UNAMA Year in Review July 2009: Election preparations and an Afghan climbing record

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July was election-preparation month for Afghanistan, with UN envoy Kai Eide calling for a stop to the interference by officials in the electoral process, and urging Afghans to participate in the upcoming 20 August elections.

The UN Security Council stressed the need for free, fair and secure Afghan polls.

Mr Eide visited the warehouse of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) to lend his support to the huge logistical operation in preparing for the elections.

Two Afghan climbers reached the top of the country's highest peak, Mount Noshaq, on 19 July; and Afghan artists organized the Fourth Kabul International Documentary and Short Film Festival which screened 50 films, 27 of them Afghan. Organizers said both events were meant to show the world that there is more to Afghanistan than just the security concerns, explosions and the drugs trade that the West usually hears about.

And as a sign of the country's growing adherence to democratic practices, Kabul witnessed the first-ever television debate between two presidential candidates broadcast over Tolo TV on 23 July. Dr Abdullah Abdullah and Dr Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai debated for two hours while incumbent President Hamid Karzai declined the debate invitation.

The UN envoy delved on five other important Afghan issues: urging donors to help manage Afghanistan's water resources and calling for discussions on the issue with Afghanistan's bordering countries; proposing a permanent and predictable greening of Afghanistan; urging Afghans to challenge the prevailing violence against women; calling on donors to back Afghanistan's own vision for a civilian 'surge,' telling some 30 donors and international organizations that their support had to be aligned behind the needs identified by the Afghan people and their own Government; and challenging the international community, including the United Nations, to increase the value of local procurement by 10 per cent within a year.

UNAMA was also busy with preparations for Peace Day some two months away, organizing a huge campaign under the theme "What are you doing for Peace?"

On 7 July, Mr Eide tackled the election process and stressed that interference by officials in the electoral process must stop. "Unfortunately, we have seen an increasing tendency over the last few weeks of greater interference of some government officials, governors in particular, but there have been others including high officials... - that is the kind of interference that must come to a stop," said Mr Eide at a press conference unveiling the first AIHRC-UNAMA Joint Political Rights Monitoring Report.

"It is interference not only in favour of one candidate but there has been interference in favour of several candidates and - I repeat - that is an interference that must come to an end," Mr Eide warned.

By 13 July, with the elections a little more that a month away and with a major military offensive underway, Mr Eide released an opinion editorial on Afghanistan's critical elections, noting that "the current situation in Afghanistan is the most complex we have experienced for many years."

UN envoy Kai Eide appealed to Afghans to "use the ballot, not the bullet" in choosing their next set of leaders.

"We appeal to those who use the bullet to make use of the ballot," said Mr Eide in his 13 July opinion editorial where he called on all Afghan citizens - "without any exception" - to take part in the election process. "Such participation is essential to the legitimacy of the election results and to the future strength of democratically elected institutions," he stressed.

In his editorial titled "Afghanistan's critical elections," Eide stressed that the elections for the country's next president and provincial council members is not just about choosing the country's future leaders but more about "legitimacy of leadership."

At mid-month, the UN Security Council joined in, stressing the need for "free, fair, transparent, credible, secure and inclusive" elections.

The Council called on the Afghan people "to exercise their vote in this historic opportunity for all Afghans to make their voices heard"; and stressed the importance of a secure environment in which to conduct elections, condemning groups who resort to violence to obstruct the electoral process.

UNAMA issued a set of guidelines for the conduct of all those who are engaged in the elections - government officials, candidates, supporters, electoral officials and media and international representatives - related to the election campaign, the election day and the immediate post-election day process.

Amidst all these on 27 July, the UN offices in Herat in western Afghanistan were targeted by militant rocket fire. "Some seven rockets were fired last night in a deliberate attack against the UN, with two of the missiles landing inside the compound," UNAMA said in the statement condemning the attack.

"Thankfully, no UN staff were harmed or otherwise injured in this attack and our offices remain open," added UNAMA.

By Aurora V. Alambra, UNAMA