Afghanistan: Progress and growing security challenges

 

The inauguration in December 2005 of the new Afghan National Assembly marked the completion of a process of political transition begun in 2001 and which included the adoption of a new Constitution, and the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections. With the necessaryAfghan structures in place, the country forged ahead on its intended path towards peace, stability and development with the continued support of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Yet, at the same time, 2006 marked the toughest year for Afghanistan since 2001, with the challenges of nation-building set against an environment of worsening violence.

 

Recognizing that Afghanistan continues to face enormous challenges in a number of areas, the Government and its international partners gathered in London in January, where they agreed on a new framework for international engagement beyond the completion of the Bonn process. The Afghanistan Compact set out an ambitious, five-year agenda for sustained and prolonged engagement in the country with a view to consolidating democratic institutions, curbing insecurity, controlling the illegal drug trade, stimulating the economy, enforcing the law, providing basic services to the Afghan people, and protecting their human rights.

 

The Compact – viewed as a model for similar plans in places such as Timor- Leste and Iraq – also established key benchmarks and timelines, as well as a Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board co-chaired by the Afghan Government and the UN. One of the Compact’s first benchmarks was achieved within months, with the establishment of an appointments mechanism for senior Government officials. Reaffirming their commitment and support to the country, Afghanistan’s partners in London pledged some US$10.5 billion in assistance over the next five years. They also welcomed the interim Afghanistan National Development Strategy (iANDS), whose structure mirrors the three pillars of the Compact: security, followed by governance, human rights and the rule of law, and finally economic and social development.

 

2006 saw a growing consensus that improvements in security will be essential if the promise of the Afghanistan Compact is to be realized. Of particular concern was the steep increase in suicide bombings, and attacks against schools and Government officials, as witnessed by the assassination of a provincial Governor and a women’s affairs director.

 

Addressing rising insecurity and countering the insurgency in southern Afghanistan remained at the heart of joint efforts by the Government and the international community throughout the year, both through military and non-military means. On the military front, 2006 witnessed the expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to the south and east of the country, thereby assuming responsibility for security across the entirety of Afghanistan in conjunction with Afghan security forces. Some 26,000 ISAF troops now assist the Government in providing security throughout the country.

 

The gravity of the security situation also led President Hamid Karzai to establish a Policy Action Group consisting of Afghan security forces, their international counterparts, representatives of countries with a significant troop presence and UNAMA. Efforts on the diplomatic front were stepped up with high-level talks between Afghanistan and its neighbours, particularly Iran and Pakistan, on issues including security, economic cooperation and counter-terrorism.

 

Far from being deterred by the security challenges, the UN pressed ahead in playing an important role in both the political and development spheres, demonstrated by the opening of two new offices in the east and south-east. UNAMA’s provincial offices in Kunar and Zabul are intended to facilitate the expansion of the UN’s reach in terms of development and other fields, and contribute to the stabilization of the country. Their opening carried a message to Afghans that the UN will continue to help the Government improve the delivery of services, even in areas affected by the insurgency.

 

The provision of humanitarian relief is one of the many ways in which the UN is assisting the Afghan population. In 2006, a severe drought and armed conflict in parts of the country left over 2 million people in need of food and other assistance.To address the crisis, the Government and the UN appealed for nearly US$120 million. The Government,with support from designated ministries and UN agencies, was leading the response as the year drew to a close. Afghanistan achieved much in 2006 with a functioning National Assembly and the confirmation of key Government positions, including the Attorney General, and members of the Cabinet and the Supreme Court. At the same time, it continued to grapple with challenges such as corruption, opium production, and the disbandment of illegal armed groups. Since 2002, when UNAMA was established, great gains have been made. But the challenges for the UN in one of the world’s most difficult environments are still considerable and the job is far from done.

 

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Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

© United Nations 2007