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United Nations Security Council Meeting on Afghanistan

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The United Nations Security Council is meeting today to address the Secretary-General's report of the on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. The Secretary-General's report was issued pursuant to resolution 1868 which calls for an update on Afghanistan developments every three months.

The Secretary-General's report under consideration by the Security Council states that the first six months of 2009 have witnessed the beginnings of three interlinked strategic shifts in Afghanistan:

     1) Increased emphasis on civilian efforts,

     2) A new focus on sub-national governance and service delivery, 

     3) Alignment of international efforts behind well-conceived programs.

According to the report, if the positive trends it describes are sustained, there is a possibility for a major improvement in the situation. However, these encouraging developments coincide with a difficult overall political and security situation. The report indicates that it will be "challenging to maintain the positive momentum gained ... and if that momentum is lost, the country will lose valuable time at best, and experience new disappointments and setbacks at worst, leading to further disillusionment among the public and the international community."

In the report, the Secretary-General appeals to all members of the international community to "put their full weight behind the positive developments in order to maintain momentum through the complex period ahead." The coming period will see, according to the report, an increase in the number of international forces in the country, which are required not only to contribute to security for the elections, but also to accelerate the strengthening of the Afghan National Army.

Additional international forces will mean a more intense fight against the insurgency, the report notes, stressing the critical need for this fight to be conducted in a way that weakens the terrorist threat and boosts popular support. In an official United Nations release, it is reported that the Secretary-General is profoundly concerned about the risk posed by an increase in civilian casualties and by a type of military conduct that alienates the population from the international community. "More than ever, we need the solid and continued support of the Afghan people for the presence of the international community in Afghanistan, both civilian and military." Also of critical importance is the need for the international civilian and military presence to maintain its broad multinational character.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) must be given adequate resources to address the strategic shifts, the report states. The Mission has eight regional offices and 12 provincial offices, including two new offices opened in May, and budgetary resources for three additional offices scheduled to be opened soon. To have a presence in each province, UNAMA needs additional resources, including security when necessary, to establish 11 more offices. While the Mission has made extraordinary efforts to use the additional resources made available as efficiently and expeditiously as possible, it is clear that increased resources are necessary.

Recalling that resolution 1868 (2009) directs the Mission to develop benchmarks, the focused attention on preparations for elections and on the Conference in The Hague has made that task impossible to complete. It is reported that the Secretary-General, therefore, proposes to include a finalized set of benchmarks in his next report in September. It is envisaged that the benchmarks would focus on broad areas reflecting the goals of the agreed national strategies and drawing on UNAMA's mandate. These include institution-building, security, economic and social development, as well as cross-cutting issues that heavily influence progress in other areas. It is envisaged that the benchmarks will be results-based and not tied to target dates. Although UNAMA has the capacity to monitor progress in some areas, responsibility to make such progress rests with Afghan and/or international counterparts.

Kai Eide, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said the "present situation in that country was certainly the most complex experienced for many years, but if managed well, it could become a turning point in efforts to bring the conflict to an end." The situation was complex because so many processes and perspectives had to be kept in mind: the need to ensure a credible election process, the result of which could be accepted by the people; the need to stimulate promising developments in several sectors despite the "noise" of the election campaign and the intense fighting season; and the need to look beyond the elections and shape a more focused agenda for the next five years. That agenda would have to include a credible peace process as an integral part of the overall strategy. In all those processes, Afghanistan's institutions and people would have to take the lead, with the international community providing support.

The August election was about more than choosing Afghanistan's leaders; it was about strengthening peoples' confidence in the democratic process and strengthening Afghan institutions, Eide said. It was not only about who would lead, but about the legitimacy of that leadership. All candidates had been urged to campaign with dignity and fairness, and all Government institutions and officials had been called upon to maintain impartiality. Ministers and heads of security institutions had given assurances of their determination to protect the integrity of their institutions. Candidates had been called upon to avoid inflammatory language and to conduct campaigns focused on their vision for Afghanistan's future. "We need a campaign, not only about who will lead the country, but where they will lead the country," Eide said.

Eide said he had called on the international community to avoid any interference, or appearance of interference, in the election process. Nobody's interests were served by disputed election results. Non-interference, a dignified policy-oriented debate and total international impartiality were all critical to the level playing field that everyone sought to establish. Another element was the ability of candidates to conduct their campaigns. There was a totally new momentum in the areas of strengthening security institutions, reforming agriculture and the private sector, improving revenue collection and internal government coordination, and in developing comprehensive civilian capacity-building programs.

However, Mr. Eide said his fear was that the noise from the election campaign and the fighting season would absorb so much energy and attention that it would overshadow those positive trends, affecting the momentum. "If we do not succeed in maintaining this momentum, then I am afraid we will witness new stagnation and more disillusionment among the public." The positive trends were mainly the result of more competent ministries, but also of the international community's strong and long-term commitment. "We must remain firm in that long-term commitment, on which continued progress will depend. However, progress also depends on a short-term ability to respond to new opportunities," Eide stressed.

Turning to the international community's involvement, Eide said there were some new and promising trends. In particular, the review of United States development policies was producing important results. The readiness to support the new national agriculture program and the government's plans for civilian capacity-building and for revenue collection was welcome, as was a trend to support Afghan plans and priorities more generously than before. That could represent a major shift and lead to greater aid effectiveness and better donor coordination. The shift in United States counter-narcotics policies, combined with the new Afghan program for the development of alternative livelihoods, could also have a significant impact on efforts to combat poppy production.

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Lawrence J. Gist II is a dedicated pro bono attorney and counselor at law, adjunct professor of legal studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles, CA, a member of the board of directors of the Institute of Indigenous Knowledges, and a veteran (more...)
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