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At a fragile crossroads:
Afghanistan and the international community must pull together

Returnees from the Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan attend a lesson at the UNHCR  transit centre in Jalalabad about the danger of mines. Most will continue their journey to Nangarhar province, where they will try and rebuild their lives after years in exile.  UNHCR/M.Maguire

Returnees from the Jalozai refugee camp in Pakistan
attend a lesson at the UNHCR transit centre in
Jalalabad about the danger of mines. Most will
continue their journey to Nangarhar province,
where they will try and rebuild their lives after years
in exile. UNHCR/M.Maguire

Struggling to overcome years of civil war, destruction, and massive under-development, Afghanistan’s humanitarian and human rights predicament puts it at a fragile crossroads. The international community must redouble efforts to support the Afghan Government and people in this transition period.

The Story

With Afghanistan entering its sixth year after the fall of the Taliban and the signing of the Bonn Agreement, 2007 held some promise. Over six million children are enrolled in school – the highest in the history of the country. Infant and maternal mortality continued to drop, and over 80 per cent of the country is now covered by basic health services. Farmers are today meeting 95 per cent of the country's grain needs. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, created following the 2001 Bonn Agreement, now has nine provincial offices, actively promoting human rights. The commitment of the outside world to work towards Afghanistan’s security is underscored by the fact that 39 countries continue to provide over 40,000 troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

But there are signs of strain. Amidst reports that the security situation has improved in parts of the country, incidents of insurgent and terrorist violence, which increased by 20 per cent in 2007 over 2006 figures, have contributed to increased insecurity and decreased access by humanitarian and development workers in at least 78 districts in the country as the delivery of humanitarian assistance has become increasingly dangerous.  National and international staff with UN agencies and non-governmental organizations have been attacked or killed, while violence related to insurgency and counter-insurgency operations caused an increase in civilian casualties in 2007 compared to 2006.

Provinces wracked by insurgency saw the closure of hundreds of schools as ongoing attacks and threats put educational attainment at risk.  Violence and discrimination against women remains severe and pervasive, with reports of such incidents on the rise.  The surge in opium poppy and heroin production, which helps fuel the insurgency, also poses a threat to the emerging nation.  Questions remain over whether the money channelled to humanitarian organizations is reaching beneficiaries – and the ability of the government to deliver on political and economic pledges is also being debated.  Finally, the apparent tension between some ISAF contributor countries feeds in to the hands of extremists who interpret discourse over mandate and resources as a sign of failing resolve.

The challenge is considerable – Afghanistan is at a critical crossroads. According to the UN’s senior peacekeeping official, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the fledgling democracy’s governmental institutions are “fragile and without capacity,” and despite its commitment and generosity, the international community has been “insufficiently united on key issues of policy.”  The Afghan Government and people, and the international community, must tailor their approach to make sure that all concerned pull together in the same direction. 

The Context

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION:

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA):
Stephanie Bunker, Spokesperson and Public Information Officer
Tel: +1 917 367 5126
Send an email
http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/07/contactus.asp?address=2

USEFUL WEB LINKS:

Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), ReliefWeb
http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/dbc.nsf/doc104?OpenForm&cc=afg

UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)
http://www.unama-afg.org/

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
http://www.unhcr.org/country/afg.html

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/AFIndex.aspx

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/afghanistan.html

World Food Programme (WFP)
http://www.wfp.org/country_brief/indexcountry.asp?country=004

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
http://www.undp.org.af/

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
http://www.unodc.org/afg/index.html

UN News Centre
http://www.un.org/apps/news/infocusRel.asp?infocusID=16&Body=afghanistan&Body1

IRIN News
http://www.irinnews.org/Asia-Country.aspx?Country=AFG