Press conference with UNAMA Spokesperson, Aleem Siddique
KABUL - Transcript of press conference by Aleem Siddique, Spokesperson, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit and Dr Nazifullah Salarzai, UNAMA Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit.
UNAMA ON ELECTION
There are now twenty five days left until polling day on 20 August. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) informs us that the logistical operation to distribute voting materials to thousands of polling locations across the country is on track. The challenge involved in distributing 17 million ballot papers and nearly 100,000 ballot boxes safely and securely should not be underestimated and the IEC deserves full credit for being on track and on time for polling day.
Meanwhile we have seen candidates campaigning across the country – this is encouraging. The Afghan people deserve a choice of not only who will lead the country but where they will lead them and Afghanistan. We ask the Afghan people to listen carefully to the manifestos and platforms of the various candidates. We would like to remind voters that they should refuse any attempt to subvert their democratic will and report such attempts to the election authorities. Voters should remember that no one will be with them when they cast their vote on polling day. Who you vote for is between you and your ballot paper – no one else will know who you voted for. Vote for your country, vote for your family.
Finally, let me make one point clear here: The international community is here to support this process and not to decide the outcome. We will defend your right to choose freely without fear or intimidation and in return we ask candidates to campaign with dignity and fairness and we ask all Afghans to help spread the message and come out and vote on 20 August.
COUNTRYWIDE VACCINATION CAMPAIGN, 26-28 JULY
Almost eight million children across Afghanistan will be covered under the ongoing polio immunization campaign that is being undertaken by the Ministry of Public Health, UNICEF, and WHO. The immunization will be provided to children under the age of five years. The drive began on Sunday and will take place until the 28 July. The last polio campaign in May covered 7.3 million children. Details, as always, are on the side table.
KABUL TO HOST THE 17TH TRIPARTITE COMMISSION MEETING WITH PAKISTAN
Afghan refugees will be on top of the agenda at the 17th Tripartite Commission meeting that will be held between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and UNHCR in Kabul tomorrow.
Among those who will be present include the Minister for Refugees and Repatriation, Abdul Karim Barahwai, the Pakistani Minister of States and Frontier Regions, and senior UNHCR officials.
On the agenda will be continuing talks on the renewal of the Tripartite Agreement as well as extension of Proof of Registration cards for Afghans for three more years. Other issues such as land allocation for landless returnees, reintegration of returned refugees, and a review of the voluntary repatriation this year is also expected to be discussed.
NEW PROJECT TO PRODUCE HIGH QUALITY SEEDS BY MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, EC, AND FAO
Farmers across Afghanistan will stand to benefit from a project launched by the Ministry of Agriculture to produce and sell high-quality seeds for staple crops. This project, which is already in its initial stages, is supported by the European Commission – at a cost of 14 million Euros – and will be implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
Over the next two years, 21 new seed suppliers will be established in 12 provinces. Project activities will include support for production of seed for non-wheat crops, training in business management, and equipment purchase. This particular initiative will run together with an existing seed project that has already produced 29 new seed suppliers in 16 provinces. You can find details on the side-table.
ADB APPROVES US$ 120 MILLION FOR RAILWAY PROJECTS IN AFGHANISTAN
The Asian Development Bank has approved a US$ 120 million grant for railway development in Afghanistan. The ADB will spend a little over a million dollars to conduct a feasibility study for a rail route connecting Hairatan (at the border with Uzbekistan) to Herat via Mazar. Another study will be conducted to connect Shirkhan Bandar (at the border with Tajikistan) via Kunduz joining Mazar. The assistance, which began in June, will be completed by April 2010 in two phases.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS:
RFE/RL: As you know, attacks on candidates and their supporters surged this month in some parts of Afghanistan. Don’t you think these attacks will affect the 20 August elections in Afghanistan?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: You have heard us at these press conferences underlying the importance of security for this year’s elections. Voters must have confidence so that they can vote without fear, without intimidation, and in safety. And candidates must have the opportunity to reach out to Afghan communities to express their hopes and their manifestos for the future of this country. That is imperative.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) has been underlining the importance of this very issue to all parties involved in delivering this year’s elections, including the IEC, including government security institutions, and the international military forces, who will provide a supporting role.
A Joint Security Planning Group has been established which streamlines planning between Afghan National Security Forces, the IEC, ISAF, the combined security transition command of Afghanistan, as well as the United Nations. This group is now addressing security issues, particularly around candidates’ travel, planning for the distribution of sensitive election materials, and is also establishing provincial operations command centres around the country, which will specifically focus on providing security for this year’s polls.
Security assessments by this group are ongoing to ensure that we are able to help with candidates and their campaigning to reach their electorates and also to ensure security for polling centre locations.
We do not underestimate the difficulty of this task. The United Nations and all partners involved in this election process are making it clear that this is one of the key priorities over the coming weeks. As these efforts continue, we ask the Afghan people not to let those who bring violence to Afghan communities to steal their opportunity to vote in these historic polls.
SHAMSHAD TV [translated from Pashto]: One question that we, candidates and voters and everyone has is that there will be a higher degree of fraud in these elections. What does UNAMA think as a monitoring institution? Will there be fraud or not?
UNAMA, NAZIFULLAH SALARZAI [translated from Pashto]: There will always be a small minority of people who attempt to subvert the democratic will of the people. However there are many safeguards in place to protect the integrity of the elections.
Thousands of international and national observers will be spread out across the country monitoring the conduct of the poll. Candidates and their agents will also be able to observe the counting and voters will have there fingers marked with indelible ink to prevent duplicate voting. The IEC, ECC, and the Media Commission will be monitoring the poll to ensure that any attempt to defraud voters is identified, and action is taken to protect the integrity of the poll.
The Afghan people must also play their part by refusing any attempt to subvert their democratic rights and reporting such attempts to the appropriate Afghan authorities.
TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: As we know the provincial council election is supposed to happen at the same time as the presidential elections. But it seems that the focus is only on the presidential election and not on provincial council elections. Many people don’t know about the provincial council candidates. What’s UNAMA’s position on this issue?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Actually, I would like to turn this question back onto the media. I think it’s the media who are focusing primarily on the presidential election and not on the provincial council elections.
And we’d like to see the media to step up, play its role, and ensure that the people are aware that there are both provincial council and the presidential elections.
The Independent Election Commission has over 1,600 civic educators spread out across the country with flip charts and educational materials to educate the electorate about the voting process – such as, which elections are taking place, where they are taking place -- and they’re covering both provincial council and presidential elections.
At the same time, the Independent Election Commission has just started a massive TV and radio campaign across the country to address this very issue.
But you are right, Sir, and more does need to be done.
We pledge to step up our efforts and undertake every effort to make sure that every voter who is eligible to vote is aware about how and where to vote.
At the same time, we ask the media to share the responsibility with us and help to reach Afghan voters across the country.
LUC MATHIEU, LIBERATION NEWSPAPER: What is UNAMA’s position on warlords as candidates in these elections? Are you supporting them? Is there a risk of twisting elections results because of them?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: It would be inappropriate to comment on specific candidates. However the Special Representative for Secretary General has been very clear on our expectations of the next Afghan Government. If we are to look forward, we need more competent politicians in this country and less strong men and warlords. The time for fighting is finished, now is the time to step up rebuilding efforts once the elections are completed.
AFGHANISTAN TIMES: My question has two parts. The first part is about observers: You mentioned that there are observers who will observe the process. It is at a time while security is deteriorating in some parts of the country. If these people cannot go there, there can be possible fraud in areas where there will be no monitoring. My second question is regarding concerns expressed by women rights advocate organizations: That women’s participation will be less in this elections. I want to know UNAMA’s position: Whether less participation of women will not affect legitimacy of electoral process?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: There are a number of safeguards in place to protect the integrity of this year’s polls. Observers are just one component of those measures. The reality of the security situation does mean that in some areas it will be difficult for international observers to access those areas. However, that does not necessarily preclude other observers such as national Afghan observers from monitoring the polls in these areas. Let us not forget the oversight role being played by IEC, who will have presence in those areas. And candidates’ agents themselves will also be eligible to monitor the count in those areas.
Regarding the issue of women and the elections – UNAMA has advocated for strong participation of women in this election from the very beginning of this process. Afghanistan deserves the best leaders it can possibly find and that means ensuring the participation of, both, men and women. We are encouraged by the fact that there are more female provincial council candidates standing in this year’s polls than those who stood in the elections of 2005. We are also encouraged by the fact that there are two female candidates standing in the presidential elections. And of the 4.5 million of voters who have registered for the first time for this year’s polls, I believe that nearly 40 percent of those new voters are female.
These are all encouraging signs for women’s participation. But there is no room for complacency and we want to see every Afghan woman, who has the democratic and constitutional right to vote, to participate in this year’s elections. As part of the IEC’s efforts to reach out to the female population, I know that they have female civic educators working in local communities to raise awareness and to encourage female participation. And these efforts among Afghanistan’s grass roots rural communities will continue until polling day, so that we can maximize turnout of both men and women on August 20.
KILLID GROUP [translated from Dari]: The Government of Afghanistan with some of its international allies is trying to remove the names of some of the people who are on the UN black list (also known by the number) 1267. Under which circumstances will the United Nations remove these names from the black list and will it be removed based on the recommendation from the Afghan Government or does the international community also have a say?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: That is a decision made by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and it is certainly not a decision that would be made at this level. A member state of the United Nations – one of 192 members of the United Nations – will have to make a specific request to the Security Council. The Government of Afghanistan is at liberty to make such a request.
VOA [translated from Pashto]: This is a question that has two parts: Is the United Nations sure that there won't be any fraud in this election? My second question is: The US Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said that we will directly talk to the Taliban after the elections. What's UNAMA's position on that?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: We’ve never said that there will be no fraud in these elections. We have said – and you have heard it in this press conference – that there will always be a small minority of people who will attempt to subvert the democratic will of the people. Our focus has always been to ensure that the credibility of these elections remains intact despite such attempts. And every effort that can be made to prevent, detect, and prosecute fraud by the Afghan election authorities must be made. And you will know that the international community, through the United Nations, is supporting the Afghan authorities in these efforts and also providing an oversight role, so that the Afghan people can have faith in the integrity of this year's polls. And those efforts will continue in a transparent manner. Where we have identified areas of concerns, we have brought these to your attention. And we will continue to do so right up until polling day.
On the Taliban: I think the position of the United Nations has been clear on this for some time. The SRSG has highlighted the need to reach out to those people who continue to fight, these efforts must be led by the Afghan Government. And the SRSG has also made clear that this will be a key priority for any Afghan Government after polling day. However, any such process must respect the constitution of Afghanistan, the progress that Afghanistan has made till date, and international laws that Afghanistan is party to.
AFP NEWS AGENCY: There are some areas in the South that have recently been secured by foreign forces. Do you believe there is actually time available now to prepare, both, the people and the apparatus for the voting process in a couple of weeks time. And, if not, how is that going to impact the legitimacy of the vote?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: Security assessments for all polling locations are still ongoing. No one should speculate whether a polling station will open or not before these assessments are complete. Our focus, at this moment, is to offer every support and assistance to the IEC, the Afghan security forces, ISAF, and local communities to ensure they are able to open as many polling stations as possible on Election Day. And, in return, we ask the Afghan people, not to let those who threaten violence to steal their opportunity to vote in these landmark polls.
8AM NEWSPAPER [translated from Dari]: My question is about the security of the elections. As you are aware military operations have started in some regions, but have not had satisfactory results. If the situation doesn’t change until the elections how will the elections be held? Second, do you expect that security will improve in those regions?
UNAMA, ALEEM SIDDIQUE: I have answered this question several times – and let me repeat. All of our efforts are focused on ensuring that we are able to open as many polling locations as we possibly can, in time, for Election Day. The reality of the situation means that, certainly, there will be areas that will be extremely difficult. But all that does is increase our determination to step up efforts to open in those areas. I think it would be wrong to speculate as to whether polling stations will be open or not, the security situation is a fluid picture and it’s too early to make such judgements.