Afghanistan: UN envoy Brahimi encouraged by trip to Herat, Kandahar

Afghanistan: UN envoy Brahimi encouraged by trip to Herat, Kandahar

Returning to the Afghan capital from a visit to the cities of Herat and Kandahar, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations top envoy in the country, said today that he had seen much that gave cause for optimism on his trip outside Kabul.

Although problems remained, including those caused by drought and lack of security, and the reported ill treatment of some communities in the north, Mr. Brahimi stressed that "plenty is happening outside of Kabul."

“It is extremely encouraging to see the city of Herat, a very ancient and historic city, alive, teeming with activity,” he told a news conference in Kabul. “It is good to see Kandahar where there is no curfew although there are many, many problems in both cities and everywhere else in Afghanistan.”

Much was happening in Kabul too, he added, with preparations under way for development projects and also to prepare for the 10 April first meeting of the Implementation Group established at the Tokyo International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance held in January.

Meanwhile the Independent Commission set up by the Bonn Agreement was close to completing an important stage of the preparations for the traditional forum of tribal elders, the Loya Jirga, Mr. Brahimi said. "I think in a few days’ time they will finish the important first stage of their work and will make public the criteria, rules and regulations for the holding of the Loya Jirga," he noted.

This Emergency Loya Jirga will elect a Head of State for the Transitional Administration and will approve proposals for the structure and key personnel of the Transitional Administration. The Bonn Agreement sets out that free and fair elections must be held within two years of the establishment of the Loya Jirga.

Along with the Loya Jirga process, Mr. Brahimi highlighted a “probably just as important” development – preparations in Herat for the return to school of 200,000 children, some 50,000 more than initially expected. "Conditions will be much, much less than ideal in these schools, "Mr. Brahimi said, "but I think it is a huge progress for this country that the school year is going to start in a totally different atmosphere than previously."

In a related development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today that more than 7,000 tons of educational materials had been delivered to Afghanistan – enough to cover the needs of 1.8 million schoolchildren. The shipment will support what the UN agency bills as the first time in six years that public education will be freely available to all the children – both boys and girls – in the country.

“Schools are the cornerstone of communities everywhere, and education for all children is the cornerstone of a healthy nation,” said UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, who left today for Kabul where she will join Mr. Brahimi and the Chairman of the Afghanistan Interim Administration, Hamid Karzai, on Saturday, at a national celebration to mark the beginning of the new school year.