Poorly functioning government systems in Afghanistan mean that development gains are at risk of slipping amid the mounting international troop drawdown, the top United Nations official in the country said today.
“Attention is needed on the issue of sustainable livelihoods,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Ján Kubiš, told a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Central Asian nation.
“Overall, sustainability of development gains is at risk because of weak and inadequate systems of sub-national governance, lack of support from the central level, capacity constraints and insufficient planning on the civilian side,” he added.
The withdrawal of the bulk of United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops from Afghanistan is set to be completed by the end of 2014, while a transition of responsibility for security in the country from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to Afghan forces is already underway.
Mr. Kubiš, who was presenting the 15-nation Council with a periodic briefing on the state of affairs in Afghanistan, said that troop withdrawals were being accompanied by a “scaling down” of large-scale military backed stabilization projects, and that the combined effect of these would have “substantial economic impacts.”
“There have been some appeals to the United Nations to assume new functions and projects,” Mr. Kubiš said. “However the very core of transition is that the Afghan Government is in the lead.”
He added, “This must be the first port of call.”
The Special Representative said the UN would “look to assist” the Afghan Government whenever help is requested, but added that the transition period should be seen by all as an opportunity to “rebalance the provision of development assistance” so that it is better aligned with “national priorities and strategies.”
Mr. Kubiš also drew attention to pressing humanitarian needs in Afghanistan, saying it remains one of the poorest countries in the world, but that international donations to this year’s combined aid appeal were “disappointing,” coming in at just 48 per cent of the requested $448 million.
“I hope donors will strengthen support in the coming year,” he said.
Mr. Kubiš has for almost a year headed the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which the Security Council created in 2002 at the request of the Afghan Government to help it and the people of Afghanistan in laying the foundations for sustainable peace and development in the country.
In his presentation, he dismissed what he called the media’s “relentless depiction” of Afghanistan as being “almost solely a place of conflict and terror.”
“In my travels around 22 provinces this past year, I have seen girls and boys getting an education unthinkable a decade ago; bustling and industrious towns and villages; and slowly but increasingly capable Government institutions with Afghans determined to take their destiny into their own hands,” he said.
He added that any transition was, by definition, a “delicate period,” adding that Afghanistan –which a little more than a decade ago saw most of its territory run by an extremist Taliban regime – would now best benefit from a “sustained partnership” that would ensure the Afghan people “have the confidence to focus on building a better future.”
“Work in this quarter has focused on creating the systems and structures for policy dialogue between the Afghan Government and international community in meeting and monitoring commitments,” he said. “I welcome the firm Afghan lead asserted in ensuring continued momentum.”
This year has been important for Afghanistan to consolidate international financial, development and security commitments aimed at helping the country cope beyond 2014. A NATO conference in Chicago in May and a Tokyo conference on development in July both aimed at building pledges made at the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn last December.
“The Chicago and Tokyo Conferences provided a solid foundation,” said Mr. Kubiš. “Substantial international assistance was pledged through the transition period and the decade of transformation, with spending in ways that reinforce Afghan sovereignty.”
He added that the Afghan Government, in turn, “committed to accountable, representative institutions, respect for human rights, and sound economic and development fundamentals.”
The year 2014 will also see a presidential election, an event Mr. Kubiš said will have “profound implications for stability across the region” as long as it is perceived to be legitimate.
The UN envoy also highlighted anti-corruption efforts under way in the country, while he lamented what he called the “corrosive effect” of the narcotics industry.
“The increase in both cannabis and opium cultivation reported in this period must be a wakeup call, with the illicit economy being an active impediment to institutional development and sustainable growth,” he said.
On the ongoing conflict in the country, Mr. Kubiš said civilians were “bearing the heaviest burden,” though he went on to say that the opportunity for Afghanistan to become mine-free was now “within sight.”
“Not so long ago Afghanistan was the most heavily mined country in the world but much has been achieved,” he added. “Sustained donor funding at current levels could enable Afghanistan to obliterate the scourge of landmines within six years.”