Prague re-opens embassy in Kabul

Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova in Kabul, photo: CTK
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In 2001 the United States went to war against the then-ruling Taliban in Afghanistan. Six years later, the country is still picking up the pieces and - with international help - trying to rebuild itself. In an effort to contribute to that development, the Czech Republic has just re-opened its embassy in Kabul, which had been closed since 1992. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova were among those in attendance at the official opening ceremony on Monday.

Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova in Kabul, photo: CTK
The Czech military presence in Afghanistan amounts to approximately 300 troops and the country's civil presence is just as modest - mostly made up of a few dozen humanitarian aid workers from NGOs like the People in Need Foundation and Berkat. But without an embassy in the country, the Czech Republic's contribution to social and economic development has been limited. That is about to change, says Martin Povejsil - head of political affaires at the Foreign Ministry in Prague:

"The Czech Republic has been ever more engaged in Afghanistan both politically and militarily as many other allies have been. Thus we think it necessary to be permanently present in Kabul and in the whole country and not to cover it from the outside as we did until very recently from Pakistan. The embassy will basically be engaged in developing political, military, and economic relations between the two countries, of course always within the context of our membership in international organisations like NATO and the EU."

Earlier this year, the Czech government approved the delivery of 12 decommissioned helicopters to Afghanistan. The six Mi-17 transport and six Mi-24 combat helicopters are still being repaired and modernised in the Czech Republic. NATO requested the delivery to help develop Afghanistan's Air Force and supply inaccesible areas with humanitarian aid.

"Coming from Afghanistan, I have a much more positive image from what Kabul is today as compared to what I expected before going there. The city is living a relatively normal life full of activity. The security measures are visible but they do not seem to affect the day-by-day life of the common and current people on the streets. We want to concentrate ever more on civil development projects. For Czech standards, we have been contributing relatively big amounts of resources to development projects in Afghanistan, not only in Kabul but mainly - and this is where we want to focus on in the future - in the Afghani provinces outside Kabul city. This will be one of our major tasks and it will not be very easy as nothing is very easy in Afghanistan."

Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg with President Hamid Karzai, photo: CTK
In Afghanistan this week, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg and Defence Minister Vlasta Parkanova also held talks with President Hamid Karzai. The aim was to re-establish the relatively good business ties that Afghanistan and Czechoslovakia once enjoyed. Kabul, for example, used to be supplied with Czechoslovak trolley-buses - a tradition that the two countries would like to continue when the Afghan capital regains its electricity network.

The Czech Republic is now one of 33 countries to have an embassy in Afghanistan. Although this strong international diplomatic presence is a sign that the country is set for progress, the Czech Embassy still needs to be guarded by members of the rapid reaction force. The embassy, so far, also has only one staff member. Charge D'Affaires Filip Velach, a junior diplomat, will now face the task of preparing the embassy for the arrival of the ambassador, which is planned before the end of this year.