13 February 2006

Peacekeeping Under-Secretary-General Briefs Security Council on Afghanistan; London Conference, Security Situation, New Parliament Focus

NEW YORK, 10 February (UN Headquarters) -- The outcome of the "London Conference", the security situation on the ground and recent political events surrounding the formation of the Parliament, were the main focus of Jean-Marie Guéhenno's briefing today to the Security Council on developments in Afghanistan.

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations said the achievements of the international conference held in London on 31 January and 1 February had "reasserted the unity of purpose that had been the hallmark of the international community's engagement in Afghanistan". The participation of over 60 high-level delegates, including 23 ministers for foreign affairs, had sent "an unmistakable signal of the international community's continuing resolve to support Afghanistan at this crucial stage in its transition".

He said the Conference had served as a venue to launch the "Afghanistan Compact", which set out an ambitious agenda on what was required to consolidate state-building efforts in Afghanistan, including: enabling the nascent democratic institutions to meet the basic needs of the country; curbing insecurity; controlling the narcotics industry, which was addressed as a cross-cutting theme; stimulating the economy; enforcing the law; and protecting human rights.

Time was of the essence, as the window of opportunity for the rebuilding of Afghan society would not be open forever, he added.  For that reason, the Compact's timelines and benchmarks were important.  As the Co-chair of the Compact's Monitoring and Coordination Board, the Secretary-General's Special Representative would support the Government in bringing transparency and coherence to the international assistance effort.

During substantive discussions on the Compact's main themes, States were encouraged to commit new forces to support the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), he said.  As stability could not be achieved through military means alone, development of Afghan security forces had been identified as a primary measure of success for the international community.  The need for increased assistance to the justice sector reform effort had also been emphasized.  There had also been general recognition that donors should make a greater effort to channel more international assistance through the Government's budget.  Participating countries and organizations had announced new financial assistance for Afghanistan for a total of $10.5 million.

Turning to the workings of the parliament's first session, Mr. Guéhenno said debates had been characterized by an inclusive and democratic process, leading to a number of women and minority representatives playing a prominent role in discussions.  The upper and lower houses had elected their administrative boards, and were reviewing rules and procedures for the National Assembly.  Despite the fact that parliament was making efforts to address public concerns -- it had devoted significant attention to the security situation -- the Afghan media had highlighted the pressing need for parliament to move beyond its internal workings and make meaningful progress on key issues affecting the population as a whole.

On security, he noted a recent increase in insurgent attacks in the south-east and south-west, and an escalation of factional tensions in the north-west.  Some of the fiercest fighting in recent years between anti-Government elements and Afghan forces had been reported in Helmand province, with three Afghan National Police officers killed and nine wounded.  Widespread demonstrations had taken place in connection with recent publication of cartoons in European newspapers depicting Prophet Mohammad.

Although largely peaceful, the demonstrations had turned violent in five provinces.  In Maimana (Faryab Province) and Laghman Province, it was believed that the protests had provided a platform for factional tensions and clashes.  During clashes in Pul-i-Khumri (Baghlan Province) on 7 February, stones were thrown at the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) base, the offices of three non-governmental organizations and the local office of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  One Dutch soldier and two demonstrators had been injured.  The main clash that day, however, had occurred in Maimana, where protestors, using firearms and grenades, had breached the perimeter of a Norwegian PRT compound.  In ensuing clashes with the Afghan police, three individuals were killed and five Norwegian troops injured.  The ISAF had redeployed its quick reaction forces from Mazar-i-Sharif to Maimana, to provide additional support to the PRT.  United Nations staff had been temporarily relocated from Maimana.

On 6 February, demonstrators had clashed with the police and government officials in Laghman province, leaving one policeman dead.  In Parwan Province, the demonstrators destroyed the office of a Turkish road construction company and looted some equipment, then proceeded to attack the United States base at Bagram.  Two demonstrators were killed and six policemen injured.  On 8 February, in Zabul, demonstrators clashed with the police and the Afghan National Army, leaving two dead.  Yesterday, there had been clashes in Jerat between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, involving hand grenades, stone throwing, knife attacks and fistfights, which left at least five people dead.  In an effort to calm the situation, President Karzai had dispatched a delegation headed by Ismail Khan, former Governor of Herat and current Minister of Energy, Water and Power, to mediate. The United Nations Mission was closely monitoring the situation.  Mr. Guéhenno also described several recent incidents of suicide bombings.

In light of those events, he reiterated what Special Representative of the Secretary-General Arnault had noted in his last briefing: "The security dimension remains at the heart of the joint efforts of the Government and the international community, both as a priority concern that needs to be addressed through military and non-military means, and as a limitation on the ability of the international community and the United Nations to operate throughout the country."  Improvements in security were essential if the promise of the Afghanistan Compact was to be realized.

In conclusion, he informed the Council that the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Tom Koenigs, would take up his new assignment in Kabul on 16 February.  With the current mandate of the Assistance Mission expiring on 24 March, the Secretary-General would submit recommendations on the future role of the United Nations in Afghanistan, by the middle of that month.

The meeting was called to order at 10.28 a.m. and adjourned at 10.45 a.m.

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