Afghanistan: flawed elections could roll back progress, warns Ban

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon confers with President Hamid Karzai during conference

31 March 2009 – Too much is at stake for Afghanistan’s upcoming presidential elections to be flawed, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stressed today, calling on the international community to support efforts to consolidate stability in the war-torn nation.

“We know from experience that the second cycle of post-conflict elections can be even more difficult than the first,” Mr. Ban said, opening the International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague.

“Too often, flawed elections have led to greater instability. This cannot be allowed to happen in Afghanistan,” he added, calling on the country’s leaders to ensure that the Government is effective and functioning until the start of the next presidential term.

The Secretary-General pointed to numerous successes made so far, including slashing poppy cultivation and improving the health sector, urging continued support for the nation to make concrete achievements in key areas, such as boosting agricultural productivity and combating organized crime.

“We cannot afford to fail in this endeavour,” he stressed. “Failure would be a betrayal of the Afghan people. It would be a betrayal of the progress that has been achieved.”

The media portrays the situation as being bleaker than it is in reality, resulting in pessimism among policy-markers, Mr. Ban said at the one-day gathering drawing dozens of countries and organizations.

“We must avoid an attitude that focuses mainly on setbacks of the past, and learn to recognize the positive signs of progress,” he said, underlining the importance of seizing opportunities for improvement.

The deployment of additional troops will lead to both a peaceful electoral environment and additional trainers for the national security forces, he noted, commending United States President Barack Obama’s new strategy focusing on increasing military commitment, bolstered institution-building and improved cooperation with authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

While in The Hague, the Secretary-General met today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai to discuss the presidential elections slated for August; democracy; the mandate of Mr. Ban’s Special Representative, Kai Eide; and the role of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Mr. Ban also had bilateral talks regarding how the international community can support Afghanistan with Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon; Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht; Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith; Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei; and the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Last week, the Security Council voted to extend UNAMA’s mandate, reaffirming the “central role” of the world body in bringing peace to the country, the Secretary-General said at today’s conference.

“We take this responsibility very seriously,” he said, pledging the UN’s continued support to protect human rights and food security, and improve the rule of law and governance, among other areas.

The Afghan people demonstrated their resilience in facing many daunting challenges, such as poverty, natural disaster, political repression, foreign repression and civil strife, Mr. Ban stated.

“In recent years, Afghans have moved decisively along a new path, toward a new vision for their future,” he said. “Our responsibility is to help them secure that vision.”

Mr. Eide, who also heads UNAMA, told the gathering that promising developments in Afghanistan are a result of the hard work of both Afghan officials and a strong civilian and military international presence.

“Our common efforts are yielding results,” he said. “This is not the time to hesitate but to stand firm in our commitments.”

Coordination must be improved, since “our efforts are still too fragmented and do not provide the impact we seek,” said Mr. Eide. “The UN must do more, yes, and we are ready to do more to deepen our role and expand our presence around the country.”


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