Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 25 Mar 2004

News and Press Release
Originally published
Secretary-General Recommends UNAMA Mandate be Extended for Another Year

The latest report of the Secretary-General on Afghanistan was circulated among members of the Security Council yesterday in New York. The report was presented to Council Members by Assistant Secretary-General for Peace Keeping Operations Hedi Annabi.

In the report, the Secretary-General says that peace and security remain elusive for many Afghans and recommends the extension of the mandate of UNAMA for another 12-month period. UNAMA was established on 28 March 2002 and the current mandate will expire at the end of this month.

The report says that much has been achieved and that "the peace process has brought many benefits, in particular to large parts of the urban population, but it has yet to bring a sense of medium or long-term security." Many Afghans still feel that peace is not irreversible. It highlights that one of the key challenges will be the holding of elections and describes the main issues involved in deciding on the timing and type of elections to be held in 2004.

The report states that elections, reconstruction, human rights, and the building of State institutions depend on the success of initiatives aiming at enhancing security such as the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the deployment of additional provincial reconstruction teams, and accelerated efforts to build an Afghan army and police force. The report stresses in particular that more progress is required to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate former combatants.

While introducing the report, Assistant Secretary-General Hannabi told Council members that the fighting in Heart and recent factional fighting in the north were serious recent indications that security remained an unsolved problem.

The Secretary-General notes in the report that "while legitimate security interests must be taken into account at all times, all too often militia groups that wield the name of army units, police and intelligence agencies are nothing but instruments of extortion, undue influence and factional rivalry. Insecurity is their business." He goes on to state that "extortion cannot remain a way of life, and intimidation a tool for political influence in the upcoming electoral process."

The report calls the upcoming Berlin Conference, which will be happening in the German capital on 31 March and 1 April, an opportunity to reaffirm the "special relationship that has developed between Afghanistan and the international community." It notes that notwithstanding the importance of elections, without functional State institutions the authority and legitimacy of the new government will be short-lived. "The international community must therefore remain by the side of the new Afghanistan until full transition is achieved," he concludes.

Copies of the Secretary-General's report are available on the side table.

World Bank Praises Forward Looking Agenda for Afghanistan

In the lead up to the much awaited Berlin Conference at the end of this month the Afghan Government has released a new report entitled "Securing Afghanistan 's Future: Accomplishments and the Strategic Path Forward." This key document, prepared by the Government with support the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Development Program, the World Bank and UNAMA, sets out a comprehensive framework for the country's development. It goes beyond development issues and for the first time, integrates issues related to security, justice, counter-narcotics and human rights.

The report outlines costs of $27.5 billion over seven years to support a 12-year investment program which includes plans for providing universal primary education for girls and boys, and a basic package of health services to reach almost the entire population for just $9 a person per annum. The programmes are designed to create opportunities to lift the country to a per capita annual income of about $500 over the next seven years. The World Bank say at this level Afghanistan would still be a poor nation but a nation whose citizens could begin to see a hopeful path forward to improving their livelihoods. Significantly, over $7.5 billion of the total is needed for security, a cost not integrated into earlier assessments. The report argues that investments in security would allow a gradual phasing out of the approximately $13 billion currently spent annually by the international community on Coalition and ISAF operations in Afghanistan.

Yesterday World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn congratulated the Government of Afghanistan on the release of a "report outlining a comprehensive development agenda for the next seven years." He noted that the document sets out the needs of the country for the next seven years "clearly and realistically."

More details can be found in a World Bank press release available in Dari, Pashto and English on the side table.

Latest Trends in Voter Registration

As of yesterday, 1,574,772 Afghans have registered to vote. 1,129,033 are men and 445,739 are women, which keeps the national average at 72 percent men and 28 percent women.

Now that the voter registration process is well into its fourth month, there are some trends that we would like to share with you. Up until the middle of February, there was an increase in the number of voters registering each week with some 30,000 Afghans registering per day at the peak of the process. That number has now decreased to around 14,000 Afghans registering each day with over half of these coming from Kabul alone - yesterday 7,539 people registered in Kabul.

As you know we are still in phase I of the registration process but this data suggests that the majority of the urban population that has wanted to register has done so in each of the eight regional centers. Registration sites in these locations will remain open for a couple more weeks so we are expecting another possible peak towards the end of this process.

Overall, 44 percent of the 1.5 million who have registered have come from Kabul, 15 percent from Jalalabad and Herat, 11 percent from Mazar, six percent from Kandahar and Kunduz, and two percent from Gardez and Bamyan. The percentage of women registrants ranges from around 40 percent in Bamyan and Herat to 16 percent in Gardez and Kandahar. When we began the registration process, about 15 percent of the registrants were women and now that average is 28 percent.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) has teams of people working in each of the provinces preparing for the expansion of the voter registration process. As the registration teams in the eight main cities complete the registration of the residents in those cities, they will start to open up registration sites in the districts close to these cities. During the month of May, many new voter registration sites will open in most of the main provincial centers and from there will go on to the rest of the country.

Also, just for your calendars, this Sunday, 29 March, all of the Afghan Army officers in the Command and General Staff College will be registered at special registration posts inside the college. As you know, the establishment of the Afghan National Army is under the leadership of the United States in close cooperation with France. France takes responsibility of the training of the officers. Media wishing to cover it should arrive at the Command and General Staff College between 1:30 and 2pm. For more information, there is a press release on the side table.

Vocational Training and Agriculture Continue to be the Most Popular Choices for Ex-Combatants

To date some 5,378 ex-soldiers/officers have been demobilized in the four disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) pilot projects that are taking place in Kunduz, Gardez, Kabul and Mazar. 4,094 men have been or are going through the reintegration process. The most popular choices at the reintegration stage continue to be vocational training and job placement (38.5 percent), agriculture (36.7 percent) and de-mining (13.7 percent).

At the side of the room we have a document that may be of interest to you as it goes into more detail about the various reintegration activities by ex-soldiers/officers in Kabul and Kunduz. The summary notes for example that 85 percent of the beneficiaries in Kabul are between 20-40 years old with an illiteracy rate of about 90 percent. Most of the ex-soldiers do not have land and they hope there will be new schools to enable them to find sustainable jobs and get married in the future. There are also interviews with ex-soldiers. On example is an ex-soldier from Kunduz with 20 years military service who selected de-mining as an option because he felt there were too may mines in the country and he wanted to do something to help.

In due course we will provide summaries such as these for the reintegration activities in Gardez and Mazar.

Illiteracy Hampers Efforts to Train Police in the North

In the north efforts to train 1,000 police as part of the overall effort to prepare 20,000 legitimate law enforcers for the elections have encountered one of Afghanistan's prevailing problems - illiteracy. This highlights some of the difficulties that tend to hamper implementation of key activities and necessitate flexibility and creative solutions.

At the end of February we told you that as of 10 March 1,000 police from Balk, Sar-i-Pul, Faryab, Jawjan and Samangan would begin a series of three-week training course at the Mazar Police Academy to upgrade their skills. The target of 1,000 has, however, not been met as yet as only 50 literate policemen were identified in the five provinces. One of the requirements of the course, which is a part of Transition Integration Program (TIP), is that 200 literate police at a time pass through Basic One Training. As only 50 literate policemen were found, on 3 April 600 are now expected to commence training for a Basic Two course for illiterate policemen. Literacy classes will be included. In another quick response to address this new dimension, 20 additional police instructors have been identified and sent to Kabul to undertake training.

Qualified Afghan police and American experts are providing the training as well as members of the United Kingdom Mazar-based Provincial Reconstruction Team. The Transition Integration Program is led and funded by the United States and complements training by Germany, the lead nation assisting in the reform of the Afghan police, which is training new recruits at the Kabul Police Academy.

Dairy Plant Reopened in Kabul

About 400 farmers sell their milk to a dairy scheme implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry of Afghanistan (MAAH) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Kabul.

Celebrating the reconstruction of the dairy plant of Guzergah, in Kabul, an opening ceremony took place yesterday, in the presence of the Minister, Sayed Hussain Anwari, and of representatives of UN organisations and donors.

The dairy scheme collects milk from village farmers, processes the milk and sells safe and good quality milk to the people of Kabul. At present, the scheme is collecting about 1.5 tonnes of fresh milk daily through 16 milk collection centres in Kabul, Logar and Wardak provinces. This means that about 400 farmers are earning a regular income.

More details are available in a press release from FAO that can be found on the side table.

UNHCR Communication Officer, Mohammad Farhad

Repatriation Rates Increasing

The rate of returns from Pakistan to Afghanistan has increased steadily since UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) resumed its voluntary repatriation programme from that country on 3 March to over 1,000 people a day. In the first three days of this week, UNHCR helped over 3,700 Afghans come home from Pakistan.

So far this year, in addition to the facilitated return of more than 13,000 refugees from Pakistan and 8,200 from neighboring Iran, another 25,000 have come back from Iran spontaneously, border monitors report. This week also we expect to pass the 400,000 mark for Afghans helped to come back from Iran in the past two years. Another 270,000 people have come back on their own over that period.

UNHCR currently operates six transit centers here in Afghanistan where returning refugees collect their travel grants as well as the $8 per person sum to cover the previously distributed food aid and family kits.

New contributions for UNHCR's programmes in Afghanistan

In another development, we are pleased to announce that the Japanese government has recently donated additional US $6.4 million to UNHCR's work in Afghanistan. Also this week the European Commission signed an agreement worth Euro 2 million with UNHCR to assist displaced persons.

Part of the EC funds will be used to build the capacity of the Afghan government to improve the management of the return process, while it will also go to strengthen our protection monitoring in areas of return and regions hosting internally displaced persons.

UNHCR's overall needs for the Afghanistan operation including Pakistan and Iran in 2004 amount to more than $122 million.

UNHCR closes Shalman Refugee Camp

Last weekend, we officially closed Shalman refugee camp in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province after the repatriation of the last residents on Sunday.

In all, nearly 9,000 people were relocated - some back to Afghanistan and some to another camp in Pakistan. It marks the successful start to a programme that will see the number of camps shrink during the next two years.

The last 148 persons in the camp repatriated on Sunday, bringing to more than 4,000 the number of refugees from Shalman who chose to go home to Afghanistan after more than two years in the dry valley near the Khyber Pass. Another 4,800 of the camp's refugees opted for relocation to an existing refugee camp in a less barren area of the rugged Pakistani border region near Afghanistan. The camp consolidation operation, which began on 7 March, went smoothly and finished two days ahead of schedule. The last group of refugees to relocate to Pakistan's Kotkai Camp -- 433 individuals -- moved from Shalman in a UNHCR convoy on Friday.

Shalman was chosen as the first camp in the consolidation programme because of its falling population -- it could have accommodated about 26,000 people -- and a harsh environment where providing assistance was both difficult and expensive. All water had to be brought by UNHCR tanker trucks. Other camps in the group of 15 that were established to shelter Afghans fleeing the fighting in their country in late 2001 will also be closed to improve efficiency in providing services -- both those in North West Frontier Province like Shalman and in Balochistan Province. UNHCR is discussing the details of closures in both border provinces with government officials and expects more camp consolidation in the next few months.

The repatriating refugees from Shalman went through the same procedures as other Afghans asking UNHCR assistance to return home, including use of the iris recognition verification system. Some 1.9 million Afghans left Pakistan in 2002 and 2003. This year, some 400,000 Afghans are expected to return, with more than 13,000 already going back since the start of this year's return programme on 3 March.

UNICEF Communication Officer, Edward Carwardine

Afghanistan's Religious Leaders Commit to Children's Rights

Religious leaders from eastern Afghanistan committed themselves this week to promoting the rights of children and women to education, health and protection from abuse and exploitation, as the first of a series of nationwide workshops closed in Jalalabad on Wednesday 24 March.

Fifty-two imams and other religious figures from four provinces in eastern Afghanistan spent three days discussing ways of developing messages that can be disseminated at community level by religious leaders to improve opportunities for women and children. The closing declaration of the workshop committed participants to providing awareness on safe motherhood, birth registration, education for girls and boys and the prevention of child labour, child trafficking and the use of children in armed groups.

The religious leader's declaration stated that "Now Afghanistan is moving towards rehabilitation and reconstruction, there is a need for safer motherhood, child care and development, protection and education of children." The workshop participants identified six key areas around which they will now work to assist other religious leaders at district and village level to advocate on children's and women's rights.

These areas included providing information on risks in pregnancy and childbirth, and raising awareness of the importance of adequate medical care for expectant mothers, promoting the birth registration of children, advocating for immunization of children against disease, encouraging the practice of birth spacing to reduce potential risks to mothers and their children, identifying ways of increasing educational opportunities for boys and girls, and awareness raising on protection issues such as child labour and trafficking.

Speaking at the closing session of the workshop, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Karin Sham Poo - who is paying a seven day visit to Afghanistan - told participants that throughout history, the leaders of Islam had held a unique position as communicators of wisdom, compassion, devotion and good counsel and described the decision of religious leaders in Afghanistan to promote children's rights as one of courage and vision.

"I wish to congratulate you especially for your commitment to education for all," she said. "Islam is a religion based very much upon the importance of education. With education comes understanding. With education comes tolerance. With education comes peace, stability and prosperity. These are all values that lie at the heart of Islam."

UNICEF considers the religious community to be a vital partner in ensuring improved opportunities for women and children. Working with the Afghan Ministry of Religious Affairs, UNICEF is supporting a series of similar workshops throughout Afghanistan in 2004, with the aim of reach 50,000 religious leaders. The workshops are designed to help the religious community develop effective communication strategies for promoting key rights of women and children.

Questions and Answers

Question: The UN Secretary General or the General Assembly has decided to extend the mandate of UNAMA. Why is it just for one year? Do you think this will fulfill the demands and needs? Why not longer?

Spokesman: I am glad that you have asked this question because it allows me to clarify further. The extension is a recommendation by the Secretary-General to the Security Council. Peacekeeping operations can only be established by the Security Council - they are the ones who establish the mission and they are the ones who decide to extend or not the mandate. Mandates are usually extended for a period of six months or one year, but never more than one year in order to allow the necessary flexibility of seeing how things are going and how things should proceed. [This extension signals] firm commitment of the United Nations to remain in Afghanistan assisting this transitional process. I should also add that the traditional UN programmes in the country that existed before UNAMA, exist during UNAMA and will certainly continue after UNAMA. With Afghanistan being one of the poorest countries in the world, it will certainly require the United Nations development and assistance agencies to support the process of development.

Question: Will there be a change in the strategy of UNAMA when its mandate is extended or will it continue with the way it has gone for the past two years?

Spokesman: Following the elections the specific details of the mandate will need to be reviewed because UNAMA was established following the Bonn Agreement. Once elections take place, all of the key benchmarks of the Bonn Agreement will have been met. However that does not mean that the country's transition is over. In the note on the Secretary-General's report, I pointed out that the Secretary-General said that despite elections happening and resulting in a legitimate new government, it is necessary to have functioning state institutions throughout the country to provide services to the population. The international community will be required to continue supporting Afghanistan until this has been accomplished. These are points that will have to be taken into consideration when there is a review of the specifics of the new mandate.

Question: You mentioned that the numbers for repatriation have increased from Pakistan. It is going to be summer and the weather is going to be hot in Pakistan. How sure are you that those Afghans who have repatriated to their country will not return to Pakistan in the winter?

UNHRC: In 2002 we had this problem of returned refugees going back to Pakistan but since then we have established a recognition machine, which every refugee coming back to Afghanistan has to go through. If anyone has previously come to Afghanistan, the machine will detect it. As the weather gets hotter in Pakistan, the numbers will be increasing and we expect more repatriation to take place.

Question: You said that the number of registrants has decreased in the past few weeks. Does this show that most people are not interested in the process and that it will not be possible to finish this by June?

Spokesman: I don't think so. I think the people are very interested in this process. In fact, what this shows is that most people in these key urban areas have already registered. This is why [the figures] are decreasing. What is also shows is that people are coming from rural areas to register. And as we have been telling Afghans through you at these briefings: just be a little bit patient because registration sites will open throughout the country after phase I has concluded. All the indications that we have from our offices across the country is that people are interested and want to register and are asking for registration.

Question: Keeping in mind the high rate of illiteracy in Afghanistan, how many years does the country need to have 20,000 new police?

Spokesman: Not years at all, this will be done this summer. What I said was that part of the training programme focuses on literate police officers - those who can read and write. However, very few [literate officers] were found in the north so the programme is adjusting to that reality and is having a new set of classes which now include literacy courses for 600 of them to make up for this lack of education that is such a dramatic issue in the country. I am glad that this issue is coming up today, as it is a good introduction to the special guest who will be speaking to you after this question and answer session. Developing literacy in the country is of course a long-term process. Developing the new police is something that has to happen much faster and that is why adjustments are being made in the curriculum of the training programme of the police officers to respond to this reality of illiteracy. This is a situation that was found in the north and I am not talking about the whole country.

Question: What has happened to the voter registration sites in Herat?

Spokesman: They are temporarily closed, although all of UN operations are going on in Herat. During the first day of the violence, all UN personnel were instructed to remain at home. They did so. On that first day the UN flight to Herat also did not happen. However from the second day onwards, operations resume and the flights also resumed.

We have indications of the situation in the city being calm with a degree tension. I will take the opportunity of your question to note that we have been informed of attempts to instigate violence following what happened in the city, violence in particular against some Afghans and expatriates. We call on the national and provincial authorities to take all necessary measures to neutralize such attempts and to guarantee the protection of individuals and property in Herat.

If you have no further questions, I would like to invite UNICEF to come to the podium to introduce the special guest of today's briefing: Ms. Karin Sham Poo, Deputy Director of UNICEF.