How long has Afghanistan had a mission in Hungary and how important is it?
I’ll tell you that Afghanistan and Hungary have had deep bonds of traditional friendly relations for many years. The first Diplomatic mission of Afghanistan in Budapest was established in 1978, but due to the unstable situation in Afghanistan in the past, between 1994-2012 the Afghan Embassy in Vienna was responsible for Hungary. In June 2012, we reopened our Embassy in Budapest, and in December that year I presented my Credentials to H.E. Mr. János Áder, the President of the Republic of Hungary.
We see a great potential for enhancing political dialogue on a range of bilateral and multilateral issues, encouraging trade and investment, fostering academic and student exchanges. Therefore, the mission of Afghanistan in Budapest is playing an important role to take our traditional relations to a new stage of engagement.
What do Hungarians really know about Afghanistan?
I would say that there are two kinds of images about Afghanistan: first, the Hungarians know that Afghanistan has a great history which produced thinkers, philosophers and poets. They know that for centuries, Afghanistan was at the heart of the Silk Road, connecting South and Central Asia and the Middle East.
The second image is rather negative about the current situation of the country. As a result of a conflict and foreign invasions in the past as well as the segments of some negative media reports, there is misperception among Hungarians about today’s Afghanistan. But if you came from Afghanistan and see the reality on the ground, it would give you a different picture. As Ambassador, the promotion of the image of Afghanistan through the media and public diplomacy is one of my priorities.
Despite the continuous suffering of the Afghan people, over the past decade Afghanistan has gained a lot in political, economic, social and cultural fields. We have elected President and parliament, millions of girls and boys are going to schools and universities, access the health and other services, the freest media in the region, thousands of kilometres of roads, over 70 embassies and consulates abroad.
The most important was the holding of the third Presidential elections in April this year with the massive participation of the Afghan people. The turnout of the people, women and men, was a fantastic slap on the face of enemy of the country. So, democracy as a value demanded naturally by human beings everywhere is taking root in Afghanistan.
How safe is Afghanistan at the moment?
Over the past three decades, the people of Afghanistan paid a huge price in their struggle against foreign occupation, terrorism and extremism. After the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, with the support of the international community, we have started our journey for peace and democracy.
Due to some terrorist attacks, the aspiration of the Afghan people for peace and prosperity is yet to be realised. At the same time, the security has improved and the major part of the country is living under peaceful conditions, reconstruction of the country is going on, women and men are actively participating in political and social affairs.
The Afghan security forces are now directly responsible for security of more than 90% of the population, and the transition period from the foreign troops to the Afghan forces will be completed by the end of this year.
How are Hungarian-Afghan relations politically?
Afghanistan and Hungary have enjoyed traditional friendly relations for decades. Over the past ten years, Hungary has contributed in many areas of reconstruction as well as security and stability in our country. The Hungarian troops have done an excellent job in Afghanistan and earned widespread recognition among the people. In December 2012, Mr. Áder visited Afghanistan. Afghan high-level delegations have been invited to various forums held in Budapest. Moreover, Hungary has appointed a Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are very keen to exchange high-ranking delegations and enhance political consultations between the ministries of Foreign Affairs.
What about business and investment in Afghanistan?
I can tell you that Afghanistan is one of the richest countries of the world for its vast quantities of natural resources and minerals, including extensive deposits of copper, iron, coal, marble, precious metals, gemstones and hydrocarbons. As a result of instability in the past, these resources have remained untouched. Now there are great opportunities for exploring these minerals, and currently many foreign investment companies are engaged in this sector.
Hungary is a pioneer in the area of agriculture and water management as well as in some other fields. The Afghan Embassy works to explore the best possible ways of transfer of knowledge and technology in the said areas from Hungary to Afghanistan. Over 60% of Afghans are employed in agriculture and the agribusiness sector, so we see tremendous opportunities for the Hungarian public and private agencies to do business with Afghanistan.
Are there many Afghans in Hungary and what are some of the important things they do?
There are a few hundreds of Afghans living in Hungary, and I think that personal ties also link Afghans and Hungarians. Many Afghans residing in Hungary are highly educated and providing valuable services in various fields. They also work in the private sector and doing business. The Afghans are talented and hardworking people and they are well integrated in the Hungarian society, which has created a strong bond of friendship between the people of both nations.
Moreover, currently around thirty Afghan students are studying in Hungary. This country has many credible universities and we are very keen to send more Afghan students to Hungary for education in the fields of medicine, agriculture, engineering, economy, IT and some other areas.
What is your biggest headache keeping you awake at night?
Let me say a few words: first, as I said we have reopened the Embassy in Budapest after nearly 20 years. In order to establish a full functioning mission abroad is itself not an easy task and it requires a lot of efforts. Secondly, the long and massive suffering of my people is a matter of great concern for me. Therefore, the aspiration for a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is the inner engine for serving my beloved people.
What were your previous postings?
I have arrived one and a half years ago, prior to my assignment as Ambassador to Hungary, I was the Director General for the Middle East, Iran, Turkey and Africa affairs, and as a career diplomat have served for more than twenty years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I have obtained the Master degree in international relations and during my duty had traveled to attend high-level meetings and conferences, or represent my country in these gatherings.
How does Hungary rate on the scale of difficulties or enjoyment for you as Ambassador?
From the very first day, I felt a very friendly and cooperative environment around me. I feel a sense of goodwill and amity among our Hungarian people towards me and my country. I was struck by the beauty and development of this country, of Budapest and the other cities.
Serving as Afghan Ambassador to Hungary is an honour and privilege of my life. After a dark isolation in the past, when I see the three-coloured flag of my country flying, I feel very proud. My wife and six children are here with me, and we spend every possible moment with our small boy Mustafa who is an endless source of inspiration and entertainment.
So, serving in Hungary to strengthen our relationship is not a difficult job, it is rather a joy and full of pleasant occasions.