullah Khan.
In the last four decades that Afghanistan has been plagued by war and violence, France has not left the Afghan people alone. The Kabul Times have recently conducted an interview with French Ambassador to Kabul, David Martinon, on situations in Afghanistan and the bilateral relations which is as follow:
KT: You celebrated the Bastille Day or your National Day on 14th of July, to what extent this day is important to you and the world? And what can the world, and Afghanistan learn from the democratic and freedom movements in France?
Amb: So, Bastille Day, on 14th of July is a crucial moment in French history because it is the beginning of the first French revolution. There are twin revolutions, the French and the American revolutions. The American revolution started a bit earlier, but it was in a new continent. The difference with French revolution is, that French people decided to change its very old, multicentennial regime. So, it’s very important because it marks the beginning of the process, through which the French people obtained the right to vote, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, equality for all, especially between men and women, and all the rights we used to sum up in our national motto, which is “liberty, equality, fraternity”.
So, lessons for new democracies are that democratic gains are not easy. They usually come with revolutions, with wars, with fighting, with blood being spilled, but on the long run there is not going back. I mean, there are step backs and there were step backs in French history, but others revolutions later in the 19th century led to the establishment of the France Republic in 1875.
The lesson for our Afghan friends is that, since they first made huge progress in terms of political and social rights since 2002, and though the Islamic republic of Afghanistan is obviously a work in progress, I don’t think any step backs could last for a long time. There maybe step backs or there has been step backs, but on the long run, we can only see progress.
I am thinking of that, because of course, we hear what the Taliban are doing in the areas they control: they refuse the girls go to schools sometimes after the age of 12. Well, I am absolutely certain that this can’t last on the long run. There is no place in the world, where girls cannot go to schools. And you know during King Amanullah Khan’s time, after he declared the independence of Afghanistan in 1919, two years later, he started implementing some structural public policies, and among them, were public educational programs. He was absolutely convinced, that without education, there would be no national sentiment, no national unity in Afghanistan. And for him, public education was intended for boy and girls as well.
KT: In such a circumstance that Afghanistan has been witnessing increasing violence and takeover of some districts by Taliban, do you think the recent achievements, particularly the democratic processes and freedom movements would be protected, and Taliban would pose no threats to such values?
Amb: We call on Taliban to respect that, we call on Taliban to respect the progress that the Afghans made during the last twenty years. We know that Afghan people are extremely attached to these rights. They may have been disappointed sometimes, but they do not want to go back to a regime that actually belongs to other centuries.
KT: But If Taliban do not respect and undermine the achievements made so far with the help of international community, what will be the reactions of France and the allies?
Amb: First of all, Taliban have not won the war, the war is ongoing, and we are confident that the afghan national army will eventually prevail. Most of all, we hope that there will be a political settlement through a peace process -a real one, not a fake one-, in which both parties genuinely enter into discussions, and genuinely try to make progress and find political solutions.
If Taliban believe that they will be in a position to control Afghanistan, as a whole, they are wrong. Afghanistan is not a country anyone can control like that. People here having their own character, their own pride, and we are pretty sure that the Afghans will be so attached to their rights, political and social rights, that they won’t eventually accept a regime that do not respect them.
KT: But in practice they are doing different things. Since US-Taliban deal, the group committed not to attack major cities, media and right activists, but contrary to their promises, they have been attacking cities, right activists and media. As per reports, they have limited media activities in the areas under their control, do you think US-Taliban deal is the biggest issue now, as the group now seeking international legitimacy?
Amb: They haven’t got this international legitimacy, it’s not because some countries have talks with them and are trying to educate them to what the reality of the world is, that they have gained legitimacy. Yes, you are right, according to what we see on the ground and the reports we have, they continue targeted assassinations, they kill civilians, they keep looting, they destroy buildings and put them on fire, they destroy infrastructures of communications and power, they repress the human rights of women and girls in some of the areas they control.
They repress public and private media outlets and try to control them. All these are facts, and they are absolutely unacceptable. They won’t gain legitimacy by acting like that.
KT: In your message on the occasion of Bastille Day, you asked Taliban to shun violence and end destruction of vital infrastructures.
KT: But they are doing it now, and do you think they will end and what is their goal behind that?
Amb: They should start considering that this is their own country: the investments that the Afghan people and the international community have made over the past twenty years and sometimes earlier than that-, there is no assurance that we will commit to do them again. When they destroy a bridge, how they can assure that this bridge will be rebuilt? If they destroy a road, how they will be sure that anyone will get interested in rebuilding that one that was destroyed by Taliban? They should start considering this is their own country. If they pretend that they act on behalf of the Afghan people, they should have in mind, most of all, the prosperity of their people.
KT: France is the permanent member of UNSC, how you can put pressure on the group to shun violence or stop destruction of these vital infrastructures? Particularly, as they [Taliban] are asking for removal of their leaders’ names from UN blacklist?
Amb: Sure, the position of France on the delisting of the sanctions is that we haven’t got any indication that it would be to legitimate, according to international human rights, to lift these sanctions, precisely because of what the Taliban are doing now. If they want to see change in the position of the United National Security Council, maybe they should start changing their behavior and stop violating human rights.
KT: When Afghan government released 5 thousand of Taliban prisoners, France was the first to oppose releasing some of these prisoners. Now the group demand another 7 thousand to be released, don’t you think this is behind intensification of violence in Afghanistan?
Amb: No, I think the intensification of violence in the country is self-explanatory. They want to control the country and they want to cease the power by force; it is not about prisoners. It’s just an excuse and it’s just an invalid reason. As much as about the UN sanctions, we see absolutely no reason to change our position on the question of the release of the prisoners. But on this matter, we do not have a say. It’s the responsibility of the Afghan government, and we understand that they are not prepared, fortunately, to release these five or seven thousands prisoners.
KT: Afghans have been blaming Pakistan for support of the terror groups, especially when Afghan forces wanted to carry out attack against insurgents in Spin Boldak, near crossing with Pakistan, but they were warned by Pakistani army and the airstrike could not happen. Do you acknowledge Pakistani supports to the militant groups, and why international community failed to demolish terror safe havens and prevent their resurgence after 2001?
Amb: There are several points. First of all, I must say that we haven’t had access to the Pakistanis authorities’ position on the Spin Boldak incidents, we just have the word of the Afghan government. We would like to have the expression and position of the Pakistani government.
Second, it is obvious that the base of the insurgency is in Quetta. Everyone knows that and that is a fact that cannot be discussed. Three: I have repeatedly said that it would be unwise for the Afghans to keep on rejecting the blame of the current situation in Afghanistan, on the Pakistan and other neighboring countries. Should the Afghan leaders and should the Afghan people demonstrate unity, no foreign nation or regional power would have ever dared to interfere into Afghan politics.
KT: Previously you mentioned about step backs in democratic gains, Contrary to their remarks, Taliban have been banning schools for girls and torturing women in their held areas, are you worry about Afghan women’s rights, especially in the peace process and in post peace era?
Amb: We are extremely concerned about women’s and girls’ rights. I said that repeatedly. You know that education for both girls and boys is right, it is a duty and it is a necessity.
It is a right because there is absolutely no valid reason to prevent girls’ access to education. Second, it’s a duty for the country, and third, it is a necessity, because if you want to build prosperity in the country, you need everyone on board. You need skilled women, you need talented women, you need courageous women, And women are courageous, especially in Afghanistan. They are game changers. They are the ones that bring something new to the table. As for the fantastic gains that have been made in the last twenty years, it is thanks to the inclusion of women in Afghan society. I don’t see any country that achieved prosperity without the inclusion of women.
KT: Do you see any possibility to protect their rights, as you said you are worried about, and Taliban have never allowed women to take part in society?
Amb: There are several layers to your answer. The first one is about the peace process. I am particularly confident that the ladies who are part of the negotiating team of the republic, are smart, courageous, skilled and have high moral standards. Habiba Sarabi has been invited to Paris three weeks ago, for a major international forum on gender equality, presided by French president Macron, just before whom she spoke. She has a very impressive character. The French republic awarded her a prize, which was for women who are bringing change in terms of gender equality. She is the kind of woman who can make a change. She is incredibly respected, and I am just picking her name, but the others are made of the same substance, Ms. Gailani and all the others. I have no doubt that they will know exactly what to say during the peace process.
Now, on the long run, as I said earlier, we are concerned. Since I arrived here, in 2018, I kept on repeating to all Afghan leaders that no man can ever imagine that he will manage to contain women’s effort towards empowerment. Repressing their rights is not only stupid and morally unbearable. It is also, fortunately, doomed! Because whatever happens, women will cease the opportunities to move forward and they will establish their own space, as they have done everywhere in the world. This is very promising thing. You can’t repress women; on the long run they will make sure that they have the same rights as men.
KT: Can you briefly tell us about your assistance and development programs for Afghanistan since 2001 and how much did you spend here?
Amb: We have been extremely active in agricultural development, on very specific and concrete programs. For example, there are many honey makers in Afghanistan, thanks to the French support in this area. There have also been active on other areas too, like in cotton and textiles. We have been extremely active since 1920s in the field of health cooperation. No later than in the 1920’s, the French government brought Afghan students to France : we trained and educated them in the best French medical faculties. For example, the father of Zalmay Rasul, former minister of foreign affairs and current ambassador to London, was one of the first Afghan students that was invited to France. Zalmay Rasul, himself, who is a doctor, was trained in France. In the new generations, we have Dr. Najibullah Bina, who is the chief surgeon at the French Medical Institute for the Mother and Child, and who is probably, today, one of the most talented cardiac surgeons in the world.
The best cardiac surgeons perform around 140 surgeries a year, but Najibullah performs 280 surgeries a year. So, he is probably one of the best in the world. I have seen him working and making miracles on Afghan babies.
We have also been very active in the field of educational cooperation. We started two schools here, Malalai and Estiqlal, and we have been supporting teachers here and all over the country through French NGOs And of course we keep on welcoming Afghan students to France. This is what we are doing currently.
Then, the historic cooperation program that we have been pursuing since the first days in 1922, and which is the first reason that we came to Afghanistan officially, is the archeological program. We also worked on the electrifications through French troops in Surobi and Kapisa. We are bond together with Afghanistan by a treaty of friendship and cooperation.
KT: Afghanistan and France are going to celebrate their 100th years of diplomatic relations in the coming year, so I would like to know about your biggest achievements in the last 100 years in Afghanistan and particularly in post-Taliban era?
Amb: This is up to Afghans to decide what is the best achievement and what was the most important for them. But what I can say is that the longest -lasting cooperation is the archeological cooperation. Which is dear to all senior Afghan leaders, to President, Dr. Abdullah, Former President Karzai, Vice President Danish, all of them are extremely interested in what DAFA has been doing.
In 1921, two years after your independence, King Amanullah thought that to be able to create a national sentiment, a national unity, Afghans needed to know their own history, to know how deep and how rich the Afghan identity is. So, this was the reason he asked French archeologists to come and start excavating in Afghanistan. The first authorization of excavation was given to DAFA in 1922. French archeologists started in Balkh, and then they worked all around the country, in Bamyan, in Bagram, right now they are working on the Bala Hissar in Kabul, Hajj Pyada mosque in Balkh, they are in Mes Aynak, they are in Lashkar Gah for the restoration of the Arch of Bust, they are consulted on the Minaret of Jam, they are in Herat for Sultan Hussain Bayqara Madrassa.
They unveiled treasures and helped Afghans realize their past, which is Islamic of course, is also Greek, thanks to the heritage of Alexander the Great. It was Buddhist, because Afghanistan is the place for the first times of Buddhism. It showed notably what was in the kingdom of Herat, until the 16th century, and how rich was Afghanistan and how creative the culture and art were at that time.
Meanwhile, to commemorate 100 years of our relations and DAFA work, the Guimet Museum in France, dedicated to Arts of Asia, will present an exhibition of Afghan arts. We are proud of it and we are working on it now. The ambition of this exhibition is to give the whole world access to Afghan rich heritage.
KT: You started your presence in Afghansitan with archaeological activities, mainly through DAFA, do you think your works and the cultural heritage of Afghanistan is at risk amid surge in Taliban violence?
Amb: I hope it’s not, but we always have to keep in mind what happened to great Buddhas of Bamyan. Their destruction was a disaster for the whole world. A complete disaster. So, should the Afghan government ask us for help to keep secure the masterpieces of Afghan history, I am pretty sure that we will find ways to help him.
KT: The Civil Aviation Authority announced yesterday that Radar systems have been purchased and arrived in Afghanistan from France. Do you see any capacity in Afghan young generation and the Afghan government to control its air space?
Amb: Well, this is the objective. I was there in January 2019 when the contracts were signed between the then Afghan civil aviation director general and the representative from Thales, at the presidential palace, in the presence of President Ghani.
The project aims at providing the Civil Aviation, a complete control and full sovereignty on Afghanistan skies. Thanks to the ability of the Afghan Civil Aviation to control the air traffic over Afghanistan, it will allow commercial planes to cross the country, in a much more efficient way. It will produce not only full control over the Afghan skies, but also substantial revenues to the Afghan State year after year. So, it’s a fantastic project, to the benefit of the Afghan people.
KT: You asked your citizens to leave Afghanistan, don’t you think this would hamper the friendly ties between the two countries and the development process?
Amb: I don’t think so. We are not the first one to do that. We issued that statement two months ago. Because we were concerned that Taliban may attack the cities back in May. Because we had read the threats issued by the Quetta shura, and that was the intelligence we had at that time. . The Taliban said that if the withdrawal of Resolute Support Mission was not done on May 1st, they would react and raise the level of violence. So that was the concern and the reason we asked French people to leave the territory. It was the same for the Italian, and British embassies and many other missions. Then we took care of our Afghan colleagues, at French embassy, because we thought that they might be in danger, and we issued the statement for the remaining French. Not all of them left.
KT: But your programs will continue?
Amb: The history of the French presence in Afghanistan showed that we always had to consider the situation and adjust to it. Back in 1994, we had to quickly close the embassy, because of the war in Kabul. We did not fully open it during the Talib emirate, but we had a Chargé d’ affaires who would come every one or two month to Kabul, to open the embassy, have contacts with the French NGOs to see if everything was OK, and to meet with the de-facto authorities, to make sure the NGOs wouldn’t be harassed by them.
We were completely back at the end of 2001. You can see that the history of our presence in Afghanistan is to try and make it work, but always adjusting to the situation. Right now, the situation is dangerous for our citizens, and this is my responsibility to make sure that no French citizen is harmed.
KT: Do you have any message for the Afghan young generation?
Amb: Keep the faith, be courageous, fight for your own country, fight for your rights, fight for your values, be confident that what you have achieved in last twenty years will not vanish.: you will be able to protect your rights.
KT: Thank you so much Mr. Ambassador
Amb: My pleasure