While Afghanistan had made definite gains over the past year and the Government was determined to take a lead role in rebuilding the country and economy, the persistent lack of security still threatened the peace process at all levels, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council today.
In an open briefing to the Council on Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report on the situation in Afghanistan, Hédi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, stressed that security sector reform was paramount. One of the most pressing challenges ahead for the Government will be to strengthen the links between the capital, Kabul, and the provinces and to strengthen the capacity of the provincial and local governments themselves, he said.
Effective governance at the local level, with reliable fiscal, administrative and policy links to the central Government, would enable the population across Afghanistan to gain confidence that the Government could affect their lives positively, Mr. Annabi said. But for that to occur, security outside Kabul must significantly improve. "It is important to see security sector reform, not as an end in itself, but as a mechanism to enable the central government to extend its control over the country, and in turn to allow the inter-related political and economic development processes to occur within the space created by a functioning security sector," he noted.
Mr. Annabi also said the focus of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) over the next year would be to continue to assist the Government to consolidate its authority throughout the country and implement national policies that reached the entire nation. That effort would build on progress made last year in establishing the essential structures of government and in proving that those structures could work at a basic level.
Mr. Annabi recalled that the budget had been presented to donors at the Afghanistan Development Forum held from 13 to 14 March in Kabul, and at the Afghanistan High-Level Strategic Forum on 17 March in Brussels. "At the heart of the budget process its the issue of government ownership and leadership in setting national priorities for the overall reconstruction agenda," he said, adding that the financial plan provides for some $2.26 billion in expenditures. The Government estimated that it will collect revenues of $200 million and donors had to date pledged $1.87 billion, leaving a funding gap of around $191 million for this year.
Administrative development and security sector reform should be coupled with a political transformation process that ensured that the Government was representative and accountable to all segments of its population, Mr. Annabi said. "The drafting and approval of a new constitution and preparations for general elections in 2004 will be key tasks in that regard in the coming year," he noted, adding that elections in particular constituted a linchpin of the process and an essential element of UNAMA's mandate.
Holding elections within the timeline of the Bonn Agreement will constitute a "major challenge" for UNAMA and the Afghan Administration, Mr. Annabi said, envisioning an electoral section within UNAMA that could provide expert advice and technical assistance to the Afghan electoral management body on such issues as voter registration, voter education, the development of political party laws, and the development of the electoral system.
Stressing that the resources to meet international standards in the elections, above the cost of the electoral section itself, will be considerable, Mr. Annabi said it was vital that the UNAMA electoral section be established and provided with adequate resources as soon as possible.