VOA Afghan Service Chief Masood Farivar interviewed Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington, Oct. 10, 2014.
Q: Mr. Secretary thank you for joining us. Before we get to our conversation about Afghanistan, I wanted to get your reaction to Malalai Yousufzai’s winning of the Noble Peace Prize.
A: I think it’s terrific and shared of course with Kailash Satyarthi. I think the two of them together represent an incredibly appropriate statement about the importance of women and children. And of course Malalai has been a courageous and incredible spokesperson for the rights of women and girls, so given what’s happening in Afghanistan and our commitment, deep commitment to empowering women. Now so many girls in school, so many women in every business it's really a very important part of the future of the country and no country can maximize its potential and opportunities with half of its population pushed to the sidelines. So I think both of these awardees represent a tremendous statement about the importance for all governments in the world to be focused on women and children.
Q: Turning to Afghanistan you have been credited with almost miraculously saving the country from plunging into a civil war, how did you pull it off?
A: Right it’s not me pulling it off. It’s really a tribute to the people of Afghanistan who were incredibly patient during a very long, and drawn out, difficult election process, and to the statesmanship of both now president Ghani and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah the CEO. I think they came together with a deep realization that they needed to be patriots that they needed to lift Afghanistan. I mean we could exhort and push and we did believe me, but they have to make decisions and I think they made the right decisions and now Afghanistan hopefully has this opportunity to define its future and that's what's important.
Q: How confident are you that the national unity government will stand up and won’t require further intervention by you in the future?
A: I think you know expressing notes of confidence is not what's important here I'm very hopeful obviously but in the end it will depend on the leaders, it will depend on their teams, it would depend on staying focused not on patronage and smaller political issues but staying focused on the big issues that confront Afghanistan, and being determined to try to find the high ground for all of Afghanistan. And I think if they stay focused that way this can be very, very productive. We of course are prepared to be cooperative, and work, and support and you know we care enormously we have a great, great respect for the very tortured difficult journey that Afghans have traveled these last years. Now for it might be twenty five years of war I mean this has been a long process. I would hope Afghans themselves would just be tired of the violence, and tired of the war, and reject wholly reject those who engage in it. Make it clear that they want to participate in an open political process, that they want to be able to speak freely, and organize freely, and be part of a vibrant political process. And history has shown that where that happens countries are stronger and the people have greater dignity and respect and opportunity and that’s in the end what this is really about.
Q: You spent countless hours and days trying to broker a deal between the two candidates. Was there a moment that you feared you might lose the battle?
A: You know I am eternal optimist so I don’t, I can't tell you that I ever thought we wouldn’t get there, but there were moments of great difficulty and, and sometimes even exasperation. But in the end I really felt that the candidates needed to do exactly what they did which is put Afghanistan above all else and I think both of them made tough decisions and I have great respect for them for having done so. Now the challenge is to bring the country fully together around a common agenda. I think the first steps of articulating that agenda for economic reform, for growth, and development for electoral reform, for inclusivity have been very important and I think they're off to the right start.
Q: Cabinet formation how important is that?
A: Well it’s always very important. You have to build a team that can implement. You have to build a team that can work together. And as doctor Ghani said many times, you know he didn’t want to build a government that by definition couldn’t work. So putting that team together is obviously very important.
Q: Most Americans seem to care very little about Afghanistan. Of all the global hotspots, why did you and the president choose to invest so much political capital in Afghanistan?
A: Well for a lot of reasons; first of all, Afghanistan is important as a country in and of itself in its history. We have all grown to have great respect as I said this has been a long journey for Afghans and they have fought and do fight with courage for their independence, for their sovereignty, for their dignity and their future, and we didn't want to turn our backs on that. Number two it is an important broad commitment of the global community; I mean ISAF is represented by more than fifty nations, the United Nations; there are many countries that have an interest in a peaceful stable Afghanistan. China, Russia, the neighbors to the north, the neighbor to the South India others, all have an interest in an Afghanistan that works. Third we made a commitment, we were deeply involved, our soldiers spend their treasure, their lives their sweat, their days fighting for this freedom and I don't think that was something that either the president or I, or anybody in America wanted to just brush aside. And I think that the importance of Afghanistan as this island in the very critical terms of future trade, movement of goods, the new silk road. The possibility of a stronger trade relationship with India with the svans, with ultimately even to the west all the way through to Iraq and the Israel. All of these things are possibility of the future and I think we wanted to put our, our bet on that future.
Q: And do you see it as a foreign policy success for the evolvement of the administration?
A: Well, I think you know it’s too early to be measuring and counting, and sort of.. You know I think it was a success in that we help resolve a momentary crisis. So it was the winning of a battle but there is still winning of the war writ large not just the counterterrorism component of it, but the economic, the rights, the development of society, the full development of the democracy, this is a long effort but if this is the opening of a wider door to that possibility for the people of Afghanistan and they grab it, then history will hopefully be able the judge that this was a turning point
Q: With regard to U.S.-Afghan relations some analysts believe that president Ghani needs to reach out to Washington to mend fences and put relations back on a good footing. What are your expectations of President Ghani when it comes to relations with the U.S.?
A: First of all, I think people make too much of the differences that exists with President Karzai. President Karzai I thought was a very intelligent, very skilled advocate on behalf of his country and his Interests. It is true that he saw things differently from us in certain ways and sometimes obviously it bothered us a little bit that his perception of our intend or our goals was as divergent from his perception as it was, but that is the way that it is sometimes. All in all President Karzai led his country through a very difficult period. He transitioned peacefully through an election to another government that is historic and he has laid the foundation for president Ghani and the new government to define the next chapter of the Afghan history. So I do not think it’s worth getting caught up on whatever the differences were this is an historic moment for Afghanistan and we all need to pull together including President Karzai, former President Karzai, in order to guarantee the best opportunity for Afghans.
Q: Mr. Secretary we’ve had instances of ISIS inspired violence in Afghanistan, including beheadings of women and children. Are you worried that ISIS if left unchecked could spread its tentacle to Afghanistan, Pakistan?
A: Well it is not going to be left unchecked. I mean the fact is that we are in the process now of building up the coalition. There will be disappointments in the course of that, as we are witnessing Kobane and other places and Anbar and elsewhere. Because it is just ramping up it is just getting going, but I am confident that ISIS is not going to be unchecked we are going to peruse this effort with many allies with many interested parties and in the end ISIL will recognize that the power of justice and of law and rule of law and civility is much more powerful than their hatred and their atrocities.