Afghanistan: tensions fester underneath apparent calm, UN official warns

Afghanistan: tensions fester underneath apparent calm, UN official warns

The apparent return of relative stability to parts of Afghanistan is masking unrest among former fighters, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today, urging international support for demobilization programmes in the country.

"The appearance of improving security conceals festering tensions beneath the surface," Kieran Prendergast, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told the 15-member body. "The power of armed groups is growing and disarmament programmes in some areas amount to commanders disarming their enemies and re-arming themselves." He cited reports that various factions were distributing arms or confiscating explosives, which had been collected by deminers for destruction.

"It is becoming more and more apparent that alternative sources of income need to be found for the mujahideen and the large number of armed men in Afghanistan," Mr. Prendergast said, pointing to evidence that some soldiers had already begun resorting to crime. "They feel they have no other options, and they see little evidence of a peace dividend that would provide them with an alternative to life by the gun."

The Under-Secretary-General said the problem was being addressed by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and various UN agencies, hailing Japan for its contribution to a UN Development Programme (UNDP) job-creation project.

At the same time, he warned that plans to create a national army for Afghanistan could backfire if soldiers not admitted to the army joined informal armed groups offering them money. "This would worsen the already difficult problem for the Interim Administration of wresting power from autonomous commanders in the provinces," Mr. Prendergast said. He drew attention to the question of how to pay the Afghan armed forces, noting that no formal payments had been made and it was "still unclear how the units trained by ISAF and the US will be paid."

[In a related development, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a news conference in New York today that countries seemed ready to extend ISAF's mandate, while discussions were continuing about expanding its deployment beyond Kabul. Concerning leadership of the Force, he said Turkey was being considered as possible lead nation, but Ankara had not yet taken a decision on the matter.]

Reviewing political developments, Mr. Prendergast stressed the need for the Interim Administration to expand its authority beyond Kabul. While noting that plans were under way to convene the Emergency Loya Jirga - the next step in the political process - he called attention to widespread concern about the "possible impact of intimidation by authorities and armed groups" on the process.

On the positive side, the Under-Secretary-General hailed progress in the field of gender equality and human rights, citing as evidence the country's commemoration of International Women's Day for the first time in 11 years.