EurasiaNet: Can you comment on the recent series of arrests and the links with [former Defense Minister] Wahidullah Sabauon? McColl: I've spoken with Mr. Sabauon, and he has assured me that he is separate from [former colleague and current dissident outlaw] Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The view he expressed to me was that he supports the fight against terrorism and the presence of coalition forces in Afghanistan, and that he supports the presence of ISAF. He also told me he would not support any physical attacks on ISAF and the people that he harbored did not represent a threat to us. Now, the operation that was conducted against Mr. Sabauon and other people around the city was conducted by an Afghan organization. It was not conducted by ISAF. It was done based on their information and their investigation. [For more information, see related EurasiaNet Q&A].
EurasiaNet: Were there plans to attack exiled former king Mohammed Zahir Shah in the city? McColl: I have not seen any hard information that indicates that's the case. What I do hear, all the time, is a series of rumor and counter-rumors. [You hear about] attacks on ISAF, attacks on the interim administration and attacks on the king. It is quite difficult to pick out which of those allegations is accurate.
EurasiaNet: Are there plans to hand the responsibility for ISAF to other countries? McColl: We have a Turkish reconnaissance party with us at the moment, 45 officers, who are carrying out a detailed analysis of what they would need to be able to do the job. There would have to be a revision of the military technical agreement. If they do take over it would probably be in early May or mid to late June, just after the Loya Jirga [grand council, which will try to establish a government structure for the country and begin a constitutional process].
EurasiaNet: Would other ISAF forces then leave? McColl: Well, the United Nations Security Council resolution [authorizing the force] ends in mid-June but I think it's highly unlikely that it would be discontinued just as the Loya Jirga process has completed. There will be a continuing requirement for security in Kabul to ensure that the next administration has the same secure base that the interim administration has enjoyed.
EurasiaNet: Are there any plans to expand the mandate of ISAF Kabul to other cities? McColl: There does not seem to be a great deal of willingness on the part of the international community to expand ISAF. If it does expand it may evolve in a different way.
EurasiaNet: Are there plans for a long-term presence of ISAF after the Loya Jirga? McColl: The long-term future of ISAF is something the international community needs to address. At the moment, it's going from six-month assignment to six-month assignment. But that's the way the arrangement in Cyprus is going and that's been going on for thirty years.
EurasiaNet: Has the security situation gotten better or have you seen little change? McColl: I think the progress that we've made in the past two months is remarkable. The murder rate here is 50 percent that in Washington DC. The crime rate is decreasing, the commercial life in the city is coming back. Some of the ladies in the city are taking off their burkas [veils]. It seems like everyday there are a few more. It's a good sign that they feel safe enough to take their burkas off. In Central Asian terms, this is a safe city. I don't think that's a perception that's widely appreciated yet.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a freelance
journalist who specializes in Afghan and Iranian affairs.