Host: In connection with the London Conference on Afghanistan, our London correspondent Andrei Vladov talked about the Bulgarian commitments at Hindukush with Nickolay Mladenov, the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and until quite recently Minister of Defence, who is participating in the conference.
Nickolay Mladenov: Bulgaria is participating quite strongly in the international operation in Afghanistan. Our contingent at the moment is nearly 500-strong, with troops in Kabul and Kandahar and medical teams in Kabul and Herat. The government decided a while ago, early this year, to boost the size of our contingent in Kandahar with 30 people. This is something I reaffirmed in London, and a further 70 or so people will be sent by the year’s end because the international operation for stabilisation of Afghanistan requires that in addition to the United States boosting troop numbers by 30,000, the other countries should also contribute according to their capabilities. We saw, for example, that Romania doubled its military contingent in Afghanistan from 800 to 1,600. And Germany doubled its financial assistance.
Andrei Vladov: Does that mean that at least for now Bulgaria is not considering phasing out of Afghanistan?
N. Mladenov: The government has a mandate from the National Assembly until the completion of the international mission for stabilisation of Afghanistan. Therefore all our efforts are concentrated within this mandate. In addition, Bulgaria will join the European Union Police Mission to help with the training of the Afghan police as part of the NATO security mission.
A. Vladov: And yet isn’t civilian presence lagging behind Bulgaria’s military presence? I am drawing a parallel with the situation in Iraq and the deep disappointment of the Bulgarian public that Bulgarian companies failed to win lucrative contracts for the reconstruction of the country. Do you think that Bulgaria has learned from this experience and can something be done to ensure that Bulgarian companies will participate in the construction of infrastructure in Afghanistan?
N. Mladenov: You are absolutely right about Iraq. However, there is no comparing Iraq with Afghanistan at this point. It will take quite some time for the situation in Afghanistan to make possible some form of more direct economic participation. An interesting initiative was suggested today - that an economic forum be organised in Turkey for the entire region around Afghanistan to seek out such opportunities. However, it is still early days for this. Today’s main conclusion is that all agreed that yes, a political solution should be found to the problem in Afghanistan, but there must be some form of peace first.
Host: This was Andrei Vladov talking with the Bulgarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nickolay Mladenov.