Press Releases

    11 January 2005

    Answer to Terrorism, Narcotics, Factionalism Lies in Building Strong Representative Government, Special Representative for Afghanistan Tells Security Council

    Says Parliamentary Elections Set for April-May 2005 Should Occur in Environment Created through Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration

    NEW YORK, 10 January (UN Headquarters) -- In Afghanistan, the principal answer to the challenges of terrorism, factionalism and narcotics lay in building a strong, effective, balanced and representative government able to translate the will of the overwhelming majority of Afghans to live in peace under the law, protected from violent extremism and the political and ethnic divisions that had fuelled the conflicts of the past two decades, the Security Council heard today.

    Briefing the Council on developments in that country since the last briefing in November, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Jean Arnault, said it was of constant concern to Afghans that parliamentary elections, planned for April-May 2005, should take place once a proper political environment was created through disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR). That concern applied particularly to local elections where a web of political interests and armed groups could significantly distort the process.

    He recalled that it had been reported to the Council in November that 22,000 former combatants had been disarmed, and 75 per cent of the total number of heavy weapons in the country had been cantoned. Significant further progress had been made in the past few weeks under the combined influence of the momentum generated by the presidential election, concerted action of the Defence and Finance Ministries and the international community. By now, 33,000 militiamen had been disarmed and the heavy weapons cantonment programme was almost complete, leading to the assumption that only 20,000 to 30,000 militias were yet to be disarmed.

    If that momentum was sustained, it was reasonable to expect the disarmament and demobilization of Afghan militia forces to be completed by June 2005, according to the schedule established at the Berlin Conference last year, with reintegration activities for those demobilized continuing until 2006, he said. Citing a few remaining obstacles to the DDR process, including considerable delays in the cantonment of the last significant group of heavy weapons not yet under the control of the central Government, he flagged the importance of providing the complex disarmament operation with adequate resources.

    “Valued in 2004 at $2.8 billion, the opium economy was now equivalent to about 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP”, he said, turning to the counter-narcotics efforts under way. The country’s narcotics industry and accompanying corruption were now clearly one of the biggest threats to building an effective, democratic State and ensuring the country’s long-term stability. He welcomed the central

    Government’s commitment to tackling the widespread problem, including through the recent creation of a Ministry of Counter-Narcotics and the convening of a national conference on counter-narcotics last month, at which the Government launched a national counter-narcotics eradication programme to focus on seven key provinces.

    Prior to the briefing, the Council observed a minute of silence in memory of the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

    The meeting began at 10:14 a.m. and was adjourned at 10:45 a.m.

    Briefing Summary

    JEAN ARNAULT, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that the presidential election on 9 October and the recent appointment of the cabinet had brought new momentum to the peace process. It was very important now for the Afghans and the international community to take full advantage of that circumstance, to move the Bonn agenda forcefully, and to fulfil, as much as possible, the broad objectives of the transition.

    He said that, as members were aware, President Karzai was sworn in on 7 December, along with his two vice-presidents. Before and after his inauguration, the President held protracted consultations regarding the formation of his cabinet. That had been a complex exercise involving, on the one hand, the need to increase the number of qualified professionals to head the ministries and, on the other hand, the need to ensure adequate political and ethnic representation.

    Informing the Council that the outcome of those consultations had been made public on 23 December, he said that the composition of the 27-member cabinet met the requirements of the Afghan constitution, and all ministers had higher education and held only Afghan citizenship. That also reflected broadly the country’s ethnic composition, with 10 Pashtuns, eight Tajiks, five Hazaras, two Uzbeks, one Turkmen and one Baloch. Three women were in the cabinet, including the only female presidential candidate, Masuda Jalal.

    While the cabinet’s composition would not escape criticism altogether, consultations held by UNAMA with the political parties, representatives of civil society and communities in various regions indicated that a majority of Afghans welcomed the composition and saw that as a sign of the Government’s national character. That was in contrast to the sometimes critical public opinion reaction after the 2002 Emergency Loya Jirga that many saw as overly influenced by factional considerations and a missed opportunity to establish a truly representative central government. The vote of confidence in the new cabinet would no doubt increase the authority and effectiveness of the Government as it tackled some very complex, urgent and difficult tasks on the national agenda, including the holding of local and parliamentary elections, expanded disarmament and demobilization, and counter-narcotics.

    He recalled that, with the Council’s endorsement, the electoral commission had decided last year to split the electoral process in two, indicating that the parliamentary elections would be held between 21 April and 21 May 2005. A variety of considerations were behind that decision. One concerned a number of key legal and administrative prerequisites that had not been met on time. Another had related to the need to bring about further disarmament and a political environment conducive to free and transparent elections, particularly at provincial and district levels where the militarization inherited from decades of war was most likely to affect and distort the electoral process.

    The electoral commission and the Mission had also felt that, given the complete absence of any electoral tradition and practice in Afghanistan, the relatively simpler presidential election would serve well all the actors involved in an election as a rehearsal for the much more complex set of elections involved in the parliamentary process, he said. In that respect, all observer organizations -- international and domestic -- had issued useful recommendations that were being taken into account in the ongoing elections preparations.

    He said that the centrepiece of that preparation was the establishment of the Independent Electoral Commission. Its appointment, which was a presidential prerogative, was an opportunity to implement some of the lessons learned from the presidential election, particularly the need for closer consultation with the large number of new political parties -- 50 -- that had been registered since last year and the need to develop more confidence in the operation of the electoral authority. In the last few weeks, the Mission had been working with the President’s office to elicit the views and recommendations of political parties and community leaders on that matter, and he expected that the new Commission would be appointed in the very near future.

    In addition to the Commission’s creation, he expected that the parliamentary elections would see an enhanced role of Afghans throughout the process. That would be the case with the organization of electoral operations, where overall, Afghan personnel had performed well during the presidential exercise. That would also be the case with domestic observation and political parties. Indeed, local elections would take the electoral competition to many parts of the country to which international observers were unlikely to have access. Domestic observers and party monitors would bear much of the burden of ensuring that local elections were fair and credible. The presidential election was a promising start, and he expected that the recruitment and training of the observers and monitors would play a major role in safeguarding the integrity of the upcoming electoral process.

    He said that in order to meet the April-May target date, the Government and the electoral authorities had to make a number of decisions, including on the participation of refugees and nomads, the demarcation of district boundaries, the population figures per province, the preparation of voters’ lists, and the revisions of the electoral law. The most urgent of those decisions concerned the assignment of population settlements to districts, which, under the electoral law, must be completed 120 days before election day. For elections to take place within the agreed timeframe, district boundaries must be finalized within the next couple of weeks at the latest.

    One important outstanding piece of legislation concerned the powers of the local councils, which were to be elected together with the representatives of the Lower House. The creation of elected bodies at the district and provincial levels was an innovation in the Afghan political system brought about by the new constitution. Their functions relative to existing administrative structures must be defined well ahead of the elections. A United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mission on local governance, which had visited Afghanistan last month, had recommended a gradualist approach to the empowerment of those bodies. More specifically, it suggested that, for the time being, the councils could be given an advisory role to the executive bodies at the local level -- in addition to their constitutional role to elect members of the Upper House. Further consultations must take place on that very important subject before a decision was made by the Government, if only for the limited purpose of the 2005 election.

    He said that that complex preparatory work was being pursued with the April-May target in mind, and a final decision on the election date would have to be made by the new Independent Electoral Commission in the next few weeks. Political leaders and representatives of the international community agreed that the gap between presidential and parliamentary elections should be kept to a minimum, but they had also noted that that should not be achieved at the expense of a well organized and transparent election with adequate time for technical and political requirements to be properly met.

    Regarding the management of electoral operations, he noted that the prevailing view was that the electoral commission and its operational staff must be more effectively integrated than was the case in the presidential election. International support to electoral operations had also been streamlined, in order to capitalize on the proven strengths of each international partner. The UNDP would continue to oversee trust fund management and donor relations, in addition to contributing to support electoral observation and building, over the longer term, the electoral commission’s capacity. The UNOPS (United Nations Office of Project Services) had demonstrated its flexibility in administrative and logistical matters and would be the executing agency for all budget lines.

    He noted that an estimated $120 million-$130 million would be needed to cover the three elections. If the Government decided to hold out-of-country elections in Iran and Pakistan, at least an additional $30 million would need to be added to that estimate. The UNDP was in the process of closing the books of the voter registration and presidential election projects. Once that was completed, leftover funds would be allocated to the parliamentary elections. He would appeal to the international community for the remainder of the funding needed as soon as the elections date was decided, since different time frames required different budgets.

    From the operational point of view, it was anticipated that the modalities for the 2005 elections would closely follow the 2004 elections, he said. The location and number of polling sites –- 25,000 -– had been based on registration figures and proposals from communities, and he saw no reason to alter those basic parameters. Similarly, logistical arrangements for the deployment of personnel and material would be largely replicated with the assistance of the coalition and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

    Turning to the issue of security, he said that the deployment of the national army and professional police would need to be secured. The Afghan National Army, currently at 28 battalions with a force of approximately 17,000, was expected to increase to 32 battalions by April and 39 battalions by July. The size of the reformed and trained Afghan National Police was expected to increase from about 32,000 to more than 37,000 by April and over 45,000 by July.

    While the Afghan police and army would play a major role in the 2005 elections, as they did in 2004, international forces would remain indispensable for providing security and backing up national forces. The ISAF and the Coalition had indicated their full support for the next election and had noted that their most urgent requirement was that an electoral time frame be in place as soon as possible in order to enable them to adjust their plans to the final electoral calendar. In any event, the electoral commission would need to bear a number of security factors in mind, including the current plans of rotations and ISAF expansion to the West, once a final decision is made on the election date.

    The type of security challenges that the United Nations would be facing must be borne in mind, he stressed. While the abduction of three United Nations electoral workers in October had been brought to a successful conclusion, and while the overall security environment had shown signs of improvement in recent weeks, the kidnapping and killing of a UNOPS sub-contracted worker on 15 December was a reminder of the possibility that the targeting of international personnel could occur again and, perhaps, become more routine once winter conditions receded and the movement of anti-government forces became easier.

    Insisting that that issue be tackled in a comprehensive manner, lest it undermine the capability of UNAMA and other agencies to fulfil their mandate and threaten the organization of parliamentary elections, the United Nations Country Team in Afghanistan had completed a comprehensive security assessment exercise. It concluded that: the security situation remained very diverse in the different parts of the country; adequate measures must be taken that would provide the United Nations agencies and the electoral operations accessibility to risk-prone regions; and strict observance of minimum operational security standards that enabled the United Nations to carry out humanitarian reconstruction and electoral activities in 2004 should make it possible to operate in the same manner in 2005.

    Given resources, discipline and adequate information and analysis, as well as the indispensable support of national and international security agencies, the United Nations should be able to deploy as required in 2005, and hopefully, to provide support to the electoral process in all provinces, he said.

    Turning to the counter-narcotics efforts under way, Mr. Arnault reminded the Council that Afghanistan’s narcotics industry and accompanying corruption were now clearly one of the biggest threats to building an effective, democratic State and ensuring the country’s long-term stability. Opium cultivation remained a major source of illegal income and served to support criminal and factional agendas that aimed to undermine the Afghan central government. He said that one of the most worrying aspects of this ongoing phenomenon was how much the Afghan economy and population depended on it.

    “Valued in 2004 at $2.8 billion, the opium economy was now equivalent to about 60 per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP”, he said, adding that last year it had also been estimated that some 356,000 families were involved in opium-poppy production, an increase of some 35 per cent from 2003. Poppy cultivation had also spread to 35 provinces and accounted for 56 per cent of the total cultivated land. Mr. Arnault welcomed the central Government’s commitment to tackling the problem, particularly with the recent establishment of a Ministry of Counter-Narcotics, and added that he was hopeful that body would continue to improve coordination among the various initiatives being undertaken in the fields of education and interdiction.

    In an effort to reinforce the eradication of drugs as a national priority, last month President Karzai had convened in Kabul a national conference on counter-narcotics, which had been attended by governors, chiefs and provincial police departments, tribal elders from around the country, relevant ministries, and representatives of donor countries, United Nations agencies and international civic groups. The President had spoken resolutely about the need to eliminate the drug problem, and had warned that Afghanistan could well become a pariah State should the counter-narcotics effort fail. Since that event, significant numbers of farmers in the east and south had begun replacing poppy with wheat crops, he added.

    At that same national conference, the Government had officially launched the national counter-narcotics eradication programme, which was due to focus on seven key provinces -- Helmand, Nangarhar, Badakshan, Balkh, Samangan, Bamyan, and Wardak -- in turn, through July 2005. The programme would include the provision of alternative livelihoods for poppy farmer, the extension of drug law enforcement, the implementation of drug control legislation, the establishment of effective institutions, and the introduction of prevention and treatment programmes for addicts.

    Governor-led programmes would also be implemented in other provinces, he said, adding that in order to counteract the potentially negative impact of the eradication initiatives, it would be critical that alternative livelihood programmes be implemented. The international community would also have to do much more to assist the government in its interdiction efforts and in the creation of alternative livelihoods. At a time when Afghan national security capacity was limited, the international military presence could also play a major role in assisting the Government to fight against drug traffickers and to shut down clandestine labs.

    Turning next to the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR), he stressed that that process had been a key consideration in deciding on the date and modalities of the elections. “Indeed, it has been and remains a constant concern of Afghans that elections should take place when a proper political environment has been created through DDR ... a concern that particularly applies to local elections, where a web of political interests and armed groups could significantly distort the electoral process.”

    Some 22,000 ex-combatants had been disarmed, and 75 per cent of the total number of heavy weapons had been cantoned, he said. Also, significant progress had been made in the past few weeks under the combined influence of the momentum generated by the presidential election, concerted action by the Defence Ministry and the international community led by the Japanese Government, and the active involvement of the Finance Ministry in cutting financial and technical resources to decommissioned units. By now, 33,000 militiamen overall had been disarmed, and the heavy weapons cantonment programme was almost complete, he said, adding that the DDR programme had been particularly successful in northern Afghanistan.

    In addition, over 63,000 names had been removed from the payroll, which, to a large extent, included ghost units rather than real militia forces. Given the rate of actual disarmament compared to the official strength of the militia forces, he said the Mission now assumed that of the approximately 40,000 names on the original militia lists only 20,000 to 30,000 really existed or were yet to be disarmed. If the DDR momentum was sustained, and if the remaining obstacles were removed, he reasonably expected disarmament and demobilization of the Afghan militia forces to be completed according to the schedule established at the Berlin Conference last year -- by June 2005 -- with reintegration activities for those demobilized continuing until 2006.

    He went on to say that the Mission had gained access to large stocks of ammunition in areas previously off limits to disarmament activities. Those stocks had proved to be much larger than expected and posed considerable challenges in terms of disposal, or storage to be maintained for the Afghan National Army’s use. The Defence Ministry, with the support of the international community and led by Canada, had embarked on the complex task of managing the discovered ammunition.

    An ammunition survey had begun in Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat, the two locations considered to have the most substantial stocks. Shortly, two more survey teams would be deployed to Kandahar and Kunduz, and known ammunition in remaining areas was being overseen by Coalition forces, he said.

    Even with all this, he stressed that a few obstacles remained, as some militia units based in Kabul city and scheduled to be disarmed in the programme’s current phase had not yet complied or had only partly complied with the basic DDR requirements. Considerable delays had also occurred in the cantonment of the last significant group of heavy weapons not yet under the control of the central Government -- those in the Panshjir Valley, where there had also been reports of large stocks of ammunition.

    He said that, yesterday, Afghanistan’s New Beginnings Programme (ANBP) had finally been allowed cantonment operations in that area. “This is a welcome development, and we hope that in a few weeks they will be cleared of heavy weapons.” He emphasized the importance of providing the DDR programme with adequate resources, saying that unless fresh funds to cover the cost of running a complex disarmament operation, and of reintegrating disarmed ex-combatants, were immediately provided to the ANBP, that programme would suffer delays and the momentum built since the presidential elections might be lost.

    Concluding his update, he noted that the consolidation of peace could and would usually mean very different things in different contexts. In the case of Afghanistan, the international consensus since the Bonn agreement had been that the principal answer to the challenges of terrorism, factionalism and the narcotics trade lay in the building of a strong, effective, balanced and representative government able to translate the will of the overwhelming majority of Afghans to live in peace under the law, protected from violent extremism and those political and ethical divisions that had fuelled conflicts over the past two decades.

    “Last year’s presidential elections showed the determination with which the Afghans embrace this vision”, he continued, adding: “the repeated failures of extremists to derail the electoral process, combined with the better performance of security forces, point to the possibility that the current improvement in the overall security situation will be sustained”. Further DDR would create a better environment, not only for the upcoming elections, but also for the expansion of civilian administration, reconstruction and the restoration of the rule of law.

    Such an advance towards the goal of an effective Afghan State was a very real prospect, he said, but stressed that that was no reason for complacency on the part of the international community, particularly because such progress was predicated on the continued high level of international assistance -- military, economic and political. Also because the narco-economy constituted a distinct challenge of State-building and bringing it under control would require additional efforts by the Afghan people, as well as the global community. He called on the Council to continue, throughout the new year, to provide vigorous leadership to the international community in support of the Afghan peace process.

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