Press Releases

                                                                            25 March 2004

    After 26 Months, One of Last Major Benchmarks Reached in Afghanistan Peace Agreement -- Holding Free, Fair Elections, Security Council Told

    Assistant Secretary-General, Briefing Council, Says Significant Demilitarization Needed for Genuine Political Choice, Credible Result

    NEW YORK, 24 March (UN Headquarters) -- After 26 months of success in implementing the peace agreement in Afghanistan, one of its last major benchmarks had now been reached -- the holding of free and fair elections, Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Security Council this morning.

    Briefing the Council on the challenges that remained in implementing the Bonn Agreement, as well as the measures that would lead to the further transition of Afghanistan towards a stable and well-founded State, he noted that the point of those elections was to confer political legitimacy on the new Government.  That legitimacy alone was not sufficient, however, and it was therefore essential that the processes of reconstruction and the building of State institutions accelerate. 

    To equip the new Government with the tools essential for effective governance -- namely, viable, accountable and representative State institutions that could ensure security and establish a credible base for the development of the country -- further progress was required in the implementation of security sector reform, he added.

    Despite a number of obstacles, the electoral process was moving forward on schedule under very difficult conditions, he said.  The next phase of registration would, however, demand an enormous rise in logistics needs, increased security risks, and complex organizational requirements.  Success in completing the registration and holding elections would depend on support from Afghan and international security forces and continued timely donor support. 

    In addition, he said, security remained an unsolved problem. The United Nations Mission had advocated that 100 per cent of heavy weapons be cantoned and 40 per cent of Afghan militias be demobilized before elections. Without significant demilitarization, genuine political choice as required for a credible election was simply not possible.  Events such as the incident on 21 March in Herat, in which the Minister for Aviation and Tourism, Mirwais Siddiq, and several others were killed, were likely to recur. 

    Looking back, he said the distance that had been travelled had been encouraging.  The United Nations remained determined to fulfil its Bonn Agreement commitments.  In that connection, he hoped the Council would endorse the Secretary-General’s recommendation to renew the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for an additional 12 months, and that its mandate and structure remain the same.

    The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and adjourned at 10:48 a.m.

    Briefing by Secretariat

    HEDI ANNABI, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that the constitution required elections for the presidency and for the upper and lower houses of the national assembly.  The upper house -- the Meshrano Jirga, or House of Elders -- presented some difficulties.  Two-thirds of the upper house delegates were to be elected from district and provincial councils.  That meant that district and provincial councils must be elected.  Only then could there be elections from among the members of those councils to determine the members of the upper house. The complexities in carrying out multi-level, simultaneous elections in Afghanistan’s current circumstances were enormous. 

    Not least of those complexities, he said, was the fact that credible population figures for all provinces were not yet available and a number of district boundaries remained under dispute.  Nonetheless, the constitution stated that “every effort shall be made” to hold those elections simultaneously.  Every effort was being made; attention in Kabul was focused on that task, and he hoped that a decision would be made in the very near future on the timing and sequence of the elections.

    The lack of absolute clarity on that question today would no doubt be frustrating to some, he noted.  In the early days of UNAMA, Mr. Brahimi used to caution the Council that Afghanistan needed to “make haste slowly”.  That paradox was especially true for elections.  On the one hand, there was the urgency of holding elections as close as possible to the Bonn time frame.  On the other hand, holding elections was not, as Mr. Brahimi had also said, “like making instant coffee”. The conditions must be conducive and the preparations must be thorough for the effect of elections to be positive, and for the elections themselves to be seen as free and fair. 

    Another paradox was the need to work closely with the Afghans while recognizing that there were few Afghans with electoral experience. The Afghan Government and UNAMA had addressed that by adopting a co-responsibility management model, defined in a Presidential decree issued on 18 February.  That decree created an Electoral Secretariat in which international electoral experts were paired with Afghan counterparts at a management level.  That would allow Afghan capacity to be built as electoral activities were implemented.  At the implementation level, around 40,000 Afghans would be trained to manage 4,700 polling sites on election day, and the United Nations would verify the work of the registration and polling teams, which would be composed entirely of Afghans. 

    The first phase of the registration project had progressed more or less on target.  That phase covered the eight main cities in Afghanistan and would last until early April.  As of yesterday, 1.5 million voters out of an estimated 1.9 million eligible voters in those cities had registered.  Of those, around 28 per cent were women.  One of the positive trends in recent weeks had been the constant increase of overall women’s participation, though it remained far lower than hoped, especially in the southern areas.  At the same time, preparations were being set in place to launch phase II -- set to begin on 1 May -- when registration teams would roll out to provincial capitals, security permitting. 

    Success in completing the registration and holding elections would depend on support from Afghan and international security forces. Success would also depend on continued timely donor support.  In that regard, financial requirements for registration were almost fully pledged.  Delays, however, in actually disbursing funds to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) trust fund continued to hinder and delay procurement, staffing and planning activities.  He urged donors to work to speed up the disbursement process, as well as to set aside additional funds for elections.               

    He said that extremist attacks on aid agencies and on government officials continued to occur, predominately in the southern provinces. The report noted that factional fighting had broken out in the north-east, traditionally one of the safest regions of the country. Unfortunately, recent events suggested that even areas that most observers believed were safe and stable were not immune from security problems. 

    He then turned to the fierce fighting which occurred in Herat on 21 March between the factional forces loyal to the Provincial Governor, Ismael Khan, and troops loyal to the Government-appointed Commander, General Zahir. According to preliminary reports from Government sources, the violence last Sunday arose from long-standing tensions between the two leaders, which were ignited by a traffic accident involving their supporters. The traffic accident was soon transformed into a rumour of an attempted assassination against the Governor. The rumor -- which was false as far as he could ascertain -- reached the Governor’s son, Mirwais Siddiq, Minister for Aviation and Tourism, who then sought to use his vehicle to forcibly enter the General’s residential compound. 

    The General’s guards fired at the vehicle, sparking an exchange of gunfire in which the Minister, together with Herat’s heads of police intelligence and counter-narcotics departments, were killed.  The Governor’s forces then mobilized, deploying heavy weapons and firing artillery, tank and rocket propelled grenade rounds during a battle that lasted over six hours and which resulted in the occupation, by the Governor’s forces, of General’s Zahir’s military headquarters.  Casualty figures vary greatly, from estimates of 20 to 100.  A government delegation and additional Afghanistan army troops had been deployed to Herat and the situation was now reported as calm, but tense.

    As Council members would recall from their visit to the province last year, notwithstanding the Governor’s de facto independence from Kabul and troublesome reports regarding human rights and the treatment of women, Herat was considered to be one of the most stable areas, he said.  Indeed, the province had one of the highest voter registration rates, including female registration of some 36.8 per cent, compared to the national average of 28 per cent.  That demonstrated that, even in an area like Herat, considered to be conducive to electoral activities, the security problem could not be discounted.

    He reiterated that the fighting in Herat, and recent factional fighting in the north, strongly indicated that security remained an unsolved problem. In particular, more progress in the implementation of security sector reform was now required. That must include further substantive reform of the ministries of defence and interior, as well as the National Security Directorate.  It must also see the implantation of a more vigorous disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme than the Ministry of Defence had so far been willing to commit itself to.  UNAMA had advocated that 100 per cent of heavy weapons should be cantoned and 40 per cent of Afghan militia forces be demobilized before elections.

    Without significant demilitarization, genuine political choice as required for a credible election was simply not possible, he said.  Events such as those in Herat were likely to recur. The leadership of affected militia would need to be convinced that the drawdown of their forces would not create an opening for their rivals.  The newly created national forces, which were being trained by the United States with the support of France, did not yet have the necessary capacity to provide such assurances.  Accordingly, the presence of international forces, including provincial reconstruction teams, was necessary to allay the concerns of factional leaders and to allow the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process to move forward.

    He noted that past efforts to expand government authority to the provinces, including the appointment by Kabul of senior civil servants, had been hampered by the insufficient numbers of trained and well-equipped police.  Presently, a total of 4,339 officers had been trained.  With the additional programmes recently initiated by the German Police Project and United States’ training programmes, there should be an additional 20,000 trained officers by June.  Given the limited number of police trainers, he encouraged the provincial reconstruction teams to consider engaging in post-deployment mentoring in support of the Interior Ministry.  Hopefully, the commitment to the Law and Order Trust Fund, to which many members of the international community had contributed, would continue. 

    In terms of reconstruction, the Transitional Administration had progressively taken over from the United Nations leadership and ownership of the coordination of reconstruction priorities, he said.  That was welcome, and he fully endorsed the use of Afghanistan’s national budget as a mechanism for coordinating assistance and reconstruction.  Looking towards the future, however, a concern shared by the Afghan Government was that the impact of the country’s economic growth in the last two years (estimated at 30 per cent in 2002 and 20 per cent in 2003) had largely been felt in the urban centres alone.  That had prompted a demographic shift from rural areas to the cities, exacerbating social tensions there. 

    In response, he continued, assistance policy had shifted from humanitarian assistance towards broader, longer-term “social protection” programmes, which lay the ground for sustained economic recovery while maintaining a safety net for the poorest and most vulnerable.  Given those emerging trends, the Government had undertaken a comprehensive analytical exercise to determine the cost of meeting its long-term recovery and reconstruction targets, including the security sector, which had not been included at the Tokyo donor conference of December 2001.  The Government’s report entitled “Securing Afghanistan’s Future” (Web site: promoted a policy of broad-based economic growth, and determined that public investment of $28.5 billion over seven years was needed to create a viable economy.

    At the same time, that report recognized that economic policies would continue to be complicated by the lucrative illegal drug economy and related disputes over land ownership, he said.  The scale and continuing proliferation of production and trafficking of illegal narcotics had been reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in its recent survey, which suggested that the drug economy and subsequent instability was perhaps the greatest threat to the development of a stable functioning State.  Recent implementation by the Government of a robust strategy to combat narcotics had been encouraging.  But, the task was enormous and also required implementation of a comprehensive policy of interdiction by Afghanistan, as well as by transit and recipient states, alongside alternative livelihood options for farmers.


    The Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2004/230).  The report describes the ongoing implementation of the Bonn Agreement by the Afghan Transitional Administration, supported by UNAMA.  It focuses on key political and humanitarian developments in Afghanistan, as well as the activities of the Mission during the period from 31 December 2003 to 16 March 2004. 

    The report describes the path ahead in implementing the Bonn Agreement following the successful conclusion of the Constitutional Loya Jirga in January 2004 and the signing of the new Afghan constitution.  One of the key challenges will be the holding of elections.  The report describes the status of the voter registration project and the main issues involved in deciding on the timing and type of elections to be held in 2004. 

    Security remains a significant problem.  The report describes a number of ongoing initiatives to improve security -- such as the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force, the deployment of additional provincial reconstruction teams, and accelerated efforts to build an Afghan army and police force -- and underlines that elections, reconstruction, human rights, and the building of State institutions depend on the success of these processes. 

    The report also stresses that more progress is required to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate former combatants. By reducing the power of factions, the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process will create space for constitutionally legitimate governance structures.  Attacking the corrupting culture of the drugs economy is described in the report as an enormous task, in face of a security situation that requires both immediate measures and international commitment.

    The report coincides with the end of the Mission’s one-year mandate.  The Secretary-General recommends that UNAMA be renewed, and proposes that the recommendations for a detailed mandate be submitted to the Council following the upcoming Berlin conference on a post-Bonn Afghanistan and after decisions have been taken on the holding of elections.

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