NATO: Afghans Must Be Masters Of Their Own House

NATO allies discuss the future of Afghanistan at a summit this weekend in Portugal. The U.S. wants to hand over security to the Afghan government in 2014. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tells Steve Inskeep the NATO mission won't end until Afghans definitely control security.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

So, as we've just heard, the U.S. wants to hand over security to the Afghan government in 2014.

One of the people who will be assessing progress in Afghanistan is Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He is NATO's secretary general, and we reached him on the eve of the NATO summit.

I get a sense that Americans, at least some of them, feel that they are in a classic position that people often are when they're fighting an insurgency. And that you've got strong forces on the ground, they can go where they want to go, they have a lot of fire power, they're learning a lot about how to fight the enemy; and yet it is not entirely clear what the ending looks like.

Do you have, in your mind, a clear idea - a realistic idea of what the end looks like here?

Mr. ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General, NATO): Our mission in Afghanistan will end when the Afghans are capable to take responsibility for the security themselves. The ultimate goal is that the Afghans become masters in their own house. So we will stay committed as long as it takes to accomplish our mission, and mission is accomplished when the Afghans can take responsibility themselves.

So what we will see at the end state is a stabilized Afghanistan, an Afghanistan that is no longer a safe haven for terrorists, an Afghanistan where the strong and stable government capable to deliver basic services to the Afghan people.

INSKEEP: Well, if your goal is for the Afghans to take over, if you presume that the war continues at the intensity that it's continuing now, that's a tall order, I would presume that you're hoping to end the war, negotiate a settlement, defeat the enemy or at least reduce the intensity of conflict over the next few years. Do you have, in your mind, a clear idea of how that's going to happen?

Mr. RASMUSSEN: There's no alternative to continuing determined military operations. The good news is that we are seeing progress on the ground right now. Al-Qaeda has no safe haven anywhere. The Taliban is under pressure everywhere, and this may also be the reason why we see indications that some terrorist groups want to reconcile or reintegrate. So, the stronger the pressure on the terrorists, the better the chance to find peaceful solutions.

INSKEEP: What evidence do you have that some groups want to reconcile? Because we hear reports of contacts of some discussions, but not real negotiations at this point.

Mr. RASMUSSEN: Well, actually I don't want to guess about the outcome of this process, but I think we should give it a try under certain conditions. First and foremost, this process must be lead by the Afghans themselves. The Afghan government must be in the driver's seat, but we also have to ensure that the government negotiates from a position of strength. Next, it's a prerequisite that groups and individuals involved in this process put down their weapons, cut off links to terrorist groups, abide by and respect the Afghan constitution and human rights, including women's rights. If these conditions are fulfilled, I think we should give it a try.

INSKEEP: Well, that's what I'm wondering. Do you have evidence that specific insurgent groups are at least having serious discussions, but coming in peacefully under the terms you just named or anything like them?

Mr. RASMUSSEN: We have indications that some groups might be interested in that, but I don't know yet whether this process will lead to a result.

INSKEEP: And what do you think a negotiated settlement looks like? Do the Taliban, for example, get to run some provinces in Afghanistan, do they get to be part of the government? What does it look like?

Mr. RASMUSSEN: No, I will not guess in any way. I will not, at all, go into that. Obviously, we cannot compromise on basic principles, and this is the reason why I have outlined these basic principles as a prerequisite for a sustainable, negotiated solution.

INSKEEP: Anders Fogh Rasmussen is the secretary general of NATO. Thanks very much.

Mr. RASMUSSEN: You're welcome.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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