“I was encouraged, because in spite of all the attention that the Security Council, and the broader international community, is giving to issues like Syria, Iran, and the Middle East, Afghanistan remains in the focus of attention of the international community, of the UN Security Council,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ján Kubiš, said in a news conference in the Afghan capital of Kabul, referring to a Council meeting at UN Headquarters in New York on 19 September which he attended.
The envoy said that the most important topic addressed at the Council meeting – as well as in his meetings while in New York – was the country’s preparations for Presidential elections, slated for 5 April next year. Those polls coincide with elections for the country’s Provincial Councils; the following year, Afghanistan will hold elections for its National Assembly.
United Nations officials have previously described next year’s elections as critical to the country’s future stability and continued international support.
The political transition coincides with security transition. In June, the Afghan security forces, for the first time since 2001, started to assume full responsibility of securing their country from their international allies, who are ending their combat mission by the end of 2014.
“It was the progress on the election preparations that, in a major way, gave good arguments to the members of the international community in support of their resolve to continue with long-term support for Afghanistan,” Mr. Kubiš said. ““The progress of Afghanistan in election preparations – both on the technical side but also on the political side - was highly acknowledged and was highly praised and was marked very clearly as encouraging.”
“To mention some of the points why the Security Council was encouraged – the international community, while registering questions in regard to security for the elections, also noted with appreciation an increased effort of the Government, of all the respective ministries, to deal with the issue in a resolute way, in much better coordinated way, and, of course, pledged support, also financial [support], and otherwise, to help the country to deal with this issue as well,” he added.
The Special Representative also noted that the representatives of the international community had indicated that preparations for the elections were “much better in comparison with previous processes in the cycles of 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2010.”
This was in addition to the international community noting “clear improvements” in the legal framework for the polls, referring to the passage of two key laws on the organization of future elections in the country, and the establishment of two independent electoral bodies responsible for steering the electoral process: the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission (IECC).
“I would say that this steady progress of transition, in spite of the problems that are there – and no one is trying to close their eyes or hide them, or run away from recognizing the problems – is critical in mobilizing more regional support and attention to the needs of Afghanistan, and willingness of regional countries to engage, not only to speak about potential problems after 2014, but also to engage with Afghanistan now and in the future,” Mr. Kubiš said.
In his remarks, the Special Representative also spoke of the important role which the Afghan media had to play ahead of next year’s elections. He cited the recent national congress in Kabul of the one of the country’s leading journalists’ association, the Afghanistan National Journalists’ Union (ANJU).
“It was discussing very topical issues, important for the country, important for the ongoing processes, notably, the process of the elections,” Mr. Kubiš said. “I would like, first of all, to congratulate all of you [involved] with this meeting, with the elections of the officials of the union, but also with very important messages that this meeting transmitted to the people and authorities of Afghanistan and with regards to the international community.
Over 200 Afghan journalists gathered for the three-day congress – ANJU’s first-ever national gathering, which was facilitated by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a German foundation. The attendees pledged to cover next year’s Presidential and Provincial Council elections responsibly and to encourage women’s participation through their “accurate and impartial” reporting.
“Freedom of the media is critically important for every country. It is critically important for every democracy. It is critically important in the time of transition for Afghanistan, and I was encouraged that this meeting reinforced the message that the country has reached a number of achievements in this area,” Mr. Kubiš said.
“At the same time, the country and the media also face challenges and there is an urgent need to look into the challenges of the media,” he added. “The situation with the media signals the general situation, the general health of society. If the media are developing well, it is a good signal that the health of the society is more or less okay.”
“For the media, of course, what is important is freedom of expression, freedom from pressure, freedom from persecution, freedom from being targeted for the professional work the media must deliver.”
As did ANJU members at the national congress, the UN envoy voiced concerns in relation to the legal framework in which the media operates in, particularly the latest draft of the so-called Mass Media Law. The lower house of the Afghan Parliament, known as the Wolesi Jirga, has amended three articles of the law, giving the Minister of Information and Culture enough power to potentially control and censure the media. The draft would still need to be approved by Parliament’s upper house, the Meshrano Jirga, and the President for it to become a law.
“I am happy that now the Parliament is discussing the [Mass] Media Law, but the [legal] framework should be sound and should provide for the freedom of the media,” Mr. Kubiš said.
He added, “I noticed certain points that were raised at the meeting of the journalists’ union, and I hope that even more seriously the MPs [Members of Parliament] in the Wolesi and Meshrano Jirgas took good note of what is considered by the journalists as critically important for them to be able to deliver what is expected of them.”
In response to a question on the possibility of human rights violators standing for office in the upcoming elections, the Special Representative said that, ultimately, it was up to the people of Afghanistan to express their views on the matter.
”I would say that it is not necessarily for me to make a judgment. The best judgment is the verdict which I assume will be delivered through the process of the elections,” Mr. Kubiš said. “That’s why it is so important to make sure that the elections will be inclusive, with good participation throughout the country and that people will have choices.”
The registration process for eligible Afghans seeking to run for president or vice-president in the upcoming elections ends on Sunday, 6 October.
“I hope that the candidates, their teams, will not only try to present themselves as individuals, but will also try to win the confidence and support of voters through their programmes and through their clear commitments and pledges in regard to economic and social development, justice, the fight against corruption, the promotion of human rights and women’s rights,” Mr. Kubiš said. “And I hope to see discussions more around substantive issues determining the future of the country rather than just individuals.”
[Click here for full transcript of the news conference]