24/06/2005
Press Release
SC/8428


Security Council

5215th Meeting (AM)


WORSENING SECURITY SITUATION IN AFGHANISTAN NEGATIVELY AFFECTING ELECTION


PREPARATIONS, SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TELLS SECURITY COUNCIL


Also Briefing Council, Head of UN Office on Drugs and Crime Cites

Need for Development Assistance in Efforts to Counter Illicit Drug Trade


The worsening security situation in Afghanistan had a negative impact on preparations for upcoming elections, Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for that country and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said this morning in a briefing to the Security Council.


He emphasized the consequences of the violence on the political transition, which would end with parliamentary elections in September, saying that the international response to thwart the destabilization strategy could not be limited to combat operations on the ground.  It was necessary to attack resolutely the financing, the safe havens where the perpetrators trained and the networks that supported them.


Welcoming the recent high-level contacts between Afghanistan and Pakistan  in that connection, he said the violence had caused unspeakable suffering, jeopardized the chances for rebuilding in the most seriously affected regions and obliged United Nations agencies and other international bodies to assume a low profile, which impacted on the quality and quantity of their projects.  A special effort was needed by Afghanistan and Pakistan, a greater effort than last year, judging by the recent level of violence.


He reported encouraging developments regarding the preparations for the elections, noting that since his last briefing, the electoral administration had been deployed countrywide.  Offices were fully operational in Kabul, in the eight regional centres, as well as in all 34 provincial capitals.  The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Secretariat currently employed 350 international and 8,000 national staff.  That staffing component would gradually rise, reaching 500 international and 200,000 national staff on election day, the bulk of them manning the polling stations.


The JEMB Secretariat included a dedicated Electoral Security Component, consisting of 36 personnel assigned to Kabul and the eight regional offices, he added.  Physical security would be provided by the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army with support from the international military forces, and with JEMB coordination.  In addition, an independent Electoral Complaints Commission had been created, with responsibility for handling and adjudicating all electoral complaints and challenges, including those against candidates and against the JEMB and its Secretariat.  Both the JEMB and the Complaints Commission were supported in each of the 34 provinces by a Provincial Electoral Commission, consisting of three national members.


One of the key concerns about the nomination process, he said, was that, given the amount of power still wielded by the commanders of armed groups at the local level, they could have “hijacked” the electoral process from the very beginning by preventing others from nominating themselves.  However, of the total number of candidates, only an estimated 4 per cent were considered to have actual links to armed groups.  In addition, only 212 government officials had nominated themselves.  That suggested that officials and commanders had not dominated the process, and that ordinary Afghans were not discouraged from nominating themselves as candidates.  It also suggested that Afghans would be presented with a genuine political choice on polling day.


Also briefing the Council, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), warned that some of the more dubious characters involved in drug production and trafficking would run for office in some of the troublesome provinces to seek impunity from parliamentary immunity.  He added that drug control measures must be viewed in conjunction with efforts to alleviate poverty in the countryside and to restore justice countrywide.  That would remove major impediments to democracy, security and development at large.  It was impossible to oppose Afghanistan’s narco-industry when investigation, prosecution, the courts and detention systems were weak or non-existent.  In today’s Afghanistan, development assistance translated not only into survival for hundreds of thousands of poor villagers; it could mean the survival of the first democratically elected government in the nation’s history.


While opium farming was largely driven by poverty, traffickers, warlords and corrupt officials were motivated instead by greed and should face retribution, he said.  That would free villagers from the bondage imposed by big profiteers and insurgents, as well as help counter the perception among many ordinary Afghans that counter-narcotics measures were hitting the farmers –- the weakest links in the drug chain –- and not the fat cats.


Reporting on positive developments, he said his Office had just completed its spring survey, combining aerial and ground observation, and estimated that opium cultivation in Afghanistan would decline in 2005.  While well over 100,000 hectares would remain under cultivation, the Annual Opium Survey, to be released in September, would most likely show a reverse trend over the past few years.  The surveyors had confirmed that the eradication campaign conducted by the Government with foreign assistance had yielded results.


However, the decrease in cultivation must especially be attributed to the self-restraint of farmers who had simply decided to reduce the opium harvest in 2005, he said.  The good news was tempered by two concerns:  the crop decline seemed quite uneven nationwide, and in some provinces the UNODC had actually noted a strong increase in poppy cultivation; and good weather this spring had increased productivity in the fields and more kilograms per hectare were, therefore, expected than in 2004.


The meeting began at 10:25 a.m. and ended at 11:05 a.m.


Background


The Security Council met this morning to consider the situation in Afghanistan


Statements


JEAN ARNAULT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that, unfortunately, he had to begin by describing negative developments on the security front.  In March, he had stated that, despite some improvements, complacency would not be appropriate, especially for the United Nations.  That warning had become increasingly urgent over the last three months, during which the country had faced an increase in the number and gravity of incidents throughout the various provinces of the country.  Among other incidents, five demining experts had been killed; a religious leader was decapitated in his mosque; and at least four Afghan police offices were killed by the Taliban.   


The violence had caused unspeakable suffering and jeopardized the chances for rebuilding in the most seriously affected regions, he noted.  United Nations agencies, like other international bodies, had been obliged to have a low profile, which impacted on the quality and quantity of projects.  The worsening security situation had a negative impact on preparations for upcoming elections.  The violence was not only to be blamed on extremist elements.  Drugs, crime and corruption must be addressed by strengthening police and local administration.  In the current escalation of violence, extremist groups had more money, more weaponry and were more aggressive vis-à-vis civilians. 


The violence was nothing new, he said, but the re-emergence of violence this year was a disappointment.  A similar increase in violence had been seen at the same time last year.  Today, another special effort was needed by Afghanistan and Pakistan, a greater effort than last year, judging by the recent level of violence.  He also emphasized the consequences of the violence on the political transition, which would draw to an end with parliamentary elections in September.  The international response to thwart the destabilization strategy could not be limited to combat operations on the ground.  It was necessary to resolutely attack the financing, the safe havens where they trained and the networks that supported them.  He welcomed the recent high-level contacts between Afghanistan and Pakistan in that connection.  Also, the Council had a duty to follow the situation closely and support greater cooperation against terrorism, something that Afghanistan needed today. 


It was against that difficult background that he was able to report some encouraging developments regarding the preparations for the elections.  Since his last briefing, some important steps had been taken.  The electoral administration had been deployed country-wide.  Offices were fully operational in Kabul, in the eight regional centres, as well as in all 34 provincial capitals.  The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Secretariat currently employed 350 international and 8,000 national staff.  That staffing component would gradually rise and would, on election day, reach 500 international and 200,000 national staff, the bulk of which would man the polling stations. 


The JEMB Secretariat also included a dedicated Electoral Security Component, consisting of 36 personnel assigned to Kabul and the eight regional offices, he added.  Physical security would be provided by the Afghan National Police and Afghan National Army with support from the international military forces, and with JEMB coordination.  In addition, an independent Electoral Complaints Commission had been created, which was responsible for handling and adjudicating all electoral complaints and challenges, including those against candidates and against the JEMB and its Secretariat.  Both the JEMB and the Complaints Commission were supported in each of the 34 provinces by a Provincial Electoral Commission, consisting of three national members.


With the exception of notable but isolated incidents of violence, the candidate nomination process, which started on 4 May and ended on 26 May, was generally calm, he said.  All in all, more than 6,000 candidates submitted their applications for the 249 seats at the Lower House and the 420 seats in the 34 Provincial Councils.  Roughly 12 per cent of those candidates were women, which guaranteed that the quota of women in Parliament would be fulfilled.  In three provinces, however, the number of female candidates was less than the prescribed quota for the Provincial Councils, and those seats would remain vacant during this term of office.  


One of the key concerns about the nomination process, he said, was that, given the amount of power still wielded at the local level by commanders, they could have “hijacked” the electoral process from the very beginning by preventing others from nominating themselves.  However, of the total number of candidates, only approximately 4 per cent were considered to have actual links to armed groups.  In addition, only 212 government officials had nominated themselves.  That suggested that officials and commanders had not dominated the process, and that ordinary Afghans were not discouraged from nominating themselves as candidates.  It also suggested that, on polling day, Afghans would be presented with a genuine political choice.


Many measures remained to be taken, he said, to neutralize those inclined to use intimidation and to reassure the majority of candidates, as well as the population at large, that they could vote in September without the risk of reprisals.  One such measure was the strict implementation of the electoral law that disqualified candidates who commanded or belonged to armed groups.  That was not without risk, as some commanders were keen to run for office and retain their military influence.  The JEMB security team was working with the national security agencies and international military forces to plan for possible security implications resulting from candidate disqualifications.


The next step in the electoral calendar would be the update of the voter registry that would start tomorrow and last one month until 21 July, he said.  Additional efforts would be made to accommodate returning refugees through the provision of voter registration in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) encashment centres until close to election day.  Funding for the election project remained a concern, as it was still $78.8 million short.  There was very little breathing space in the electoral calendar, and any delay in funding would result in the inevitable postponement of the election day.


As he had mentioned in his last briefing, while the delay of the election until September was not the preferred option, it was not without some advantages.  One of those was the opportunity to make progress on disarmament.  On 30 June, the disarmament of the former army units should end, in keeping with timeline endorsed at the Berlin conference last year.  At this point, over 60,000 officers and soldiers had been demobilized and over 49,000 had entered -- and in some cases completed -- reintegration into agriculture, vocational training and small business programmes.  Also, over 9,000 heavy weapons had been cantoned, and millions of tons of ammunition had been surveyed and efforts were being made for their safe disposal.  That was a significant achievement for the Afghan authorities and a first step in the larger effort of demilitarizing the country and paving the way for the Afghan National Army and Police.


In the coming months, he said, the focus would shift to the next step -- the disbandment of illegal armed groups.  Such groups, which might include as many as 180,000 men across the country, might not pose a direct threat to the State of Afghanistan, but they were a serious obstacle to the restoration of State institutions -- police, judiciary and civilian administration -- at provincial and district levels.  The Government was conducting two pilot projects, with the support of UNAMA and international military forces; negotiations with local commanders were under way; and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams were defining the type of support that they would be required to provide.  The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNAMA were currently seeking additional financial resources to support the Government in that very important initiative.


He then turned to three additional points of interest to the Council.  The first related to the peacebuilding programme to reintegrate members of the Taliban and the Hezb-Islami that had renounced violence and agreed to cooperate with the authorities.  Regional offices of the programme had not been set up, but background checks on those that had agreed to cooperate had begun.  About 150 individuals had benefited from the programme today.  Some had wrongly noted the contrast in the openness towards ex-Taliban and Hezb-Islami and the programme to disarm local commanders.  The Government was reaching out to all those renouncing violence.


The second point related to the needs of the victims of conflict.  In March, the Council had welcomed the report of the Afghan Human Rights Commission on transitional justice and had called for the support of the international community in that regard.  Since then, the Afghan authorities, the Commission and UNAMA had worked to draft a plan with measures to ensure dignity and respect for the victims and their right to truth, compensation and justice.  He trusted that the first steps would be taken as soon as possible. 


Turning to the post-electoral agenda for peacebuilding in Afghanistan, he recalled that the last report of the Secretary-General had offered some ideas.  Since then, the Afghan Government had reiterated its hopes that international cooperation would continue after the installation of the National Assembly and that that cooperation would be carried out in a framework with specific objectives, in line with national priorities, including institutional reform and the application of a coherent strategy for economic development and combating drugs.  Also, it was hoped that the new cooperation framework would be an opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of international assistance and to ensure that the State would be given sustainable institutions.


The completion of the Bonn process was in sight, he stated.  The political transition was further ahead, more so than the economic reconstruction.  The Government and the new Parliament must redouble efforts to catch up on that front, before they were overtaken by the disenchantment of the people, based on their economic experience.  With the help of the international community, the difficulties were not insurmountable.  What was needed most was to re-establish minimum security conditions.  After three years of trying, the spoilers were still stonewalling in some regions.  There were urgent lessons to be learned without delay.


Briefing by UNODC Executive Director


ANTONIO MARIA COSTA, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said his Office had just completed its spring survey, combining aerial and ground observation, and estimated that opium cultivation in Afghanistan would decline in 2005.  While well over 100,000 hectares would remain under cultivation, the Annual Opium Survey, to be released in September, would most likely show a reverse trend over the past few years.  The surveyors had confirmed that the eradication campaign conducted by the Government with foreign assistance had yielded results.  However, the decrease in cultivation must especially be attributed to the self-restraint of farmers who had simply decided to reduce the opium harvest in 2005.  The good news was tempered by two concerns:  the crop decline seemed quite uneven nationwide and in some provinces, the UNODC had actually noted a strong increase in poppy cultivation; and good weather this spring had increased productivity in the fields and more kilograms per hectare were, therefore, expected than in 2004.


Several factors explained farmers’ self-restraint this year, he said.  There was an undoubted market correction at a time of abundant stocks and declining opium prices.  Above all the surveyors had noted the growing impact of the Government’s persuasion campaign, as well as of faith-based motivations.  It was time to reflect on the reality of present-day Afghanistan, where poverty was still overwhelming.  In the affected villages, the revenue previously derived from a main cash crop needed to be replaced by alternative sources of income.  That would strengthen the Government’s credibility with farmers and reduce the risk of a humanitarian crisis.  In a recent meeting, President Karzai had manifested the fear that his moral authority would be undermined in the villages if peaceful eradication and voluntary lower cultivation were not supported by development assistance.  In today’s Afghanistan, development assistance translated not only into survival for hundreds of thousands of poor villagers; it could mean the survival of the first democratically elected Government in the nation’s history.


Noting that opium farming was largely driven by poverty, he said that, on the other hand, traffickers, warlords and corrupt officials were motivated by greed and should face retribution.  That would do two things:  free villagers from the bondage imposed by big profiteers and insurgents; and help counter the perception among many ordinary Afghans that counter-narcotics measures were hitting the farmers -- weakest links in the drug chain –- and not the fat cats.  Traffickers, warlords and insurgents controlled quasi-military organizations and ran military-type operations.  An effective response depended on the deployment of corresponding force.  A real-life example of that was the fact that the drugs bazaar in HelmandProvince’s Garmser district on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border had long been known as a major centre for heroin processing and trafficking.  The Special Narcotics Forces had raided the bazaar deploying heavy artillery and the local people had welcomed the operation, applauding the Minister of the Interior.  Operations of such complexity were the result of growing collaboration between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency forces, information-sharing and mutual support against a common threat.


He said that despite the progress described, lawlessness still prevailed in Afghanistan.  State institutions were fragile and vulnerable, and corruption and intimidation were rampant.  Democracy and the rule of law were stymied by the absence of a viable criminal justice system.  The foundations of a credible administration of justice had been laid down, but the resources generated through drug trafficking ($2.8 billion in 2004) were routinely used to undermine justice.  Warlords, inept provincial chiefs and corrupt officials made the Afghan opium industry more flexible and better prepared to evade controls.  They helped crops move into new areas in the mountains, where insurgents provided protection and facilitated logistics for the import of chemical precursors (almost 10,000 tons in 2004) for the processing of heroin.  They also assisted the money-laundering networks.  In provinces where the eradication had failed (notably Kandahar) there were clear examples of corruption and profiteering by local officials.


It was impossible to oppose Afghanistan’s narco-industry when investigation, prosecution, the courts and detention systems were weak or non-existent, he said.  Germany and Italy must, therefore, be saluted for their assistance, and Member States were called upon to help address today’s priorities in the country:  adequate rule of law and a vigorous fight against corruption.  There was now a window of opportunity, a chance to act, but it was closing fast as some of the more dubious characters in the troublesome provinces would run for office in the forthcoming elections, seeking impunity from parliamentary immunity.  Drug control measures must be viewed in conjunction with efforts to alleviate poverty in the countryside and to restore justice countrywide.  That would help move forward on other fronts, as well and remove major impediments to democracy, security and development at large.


* *** *