Amidst challenges that are testing Afghanistan’s electoral, institutional and legal frameworks, together with the maturity of its political leaders, the top United Nations official in the country underscored today the vital need for the Afghan political class to act decisively to manage these events and “avoid any slippery slope to civil disorder and instability.”
Briefing the Security Council in the wake of the fallout from Afghanistan’s 14 June run-off presidential election – meant to pave the way for the country’s first-ever democratic transfer of power but which instead has sparked charges of fraud from one candidate and the departure of a senior electoral official – Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ján Kubiš urged Afghan political leaders to step up their efforts to break the political impasse.
“How the two presidential candidates and the country's leadership manage these events will be vital to Afghanistan's unity and stability,” he said, referring to Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abduallah and events that occurred since the finalization of the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan.
Mr. Abdullah chose to disengage from the electoral process after the run-off poll, citing institutional bias and massive fraud, in light of high levels of voter turnout in some parts of the country. Mr. Ghani’s camp in turn attributes this to his team’s mobilization efforts.
The run-off and subsequent electoral gridlock come during the Taliban’s “summer fighting season,” with 530 security incidents recorded on 14 June – just over 250 of those assessed as being directly election related. Mr. Kubiš noted that both candidates have been targeted with violence, including a double suicide attack on Mr. Abdullah’s campaign convoy.
Mr. Kubiš said the recent resignation of the Independent Election Commission’s (IEC) Chief Electoral Officer would hopefully provide a point for re-entry and in particular lead to discussions between the campaign teams and institutions on strengthening technical checks and balances where voting patterns are claimed to be unusual and in increasing confidence in the credibility of the electoral process and the acceptability of its outcome.
“The presidential candidates need to immediately engage with one another and the mandated electoral institutions in actively defining solutions to help the process move forward with improved quality and credibility,” he said, underscoring that given rising tensions, including increasing ethnic overtones, the utmost maturity is required, notably by the two presidential candidates.
Otherwise, said Mr. Kubiš, who is also head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the risk is a confrontation of the two candidates and their supporters, where the losing side will reject the results and contest their legitimacy, possibly leading to a protracted confrontation with a danger of a slide into violence, which Afghanistan and the wider region, can ill-afford
“As with elections anywhere in the world, there can ultimately be only one winner. The need now is for statesmanship not brinksmanship,” he declared, calling for calm amongst both candidates' supporters amidst “sharpening, hateful rhetoric of an increasingly inflammatory tone, risking ethnic division.” Most disturbingly, this includes rhetoric evoking memories of the fratricidal conflicts in the 1990s.
Turning briefly to other current important issues, Mr. Kubiš noted the “challenging” nature of the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan during the reporting period. Tomorrow, Afghanistan's National Security Adviser will lead a high-level delegation of political, military and security personnel to Islamabad, following a similar visit to Kabul. There are to be discussions in all spheres, but notably a focus on combatting the joint menace of terrorism, he said, welcoming such steps.
He noted that since the finalisation of the Secretary-General's report, the Pakistani Government has launched military operations in North Waziristan. This has resulted in mass population movements from the affected areas. Many thousands of those displaced have been moving across into Afghanistan's Khost and Paktika provinces.
“Afghan authorities, with the full support of the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes, have been working to provide assistance to those displaced, with the majority being hosted in local communities,” said Mr. Kubiš. Noting Afghanistan's economic challenges and own internal displacement, he hoped the operation on the Pakistani side of the border can be shaped in a way that will not further escalate an exodus of civilians.
Today’s Council meeting also included a briefing by the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, who stressed that possible declines in economic development, international aid and business confidence would most likely increase Afghanistan’s reliance on the illicit economy.
“Over the last decade, drug cultivation and production have been the most profitable illicit and criminal business activities in Afghanistan. We estimate that 80 per cent of the world’s opium and heroin are produced in Afghanistan. The narcotics trade may be worth between 10 to 15 per cent of the country’s GDP,” he said.
Mr. Fedotov said illicit drugs were a multi-billion dollar business in the country that impacted on security, the rule of law, health, and sustainable development. Increased production was related to rises in global consumption, but also due to domestic speculation and corruption.
Although Afghanistan’s illicit drug problem was formidable, the UNODC chief said it would be “unfair to say that nothing has been done to confront this challenge.” He noted that, despite this year’s election being the main priority of the security forces, eradication of the opium crop had continued.
UNODC’s role, Mr. Fedotov said, was to provide support and assistance to the relevant Afghan counter-narcotic authorities, and “to encourage them to do more.”
A more comprehensive approach was needed, one that focused on promoting alternative development, delivering good governance, the rule of law, and anti-money laundering and anti-corruption activities, and generating the political will and international support to maintain a long-term engagement with Afghanistan, he said.
The Council wrapped up its work on Afghanistan with the adoption of separate presidential statements: one calling on all stakeholders to engage with the electoral institutions and processes with patience and respect, refrain from any acts that incite imminent violence, civil disorder or lead to instability; and the other calling on States to strengthen international and regional cooperation to counter the threat posed by the production, trafficking, and consumption of illicit drugs originating in Afghanistan.