4979th Meeting (AM)
SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE, IN BRIEFING TO SECURITY COUNCIL, APPEALS FOR CONTINUED
INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FOR AFGHAN PEACE PROCESS
Security, in general, and for the electoral process, in particular, was ultimately an Afghan responsibility, but one that it could not shoulder without international assistance, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Jean Arnault told the Security Council today in a briefing on the situation in that country.
He called on the member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to respond to the appeal of their Secretary-General and allow that organization to meet the commitments given early to the people of Afghanistan. Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remained absolutely critical. Whether it was counter-terrorism, electoral security, counter-narcotics or control of factional fighting, international security assistance for the Afghan peace process continued to make the difference between success and failure.
With only a few months remaining before the national elections in September, which would mark the end of the Transitional Government, Mr. Arnault concentrated his briefing on the critical impact of security conditions. While the security “map” had followed a well-known pattern with little change in the provinces, the situation had evolved negatively in recent months in the more risky areas, particularly in the south, with a tangible increase in the number of incidents and their toll. The level of violent opposition to the electoral process was still difficult to gauge, but precautions were being taken as registration pushed into rural areas.
That increase had been consistent with the spring surge in extremists’ attacks that the coalition had expected, he said. The modus operandi -– anti-government forces operating in small groups of 10 and 20 men and targeting Afghan police, Afghan National Army, civilian administration, non-governmental organizations and government representatives -- also confirmed the shift in Taliban and other groups’ strategy, which had been noted last year.
Upon completion in April of voter registration in the eight major population centers, the process had entered its second and final phase, which would cover the rest of the country over the next couple of months, he said. Since the beginning of May, nearly 1 million people had been registered, bringing to 2.7 million the total number of registered voters. Contrary to initial expectations, women’s participation had not dropped as voter registration expanded beyond the urban centres.
Still, he said, concerns remained about under-representation in one province relative to another. Registration figures could affect the outcome of presidential elections, particularly if the latter developed an ethnic/regional dimension. Also, the prospect of enabling more than 2 million refugees to vote, such as in Pakistan and Iran, was the largest out-of-country voting operation ever undertaken in a post-conflict context, and in circumstances that were far from easy. A decision about such registration and voting would soon be finalized.
The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and adjourned at 10:50 a.m.
Extended Summary of Briefing
JEAN ARNAULT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said there were only a few months before the holding of national elections that would mark the end of the Transitional Government. In keeping with the format of previous Security Council briefings, and in view of the critical impact of security conditions on the political process, he began by reviewing the security situation in the country.
He said that the most recent United Nations security map bore out the Secretary-General’s observation in his March report to the Council that insecurity in Afghanistan continued to follow a well-known pattern, with little change in the identification of low-risk, middle-risk and high-risk provinces. Within that pattern, however, the situation had evolved negatively in recent months in the more risky areas, particularly in the south, with a tangible increase in the number of incidents and their toll.
That increase had been consistent with the spring surge in extremists’ attacks that the Coalition had been expecting, he said. The modus operandi –- anti-government forces operating in small groups of 10 and 20 men and targeting Afghan police, Afghan National Army, civilian administration, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and government representatives -– also confirmed the shift in Taliban and other groups’ strategy, which had been observed last year. According to the Coalition, various extremist groups had been involved, including Taliban operating in the south, foreign fighters in the south-east, and Hezb-Islami/Hekmatiar in the east.
He said that drug-related violence was an important factor of insecurity. Militias involved in combating the Taliban were widely believed to be responsible for a high percentage of incidents in the areas where they operated. A recent attack against an electoral assessment mission in the southeast turned out to have been organized by the local Border Brigade commander, perhaps in connection with criminal activities. In addition, in the context of the ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme, there had been warnings that commanders targeted by DDR would get involved in incidents aimed at creating a perception of a security vacuum. Finally, violent rivalries at the local level also bore part of the responsibility for the overall level of insecurity.
The province of Farah had become increasingly insecure as a result of rivalries among local factions, probably connected with drug trafficking, without ruling out some involvement of Taliban element. In the north and north-east, tensions between the Jumbesh and Jamiat factions remained high following clashes that took place in March in the provinces of Faryab and Balkh. However, the deployment there, and in Herat, of units of the Afghan National Army had had a stabilizing impact and had prevented further escalation. In Kabul, another International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) patrol had been attacked last week with rocket-propelled grenades, causing the death of one Norwegian soldier.
In addition, he said, the number of arms caches uncovered by ISAF in recent weeks had been increasing, and multiple signs of heightened anti-government activity had appeared, indicating that the “spring surge” under way from the east to the south might be ongoing in the capital. While the aid community continued to keep a low profile in insecure areas, the expanding voter registration process had been affected by the overall increase in incidents. So far, four attacks against registration teams had involved improvised explosive devices (IED) -– one in the south, one in the north-east and two in the east, fortunately without fatalities. In addition, two grenade attacks occurred.
He said, however, that the level of violent opposition to the electoral process was still difficult to gauge, but precautions were being taken as registration was now pushing into rural areas. Close coordination had been developed with Coalition forces. The deployment of a new United States Marine unit in Uruzgan and Zabul had allowed access to the progress. The Coalition had now reorganized its forces in three regional commands that covered the territory as a whole and liaised with the electoral authority to provide assistance when necessary.
Upon completion in April of voter registration in the eight major population centres, the process had entered its second and final phase, which would cover the rest of the country over the next couple of months. The second phase started with 160 sites opened in early May and had now expanded to 594 sites across 31 of the 34 provinces, with 1,083 teams operating simultaneously. Since the beginning of May, nearly 1 million people had been registered, bringing to 2.7 million the total number of registered voters. Contrary to initial expectations, the participation of women had not dropped as voter registration expanded beyond the main urban centres.
With the active support of the Coalition, he said, the high-risk provinces of Uruzgan and Zabul, which had been off limits to international agencies for nearly two years, were now open to registration, although on a reduced scale. He hoped to expand to the remaining high-risk provinces of Paktika and Nuristan in the coming days, as well as to the newly created province of Daikundi in the Central Highlands. In order to meet registration targets, further expansion was planned in the short-term from 600 to approximately 800 sites by next week, aimed at achieving the minimum required “cruising speed” of at least 75,000 registrations per day.
He said that, while the process was well under way, several concerns remained. The figures today were revealing: altogether, the nine provinces of the south and south-east represented a mere 12 per cent of those registered. If that pattern persisted, that would raise another issue, namely that of the lack of balance in registration between the different provinces. Ultimately, under-registration in one province relative to another should have little impact on the outcome of the elections to the Lower House since the number of seats for any one province would be based on population estimates, and not on registration figures.
However, he said, registration figures could affect the outcome of presidential elections, particularly if the latter developed an ethnic/regional dimension. Quite apart from the immediate impact on the elections’ outcome, under-registration, whatever its causes, was bound to generate frustration and suspicion that parts of the country had been disenfranchised. Much rode, therefore, on providing unsafe areas of the south with an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process.
He cited as another challenge the determination of population figures for each province. Census experts were confident, but given the great sensitivity related to representation, the lack of survey was bound to compound the suspicion already created by low registration figures. A further challenge involved funding. The voter registration had been almost fully funded with a shortfall of just $2.6 million, but the election was only “very partially” funded -– of the $107.8 million needed for presidential and parliamentary elections, only
$27.7 million had so far been secured.
The electoral law had now been finalized, he said. The main point in that discussion had been the role of political parties during the transitional election. Regarding the representation of women, the electoral law ensured compliance with the constitutional requirement that, on average, two women per province would be elected to the Lower House by providing that the best performing women would automatically get the seats that the provincial quota required. In February, it had been agreed that elections in September would include only the presidential election and elections to the Lower House.
Concerning out-of-country registration and voting, he said he hoped that a final decision would be made in the coming days and that operations could start without further delay. But, the challenges were quite considerable. With the prospect of enabling more than two million refugees to vote, that was the largest out-of-country voting operation ever undertaken in a post-conflict context, and in circumstances that were far from easy.
In Berlin, he had presented a bill for full registration and voting in Iran and Pakistan that amounted to $37.6 million. Some donors had been concerned about the high price, and now less expensive options were being considered, including reducing registration to screening and holding it together with polling. Those raised issues of credibility, however, particularly where the identification of eligible voters was difficult. Again, he hoped that a solution would meet electoral standards and provide franchise to the refugee population soon.
Among the benchmarks for the holding of free and fair elections, he noted that disarmament, demobilization and reintegration was a critical component of a larger process aimed at addressing one of the most dangerous legacies of the Afghan conflict -– the continued existence of multiple armies that jeopardized the building of a viable State and threatened civil peace. The strengthening of the legitimacy and authority of the next Afghan Government and State institutions would be compromised if there were a public perception that military intimidation and interference had distorted the election.
That was why the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had been insisting that the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process was a central and urgent task of the Transitional Government, he said. Coercive disarmament was not an option. Even if the central Government had the will to conduct compulsory demobilization, it did not have the means. The process of disarmament required a combination of factors, including a measure of overall confidence in State institutions, particularly the Ministry of Defence; confidence of soldiers and commanders in the sustainability of reintegration; and the confidence of factional leaders in their security and their integration in the country’s political future.
He said that following the completion of the pilot projects from December 2003 to February 2004, which had led to the demobilization of 6,000 soldiers and officers, the Government and the international community had reached an understanding on the main phase of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. It included the disarmament by June of 40 per cent of the militia forces and, by July, the full cantonment of heavy weapons under a reliable safekeeping arrangement. However, the implementation of that agreement had suffered serious delays. Senior commanders had been reluctant to cooperate with the process, citing lack of balance in the programme between rival armed formations, Taliban operations in the south, and lack of confidence in the prospect for reintegration, including political reintegration.
There was no doubt about the positive impact that the holding of genuine national elections could have on the consolidation of peace, he said. The elections could be an invaluable means to broadening the legitimacy of the new State and strengthening its authority to address violent extremism, factionalism, drugs and human rights. Voter registration had mobilized the population at large, which was demanding participation in the electoral process. That should allay the concerns of those who might fear that the elections had no popular underpinning.
He said that a process perceived to be biased and distorted could deeply undermine the hopes enhanced by the adoption of the new Constitution that differences among Afghans could be settled through peaceful political means. The requirements of freedom and fairness were not a foreign standard; they were a pre-requisite for the holding of an election that would further peace, stability and national reconciliation. Much of the responsibility for providing such an environment rested with the Afghans themselves. In particular, those leaders who aspired to the authority that stemmed from a national election must know that the anticipated legitimacy of its outcome was predicated upon the legitimacy of the process itself.
Returning to the question of security, he called on the member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to respond to their Secretary-General’s appeal and allow the organization to meet the commitments it had given earlier to the people of Afghanistan. Security in general, and that of the electoral process in particular, was ultimately an Afghan responsibility, but it was one that Afghans could not shoulder without international assistance. Training, funding and general capacity-building were important tools, but they were not enough. Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remained critical.
He said that Afghanistan‘s persistent woes –- terrorism, factionalism and criminal networks -– were as much at work today as they had been two years ago and their ability to subvert State-building and a genuine political process was hardly diminished. Whether it was counter-terrorism, electoral security, counter-narcotics or control of factional fighting, international security assistance continued to make the difference between success and failure.
* *** *