Press Releases

                                                                                                                            1 April 2004

    Afghanistan Will Need Continued International Assistance until Transition Is Complete, Secretary-General Tells Berlin Conference

    NEW YORK, 31 March (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the message by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Conference on Afghanistan in Berlin, delivered today by Lakhdar Brahimi, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General:

    You are meeting at a time of cautious celebration.  Since the conference in Bonn nearly two and a half years ago, Afghanistan has achieved remarkable progress.  This is due primarily to the determination of the Afghan people not to allow the country to slide back into civil war.

    Through two Loya Jirgas, and now during the preparation for the electoral process, the people of Afghanistan are showing -- in their country’s finest tradition -- their willingness to work together and to move forward.  They have demonstrated remarkable patience, as the new State, which they so dearly wish to see up and running, becomes better equipped day by day to control insecurity and expand reconstruction.

    Another crucial factor has been the strong partnership between the Afghan Government and the international community -- a partnership that has flourished since the signing of the Bonn Agreement and the first donors’ conference in Tokyo in 2002.  It has shown the Afghan people that they are not alone in their struggle to put a definitive end to decades of conflict -- and thus bolstered their hope that they will ultimately succeed.

    The Bonn process now faces one of its major challenges -- the holding of a free and fair election.  So far, the registration process reflects the clear desire of Afghans in all regions and all walks of life to join in the political process.  And the expected outcome -- a fully representative government -- will undoubtedly mark a decisive step in the democratic transition, and thus make a major contribution to the consolidation of peace.

    Yet the magnitude of the election task is enormous.  Objectives that have eluded us for two years must now be achieved in a very short time, in particular:

    -- Greater security to allow registration and polling to take place everywhere in a balanced manner;

    -- Greater political freedoms for all competing parties and candidates, including the possibility of organizing openly and safely, with access to the media; and

    -- demobilization and reintegration, which, since the signing of the Bonn agreement, have been the single most pressing demand from the Afghan people, irrespective of their political and ethnic background.  In advance of elections, this will be essential in order to clear the political arena of all factional militaries and to allow for political party activity to be carried out in accordance with the new constitution.

    Only if these objectives are met can the election fulfil its potential as a tool for state-building and national reconciliation.

    This ambitious agenda will put everybody to the test, Afghans and international community alike -- and perhaps nowhere as much as in the field of security. This conference provides an invaluable opportunity for the Afghan Government and international community to agree on the benchmarks that will need to be met to achieve credible elections. Security assistance remains one of the most important contributions -- if not the most important -- that the international community can make.

    The recent outbreak of violence in Herat, which resulted in the death of Minister for Aviation and Tourism and perhaps as many as 100 others, is a deplorable example of the terrible impact that the factional rivalries which beset Afghanistan can have. The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, the reforms of the national security sector, and international security assistance are all vital if we are to bring an end to this factionalism and build lasting stability based on truly national institutions.

    The people of Afghanistan, after a prolonged war, still suffer from continued insecurity from terrorism, factionalism and lawlessness, and still dread the possibility of a return to conflict.  I trust that you will seize the opportunity of this conference to give them the firm, long-term commitment they are looking for.

    A successful election would be a fitting culmination of the efforts of the past two years to bring security, good governance and reconstruction to Afghanistan.  The authority and legitimacy of an elected government would boost the ability of the State of Afghanistan to address outstanding tasks, among them the daunting narcotics challenge.  But it would still not be the end of the road that began in Bonn.  Much of the work of building a fully functional State would still lie ahead.  Creating the instruments of the rule of law is not a short-term undertaking.  As I said in my report to the Security Council in March 2002, it will take more than 36 months to heal the wounds left by 23 years of war.

    Afghanistan has a constitution unanimously approved by a Loya Jirga, and it will have elected institutions.  But to complete its transition to peace and democracy, it will also need the continued assistance of the international community.  The partnership which emerged in Bonn, and which has been strengthened through countless initiatives over the past 24 months, must continue until the transition is complete; until the State of Afghanistan can stand on its own two feet, equipped with effective and impartial security forces, respectful of human rights; a professional civilian administration; a functional justice system; and the ability to address the basic needs of its people.

    This conference is a unique opportunity for the Government to reaffirm its commitment to that agenda, and for the international community to send the Afghan people an unequivocal reassurance that it will remain by their side.  In that spirit, I wish you every success in your deliberations.

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