“2009 could be turning point” - UN’s top envoy in Afghanistan
KABUL - The top United Nations envoy in Afghanistan has said there are “positive trends” in the country which need to be reinforced.
Speaking in Oslo, Norway, at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly session which gathered parliamentarians from NATO, partner and other countries, the UN’s Kai Eide said: “If we can manage to strengthen the positive work now underway, and implement what we have agreed on, if additional troops can bring the insurgency on the defensive and if we can hold elections that have the credibility required to be accepted by the population at large, then 2009 could well be a turning point.”
Mr Eide, who’s the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and also heads the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the positive trends “require all the support we can mobilize.”
He said: “The International presence - civilian and military – is yielding results. Further progress will depend both on competent Afghan leadership and constant international support.”
The Special Representative highlighted a number of improvements in Afghanistan which are often “overshadowed by more dramatic events”.
He said the police force had “a new and determined leadership” at the Ministry of Interior, with efforts being made to tackle corruption with a number of officers being dismissed. Mr Eide also said the “Afghan National Army continues to improve.”
On the economic side Mr Eide noted that the Ministry of Agriculture had been “reinvigorated”, the Ministry of Commerce had new leadership and the Ministry of Finance had increased revenue collection.
On poppy cultivation Mr Eide said the prospects for 2009 show there will be a “significant decrease” in production and “a further increase of poppy free provinces.” He added: ‘Poppy production is no longer an Afghanistan–wide phenomenon, but a problem related to a smaller number of provinces in the South.”
Addressing the security situation and insurgency in Afghanistan Mr Eide said he “firmly believed” more international troops were needed “to fight the insurgency, train additional Afghan troops and help secure the elections.”
However he cautioned that “we must make sure that an increase in the number of international troops does not lead to an increase in civilian casualties and in behaviour that offends and alienates the Afghan public.”
On the issue of civilian casualties Mr Eide said he would continue to speak out: “My objective is not to harm the international military presence, rather the contrary; to make sure that this presence is sustainable – for as long as it may be needed. Because there is no doubt that every such instant of civilian casualties, of mistaken identity or culturally unacceptable behaviour – undermines the support for international troops in the Afghan public.”
NATO, an alliance of 28 member states, has command of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan which is made up more than 40 troop contributing nations. In addition the U.S. has a separate force in Afghanistan, although it is also led by the commander of ISAF.
On 20 August 2009 Afghanistan goes to the vote in its second presidential and provincial council elections since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. This year the Afghanistan Independent Election Commission is organizing the polls with the support of the United Nations and other organizations.
Mr Eide said: “I believe that we will be able to hold elections in August that are credible and that are acceptable to the population at large. Acceptable in the Afghan context. And let us remember that this is a society where the literacy rate for women in some provinces may be two per cent and for men sometime not much higher.”
In conclusion Mr Eide welcomed the “new energy provided by the U.S. Administration” and called for more resources and personnel. He said European countries “must continue to participate fully” to ensure the international community’s role in Afghanistan remained a “broad multinational engagement.”
The UN Special Representative also urged the “full involvement” of Afghans in shaping the strategy for their country. “If they feel that a debate is a going on out there somewhere about them – and not with them – then it will deeply offend their sense of dignity and ownership. That sense of ownership is critical; to the strength of the Government in the eyes of its public; to its confidence in itself; and – ultimately – for our success on defeating the insurgency and bringing an end to the conflict.”