Press conference on Afghanistan

Press Briefing
At a Headquarters press conference today, two senior United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) officials lauded the international donor community's response to the crisis in Afghanistan, saying it had far exceeded the $1.7 billon pledged for calendar year 2002 at the Tokyo conference. David Lockwood, Deputy Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific, and Ercan Murat, Country Director for Afghanistan, said UNDP's estimate was that approximately $2 billion was delivered in Afghanistan in 2002. The current estimates were that donor assistance would not be less than that this year, and most of the major donors had made commitments already and were delivering.

"So, we're very hopeful that no matter what else might happen on the international scene, the commitment to continue aid to Afghanistan will continue as committed, and we look forward to helping the Government playing a more and more important role in governing the country", said Mr. Lockwood.

Mr. Lockwood added that UNDP played an ever-increasing role in supporting Lakhdar Brahimi, the Secretary-General's Special Representative in Afghanistan, and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in building some of the major commissions and the capacity of the Government itself, as called for in the Bonn agreement. There were now a number of active commissions; among them, the constitution drafting commission, the judicial commission, the civil service commission, and the human rights commission. All were now functional and the UNDP had assistance programmes working with all of them. Most importantly, the UNDP was now working with a number of ministries in helping develop their capacity to function.

The capacity of the Government to function as a government was an important part of the peace process, and it was vital that it be seen to function not only in Kabul, but in all of the 32 provinces. At the same, the UNDP was working with all of the provincial governments to ensure that they would begin to govern in the best way they could. Although a lot of the assistance was dedicated to the functioning of the Government of Afghanistan in Kabul itself, there was also an outreach that went to many parts of the country beyond the capital.

Mr. Murat said that the UNDP in Afghanistan had been operating under Special Representative Brahimi's vision that the Government was in the driver's seat and the United Nations should leave a "light footprint". The UNDP had been a major player in furthering that vision by supporting, first, the Interim Government, in order to be able to, with the results of Loya Jirga, come up with an 18-month duration government, which was now called a "transitional" government.

He added that the UNDP had been working to make the presence and the visibility of Government as strong as possible not only in Kabul, but also, more importantly and more challengingly, outside of Kabul. Currently, the UNDP was working with a number of government ministries to bring their presence into about 32 provincial locations and, he hoped, eventually to nearly 400 district level locations throughout the country.

He said in 2002 the UNDP had mobilized and delivered around $100 million worth of resources, despite the poor security situation, especially outside of Kabul. A number of challenges still awaited the Government, and it was hoped that those challenges would be more achievable for the Government with continued United Nations support. A $150 million UNDP programme was planned for 2003. But, formidable challenges still lay ahead, among them, security, which continued to be the number one priority. The UNDP was playing a major role in building a national army and a national police force, as well as in the demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants, and addressing the ongoing drug and mine problems. Afghanistan, he said, remained the world's most heavily mined country.

Asked if the Iraq crisis could undermine the donor community's pledged assistance to Afghanistan in the near term, Mr. Lockwood said: "We certainly hope it won't. The commitments made by countries that are already engaged are well and truly on the table. And we're assuming that countries will honour those commitments".

He added that it was critical that they did, at least for existing commitments, because if they did not, Afghanistan could easily slide back to what had happened in the early 1990s . "I think their sincerity at this point is guaranteed", he added.