Afghan peace process not irreversible; further progress needed, Special Representative tells Security Council

Security Council
4699th Meeting (AM)

The peace process in Afghanistan needed to progress "much further" before it could be safely said that it was irreversible, the Special Representative for Afghanistan, Lakdhar Brahimi, told the Security Council this morning.

With the challenges in Afghanistan not yet overcome, Afghans were watching closely developments elsewhere with some sense of fear that they would be forgotten again, Mr. Brahimi said during a monthly scheduled assessment of the situation. Afghans did not clamour for international assistance for the sake of international assistance, but they understood all too well how vulnerable they still were to forces that, if unchecked, might consume them again and undo the significant progress of the past year.

The challenge in 2002 was to shore up the fragile foundations of peace, he said. In 2003, Afghanistan would have to strengthen and build on the foundations of the State, address the political and security uncertainties, and meet the rising expectations of Afghans. Towards that goal, President Karzai had been discussing the need for the Government to articulate, and the international community to support, a clear plan of action setting out the main goals for 2003.

He highlighted three main areas on which to focus: solidifying the key institutions of the State; pursuing national reconciliation; and showing tangible results on reconstructions projects throughout the country. Progress must be made on building the army. On national reconciliation, too many Afghans felt excluded from the Government and the political transformation under way. The door should be open to those who wished to participate in good faith; leaving them outside the fold led to a growing incentive to undermine the peace process. With respect to reconstruction, Afghans must be presented with clearly identified projects to build the economy and increase confidence in the Government.

Worrying reports that support for the remnants of the Taliban might be growing in some areas were a reminder that the peace process was "far from secure", he said. Still, if real progress was to be made on the objectives just outlined for 2003, there was every reason to hope that the peace process would, in time, become irreversible. To achieve that, Afghanistan would need to count on the continuing financial and political commitment of the international community for some time to come.

Despite the relatively calm security situation, incidents continued to occur, as a result of inter-factional tension and sporadic terrorist activity, he went on. Today, in Kandahar, a bus carrying 16 passengers detonated an explosive device as it approached a bridge to the south-west of Kandahar. Investigations were ongoing in that incident, in which 12 people had reportedly died. Across the country, tensions between factions remained. In the west, fighting broke out recently in the province of Badghis, where the authority of Ismael Khan was being challenged by the local Governor, Gul Muhammad.

In the eastern province of Nargarhar, he continued, resistance by farmers to the ongoing campaign to eradicate poppy crops had led to tensions. On 26 January, a police vehicle escorting an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) convoy west of Jalalabad came under fire, and one police officer was reportedly killed. More positively, in the south, tensions that had arisen from a dispute between the Kandahar governor and police chief had been reduced through mediation and an agreement on the division of security responsibilities. Also positive, in the north, was that the formal commitment signed by Generals Dostum and Atta in May 2002 had contributed to reducing conflict in the last few weeks, although fighting had occurred in Faryab province and Dar-I-Souf. With the assistance of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Generals had agreed to hold more regular meetings between their factions.

In addition, he went on, last year's presidential decree dismissing corrupt or unfit civil servants had led to the removal of two senior intelligence staff from the rival Jumbesh and Jamiat parties. Efforts were also under way to take advantage of that change. Unfortunately, the high rate of criminal activity by armed groups in and around Mazar-i-Sharif continued unabated. That underscored the importance of reforming the Ministry of Defence, as called for in the December presidential decree.

With respect to the police, a new Interior Minister had been appointed to further the Minister's reform and the police, he said. The German-led police training project was providing training for some 1,450 police officers and, of those trainees, some 29 were women. The Government continued to face difficulties paying the salaries of the police, however, which could be contributing to police corruption and poor discipline. Funding through the trust fund specifically established for police salaries, therefore, was vital.

Turning to the judicial sector, he said that reforming it was one of the greatest challenges facing the Transitional Administration in the coming year. Italy, the lead nation in support of that sector, had hosted a conference in December, which confirmed that the primary responsibility for reforming the justice sector lay with the Judicial Commission. Donors at the conference pledged some 29 million euros over several years to support the Commission and its reform. The Commission's draft plan for legislative and constitutional reform and the rebuilding of the judicial system was currently being finalized. There was already agreement to establish a judicial training centre and to rehabilitate the Kabul High Court.

For some time to come, progress in establishing the rule of law would continue to be significantly constrained by the depleted pool of experienced lawyers and the limited capacity of the penal system, he said. The latter, in particular, deserved attention. Clearly, a humane and well functioning penal system was absolutely integral to the functioning and credibility of the justice sector. While all donors had recognized that, none had so far committed funding.

In a review of positive developments in 2002, he said it was clear that Afghanistan had made "remarkable" progress on many fronts. Major political milestones had been reached on time, including the holding of the Emergency Loya Jirga and the establishment of the current Transitional Administration under President Karzai's leadership. The Government had developed a comprehensive budget through inter-ministerial planning, and had successfully launched a new currency. The Commissions called for under the Bonn peace process had all been formed, and had begun in earnest to tackle the formidable tasks facing them. Last year also saw the return of more than 1.5 million refugees and 500,000 internally displaced persons to their homes, and the return of 3 million children to school.

Turning to the constitutional and electoral process, he said the Constitutional Drafting Commission, together with UNAMA and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had met with donors and interested Member States represented in Kabul to discuss the constitutional process. According to the current timetable, the Commission would finalize a preliminary draft by March. That draft would be reviewed by the full Commission, whose 30 members were currently being selected.

From April through early June, the Commission was to conduct country-wide public consultations to discern the public's views on key constitutional issues, he explained. Taking into account the results of the public consultations, the Commission would finalize a draft by late August. The final step would be the convening of a Constitutional Loya Jirga in October to review and adopt the Constitution.

The June 2004 elections called for by the Bonn Agreement would be an important step towards restoring accountable and legitimate Government in Afghanistan. That presented a tight but still manageable timetable. Key tasks ahead included the establishment of an electoral commission and the drafting of a "one-off" law to govern the 2004 elections. That law would provide the basis on which to begin preparations for the elections, before the Constitution was finalized, with the understanding that all subsequent elections would be governed by the provisions of the new Constitution.

On human rights, he said the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission had steadily been implementing its work programme with the support of UNAMA, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UNDP. That programme covered capacity-building in the fields of investigations and monitoring, human rights education, promotion of the rights of women and transitional justice. Since last month's briefing, the Commission had begun to establish satellite offices in seven provinces. It had also been working to identify human rights concepts and principles that should be reflected in the new Constitution.

The Commission had so far received more than 600 complaints and petitions from individuals and groups. Priority areas continued to be cases of intimidation and violence against political party and civil society activists by regional local commanders. There were also worrying cases of police and intelligence officers being used by political leaders and regional factions to target those opposed to them. The use of the State apparatus for factional ends was, of course, a cause for great concern. To address that, the reform of the national intelligence services would be a high priority for the coming year.

Regarding the ban on co-education recently announced by authorities in Herat, he said that the impact that separate education would have on girls and women had yet to be seen. In rural areas where there were few female teachers, however, the effect might be more negative. Clearly, however, the human rights climate in which that ban was enacted gave cause for concern, and UNAMA would continue to monitor implementation of the ban and promote the education of women in Heart and elsewhere.

Addressing relief, recovery and reconstruction, he noted that the United Nations Transitional Assistance Programme for Afghanistan - TAPA - was launched in Oslo last December during the final meeting of the Afghan Support Group. The TAPA reflected an agreement between the Transitional Administration and the United Nations assistance agencies on United Nations programmes and their linkage to national priorities identified by the Afghan Government. The TAPA aimed to ameliorate underlying causes of humanitarian needs and to lay the foundation for rehabilitation, reconstruction and long-term development.

He drew attention to noteworthy aims of TAPA, which had included the Mine Action Programme's new target to clear high impact areas contaminated with mines and unexploded ordnance within five years, as well as preparations for the National Census. He encouraged donors to follow up on the positive response given to TAPA in Oslo, where firm commitments had been made against the $815 million sought.

One of the highest assistance priorities this year would be to support the communities likely to bear the impact of the 1.2 million refugees that were expected to return in 2003, he said. Encouraging progress had been made this year in creating labour-intensive programmes and developing the National Emergency Employment Programme. The latter was anticipated to generate millions of workdays and assist in reviving local economies.

The Afghan Government, UNAMA and other partners had been working hard to prepare for the difficult problems of winter, he continued. So far, winter in Afghanistan had not been as harsh as feared. The Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development was leading in the winter response effort, and continued to make progress in planning and coordinating assistance to winter-affected areas.

Drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan remained a critical concern, he stressed. According to the 2002 Opium Survey of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, after several years of reduced production, significant poppy cultivation had resumed in 2002. Much of that was driven by poverty and economic necessity. Other aspects of the drug economy, however, such as the refining and transportation of drug products, were driven less by poverty than by the opportunity for massive and illicit profits. In the past in Afghanistan, those profits had been used to nurture a war economy. It was crucial, during the transitional period, that such an economy not be allowed to regain its former proportions.

As a sign of President Karzai's determination to avoid such dangers, the Transitional Administration had recently launched a poppy-eradication programme, in conjunction with the governors of the five main drug-producing provinces, he said. It was too early to say how effective that campaign would be. At the same time, it was clear that the provision of alternative livelihoods in drug-producing areas was urgently needed for the eradication programme to be sustained over the long term.

The progress made in implementing the peace process over the past year had been remarkable, but now was not the time for complacency, he stated. This year's agenda was every bit as challenging as the last years, if not more so. He was optimistic that the progress made to date could be capitalized on and the challenges ahead could be met. However, that would require the continued commitment of the Afghan people to the process, together with the sustained engagement of the international community.

Members were invited to informal consultations to continue discussion on the subject.

The meeting began at 11:20 a.m. and was adjourned at 12 noon.