13/03/2002
Press Release
SC/7327



Security Council

4490th Meeting (AM)


UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL ON DEVELOPMENTS IN AFGHANISTAN,

INCLUDING WOMEN’S DAY OBSERVANCE, CHALLENGES TO INTERIM ADMINISTRATION


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, told the Security Council this morning that two landmark events held in Kabul last week had demonstrated the progress made and freedoms advanced in the field of gender equality and human rights since the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.


Briefing the Council on recent developments, he said International Women’s Day had been celebrated in Kabul for the first time in 11 years.  At that ceremony, women’s contributions to the war against terrorism had been specifically recognized by Chairman Hamid Karzai.  The next day, the first Afghan national workshop on human rights had been convened.  The workshop had been opened by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who had pledged technical and financial support for the establishment of an independent human rights commission in Afghanistan.


On the political situation, he said the Interim Administration in Afghanistan faced the substantial challenge of expanding its authority throughout the country.  Three major conferences in the last week, however, had brought important Afghan figures from the provinces to Kabul, and constituted a promising sign that a process of greater engagement between the capital and Afghanistan’s

32 provinces had begun.


On the security and military situation, he said that aside from the ongoing heavy fighting between the coalition forces and Al Qaeda/Taliban fighters in the south-eastern part of the country, the rest of Afghanistan remained relatively calm.  However, the appearance of improving security concealed festering tensions beneath the surface.  The power of armed groups was growing and disarmament programmes in some areas involved commanders disarming their enemies and rearming themselves.


Turning to the humanitarian front, he said assistance to the people of Afghanistan had been increasing as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations gained greater access to people in need.  Basic, life-saving tasks continued to require the resource and time of the international assistance community, even as the overall focus had begun to shift towards recovery and reconstruction needs.  To that end, the Interim Authority continued to stress the importance of immediate assistance.


He noted that an earthquake struck Afghanistan on 3 March, affecting Kabul and three other areas, including Samangan, Gulbahar and Badakshan.  Aid agencies provided immediate assistance and facilitated visits of Chairman Karzai and the

Special Representative to the worst-affected site in the Surkundar valley, in Samangan.  The earthquake had triggered a landslide which had buried over

100 homes and killed some 70 people.  A technical team , assisted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), had been working since 5 March to stabilize the water levels and reduce flooding.


The meeting was called to order at 10:38 a.m. and adjourned at 10:58 a.m.


Summary of Briefing by Under-Secretary-General


KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, noted at the outset of his briefing that he was accompanied by Jean Arnault, who would succeed Francesc Vendrell as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Political Affairs in Afghanistan. 


He said the Interim Administration in Afghanistan faced the substantial challenge of expanding its authority throughout the country.  To date, its influence outside Kabul had been limited.  Three major conferences in the last week, however, had brought important Afghan figures from the provinces to Kabul, and constituted a promising sign that a process of greater engagement between the capital and Afghanistan’s 32 provinces had begun.


The first meeting had been convened to discuss the major security questions facing the country, he said.  The second conference, a meeting of governors, had been held from 10 to 13 March, and the third conference, funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and organized by the Afghan Education Ministry, had brought 91 Afghan educational experts together from 26 provinces for a two-day seminar on the future direction of education in Afghanistan.


He said two landmark events held in Kabul last week had demonstrated the progress made and freedoms advanced in the field of gender equality and human rights since the fall of the Taliban regime.  International Women’s Day had been celebrated in Kabul for the first time in 11 years.  At that ceremony, women’s contributions to the war against terrorism had been specifically recognized by Chairman Hamid Karzai.  The day after Women’s Day, the first Afghan national workshop on human rights had been convened.  The workshop had been opened by Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who had pledged technical and financial support for the establishment of an independent human rights commission.


The Loya Jirga Commission had continued to conduct extensive consultations, he said.  Hundreds of people passed through the office each week.  Widespread concerns, however, about the possibility of intimidation by authorities and armed groups on the Loya Jirga process continued to be expressed.


Turning to the security and military situation, he said that aside from the ongoing heavy fighting between the coalition forces and Al Qaeda/Taliban fighters in the south-eastern part of the country, the rest of Afghanistan remained relatively calm.  However, the appearance of improving security concealed festering tensions beneath the surface.  The power of armed groups was growing and disarmament programmes in some areas involved commanders disarming their enemies and rearming themselves.

It was becoming more and more apparent that alternative sources of income needed to be found for the mujahedin and the large number of armed men in Afghanistan, he said.  The issue was being addressed at a number of levels.  The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had conducted meetings with key commanders in Kabul and the Ministry of Defence with a view to developing a disarmament plan.  It was recognized, however, that a longer-term study was necessary, and that whatever initiatives were undertaken must be synchronized with the training programme of the new national army. 


In the immediate term, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) “Recovery Employment Afghanistan Programme” was about to begin, he said.  That programme, funded by the Japanese Government, would provide $3 million worth of labour-intensive public works projects in Kabul, and would employ more than 20,000 people for the next six months.


Further on the security situation, he said the persecution of the Pashtuns in the northern provinces, reports of physical and sexual abuse, extortion and the confiscation of land and goods had also been disquieting.  Refugees from the area continued to arrive at the Pakistani border.  On her trip to Afghanistan last week, the High Commissioner for Human Rights heard first-hand similar stories from victims.  Both the Special Representative and the High Commissioner joined Chairman Karzai in condemnation of the attacks and called for the human rights of the affected communities to be respected, as well.  An independent commission dispatched by Chairman Karzai to examine those reports was expected to release its report shortly.


As part of a series of ongoing diplomatic initiatives to tie Afghanistan into the international community, a meeting of the “Six plus Two” informal group on Afghanistan met at the ambassadorial level in Kabul on 11 March.  That meeting had been historic with Afghanistan attending for the first time, represented by Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.  It had also been the first time the group had met on Afghan territory.  The group expressed the renewed commitment of their respective governments to support the efforts of the Interim Administration and the people of Afghanistan to establish security and reinforce peace and stability throughout the country.  The group decided to hold meetings in Kabul on a monthly basis.


Turning to the issue of police, he told the Council that the need to establish a security force remained one of the high priorities of the Interim Administration.  The Interior Ministry had been very proactive in that regard and the Police Academy had devised a national plan for police training.  A two-week training course for 3,200 new recruits -– 100 from each province –- had been initiated.  A donor conference on drug control and support to the Afghan police would take place in Berlin on 14 and 15 March and would be attended by the United Nations Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA) Police Adviser.


On the humanitarian front, he said humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan had been increasing as the United Nations and non-governmental organizations gained greater access to people in need.  Basic, life-saving tasks continued to require the resource and time of the international assistance community, even as the overall focus had begun to shift towards recovery and reconstruction needs.  To that end, the Interim Authority continued to stress the importance of immediate assistance.  Four priority areas had been identified at a

meeting of the Afghanistan Support Group in Geneva on 4 March:  the nutrition crisis; the return of refugees and internally displaced persons; mine action; and the back-to-school programme.


He went on to say that an earthquake struck Afghanistan on 3 March, affecting Kabul and three other areas, including Samangan, Gulbahar and Badakshan.  Aid agencies provided immediate assistance and facilitated visits of Chairman Karzai and the Special Representative to the worst-affected site in the Surkundar Valley, in Samangan.  The earthquake triggered a landslide which buried over

100 homes and killed some 70 people.  The landslide blocked the river causing flooding, which ultimately deprived 10,000 people of water.  A technical team, assisted by the ISAF, had been working since 5 March to stabilize the water levels and reduce flooding.


He said the United Nations was concerned by reports of widespread malnutrition in many drought-affected areas that had been hitherto inaccessible because of security constraints.  It was possible that many lives would be lost -– especially children -– if rapid action was not taken.  While it was clear that the magnitude of the crisis could have been greater without the food aid that had already been delivered, the assistance community must now focus on more targeted assistance and support for the Government’s efforts, he said.  A task force of representatives of the United Nations, non-governmental organizations and the Ministry of Public Health had begun a series of emergency assessments in districts where malnutrition had been identified. 


Turning to the refugee situation, he said following the implementation of the first stages of the Bonn Process, the Office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had begun a facilitated programme for the return of refugees from Pakistan.  Subsequently, some 14,000 Afghans had returned from Pakistan during the initiatives opening week.  The total number of spontaneous and facilitated returns from Pakistan since the beginning of the year now was now between 50,000 and 70,000. 


He added that, since the beginning of the year, over 23,000 had returned from Iran.  Assistance continued to be given to internally displaced persons spread throughout Afghanistan, and surveys had shown that many people were deferring a return to their homes until security and drought situations improved. In Kabul, however, 16,000 internally displaced persons living in the former Soviet compound had begun to return to the Shomali plain area.


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