Citing Afghans’ “exuberant” display of national unity and pride at the war-wracked country’s victory in a regional football championship as a “welcome sign” on the gradual path to normalcy, the top United Nations envoy there today also pointed to other recent political and security gains despite major challenges.
“There is clear progress in vital elements underpinning Afghanistan’s transition processes,” the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative Ján Kubiš told the Security Council in a quarterly briefing on the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) set up in 2002 to help the country on the road to peace and development following decades of war and factional fighting.
“At the same time, challenges persist in the security and narcotics sectors in particular,” he said, presenting Mr. Ban’s latest report on the country. “Considerable challenges remain and the situation is volatile, but efforts are on track.”
Mr. Kubiš, who heads UNAMA, called Afghanistan’s 2-0 victory over India in the South Asian Football Federation Championship earlier this month “an historic achievement.”
“In a display of national unity and national pride the streets filled with dancing, flag-waving crowds,” he said. “Following decades of war which devastated the country’s institutional and social fabric, the South Asian Football Federation Championship win was a welcome sign of Afghanistan’s gradual return to normalcy and success on the international stage.”
Turning to the challenges ahead, he said Afghan security forces capabilities are not yet fully developed nor completely sustainable, even though the army and police have shown “courage and increased capability in rising to the challenge of security transition.”
He cited estimates by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), due to leave at the end of next year, that international support will be required for at least the next five years in enabling entirely independent operations.
Security incidents have increased over the past year, although not to the record levels of 2011, with a campaign of bloodshed by anti-Government elements targeting Afghans – both in uniform and civilians – including in previously calmer districts. They have however failed to achieve a significant military victory, Mr. Kubiš said.
Turning to the political front, he stressed that a stable leadership transition through next year’s elections is paramount, with candidates articulating clear visions and avoiding appeals to narrow ethnic or factional interests on a level playing field that includes equal access to State resources, as well as balanced media coverage.
UNAMA is charged with supporting the elections, slated for 5 April, 2014, to choose a new leader to replace President Hamid Karzai, who will not be seeking re-election due to term limits.
The election will mark a transfer of power from one elected Government to another for the first time in Afghanistan’s history, and elections for the National Assembly will be held in 2015.
On narcotics, “a key problem in Afghanistan and beyond,” Mr. Kubiš noted that though there was a reduction in cannabis cultivation in 2012, higher yields still saw increased production.
“I am extremely concerned at assessments that this year will see a significant rise – yet again – in opium cultivation and a continuing drop in ‘poppy-free’ provinces,” he added, calling for counter-narcotics to be mainstreamed into agricultural policy by providing farmers with access to markets for other crops. Afghanistan is already by far the largest centre of opium in the world.
Mr. Kubiš stressed that increasing humanitarian needs due to increased population displacements sparked by heightened uncertainty and violence will require more stable and flexible funding that will allow a rapid response to humanitarian crises. There are now half a million internally displaced persons (IDPs), over 100,000 of them driven from their homes in the first seven months of the year.
In his report, in which he expressed concern over the deteriorating security situation, Secretary-General Ban urged “early confidence-building” before commencing formal peace talks between the Government and its fundamentalist Taliban and other opponents.
“Any talks should be inclusive and should be accompanied by early confidence-building steps aimed at reducing levels of violence, notably around the elections and the increased safety and security of Afghan civilians who have suffered the effects of the conflict for too long,” he wrote.
“The United Nations supports an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and I would encourage all efforts that ensure it starts soon.”