UNAMA Year in Review October 2009: UN mourns five staff killed in Kabul attack

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The end of October brought the biggest shock of the year to the UN Mission in Afghanistan when five international staff were killed in a suicide attack on a Kabul guesthouse on 28 October.

"I am deeply shocked and outraged by the cowardly attack on a guest house in central Kabul today, which killed five UN staff and injured a number of others," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as he condemned "in the strongest possible terms the despicable and brutal killing for which the Taleban has claimed responsibility in an apparent effort to disrupt the second round of the presidential election."

Expressing his deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims "who were viciously killed as they sought to serve the people of Afghanistan," the UN chief nonetheless vowed that the UN "remains committed to continue its work in the country as the Afghan people strive for a better future."

Only 20 days earlier on 8 October, a car bomb had exploded outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 17 people and injuring at least 80 others. It was the fifth such explosion in the Afghan capital since the election period in August, and the second such attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in the past two years.

UN headquarters expressed its alarm, with Mr Ban calling it a "senseless attack" while the UN Security Council "reiterated their serious concern at the threats posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida, and illegal armed groups to the local population, national security forces, international military and international assistance efforts in Afghanistan."

The month began with the 5 October kick-off of the elections audit process by the Afghan government's Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). Set to be audited were 358 suspicious ballot boxes earlier randomly picked in the presence of UNAMA head Kai Eide and candidates' representatives and election-monitoring groups, both national and international.

The audit results would determine whether or not there was need for a run-off election between the two leading presidential contenders. The Afghan Constitution requires the winning presidential candidate to garner at least 50 per cent of the votes.

The audit process was conducted under the eagle eyes of the candidates' representatives at 10 each for the presidential frontrunners, with each camp expressing satisfaction with the process.

Ahmad Zia Kechkenni, head of Mr Abdullah's delegation, said the campaign wass "satisfied with the transparency of the level of random sampling... Everything is happening in front of our eyes. We have some minor concerns about access of information - and we have told the IEC about it."

Arsala Jamal, overseeing the audit process on the President's behalf, enthused: "We are happy that the process has begun. It was a bit slow on the first day, but things are speeding up. However, we also have some concerns about the process, such as clerical errors that are taking place, along with others, which we hope the IEC and ECC will address."

The international monitors echoed the sentiment. Stefan Coman of the National Democratic Institute said the audit had been "satisfactory" so far but that "as expected, some issues have come up, which are being dealt with."

On 7 October, as the contested ballots were being audited, senior UN officials denied unfounded accusations of favouritism in the Afghan presidential polls, with the UNAMA stressing that the top UN envoy to Afghanistan "only ever sided with electoral institutions in the country's recent presidential ballot, and never with any of the candidates."

On the same day following the deadly Taliban attack on the Indian Embassy right beside the Afghan Ministry of Defence, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the 42-country International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The Security Council had earlier established ISAF to help maintain security across the nation following the ousting of the Taliban regime by United States-led forces.

Some two weeks later, on 19 October, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters in New York that the Secretary-General had "urged (Mr.) Karzai to respect the constitutional process, and he was pleased to hear that the President will fully respect the constitutional order."

Earlier that day, the UN-backed ECC submitted its findings to the IEC, and ordered the latter body to invalidate 210 polling stations around the country where the panel found clear and convincing evidence of fraud. "It is for the Independent Electoral Commission to take the orders of the Election Complaints Commission and apply them to the preliminary results and draw a new tally and announce final certified results... If a second round is called for, we need to scrupulously abide by the law."

On 20 October, Afghanistan President Karzai went public about agreeing to a run-off via a Palace press conference. Mr Eide, who was in the said event, said: "For me throughout all these months, there has been one consideration that has been the centre of all my attention and my work and that has been the respect for the Afghan constitution, the legal frameworks and institutions that have been put in place to help move the election process forward -- and I look forward to a dignified campaign over the next two weeks between the two candidates and a fair end result to this long election process."

In New York, Mr Ban warmly welcomed Mr Karzai's move. "He (Mr Karzai) has made it clear that the constitutional process must be fully respected... I commend President Karzai for the leadership he has displayed and for his commitment to ensuring full respect for Afghanistan's Constitution and its democratic processes."

On UN Day on 24 October, the UN chief said: "On this United Nations Day and every day throughout the year, the United Nations is at work - for the planet, for jobs, for 'we the peoples.' We deliver more humanitarian aid than anyone -- and to the toughest places."

Also on UN Day in Kabul was launched the US$ 4 billion UN Development Assistance Framework or UNDAF for Afghanistan. The key document which plans out the four-year development assistance from 2010 to 2013 was prepared by 28 UN agencies in cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan, and focuses on three priority areas: Governance, peace and stability, with emphasis on human resources development/capacity development; agriculture and access to income, which targets rural communities and aims at building marketable skills through vocational training programmes; and health and education.

On 26 October, UNAMA Spokesperson Aleem Siddique said the UN wanted to see a better and cleaner run-off election with less fraud. "We do want to see a better run-off than we saw in the first round. We want to see less fraud in the (7 November) run-off. There will be no let-up on the part of the United Nations in supporting the electoral institutions in this country so we can get the best possible run-off that we can."

In response to the attack on UN staff, Mr Ban appealed to the General Assembly for rapid action on the UN security budget, asking for a supplementary budget of US$ 50 million, in addition to the proposed US$ 5 billion regular budget for the 2010-2011 biennium, to better screen and protect access to vulnerable UN locations.

By Aurora V. Alambra, UNAMA