PREPARATION FOR AFGHANISTAN’S FIRST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WELL UNDER WAY, BUT SECURITY, NARCOTICS CONCERNS REMAIN, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

25 August 2004
SC/8174

PREPARATION FOR AFGHANISTAN’S FIRST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WELL UNDER WAY, BUT SECURITY, NARCOTICS CONCERNS REMAIN, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

25/08/2004
Press ReleaseSC/8174

Security Council                                           

5025th Meeting (AM)                                         

PREPARATION FOR AFGHANISTAN’S FIRST PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION WELL UNDER WAY,

BUT SECURITY, NARCOTICS CONCERNS REMAIN, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

Briefing Council, Special Representative Says

Over 10 Million Afghan Voters Now Registered, Including 4 Million Women

With over 10 million voters, including 4 million women, now registered, the preparation for Afghanistan’s first presidential election was now well under way, Jean Arnault, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told the Security Council this morning.

Massive popular participation in voter registration had shown how much depended on the upcoming elections, he said.  An election that would meet those expectations was within reach.  Additional effort was needed to improve the security of voters and electoral staff.  It was also necessary to continue work on the political environment in order to ensure a free and fair exercise.  The Government, the candidates and the forces they represented, and the international community shared that responsibility.

Turning to developments in other areas, he said that the issue of counter-narcotics had become critical as a result of a dramatic expansion of poppy cultivation this year.  The eradication campaign was now over, but interdiction continued.  Also, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and the cantonment of heavy weapons remained slow.

Speakers this morning emphasized that the upcoming elections were an important milestone in Afghanistan’s path towards democracy.  The high level of voter registration, noted the representative of the United Kingdom, represented a huge technical achievement by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), as well as Afghan and international election personnel.

But it was more than just a technical achievement, he added.  It was a major political development; a demonstration of the remarkable determination by Afghans to exercise their new democratic rights.  While not perfect, it did suggest the coming to an end of an era of violence and the development of Afghanistan through peaceful, political channels.  The Taliban knew that successful elections would be their defeat.

Delegations also noted that, despite the progress made, security remained a vital issue.  In that regard, the decision by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to deploy more troops to enhance security was welcomed.

Pakistan’s representative noted that Afghanistan now faced a major challenge in the forthcoming elections.  It was very important that they were free, fair and credible.  While pleased that some 10 million voters had been registered, he was concerned that sufficient registration had not taken place in some areas of the country, mainly due to security concerns.  Also, vested interests of warlords could undermine the election process.  It was important for international forces, including the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to provide a security cover for elections throughout the country.

Threats to Afghanistan’s security lay inside Afghanistan, he stressed, arising from faction leaders, criminal lords and extremist forces.  Until Afghan national forces could provide credible security, it fell upon international forces to step into the situation and clear the circumstances for security.

With presidential elections set for October and the parliamentary ballot set for April, Afghanistan was entering the final stages of realizing the goals of the Bonn Agreement, its representative said.  The main objective of consolidating peace and security was constantly being threatened by remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaida, particularly in Afghanistan’s eastern and southern border regions, which continued their attempts to sabotage the country’s progress and challenge the authority of the legitimate Afghan Government.

He went on to stress that Afghanistan’s economic recovery and reconstruction were closely related to security issues.  Tangible reconstruction enhanced the Government’s authority and greatly contributed to the peace process.  The Government should have the ability to provide services, create jobs and build roads, and thousands of ex-combatants should be reintegrated.  Active participation by the international community and financial assistance to reconstruction efforts contributed significantly to efforts to restore democracy and consolidate peace.

Statements were also made by the representatives of United States, Germany, Chile, Angola, Brazil, Spain, Philippines, Benin, China, France, Algeria, Romania, Russian Federation, Netherlands (on behalf of the European Union and associated States), Japan, Canada, Iceland and Uzbekistan.

Also during today’s meeting, speakers expressed their condolences to the Government and people of the Russian Federation on the loss of life resulting from yesterday’s double air crashes.  Council President Andrey Denisov (Russian Federation), speaking in his national capacity, thanked all those who had extended their sympathies.

The meeting began at 10:15 a.m. and ended at 1:40 p.m.

Background

When the Security Council met this morning, it had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2004/634), which states that during the period under review, the most striking aspect of the Bonn process has been the registration of voters for the 9 October presidential elections.  With some 8,659,772 voters registered as at 28 July, of which about 41 per cent are women, the process shows strong momentum and provides a clear response to the efforts of the Taliban and other extremist groups to derail the elections and to exclude women from public life.

Problems with registration continue to exist, however, in those parts of the south and south-east where insecurity caused by extremist violence acts as a deterrent for voters and electoral workers alike.  Strenuous efforts will be made in the coming weeks to overcome this situation and to ensure that registration is as balanced as possible between the various provinces of Afghanistan.  If these issues are addressed successfully, the national voters’ list should be comprehensive enough by the end of August to give the 2004 election the broad basis required to provide the elected president with full legitimacy.

Other aspects of the political process have not, however, moved at the same pace, continues the report.  From the point of view of electoral prerequisites, the issue of credible population figures for the 34 provinces is still outstanding and is one of the main causes behind the decision of the Joint Election Management Body to delay the parliamentary election until April 2005.  Disarmament is also behind schedule, however, which is largely why the vast majority of Afghans have endorsed the decision of the Management Body.

Indeed, across the country the perception remains that the outcome of the election at the local level will be a direct function of the presence or absence of militias.  Beyond disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the first joint report on the exercise of political rights by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) shows that progress must be made in other areas in order to create a more level playing field between political forces.

The period under review has also been characterized by a heightening of the challenge posed by the three main threats to the consolidation of peace and stability in Afghanistan, namely extremist violence, factionalism and the narcotics industry.  Attacks by extremists and cross-border infiltrations have intensified, in particular in the country’s south and, while the success of voter registration has shown the political isolation of those groups, the insecurity that they continue to create effectively deprives a number of communities of the benefit of reconstruction; stretches existing security forces; slows down disarmament, demobilization and reintegration; and, in general, places a very heavy burden on the new and fragile Afghan State.

In addition, eradication and interdiction efforts have not so far proved able to contain the growth of illicit cultivation and drug trafficking.  Associated with this is an increase in the level of corruption, which affects the Government at the local and central level.  Against this background, the Secretary-General states the vital importance of security assistance to Afghanistan.  It is essential to provide better prospects for the success of the electoral process, but it is also necessary to serve as a deterrent against factional violence, to assist the deployment of Afghan security forces and, in particular, to help them control the illicit drug economy.  Such assistance remains as urgent a requirement as it was after the signing of the Bonn Agreement.

In this regard, the United Nations has been encouraged by the decision made by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at its summit in Istanbul to make more troops available to Afghanistan and trusts that they will be deployed well ahead of the presidential elections and well beyond.

Briefing by Special Representative of Secretary-General

JEAN ARNAULT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, presented the report, saying that through most of the country, voter registration closed on 15 August.  In some districts of the south and south-east, where registration started late due to insecurity, registration had been extended for another five days and had come to an end on 20 August.  While final figures would take some time to compile, the broad picture was already available:  10.5 million people had registered; over 41 per cent of them women.  About 230,000 nomads had been registered by dedicated registration teams.  That was, overall, a good result.

That comprehensive nationwide exercise enabled the electoral authorities and the security forces to make accurate preparation for the 9 October election, he said.  It would make it possible for the elected leadership to claim representation of the Afghan nation as a whole.  It had also served as a tool for an unprecedented level of popular mobilization around the political process, much higher than the two prior exercises held earlier, namely the Emergency Loya Jirga and the Constitutional Loya Jirga.  Elections in the wake of a prolonged conflict were meant to create political legitimacy for the post-war order.  The presidential election in Afghanistan now had the potential to do just that.

The picture was not entirely satisfactory, though, he continued.  While many of the cases of imbalance between provinces, which existed a month ago, had been corrected, it had proved very difficult to redress the situation in those areas of the south most affected by insecurity.  In those areas, general insecurity, threats and attacks by extremist elements against electoral personnel and people themselves had caused registration sites to open late or for shorter periods of time.  The province of Zabul had been most affected, in which registration was barely over 50 per cent of the target.

In addition, while even in very conservative areas of the country the registration of women had reached the national average of about 40 per cent, he believed insecurity had contributed to the very low registration of women in the south -– approximately 19 per cent.

Some concerns had been expressed about the fairness of the registration, he noted.  Allegations included that political considerations had shaped the choice of registration sites or the date of closing.  While there were obviously shortcomings to that process, he was satisfied that political bias was not one of them.  Multiple registrations, on the other hand, had probably been a factor.  But it was very difficult to measure its scale, and, in any case, it would have no impact on polling.

The preparation for the election was now under way, he said.  The Joint Electoral Management Body was finalizing regulations applicable to the electoral campaign, which would start on 7 September.  Those included campaign financing, electoral activities, access to the media and the misuse of government resources for political purposes.  Logistical preparation was also under way, including the identification of polling centres.

Security, he said, was a major consideration.  The overall security plan for the pre-polling phase, election day and post-election processes had been finalized.  The concept was essentially identical to that developed during registration:  polling site security would be primarily the responsibility of the Ministry of Interior, which would have, by polling day, 20,000 police trained in the United States and German-supported training centres.  The security of areas around the polling sites would be provided by military personnel from the Afghan National Army, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the coalition.

Cooperation between security actors and the electoral authority had been increasingly smooth as voter registration progressed, and that legacy would be a very significant asset in dealing with the much more difficult task of providing security for the election.  He noted, however, that difficult situations could be expected throughout the country.  In recent weeks, factional rivalries had led to temporary closure of registration sites in several provinces.

However, those forces had not been able to derail the process, and had, in particular, failed to undermine popular participation in registration in the country’s south and south-east.  More worryingly, domestic and international security agencies concurred that there were clear indications that the Taliban and similar groups were preparing to escalate their attacks against the last stage of the election.

Action was necessary against those who planned and organized attacks.  In that respect, he welcomed the timely meetings held on Monday and Tuesday between Pakistani President Musharraf and Afghan President Karzai, and hoped that enhanced cooperation between the two countries would prevent further violence against the elections.  That was an urgent matter, as the electoral campaign would start in less than two weeks and thousands of electoral staff would be involved in the preparation of polling day between now and 9 October.  The presidential election could make a major contribution to the stability of Afghanistan and the consolidation of its fragile State.  Its protection deserved the highest priority, as did the electoral workers that were making it possible.

Turning to the security of United Nations staff, he said that a recent joint mission by the Office of the United Nations Security Coordinator (UNSECOORD) and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) had identified a few measures that would improve the security of United Nations staff in Afghanistan in the upcoming period.  They included additional trained Afghan personnel for the protection of United Nations premises and a better capacity for security information and analysis.  The cost of those measures was modest, and he hoped they could be implemented quickly.

He added that preparation for registration and voting in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan had, fortunately, made substantial progress since the Secretary-General’s report.  Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between both Governments, the Government of Afghanistan and UNAMA, the implementing partner –- the International Organization for Migration (IOM) -- had begun to operate in both countries.

Out of the initial list of 23 applicants, 18 presidential candidates had passed the test of eligibility, he continued.  Three candidates who were alleged to maintain relations with militias, agreed to the Joint Electoral Managements Body’s proposal to have professional officers of the Afghan army take command of those units.  The political affiliation of the candidates was quite diverse, ranging from the royalist movement to the Jihadi parties, with most candidates broadly described as democrats.  The only female candidate, Masuda Jelal, had already competed with President Karzai at the Emergency Loya Jirga.

Political diversity was supplemented by ethnic diversity, he said.  As an unintended consequence of the constitutional provision that each candidate must run on a ticket with his two vice-presidents, candidates had been able to nominate vice-presidential candidates outside their own ethnic groups.  That was a welcome pattern.  Although the politics of multi-ethnicity had prevailed so far, however, the tone of the debate had become increasingly acrimonious, and it was necessary to watch closely how the electoral campaign unfolded from now on.  Also, continuing nationwide verification of political rights, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA would ascertain whether the rights and obligations of candidates were observed.

Turning to developments in other areas, he said that the issue of counter-narcotics had become critical as a result of a dramatic expansion of poppy cultivation this year.  The eradication campaign was now over, but interdiction continued.  A project implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provided for the establishment of a specialized channel of the judicial system to handle such cases more effectively with specially trained prosecutors, judges and appropriate prison facilities.  By the end of the year, the tools for more effective law enforcement in that area should be in place.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and the cantonment of heavy weapons remained slow, but the targets of Berlin in that regard could be achieved by the time of the election, he continued.  Some 13,000 soldiers had been demobilized, and the demobilization of another 10,000 would bring the total close to 60 per cent of the militia force.  Actually, it appeared more and more probable that the actual number of militias was not in the official 100,000, but close to 40,000 to 50,000.  In addition, in the past month, four corps commanders had been reassigned to civilian positions.

Massive popular participation in voter registration had shown how much depended on the upcoming elections, he said.  An election that would meet those expectations was within reach.  An additional effort was needed with regard to the security of voters and electoral staff.  It was also necessary to continue work on the political environment in order to ensure a free and fair exercise.  The Government, the candidates and the forces they represented, and the international community had a share of responsibility in that.

Statements

ANN PATTERSON (United States) noted that the upcoming elections were an important milestone in Afghanistan’s path towards democracy and commended the over 10 million people who had registered to vote, particularly the 4 million women who had chosen to take part.  The international community must ensure the success of the election, and UNAMA needed sufficient resources to carry out the election -- the resource gap must be closed.  It was also important for Pakistan and Iran to move forward on out-of-country registration and voting, so that Afghans living outside the country could take part in the election process.  The fullest participation of Afghan refugees would solidify their ties to the nation.

In addition, United Nations staff must be protected so they could carry out their mandate, she said.  Violence targeting registration sites underscored the dangers facing election staff.  In June, NATO leaders had agreed to provide enhanced security, and the deployment of additional forces had begun.  The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was working with coalition forces to complete the election security plan, and the United States was working with the people of Afghanistan to rebuild their war-torn country.  Among other things, it had provided infrastructure and health care to a generation of Afghans that had only known war.  The October election would mark the end of the transition period and the beginning of a new democratic future.

WOLFGANG TRAUTWEIN (Germany) aligned himself with the position of the European Union and concurred with the findings of the report before the Council.  The voter registration, particularly the high percentage of women, had exceeded the most optimistic expectations.  It was a sign that the Afghan people were ready and willing to take their destiny in their own hands.  He thanked UNAMA for assisting them in that endeavour.

Now it was important to ensure that presidential elections were conducted successfully, he continued.  Germany was concerned about a deteriorating security situation, which was also affecting areas that had been stable so far.  Security was threatened by terrorist forces, factional fighting and criminal activities, particularly as far as drugs were concerned.  Thus, it was necessary to continue the reform in the security sector and create a functioning judicial system.  Germany would continue its assistance in building Afghan police forces.

He hoped the Government of Afghanistan and the international community would accelerate the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in all the provinces, he said.  Germany was alarmed by the increased cultivation of drugs in the country.  The narco-economy endangered the economic reconstruction of the country and the creation of functioning State structures in Afghanistan.  Therefore, he welcomed the measures by the Afghan Government and others in combating that illicit economy.

The Secretary-General had rightly asked the international community to strengthen efforts in consolidating peace and stability, and the country would need continued external help to face the challenges to security.  An advanced team was on the ground, and soon a first troop contingent would be deployed.  Germany remained the largest national provider of armed forces for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul.  It also provided troops for the HQ Eurocorps that had taken the lead of ISAF VI this August.  Finally, German troops were part of the French-German brigade within the Kabul multinational brigade.

He welcomed the verification of political rights campaign, saying that it was important to ensure that the people of Afghanistan could enjoy the liberties guaranteed in the constitution.

HERALDO MUNOZ (Chile) shared Mr. Arnault’s concern on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.  For example, he regretted that Médecins sans Frontières had decided to close down its operations in the country after 24 years, after attacks against them.  Another focus of destabilization was violent clashes between rival factions.  The security situation had a direct impact on many aspects of the political process and on economic growth and development.  That was why NATO’s contribution was so important.  The Council should study other alternatives to address such challenges.

The panel of experts of the Al-Qaida/Taliban sanctions committee had recently undertaken a mission to the country and had met with several Afghan and United Nations officials.  The panel of experts had observed much of what was stated in the Secretary-General’s report, in particular that the Taliban and Al-Qaida continued to pose a real threat to the stability of the country.

He said that it could not have been imagined a few months ago that more than 10 million Afghans, including 4 million women, would have registered for the election.  He hailed the difficult work achieved by the electoral staff, who were committed to support that important process.  Despite progress in the electoral process, he emphasized that it was crucial to secure the necessary security conditions, in view of the serious threats issued by the Taliban.  It was indispensable for there to be a clear increase in international assistance in the security field.  Among the continuing challenges were delays in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, as well as the increase in poppy cultivation and drug trafficking, which made it possible to finance many of the groups responsible for the attacks.

JULIO HELDER DE MOURA LUCAS (Angola) expressed great concern over the situation in Afghanistan, saying that the Secretary-General’s report before the Council presented a mixed picture, with a tenuous security situation threatening the gains of the Bonn process.  The deteriorating security situation in previously secure areas should be urgently addressed.  At the same time, it was praiseworthy to note significant progress in the areas of public administration, fiscal management and economic and social development.  The other side of the coin, however, was slow development of the country’s national army, which showed a need for long-term sustained international presence.

He pointed out the slow pace of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, which demonstrated the need to put an end to the military factions’ standing in the way of a comprehensive disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  It was also necessary to properly train and equip the national police force and accelerate relevant international support.  Among other continuing sources of concern, he noted a dramatic upsurge in drug cultivation and trafficking.

Decisive actions in coming months would energize nation-building in the country, he said.  The electoral process after October could accelerate the course of progress.  By stepping up its efforts, the international community should concentrate all available resources on ensuring a fair and free electoral process.  A recent response of NATO and appeals of the Secretary-General for more international forces were welcome, for they demonstrated a greater understanding of what was at stake in Afghanistan.

RONALDO MOTA SARDENBERG (Brazil) said that preparation for elections had made sizeable progress, even against the unfavourable backdrop of violence and terrorism.  The achievement of a truly representative vote would depend on the provision of adequate security for the 5,000 polling sites operating across the country.  He concurred with the Secretary-General that a net increase in international security assistance was indispensable to protect the electoral campaign in early September and beyond the holding of the parliamentary election.

It was no secret that the already fragile security situation in the country had been deteriorating in the last months, he said.  Further deployment of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops would be taking place, as it seemed the expansion of the ISAF presence was needed.  National capacity-building in the enforcement of the rule of law was a key factor for long-term stability and should be carried out in parallel with the actions taken by the international community.  A thorough disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process was also required for any improvement in the security field, and to tackle the power of warlords and terrorists determined to sabotage the peace process.  The alarming drug situation also required further action.

JUAN ANTONIO YANEZ-BARNUEVO (Spain) endorsed a statement to be made by the Netherlands on behalf of the European Union, saying that, despite many obstacles, progress continued to be made in Afghanistan.  The elections would take place on 9 October, followed by parliamentary elections next April.  The voter registration had been successful, with a large number of women voters registered.  The elections would be an important milestone in consolidating peace and stability in Afghanistan.  Yet, an upswing in violence and terrorist activities in recent months was a source of concern, making it necessary to step up international efforts to secure implementation of the Bonn Agreement.

As the Secretary-General had said, international assistance in the area of security was vital, he continued.  In that connection, his country had authorized an increase in the number of Spanish forces in the ISAF.  His Government had also authorized a temporary deployment of an infantry battalion of up to 500 to support the electoral process in Afghanistan.

Concluding, he noted that the security situation, elections, disarmament, return of refugees, the rule of law, counter-drug activities, and the implementation of human rights, all were interrelated, and headway must be made on all those fronts in an integrated fashion.  That would ensure success not only in Afghanistan, but in the whole region.

LAURO L. BAJA (Philippines) said that the Afghan people had shown to the world that they were ready and determined to take their destiny in their own hands.  However, his delegation found it disturbing that about five weeks before the presidential elections, the security situation in the country had deteriorated significantly.  In particular, violent incidents had increased in recent weeks and there had been insufficient progress in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of factional forces.  There had also been increased attacks against staff and offices of the Electoral Secretariat, United Nations workers and humanitarian non-governmental organization representatives.

The report concluded that the tenuous security situation was created by the forces of extremism, factionalism and the fast-growing narcotics industry, he continued.  That not only put the electoral process in critical jeopardy in the short term, but also seriously affected such aspects of the peace process as disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, governance, the human rights situation, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction in the long run.  Should humanitarian organizations reconsider their continued presence in Afghanistan because of the precarious situation, that would adversely affect much-needed humanitarian and development activities in the country.

Concluding, he said his delegation fully supported the Secretary-General’s conclusion on the vital importance of security assistance to Afghanistan.  It was now urgent and imperative to ensure the holding of a free, fair and credible electoral process in Afghanistan, which would, in turn, provide political legitimacy for the elected government and advance the peace process.  It was only appropriate that the international community match the courage and determination that the Afghan people were showing, for the security of the world was affected by what transpired in Afghanistan.

JEAN-FRANCIS REGIS ZINSOU (Benin) said Afghanistan, over recent years, had achieved significant progress on the path to normalization.  That progress could be attributed to the efforts of the Afghan Government, as well as to the international community, which had helped in the peace process begun in 2001.  The important stages completed could not have been completed without the constant support of multilateral and bilateral partners.  Strengthening the legitimacy of the Afghan Government was crucial and was directly linked to the successful holding of elections.  He welcomed the progress achieved in drawing up voter lists and understood the reasons which compelled the Joint Electoral Body to revise the electoral timetable.

He stressed the need for proper security guarantees, which required increased assistance from the international community.  The security situation was disquieting, particularly violence directed against electoral staff.  The international community was duty bound to find ways to help Afghanistan.  He welcomed efforts made in that area, especially the end of the registration and the beginning of the cantonment of heavy weaponry.  Similarly, he welcomed the success of the international conference on the restoration of police in Afghanistan.  Also, he agreed with the positive assessment given by the Secretary-General of NATO’s decision to deploy new troops to assist with the elections.  He also welcomed the arrangements to facilitate the return of refugees and the right to vote of Afghans living abroad.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that President Karzai had just completed a two-day official visit to Islamabad.  At the end of the talks, he had said that the discussion had reaffirmed the brotherly ties between the two countries and their joint fight against terrorism.  In particular, Pakistan’s army was operating against Al-Qaida, whose members were now on the run and dispersed in the valleys.  His Government was providing assistance to Afghanistan, where security remained a major concern.

Afghanistan now faced a major challenge in the forthcoming elections, he continued.  It was very important that they were free, fair and credible.  While pleased that some 10 million voters had been registered, he was concerned that sufficient registration had not taken place in some areas of the country, mainly due to security concerns.  Also, vested interests of warlords could undermine the election process, and it was important for international forces, including ISAF, to provide a security cover for elections throughout the country.  For its part, Pakistan had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNAMA in July and pledged a significant amount of money for that purpose.

Pakistan was also providing assistance to refugees, he said.  Refugees in Pakistan would participate in the presidential elections, and he hoped they would participate in the April parliamentary elections, as well.  Afghans in Pakistan were not economic migrants, but refugees, and he hoped funds would be raised to repatriate all of them to their places of origin.

Threats to Afghanistan’s security lay inside Afghanistan, he stressed, arising from faction leaders, criminal lords and extremist forces.  As President Karzai had said on 22 July, the warlords and their private armies were the greatest threat to security, even more than the Taliban.  The primary mistake so far had been to rely on the warlords and faction forces to provide stability in Afghanistan.  That had resulted in a security vacuum in large parts of Afghanistan, where lawlessness thrived, alienated large parts of the country’s society and undermined the political process.  Insecurity in the south and south-east was not difficult to understand.  It was due to the activities of drug lords and criminals, as well as political exclusion.  Similar circumstances had existed in the country at the time the Taliban had emerged.

Until Afghan national forces could provide credible security, it fell upon international forces to step into the situation and clear the circumstances for security, particularly in the south and south-east, he said.  Without a significant increase in ISAF and its deployment throughout the country, no credible disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of faction forces and improvement in the security situation was possible.  In that connection, he also wanted to know how the UNAMA had reached the conclusion that factional militias now numbered some 40,000 to 50,000 instead of the 100,000 previously estimated.  Was it due to exclusion of some forces attached to government members?  In his view, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration would proceed when all the factional leaders accepted demobilization and genuine disarmament of the militias.

Chaos and insecurity in Afghanistan were once again breeding extremism, he continued.  Instead of addressing the situation head on, in certain quarters there was a desire to find scapegoats, shifting responsibility to Pakistan.  Even some UNAMA officials were willing to play that game. Pakistan was expecting full objectivity and impartiality from the United Nations.  His country was extending full cooperation in the war against terrorism and was providing assistance to Afghanistan for the reconstruction of that country.

The international community needed to find ways to step up its assistance to Afghanistan, he concluded, which would enable it to reach its goals.  Much more needed to be done in all areas affecting security and reconstruction in that country.  Shifting the blame and asking those who were already doing more than they should be, was unfair and unacceptable and would ultimately be self-defeating.

ADAM THOMSON (United Kingdom) said the high level of voter registration in Afghanistan represented a huge technical achievement by UNAMA, as well as Afghan and international election personnel.  But it was more than just a technical achievement; it was a major political development, a demonstration of the remarkable determination by Afghans to exercise their new democratic rights.  While not perfect, it did suggest the coming to an end of an era of violence and the development of Afghanistan through peaceful, political channels.  The Taliban knew that successful elections would be their defeat.

The Istanbul Summit had agreed to a further deployment of NATO forces to enhance security for the elections, he said.  It was important that the momentum behind ISAF’s expansion not be lost.  He was concerned by the lack of political freedoms in the south and south-east.  It was important to use the days before the election to ensure that voter turnout was high among Afghan refugees, as well as among Afghans inside the country.  The security situation remained fragile and troubling.  It was important to build capacity to enable Afghanistan to provide for its own security, even though in the meantime it fell to the international community to provide that security.

In that regard, it was necessary to focus on building a criminal justice system and boosting the delivery of justice and the rule of law, he continued.  A challenge in that area was progress on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.  While that had been slow, there was solid progress to report in light of the difficult circumstances on the ground.  The period between the presidential and parliamentary elections provided an opportunity to make advances in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and it was important to seize that opportunity.  The international community must continue to identify ways to provide effective support in that area.

Another long-term challenge was the need to counter the narcotics trade, he said.  Tackling the drug problem was a daunting challenge with no shortcuts to success.  If that challenge were to be met, everyone would need to work together.  The building blocks were in place but it was necessary to consolidate activities on the ground.  The situation of human rights was a cause for concern, and he called on the Government to consider seriously the forthcoming report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on human rights violations and transitional justice.  The Government could do more, including stopping the appointment of known human rights violators to government posts.

ZHANG YISHAN (China), noting that the Afghan Government had made great progress, expressed appreciation for the role played by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UNAMA.  The holding of free and fair elections and the establishment of a representative government were priority tasks for Afghanistan.  The elections would be an important milestone in the peace process.  Despite the fact that voter registration had been subjected to violent attacks, encouraging progress had been achieved.  The successful holding of elections and promoting peace and reconstruction were daunting tasks facing Afghanistan and the international community.  The fragile security situation posed a severe threat to the Bonn process.  As such, measures must be taken to tackle terrorism, factionalism and drug trafficking.

He supported the Afghan Government in continuing security sector reform, in building up the national army and police, and in pursuing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.  He hoped all ethnic groups would focus on national interests and seek unity to maintain national peace.  Also, efforts must be made to counter illicit narcotics.  He appreciated the counter narcotics measures taken by the Government and called on the international community to further help Afghanistan in that regard.

In addition, he called the international community to provide adequate security assistance to Afghanistan, especially during the presidential and parliamentary elections.  The international community should honour its commitment to meet the financial demands in Afghanistan relating to elections, security sector reform and the establishment of the rule of law.  This year his country was going to render $15 million in assistance to Afghanistan.  The $1 million for elections would be on the ground by September.

On 10 June, Chinese engineers suffered from a terrorist attack against them, and 11 had lost their lives.  He condemned that attack and demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice.  China would not bow to any kind of terrorism and would continue to participate in the reconstruction of Afghanistan.

MICHEL DUCLOS (France) said he shared the position of the European Union to be presented later in the meeting by the representative of the Netherlands.  A number of concerns with regard to the situation in Afghanistan remained.  For instance, the reforms in the security area were taking too long, and the fight against drug trafficking was not fully successful.  The deterioration of the security situation in recent months was a source of particular concern, and he reiterated his country’s condemnation of all violence against international personnel, United Nations staff and humanitarian workers.  It was important to pursue those guilty and bring them to justice.

The success in the registration process had been emphasized by Mr. Arnault, and he believed that such information was of special importance as it demonstrated the determination and courage of the Afghan people.  The next immediate task for the international community was to ensure proper presidential elections, to be followed by parliamentary elections.  The importance of ensuring the best possible security should be underscored in that regard. For its part, France had increased its military presence in the country, including in ISAF and through the French-German brigade.  It was also increasing its efforts in training the Afghan army.

With the presidential elections, an important page would be turned in Afghanistan.  It would mark a beginning of the end of the forces standing in the way of progress in Afghanistan.  It would also demonstrate the relevance of the programmes put in place by the international community.  He supported the Special Representative who had given the Council a message of hope today.  That message could be realized if the international community continued to rally around Afghanistan.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said the peace process in Afghanistan had reached a critical phase with the holding of the first presidential elections in October and the parliamentary elections next year.  The elections would make it possible for Afghanistan to lay the foundations for democracy.  He hoped that the democratic exercise would lead to the establishment of a representative government and occur in an environment of transparency, equity and security.  He welcomed the registration results, which demonstrated the determination of the Afghan population to engage in the reconstruction of the country.  He also paid tribute to UNAMA, especially the electoral staff.

He welcomed the progress made by the Government to implement the plan of work adopted at the Berlin conference.  However, emphasis must be laid on poverty reduction, strengthening the rule of law and the protection of human rights.  The security situation gave rise to serious concern and might negatively impact the holding of elections.  The south and south-east area, where the Taliban and other groups had remained active, had seen an upswing in violence.  Those attacks had deprived the population of the benefits of reconstruction and slowed the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.  It was necessary to pursue the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme; to speed up the cantonment of heavy weaponry, where progress had fallen short; and to expand the presence of international forces.

Another destabilizing factor was the production and illicit trafficking of drugs, which was a significant threat to stability and reconstruction.  It was necessary to encourage alternative crops, as well as to increase cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours.  International support should continue to be provided in the security field, to bring to safe harbour the process begun with the Bonn Agreement.  The decision of NATO to make more troops available was important, as was their rapid deployment.

GHEORGHE DUMITRU (Romania) said that during the run-up to Afghanistan’s presidential elections, the international community should spare no effort to support the Afghan people in addressing crucial remaining challenges, including improving the security situation, speeding up the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme and continuing the voter registration process.

Given the triad of extremist violence, factionalism and the drug trade, there was undoubtedly a need to put more focus on security, particularly with the elections approaching.  He noted that the entire balloting process seemed to have resurrected an unprecedented spate of violence and criminal activity spurred by those forces opposing the current political and stabilization processes.  Romania agreed with the Secretary-General that, in order to ensure free and fair elections, a net increase in international assistance was indispensable.

Much more work remained to be done to bring about and maintain a security environment consistent with expanding humanitarian and development activities in the country, he said, adding that providing a safe and secure environment for United Nations and other humanitarian personnel was also essential.  The international community must match the determination of the Afghan people.  States must stand by their pledges in order for stability to take hold.  To that end, Romania welcomed NATO’s recent decisions on Afghan security matters and believed that was a further demonstration of the impact of cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations.

Turning to the voter registration process, he said Romania had been very encouraged by the impressive numbers -– particularly the large numbers of women registering to participate in the presidential election -- reported by UNAMA in that regard.  Strongly commending the mission’s efforts, he stressed the importance of building on and sustaining such coordinated actions, particularly those aimed at ensuring balanced ethnic representation.  Finally, he advocated the need for further progress in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in order to ensure a safer environment for the elections.  But he advocated a “cautious” approach on the issue of reintegrating ex-combatants, particularly in light of current high levels of unemployment in Afghanistan and the potential for generating further instability.

Speaking in his national capacity, President of the Council, ANDREY DENISOV (Russian Federation) said he agreed with the major conclusion of the report that ensuring security remained the main priority in Afghanistan.  With the presidential elections approaching, a wave of violence was growing in the country.  Attacks on the polling sites and international personnel showed that opponents of the normalization were trying to jeopardize the elections.  To correct the situation, urgent and decisive measures were needed.

His country had repeatedly drawn attention to the danger of a revival of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, continuing infiltration of the militants into Afghanistan and emergence of neo-Taliban groups, he continued.  He believed that attempts to flirt with the so-called “moderate Taliban” could lead to serious consequences.  Nevertheless, the focus of efforts were shifting from a campaign against the Taliban and the drug business to the disarmament of the forces in the north, the majority of which were loyal to the present regime and ready to defend it.  His delegation was concerned over slow progress in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.  Today’s explosive situation dictated an urgent need to speed up the collection of arms not only in separate areas, but throughout the country.

Moscow had taken note of a recent decision to stagger the presidential and parliamentary elections, but there was still a serious danger that that decision -- which ran counter to the decisions made in Bonn and Berlin –- would create an explosive situation, which could lead to a new armed confrontation and a split of power.

The success of the political process in Afghanistan was closely connected to the strengthening of the central coordinating role of the United Nations.  Currently, an increasing number of international structures were engaged in the country, including NATO and Eurocorps, coalition forces and many non-governmental organizations.  There was also an increase in a number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams.  Proposals were being made to merge several of those forces under the leadership of NATO.  However, parameters for international involvement must be clearly regulated through Security Council decisions.

The efforts to stem the growth of illegal drug production and drug trafficking had so far been ineffective, he added, and the danger of Afghanistan turning into a narco-economy was becoming more of a reality.  That could create a threat to the efforts to restore and reconstruct the country.  Russia was convinced of the importance of devising a comprehensive international strategy to counter the drug threat, creating a security belt along the Afghan borders.  At present, the major task of the Council was to provide assistance to the authorities and the international community in preventing further destabilization in Afghanistan on the eve of the elections and to ensure their success.

RAVAN FARHADI (Afghanistan) said that for nearly three years, his Government had made major progress in implementing the 2001 Bonn Agreement and that now, with presidential elections set for October and the parliamentary ballot set for April, Afghanistan was entering the final stages of realizing the goals of that important accord.  The Afghan people’s enthusiasm for those vital exercises had been readily apparent in the high voter registration turnout, which had, thus far, mustered some 10 million registrants, more than 41 per cent of whom had been women.

He said that diverse political and social organizations and political actors had been involved in the national debate during the run-up to the historic elections.  Such positive developments had been a blow to the extremist groups engaged in propaganda and intimidation campaigns threatening people who were participating in the democratic process.  Attempts to derail the elections through violent attacks had failed, he said, thanking the staff of UNAMA and its Chief, Jean Arnault, for the central role they had played in preparing for the elections and the registration process.

Afghanistan’s main objective now was to consolidate peace and security, he said, but added that that goal was constantly being threatened by remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaida -- particularly in Afghanistan’s eastern and southern border regions -- which continued their attempts to sabotage the country’s progress and challenge the authority of the legitimate Afghan Government.  He added that those groups, which mainly targeted civilians, relief workers and those working towards the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country, were supported by political and religious networks operating outside Afghanistan.  Afghan armed forces, along with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the anti-terrorist coalition forces were actively involved in thwarting the subversive and violent activities of the extremist groups.

He said the Afghan Government had welcomed the Council’s decision earlier in the year to expand ISAF outside Kabul and to establish the Provincial Reconstruction Team.  He went on to stress that Afghanistan’s economic recovery and reconstruction were closely related to security issues.  Tangible reconstruction enhanced the Government’s authority and greatly contributed to the peace process.  The Government should have the ability to provide services, create jobs and build roads, and thousands of ex-combatants should be reintegrated.  Active participation by the international community and financial assistance to reconstruction efforts contributed significantly to efforts to restore democracy and consolidate peace.  Full disbursement of commitments made at Berlin this past spring were essential in that regard.

DIRK JAN VAN DEN BERG (Netherlands), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, welcomed the decision announced by the Joint Electoral Management Body to hold presidential elections in October.  Those elections were a key requirement under the Bonn Agreement and represented a new milestone in the process of constructing a democratic, stable and prosperous Afghanistan.  He also welcomed the fact that an encouraging number of presidential candidates had put forward their candidacies.

As for the local and parliamentary elections, the European Union understood that technical and logistical reasons had made in impossible to hold both sets of elections concurrently this autumn, he said.  It was now important to use the remaining months to ensure that successful preparations continued apace and all conditions were met for free and fair elections according to the Electoral Management Body’s timetable.  He commended that Body’s tremendous achievement with the registration of nearly all eligible voters and welcomed the fact that among the registered voters, 41 per cent were women.  The European Union was supporting and assisting the Afghan Government in the preparation of elections, including through financial assistance and the Democracy and Election Support Mission.

Deeply concerned about the violence against election workers, international humanitarian personnel and those working for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, he said that high levels of insecurity in several areas of the country were a reminder of the need to provide security during the elections, to rebuild the Afghan army and intensify the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process.  The commitment and engagement of the Afghan Transitional Authority was crucial in that regard.  Counter-narcotics was another important area, and he welcomed recent seizures by the Afghan Special Narcotics Force.  He also urged the Afghan Government and the international community to work together to tackle the problem.

Afghanistan had made enormous progress in the past years, he said, but many challenges remained.  The European Union believed that the people of Afghanistan had the courage and determination to overcome them.  Continued international engagement and support were also crucial, and the European Union remained committed to a secure, stable, free, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan.

SHINICHI KITAOKA (Japan) welcomed the registration of more than 10 million voters, which clearly demonstrated the strong determination of the Afghan people to create a new nation through the democratic process.  He stressed that free and fair elections required that the security of voters be guaranteed.  The unstable security situation in the south and south-east caused delay in the voter registration process, which demonstrated the continued determination of extremist groups to impede the electoral process.  He strongly condemned the activities of such groups, and was encouraged by the decision of NATO to send additional troops to Afghanistan.

Regarding the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, he said that, despite the efforts of the Afghan Government and the assistance of the international community, the level of soldiers who had entered the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme so far remained at only 20 per cent of the total target for the programme, a situation which was far from satisfactory.  Japan, as the lead country in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process together with the United Nations, continued to make efforts to maintain the momentum of the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme even after the presidential election.

He also welcomed the decision by President Karzai in July to make the following activities illegal after disarmament, demobilization and reintegration:  rearmament, remobilization of discharged soldiers, maintenance of armed militias and possession of heavy weaponry outside the framework of the Ministry of Defence and the new National Army.  It was also essential that the international community continue to be united in its determination not to create a power vacuum after disarmament, demobilization and reintegration by accelerating the formation of the national army and police force and the deployment of international forces.

ALLAN ROCK (Canada) said that Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan remained steadfast and went beyond military deployments, involving complementary action in the areas of diplomacy and development.  Canada had committed an additional $250 million in development assistance to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2009, bringing its total contribution to over $600 million since 2001.  While Afghanistan had made giant strides, the gains were not yet irreversible.  Without security and credible, accountable governance institutions in Afghanistan, and without a growing private sector and national income, the goal of becoming a democratic and self-sustaining State would remain elusive.

Efforts were being threatened by the mutually reinforcing threat posed by warlords, resurgent Taliban and their supporters, and narcotics, he said.  That was a volatile mix.  Both supported and insulated by lucrative customs revenues and the profits from the narcotics trade, many warlords were capable of autonomous action and were often impervious to standard disarmament, demobilization and reintegration incentives.  It was clear that that volatile mix represented the single greatest obstacle to stability and progress in Afghanistan and, if allowed to continue, threatened to undo the success of nearly three years.

It was paramount to ensure that the presidential and parliamentary elections went smoothly –- as freely and fairly as possible.  While voter registration figures were positive, additional attention should be devoted to underrepresented regions, including certain areas to the south, as well as out-of-country voters.  Elections were the final phase contemplated by the Bonn Agreement.  After the elections, it would be incumbent on the Afghan Government and the international community to develop a forward-looking plan that extended the vision of Bonn -– setting new benchmarks, key to democratic development.  But without security, particularly outside Kabul, the prospects for successful elections and overall stabilization remained seriously endangered.

HJALMAR W. HANNESSON (Iceland) said that the Secretary-General’s frank report on the current situation in Afghanistan indicated there was clearly cause for concern, particularly in both the short- and long-term security situation.  In the short term, it was essential that the Provincial Reconstruction Teams be reinforced, and that a secure environment be established in which broader peace-building efforts could proceed.

To that end, Iceland deplored the increasingly frequent attack on United Nations staff and other relief workers in recent weeks, and expressed its regret –- while at the same time understanding the move –- at the withdrawal of Médecins Sans Frontières, “one of the most courageous of the NGOs, with over 20 years’ experience in the country.”

The long-term human security environment was being critically affected by extremist elements such as the Taliban or Al-Qaida, as well as by flourishing criminal activity, principally centred on and funded by the narcotics trade.  All aspects of that trade –- production capacity, trade routes and end users -– must be addressed if the corrosive threats it posed were to ever be defeated.  Production capacity could only be effectively reduced in the long term by providing farmers with viable alternatives, he stressed, adding that “putting the screws” to the trade routes would also make drug production less economically attractive.

Finally, he noted that another crucial factor in establishing long-term security was the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process, particularly the “reintegration” element.  Soldiers who hand in guns must be given constructive and meaningful roles in society or the danger was that they would simply acquire new guns, “of which there is a plentiful supply”, he said.

ALISHER VOHIDOV (Uzbekistan) said that, while progress had been achieved in such areas as the strengthening of State structures and establishment of the army, law enforcement agencies and the judicial system, several areas of concern remained.  Among those, he listed the security situation in Afghanistan, the difficulties in organizing elections and combating the narco-business, and the slow pace of political, social and economic reforms.  Another important issue related to the provision of financial and other forms of assistance to the country.

The Secretary-General’s conclusions regarding the need to ensure safety and security in Afghanistan coincided with the position of his Government, which believed that the international community needed to continue its fight against terrorism and extremism and strengthen the authority of the central government in Afghanistan.  The coordinating role should be assigned to the United Nations.  The efforts to demilitarize various military factions needed to be accelerated.  Among the measures that needed to be taken, he listed the need to unify national armed forces under central authority, ensure submission of local authorities to the central government, and build up international cooperation to eliminate terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.

He expressed concern over increased efforts on behalf of both internal and external forces to destabilize Afghanistan and prevent general elections, emphasizing the danger of radical and extremist religious organizations and the need to undertake resolute sanctions against them.  He also stressed the importance of providing financial assistance to Afghanistan.  The neighbouring countries should refrain from interfering in internal affairs in Afghanistan.  Seriously concerned over record harvest of poppy in Afghanistan, he stressed the need for far-reaching reforms to ensure employment of the population.  The international community should also provide support for the establishment of a regional information coordination centre to counter illegal drug trafficking.

Normalization of the situation in the country would determine the safety and security in the whole region, he said.  Afghanistan was an integral part of the Central Asian space, and it should participate in the regional integration process.  It was important to use the potential of the neighbouring countries’ resources to reconstruct Afghanistan’s infrastructure.  Uzbekistan was providing assistance to Afghanistan in such areas as construction of bridges, communications and electric power lines.  It was also facilitating the transit of goods to Afghanistan.

“We are still far from the establishment of complete peace and security in Afghanistan”, he said in conclusion.  “But we have every reason to believe that the international community will not allow the positive processes in Afghanistan to be turned back.”

Responding to questions, Mr. ARNAULT said he wanted to clarify the issue of the troop strength of the Afghan forces.  Force strength was a subject of much debate, and Afghanistan was no exception.  Last year, the initial figure offered by the Ministry of Defence as to the total number was 700,000.  After discussion, an agreement was reached in November on a working assumption of 100,000 soldiers and officers.  Since then, it appeared that clearly the troop strength had been vastly overstated.  Now a working assumption was no more than 40,000 to 50,000.  As disarmament, demobilization and reintegration progressed, the number would turn out to be smaller rather than larger.

Also, he assured Pakistan and others that there was no room for political bias at UNAMA.  He shared the analysis presented by Pakistan, particularly the analysis regarding the role of factionalism in the situation of insecurity.  Much of UNAMA’s mandate was directed at the need to control and contain factionalism.  The purpose of the election was to ensure that the post-war order could be based on popular will.  His contention was that the Taliban’s activities were directly undermining the expression of popular will, precisely in the communities it claimed to support.

He did not dispute that the Taliban had assets and resources in the country itself.  One of the tools such groups had at their disposal was cross-border operations to attack the peace process, and particularly the electoral process.  He appealed to the international community, Pakistan and Afghanistan to put an end to that situation, particularly in the southern border region.

Mr. AKRAM (Pakistan) thanked Mr. Arnault for his concluding remarks, which had put in balance the situation as it existed today.  He agreed that there was an effort on behalf of the extremists to disrupt the elections.  There was no question that the extremists did not as yet enjoy popular support in Afghanistan.  There was, however, one point that he wanted to make.

In his view, it was not primarily the cross-border infiltration that was resulting in extremist violence, including in the south and south-east, he said.  Reviewing the location of incidents in the past several months, one would be able to pinpoint that, apart from five or six incidents, most had taken place well within the territory of Afghanistan.  With the United Nations seeking cooperation from Pakistan to stop infiltration, several questions arose, however.  What his country was doing was extraordinary, both in the effort deployed and the costs of “marching troops into territories where even the British had not ventured in 50 years”.  Pakistan had encountered resistance, and many of its soldiers had died.  What more did the United Nations expect Pakistan to do when it made a call on Pakistan in that context?

He felt very strongly that his country was doing everything it could, taking lots of casualties, he added.  Asking Pakistan to do more was unfair.  To become more effective in its actions, it required assistance.  Also, cross-border action was a responsibility not only of Pakistan, but also of Afghanistan and the international forces in that country.  Had actions taken on the other side of the border been more extensive than what Pakistan had done on its side?

“If the international community asks us to do more, should it not do more itself?” he asked.  Those were real and practical issues and, therefore, his Government was very sensitive to any assertion that it could do more without the help of the international community.

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For information media. Not an official record.