President: Afghanistan must not slip off international radar

Estonia will be in the vanguard of international efforts to make Afghanistan a safer and more secure place, President Kersti Kaljulaid said during an official visit to that country Wednesday, where the current security situation, and that of the future, was very much on the table.

The president stressed that Estonia, along with the entire international community, will continue to support Afghanistan following the departure of NATO and other allied forces – including close to 50 Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) personnel currently in the country – as announced by U.S. President Joe Biden earlier this month.

President Kaljulaid said, according to a press release from her office, that: "Allied forces have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years now. Coming here in 2001 was justifiable, while leaving now is equally justifiable."

"While have to candidly admit we have not been successful in everything, Afghanistan is certainly a better, more well-functioning country and society today, than it was 20 years ago," she continued, during her meeting with President Ashraf Ghani.

Kaljulaid also stressed a belief that Afghanistan must not slip off the radar post-troop withdrawal, in terms of human rights and democracy.

She said: "The participation of women in society, the quality and availability of medicine and education, the situation regarding human rights, the rule of law and media freedoms; progress has been made in these areas over 20 years. Continued development is a prerequisite for building a functioning Afghan state and society. Estonia is to continue to stand for these values ​​at the UN Security Council, at the EU and in bilateral relations."

Estonia's e-governance expertise was also on the table Wednesday, with both the Afghan delegation and president Ghani's wife, Rula Ghani – in 2015 named by Time magazine on its list of the world's top 100 people – taking an interest in the practical applications of the methodologies and possibilities of the e-state.

Kaljulaid also discussed the greater involvement of women in the organization of social life.

The Estonian head of state also met Gen. Austin S. Miller, U.S. commander of allied forces in Afghanistan (which includes forces from countries outside NATO), and talked over cooperation in what remains of the mission in Afghanistan, and in the process of withdrawal.

The president also noted the dividends contributing to collective security in countries far away has had closer to home.

"We came to Afghanistan together and leave here together. We have fought together, been successful together and suffered losses. Without this mission we would certainly not have such a relationship with our allies; this mission has also made Estonia safer and better protected," the president said, noting that the departure will nonetheless bring tensions of its own, making careful cooperation in the process and its logistics paramount.

The president was most likely referring to the presence of the Taliban, and its ongoing insurgency conflict with the official Afghan government and others.

President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani for his part thanked the Estonian people and the EDF for their contribution, which he said had been a tough process, and expressed his condolences to the families of EDF personnel who have lost their lives in the country since 2003 (when the first EDF troops arrived – ed.).

Both allies and the domestic Afghan administration bear a responsibility to ensuring ongoing peace, and to meet challenges without recourse to military solutions, Kaljulaid said.

"One of the main places where we can, and must, have these discussions is at the UN and the Security Council, where Estonia is championing the issue of Afghanistan at present," she went on.

Estonia is into its second year (of two) as a non-permanent UNSC member, and is also the "penholder" for Afghanistan.

The president also met with Abdullah Abdullah, head of the Afghan national high conciliation council, and Haneef Atmar, the country's foreign minister, while in Kabul.

President Kaljulaid's visit had been announced early on in March, when she received the first of two anti-coronavirus shots, precisely in preparation for the trip.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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