20 September 2013 - Although Afghanistan achieved progress in its ongoing political and security transitions and efforts are on track, “considerable challenges remain and the situation is volatile,” the United Nations Secretary-General’s top envoy in Afghanistan has told the Security Council.
The UN Special Representative, Ján Kubiš, made the comments as part of his briefing at the Council’s quarterly meeting on Afghanistan at the world body’s headquarters in New York on Thursday. He noted that a stable leadership transition through next year’s Presidential and Provincial Council elections, slated to be held on 5 April, “is central to everything else to be achieved.”
“There is clear progress in vital elements underpinning Afghanistan’s transition processes,” added Mr. Kubiš, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Taking note of “significant progress” seen in last three months in the technical preparations for next year’s elections, he welcomed the passage of two key laws on the organization of future elections in Afghanistan, the appointments to the country’s two independent electoral management bodies, and the rollout of a district-level voter registration update.
“I welcome the attention Afghan authorities are giving to securing the elections,” he said. “Improved coordination of security institutions; robust security assessments; planning and implementing risk mitigation measures; and instilling greater confidence through public awareness are necessary now.”
The UN envoy called for a level playing field for the electoral process, including equal access to state resources as well as balanced media coverage, noting that both will be important aspects of a fair process.
“There is increasing concern over the slow progress in creating an appropriate legal framework for the media, especially in this election period and over violence against journalists that is seen to be on the rise,” said Mr. Kubiš.
He also said a focus on election preparations must not draw attention away from other pressing issues like combatting corruption, rule of law, and economic growth. “This is what will ensure Afghanistan’s ultimate institutional and financial sustainability,” the UN envoy said.
At the same time, he continued, “challenges persist in the security and narcotics sectors, in particular.”
While lauding the courage and increased capability of the Afghan security forces “in rising to the challenge of security transition,” he noted that “Afghan security forces capabilities are not yet fully developed nor completely sustainable.”
Mr. Kubiš expressed concerns over a “campaign of bloodshed” by anti-Government elements targeting mostly Afghans – both uniformed and civilian.
“The rise in civilian casualties is of deep concern, the vast majority of these being at the hands of anti-Government elements and rogue or criminal armed groups. Targeted killings of civilians and the use of improvised explosive devices are increasingly frequent tactics,” he told the Council.
He cited some examples of targeted killings: the head of the appellate court and the chief electoral officer in north-eastern Kunduz province, a district education head in central Parwan province, and a young woman taking part in vaccination campaigns in northern Jawzjan province.
A UNAMA report on the protection of civilians, released on 31 July, had documented 3,852 civilian casualties (1,319 deaths and 2,533 injuries) during the first six months of this year, marking a 14 per cent rise in civilian deaths and a 28 per cent increase in civilian injuries as compared to the same period in 2012.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Afghanistan, which was also presented to the Council members, notes that, since the previous report of 13 June 2013, anti-Government elements conducted a number of “spectacular” attacks in urban areas. Between 16 May and 15 August, there were 33 suicide incidents, of which seven occurred in the heavily protected capital, compared to seven for all of 2012 and 16 in 2011.
In his briefing, Mr. Kubiš also expressed concern over “increasing attacks on women,” citing the example of Lieutenant Nigara, a female police officer who died from her wounds after an attack in Helmand last week.
He noted that an increase in violent incidents and a state of “heightened uncertainty” has caused increased population displacement.
“There are now half a million individuals internally displaced, over 100,000 of these during the first seven months of the year. At the same time, the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan decreased by 41 per cent compared to the same period in 2012,” said Mr. Kubiš.
On a different note, the Special Representative cited Afghans’ “exuberant” display of national unity and pride at the war-wracked country’s victory in a recently-held regional football championship as a “welcome sign” on the gradual path to normalcy. In mid-September, Afghanistan defeated India in a 2-0 win for the South Asian Football Federation Championship trophy – the country’s first such international football victory.
“In a display of national unity and national pride the streets filled with dancing, flag-waving crowds,” Mr. Kubiš said. “Following decades of war which devastated the country’s institutional and social fabric, the South Asian Football Federation Championship win was a welcome sign of Afghanistan’s gradual return to normalcy and success on the international stage.”
Turning to regional cooperation for Afghanistan’s development, the UN envoy welcomed “the positive initial signals and engagements” from the new leaderships in Iran and Pakistan.
“President [Hamid] Karzai’s visit to Islamabad [last month] was of particular significance. A new tone in relations seems to be emerging, narrowing the trust deficit,” he said. “…throughout my regional travels, it was clearly understood that political solutions will be the key to sustainable peace, security and economic prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.”
“Most immediately for Afghanistan this means elections resulting in a legitimate and peaceful transfer of power,” Mr. Kubiš continued. “More broadly this must include early dialogue on peace and reconciliation as it was stressed in many of my discussions with the neighboring countries. The United Nations continues to support the need for dialogue.”
Amongst the 27 speakers slated to address the Council meeting, there was broad acknowledgement of the role UNAMA plays on the ground in Afghanistan, currently and in the future, as well as for the continued need for the international community’s engagement.
In his remarks to the gathering, Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Zahir Tanin, said his country had entered the final phase of its security transition and stressed the need for the international community’s continued commitment to long-term support after 2014, including for training, advice and support for the Afghan National Security Forces.
“In the years ahead, we must build upon our achievements, and enable Afghanistan to stand on its own feet, with a strong voice, as a full partner of the international community,” said Mr. Tanin.
The Russian representative, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, said the “alarming situation” in Afghanistan had been a focus of the international community. He saw 2014 as a “watershed” year, determining the future of the country and the region as a whole. To ensure that Afghanistan should be a free, democratic and prosperous State, it was important that Afghan security forces are strong enough to counter threats, he added.
Pakistan’s Ambassador Masood Khan told the Council meeting that he sees an even greater role for the United Nations in Afghanistan as gains are consolidated and assistance for the political and security transitions was needed.
Ambassador Philippe Bertoux of France said a new era was dawning in Afghanistan, filled with promise and heavy with risk. He said France would soon disperse €2 million to the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan, through the UN Development Programme (UNDP). He added that UNAMA’s political role was important and its mandate should be “simplified.”
The US representative, Ambassador Samantha Power, said the Afghan security forces have been defending the Afghan people and “that is as it should be.” She said a pivotal period was ahead and her country was committed to a lasting partnership with Afghanistan as it approached its so-called Transformation Decade, from 2015 to 2024.
“Regional and international support must be sustained beyond the transition, and the United States looked forward to the ‘Heart of Asia’ meetings,” Ms. Power said. “UNAMA should provide electoral support, including through engagement with the Independent Electoral Commission.”
Ambassador Gholamhossein Dehghani of Iran said regional cooperation was critical for Afghanistan’s long-term stability, underscoring a greater regional connectivity to challenges, such as rooting out illicit narcotics, terrorism and extremism. He indicated his country’s support for UNAMA’s role in providing assistance for peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan within its mandate and through robust regional engagement on issues such as border security, immigration, refugees and drug control.
Click here for the full text of Ján Kubiš's briefing to the Security Council meeting