Afghanistan

UNAMA Year in Review September 2009: Peace Day 2009 campaign for Afghanistan

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After feverish preparations, Afghanistan celebrated Peace Day 2009 with the release of peace doves, the flying of kites, and other related activities around the holy time of Eid.

UN agencies all over Afghanistan led the preparations for various Peace-related programmes that were held around 21 September - the UN-declared International Day of Peace since 2001.

On the days leading to the much-prepared-for international celebration of Peace - as the 20 August election results were still being tallied - the UN's Special Representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, called on the Afghan polling bodies to be vigilant about irregularities.

"In light of the concerns that have arisen over irregularities, I am calling today on the IEC (Independent Election Commission) and the ECC (Electoral Complaints Commission) to redouble their efforts to ensure full rigour in their work at every stage. This includes excluding from the preliminary count results from ballot boxes where there is evidence of irregularities.

"The integrity of these elections is of the utmost importance to Afghanistan and to its international partners. I look to both the IEC and ECC to carry out their mandated work to high standards and to ensure that the final outcome faithfully reflects the will of Afghanistan's voters," said Mr Eide in his 8 September statement.

On 14 September, one week before Peace Day, the United Nations and Afghan NGOs called for a ceasefire among all armed groups in Afghanistan on 21 September.

Two days later, the UN's top envoy in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, joined representatives from UN agencies in Afghanistan in releasing peace doves ahead of Peace Day. On the same day, Mr Eide called for a stop to the escalating conflict in the country, hopefully starting with the proposed 21 September ceasefire.

"I appeal to all those who fight, to demonstrate on that one day - 21 September - that there is a readiness to seek peace, and to do that by stopping the fighting across the country, at least on that one day," urged the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

He enthused that the level of hostilities dropped by 70 per cent on Peace Day a year before: "That was an achievement! I would like us to reach at least that figure this year. This is not a political act. First of all, this is an act of humanity. It is an act of respect to the Afghan people and I appeal to all to demonstrate that respect for the Afghan people and for those who suffer from the conflict."

But the UN envoy stressed that it is the Afghans themselves who have to stop fighting against each other: "The burden of bringing the conflict to a halt is, of course, first of all on the Afghans - they must find their way to bring peace to their country, and we must be there to support them and that is why the United Nations is here."

"Stop the fighting on 21 September and demonstrate that there is a readiness from all of us to move into a peace process," reiterated Mr Eide who lamented that "since we last marked Peace Day, the conflict in the country has intensified, and more and more have suffered - more and more people have felt the need for peace to be re-established in the country.

"And when you see all this suffering - not only in the south or the east, but increasingly in other parts of the country, I think we all see one thing: This must come to a stop. I repeat: It must come to a stop."

On the same day of the UN's dove-release ceremonies, President Hamid Karzai ordered a ceasefire on Peace Day.

In a statement, Mr Karzai said: "I order every member of the Afghan Armed Forces not to resort to force on this day, except when attacked."

President Karzai also called on "international forces, stationed in Afghanistan, not to resort to force, but for defensive reasons. Taking this opportunity, I would also call on those who are fighting against our country, for whatever reason, to cease fire in honour of this day."

A year ago in 2008, a similar ceasefire was declared by the Afghan government and NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Taliban in 2008.

By the end of September, the latest report on Afghanistan was published by the UN Secretary-General. "The level of alleged electoral irregularities has generated significant political turbulence leading to fears of a return to violence when election results are announced," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote.

"When the entire electoral process is completed, it will be of critical importance for the results to be accepted by all so that the election of Afghanistan's future president can be certified and a new Government can be formed," added the UN chief.

Mr Ban echoed his envoy's Afghan ownership stance: "The Government must be enabled and determined to assume all the responsibilities that belong to a sovereign State... The international community, for its part, must play a role that is clearly one of support."

At UN HQ on 28 September, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta called on the international community to keep supporting Afghanistan despite the election's deficiencies.

Speaking on the 5th day of the General Assembly's 64th Annual General Debate, Spanta stressed: "As with any emerging democracy, undoubtedly, there were (election) irregularities. But one should not assess a young terrorist-inflicted democracy with the criteria of stable, prosperous, and centuries-old democracies."

"This is not a call to condone fraud and irregularities. But in passing judgment, we should be

conscious of the context, the process and the full picture, rather than of only one aspect or issue," urged Dr. Spanta, adding that the Afghan people are "rightly fearful of being abandoned once again to lawlessness, extremism, and external interference."

At the end of the month Kai Eide gave his regular briefing to the Security Council when he noted: "This is decision time in Afghanistan and for Afghanistan... A number of critical decisions will be made over the next weeks. Together, they will determine the prospects for success in ending a conflict that has become more intense over the last months."

By Aurora V. Alambra, UNAMA