“I think continuing with the transition process will be a very important part of what we will be doing,” says Ambassador Gass. “We will certainly be maintaining the military campaign at a very high momentum, there is no sense of dropping off from that. At the same time I think working with international partners, we will both be hoping to see continuing improvements building on the successes that have already been reached in areas like governance and development where the government of Afghanistan is working increasingly hard to deliver services to its people, to make sure that governance is reaching all parts of Afghanistan,” explains Gass. “That’s a stiff task, but we will have a conference in Tokyo later this year to look at development aspects of Afghanistan and I think that will give us a real opportunity,” he adds.
The Enduring Partnership
A NATO Summit will take place in Chicago this May. The meeting will be the first NATO Summit in the United States since 1999 when the Alliance celebrated its 50th anniversary in Washington. Ambassador Gass says it will be an important gathering.
“I think that it will give us more definition about the relationship between NATO and Afghanistan beyond 2014 and I hope we will be able to achieve greater clarity on, for example, what the Afghan government would like NATO to do in Afghanistan after transition is finished, whether it’s in a role of training and mentoring the Afghan security forces or whatever other functions NATO can assist Afghanistan with,” he says. “I think it will also address issues like how the international community will help to financially support the Afghan security forces in the next few years. That’s not simply a NATO responsibility, that’s a responsibility for the whole international community but I hope at Chicago we will get some clarity on these questions.”
The Afghan National Security forces (ANSF) are increasing in numbers. The target this year is to have 352,000 police and army by October this year. Ambassador Gass says the ANSF are going from strength to strength.
“With the Afghan security forces, what we’re seeing is not only increasing numbers of army and police but we are genuinely seeing greater capability,” he says. “I’ve been looking in the last few days at the way in which Afghan security forces are increasingly, not only taking part in operations but are actually leading in conventional operations in Afghanistan. That is really growing at quite an impressive rate and that is because the capability is growing,” he continues.
Afghan-led peace process
There’s been a lot of talk in the press recently about making peace with the Taliban. Ambassador Gass says any negotiations over peace have to be Afghan-led.
“If we are seeing signs of some movement which might lead to a political process then that must be a good thing,” the Ambassador explains. He goes on, “but it’s a good thing as long as it follows certain requirements. One requirement which has been made very clear by the government of Afghanistan, but also by key international partners such as the United States, is that this has to be an Afghan-led process and I’m confident that this will be an Afghan-led process because frankly a peace process led by foreigners, whoever they might be, would simply not deliver the sort of peace which Afghanistan needs, it has to be Afghan to Afghan,” he explains.
Simon Gass, a former British Ambassador to Iran, has been in the job 9 months.
He says, “it’s a challenging job but it’s also one which is always interesting, the picture is always changing a bit and over all, it is encouraging. I really feel we are making progress in Afghanistan. There are still lots of challenges ahead, that’s what makes the job interesting. There are lots of possibilities where we can’t tell exactly what will happen but I firmly believe the course of action we are on, the path we are on, is the right one and I believe that we will get a positive outcome and if that is the case then I think that all of us who have been in Afghanistan and have worked with our partners to achieve that, will get a sense of satisfaction.”