International community committed to Afghanistan for the long haul, Kubiš tells news conference

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Addressing the media in Kabul today, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, highlighted the international community’s commitment to the country, both in the short-term, in the lead-up to the 2014 presidential election, and the long-term, during its so-called ‘Transformation Decade,’ which is set to take place between 2015 and 2024.

The UN envoy’s media encounter was his first since returning from UN Headquarters in New York City, where he had attended a Security Council meeting on Afghanistan last week, during which the Council adopted a resolution renewing the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, which Mr. Kubiš heads.

In the unanimously adopted resolution, the Council also called on the world body, with the support of the international community, to back the Government of Afghanistan’s priority programmes as it goes through the process of taking full control of security, governance and development.

“I would characterize this mandate in perhaps two or three basic ways. The first: long-term commitment, the long-term commitment of the United Nations and of the international community to work with Afghanistan, to support Afghanistan, to support the people of Afghanistan. Although the mandate was approved for just the coming 12 months, it spoke about this long-term commitment well beyond 2014,” Mr. Kubiš said.

“The second notion that was present, in the mandate and in the discussion, was continuity and focus on the core functions, the core elements of the mandate, which are very strongly correlated with the priorities of the transition process, and also priorities of the transformation decade that is to come after 2014,” he added.

The UN envoy noted that he was encouraged by the number of countries that attended the Council meeting, at which many other UN Member States that are not currently members of the Council – including Afghanistan – took to the floor to deliver messages of support for the future of Afghanistan, and he work of the United Nations in the country.

Afghanistan is due to hold a presidential election on 5 April next year, marking an end to the second term of the incumbent, President Hamid Karzai. The political transition coincides with a security transition currently underway, which is seeing the Afghan authorities take over responsibilities previously assumed by international allies.

The withdrawal of the bulk of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is set to be completed by the end of 2014. In an announcement made on 31 December last year, President Karzai said that the fourth tranche of the country’s security transition would begin in late March, with 23 out of its 34 provinces having begun, or completed, the transition, covering about 87 per cent of the Afghan population.

In addition to the political and security transition currently underway, Afghan authorities are also working with the international community towards taking greater ownership of development in a country where more than one-third of the population lives below the poverty line, and one in every two children under five is chronically malnourished.

In his remarks to the media, the Special Representative cited some of the key points mentioned by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Council meeting. The UN chief’s speech covered a wide range of topics such as the country’s 2014 election, reconciliation and regional cooperation, human rights, development and humanitarian action – as well as the role of the United Nations in the coming years.

“You will see how he paid strong attention to the issues of elections, with certain positions that very clearly mark the way forward for us, and certain criteria, I would say – or benchmarks or guiding principles – that orient us to which areas we should focus our attention with regard to the election,” Mr. Kubiš said.

“The Secretary-General, for example, welcomed President Karzai’s emphasis on adopting electoral legislation,” he continued. “He also stressed the need to reach an agreement on an impartial, credible and independent electoral dispute mechanism. He marked this as a very critical, essential element of the future electoral architecture. Another core element he mentioned was the appointment of a respected, widely-accepted chairperson of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).”

The UN envoy stated that the Secretary-General had stressed the Government’s commitment to making the election an inclusive, consultative and transparent process.

“He welcomed this. It is, indeed, one of the most crucial elements, this approach based on inclusivity through consultative processes and with the highest degree of transparency. This is how we also understand the messages from civil society and political parties [in Afghanistan]; and this is something that I consider very important and I was very glad to see this reflected in the statement of the Secretary-General,” he said.

Mr. Kubiš made mention of the Secretary General’s underlining of the importance of Afghanistan’s plans to issue national electronic identity cards. He noted how he had stressed that with the possibility of few improvements in the voter identification system in time for the 2014 election, other checks and balances, including widely-agreed rules and robust anti-fraud measures, were essential and should be deployed. In addition, he cited Mr. Ban’s emphasis on the appointment of a respected and widely-accepted chairperson of the IEC.

During the question and answer session with journalists, Mr. Kubiš was asked for responses on a range of topics, including UN involvement in Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation efforts and participation in the 2014 election by Afghans in light of security concerns.

On the former, he noted the reported plans for President Karzai to visit the Qatari capital of Doha in relation to talks between the High Peace Council and authorized representatives of the Taliban.

“We are hopeful that this effort brings certain results, he said. “We took good note of the plan of the President to visit Qatar these days and again we hope there will be some messages coming after this visit.”

He added, “In the meantime we are engaged and will try to identify other ways and means how to support peace and reconciliation, including through our close cooperation with High Peace Council, and we, for example, hope that we will be able to work with them in engaging with political forces here in the country, not only in Kabul, but in the provinces.”

Mr. Kubiš also flagged, in this respect, that UNAMA is providing support for the second phase of the civil society initiative known as the People’s Dialogue. “We are doing it now in many provinces of the country,” he said. “And, of course, we are ready to help in all possible ways, as the United Nations, to work for peace and reconciliation.”

In response to a question about the possibility of low turn-out for the election next year due to security concerns, the Special Representative the polls would be crucial for the future of Afghanistan.

“And in my opinion, the people of Afghanistan should use this opportunity to form their future, to shape their future. If they are not using this opportunity, they are missing a big chance – they cannot then complain about the results and about the future,” he said, adding that the possibility of participating will be improved via security, organizational and logistical measures. “So, frankly, I assume that in many cases security would be a sort of excuse if people do not wish to come. They should not use this excuse. They should participate. They should use the opportunity.”

In relation to those security concerns, Mr. Kubiš also called for anti-government elements to take note that the political situation will be “different,” with the withdrawal of the international military forces by the end of next year.

“This will be about the building of the future of Afghanistan. All patriots of Afghanistan should take part in the elections, or should at least create conditions for the people to be able to take part in the elections,” he said.