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An Exclusive Interview with Ambassador of France in Afghanistan

France is one of the few countries in the world which has close ties with Afghanistan since the very beginning. The history of the two countries’ relationships reverts to the years of Afghanistan’s declaration of independence by King Amanullah Khan in addition to the significant positive role that France is playing over the years in the development of Afghanistan. In the last four decades that Afghanistan was plagued by the ongoing war and insecurity, France did not leave the Afghan people alone. To further explore the details of France-Afghanistan relationship, The Killid Group conducted an exclusive interview with the Ambassador of France in Kabul.

The Killid Group
27 Jul 2020
An Exclusive Interview with Ambassador of France in Afghanistan
An exclusive interview of The Killid Group's reporter with the Ambassador of France, Mr. David Martinon. (Credit: TKG)

The Killid Group: Mr. Ambassador, thank you for giving us the opportunity for this interview. Here is my first question: In what specific areas France is supporting Afghanistan since the beginning of its mission?

Mr. Martinon: First of all, welcome to the French Embassy. It is pleasure to have you here. Well, France had established its diplomatic relations with Afghanistan for almost a century, if I recall it correctly it was in 1917. The two countries relationship and friendship was instigated by king Amanullah Khan when he decided to bring French archaeologists in Afghanistan. His idea was to create a national sentiment for the Afghan nation.

Therefore, he thought the only way to do it was to help the Afghans rediscover their own history; the long term history— going back to the Buddhist era, the era of Alexander the Great, and then the Islamic era.

He wanted to have archaeologists in the country because there was no written traces to explicate the olden history, there was a major need to engage a group of trusted professional excavators to excavate target areas in the country and search for written traces of the history of Afghanistan.

At that time, he wanted to do that by the French, so he authorized the French archaeologists to excavate the target territories, which then paved ground for the establishment of the French delegation of archeology in Afghanistan.

That was initially, the main reason of cooperation between France and Afghanistan. Immediately after that, once we had an ambassador in Kabul, we started to work with different sectorial groups in different work areas. For instance, Education; we helped in establishing and operationalizing Isteqlal and Malalai high schools in Kabul. Health; we welcomed in France many Afghan students from school of Medicine for exchange and study abroad programs from Afghanistan, in the year 1920. To give you an example, I saw yesterday Zalmai Rasool, former Minister of Foreign Affairs who is a trained doctor and he was trained in France. His father was also one of the first Afghan medical students who was trained in France. Our assistance is still continued in the health sector, for example, even today, we keep on working in the field of health because we have founded “The French Medical Institute for Mother and Child in Kabul” along with the French NGO, “The Chain of Hope/Chain de l’Espoir” and we have the “Aga Khan Development Network”.

Moreover, the chief surgeon Dr. Najib Bina of the FMIC who was also an Afghan medical student trained in France, now has reached the level of excellence in specialty, which is seen only in rare hospitals around the world. Hence, we have produced great talents and we are very proud of our cooperation with Afghanistan.

The Killid Group: I am curious to know how much your aid specifically worth?

Mr. Martinon: Since the beginning?

The Killid Group: Yes!

Mr. Martinon: Impossible to figure out the exact amount. It is difficult to count the financial aid precisely, because we have bilateral support. For example, we keep on welcoming Afghan students here in France. We also have the support that France transmits through the European Union. France is one of the biggest financial contributors to the European Union. Our contribution worth around 20% of the total EU budget.

The EU contribution to the cooperation in Afghanistan is around 200 million euros every year, which is probably 230m dollars in a year.

The Killid Group: Did you have achievements since the beginning of your mission in Afghanistan? If yes, can you list your greatest achievements in Afghanistan?

Mr. Martinon: For France?

The Killid Group: Yes.

Mr. Martinon: If you consider the latest achievements, FMIC is a fantastic achievement because now it is probably the best hospital in Kabul and is probably one of the best hospitals in central Asia. We keep on supporting the project in the new phase of development which will make it the center of excellence in many medical specialties.

But apart from that, we are extremely proud too of what the French archaeologists have been doing during these hundred years, everywhere in Afghanistan. They have worked on the Mis Ainak, sites in Balkh and Helmand and the Buddhist site of Mis Ainak. We have projects in Herat; we have projects in Panjshir, so they have been all around the country. French archaeologists have been really unveiling wonders of Afghanistan, so we are very proud of them. Again, the students we have enabled to bring to France and trained—we consider that as a great achievement.

The Killid Group: What were the major challenges you faced in the execution of your projects in Afghanistan?

Mr. Martinon: Not so much. We have had very good cooperation with the Afghan government. Of course, there were times when it was much more difficult—at the times of communists’ regime here when the French government had to stop many of its programs. But the French NGOs came and did what the state could not do anymore. So of course, you must have heard of French doctors who came back and resumed their duties in the beginning of Soviet invasion. For instance, in March 1980 and in May 1980 MSF/doctors without boarder or Médecins Sans Frontières, Afghan and other French NGOs came and did what the state couldn’t do anymore. During the time of Taliban, we stopped everything; we had to stop everything because of safety reasons and because we couldn’t support the government and the regime that was so far away from our values and our support to human rights.

The Killid Group: I would like to know about your prospects on the peace process.

Mr. Martinon: There is hope and we need to stick to that hope. The hope is that every Afghan eventually will realize that there is no future for no one in Afghanistan if the nation is not united. The only way to do it, is through peace talks. We have heard that government of Afghanistan releasing more than 4,000 of the Taliban prisoners which was a condition for the Taliban to start the intro-Afghan negotiations. I think we are close to see that problem resolved soon, and we hope that the talks will be able to start very soon. Having said that, we went to wherever we can—to help the negotiating team for the republic side if the discussion were to come to stalemate or being stuck because of the political or technical problems. I told my interlocutors here Masoom Stanikzai, Dr. Abdullah, and all the others that we will be ready and will be available to help both sides of the table of negotiations to try invent or create technical or political solutions that could be viable and could solve the problem—all the problems that could lead to a stalemate in the negotiations.

The Killid Group: Let’s come to women issues—as you know women have a significant role in society as well as in the peace process; what particular things you done for empowering Afghan women?

Mr. Martinon: We should do everything at the same time, and of course, it starts with giving women positions in the administration, in the media industry in everywhere and notably in the peace talks. We said that and we keep on saying. We said during the last meeting of the Security Council chaired by France in last June that meaningful participation of women is a key condition to the long term success of the peace talks in Afghanistan. You cannot have a viable peace a viable agreement if you exclude 50% of the population from the discussions. Women represent 50% of the population. If you take that out, then what is the value of any agreement? Having said that, we are very fortunate and very satisfied to see that women like everywhere in the world don’t wait for an authorization to take positions and take responsibilities, and we see that they are more and more in positions of responsibilities in NGOs, for example. We are happy to see that the new chair of AIHRC, Shahrzad Akbar, is a woman, succeeding to another woman, Sima Samar. Mrs. Sarabi has been so instrumental during the beginning of the talks—in the Doha talks. She has been in the drafting committee of the negotiation and has been very instrumental into drawing the conclusions of that meeting. Everything must be done to include women in the negotiation.

The French government has four group of thirty women, very talented Afghan women, and we invited them to France last year to meet French politicians, members of the Parliament, journalists so that they could explain what the situation is and that they could learn from their encounters. I keep on seeing them; some of them are journalists, some of them are members of the parliament, Anarkali Hunaryar, for example who also is a very instrumental person during the peace talks in Doha—many of them. We really see that as very crucial policy for Afghanistan.

The Killid Group: Aren’t you concerned about the 19 year’s achievements, if lost? I am talking about the achievements after the Taliban regime?

Mr. Martinon: Of course we are concerned. When you enter to French embassy, you may have noticed in the right— the names of individuals – all military people. We have lost 19 soldiers here in Afghanistan. We have lost also many humanitarian workers. French humanitarian workers—journalists. We have put a lot of money all these years here just like our American partners and friends, Brits, Germans and so on. That’s one thing. The other thing is that we are proud of what we did because we still believe that the purpose was noble. The purpose was to help Afghans build your own democracy, and build modern economy in the modern society that respects everyone. You need to stick to your constitution you need to make it respective and vivid. You need to make sure your institutions fully work. We want to see that the rights—human rights are fully respected and of course including women.

The Killid Group: Specifically what have you done for culture and archaeology?

Mr. Martinon: Again, the French archaeologists have been discovering wonders of Afghanistan for a century. Now we have all the other projects that we would like to work. We have the “AKTC” (Aga Khan Trust for Culture), on the Bala Hesar of Kabul, for example; many things we could do on the Bala Hesar. I have been to Herat quite recently just before the lockdown because of the COVID-19. I visited some sites that the former government has been working on. There are many things we could do to keep on protecting the sites and making them available for the Heratis to visit and to see what the past of their origin is. There are places in Helmand that need to be protected and again made available to visits, Mis Ainak, which is a Buddhist site, probably the biggest Buddhist site in the world. It needs to be curated. But once the area is safe, I am pretty sure that visitors may incredibly had to come and visit it. But there are many other places that we would like to work, Bamiyan for example. There are still many things that we could do in Bamiyan.

The Killid Group: As a last question, I would like to know about your future plans for Afghanistan.

Mr. Martinon: France will keep on being supportive of the efforts for peace and development, and we will keep on trying to bridge the gaps between different parties. We will keep on helping in the field of education and in the field of health as we are doing right now because of the COVID-19. President Macron, President of the French republic has decided that we would have special plan for Afghanistan to help fight COVID-19. We will support through our NGOs the population so that they can have proper food for one million euros for the year which will be again be channeled through these NGOs. We are shipping in the country protective materials so that we can give them to the medical staff notably to the FMIC, but also to the soldiers of Afghan National Army, to the police officers and to the ANDSF because they are at the fore front of the fight against the pandemic. They need support and this is what we are doing right now.

The Killid Group: Thank you Mr. David Martinon, Ambassador of France to Afghanistan!

Mr. Martinon: Thank you very much!

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