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Faced with insecurity and drugs, Afghanistan needs beefed up help - UN officials

17 June With insecurity threatening to derail Afghanistan's entire political process and the country's drug production turning the old Silk Road into a new "opium-paved road," two top United Nations officials called on the international community today to beef up deployment of security forces there and provide other vital assistance.

"Further deployment of international security elements, of a reasonable size and able to project credible strength, are needed to provide the security environment and confidence for the Bonn process to move forward to its natural conclusion," the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, told the Security Council in reference to the Afghan peace agreements reached in Bonn, Germany, in 2001.

"The security situation is a serious impediment to progress and is a major risk to the entire process," Mr. Guéhenno said in open session, noting that the technical and logistical dimensions for moving onto the next stage - approval of a new constitution and elections - were being put in place "but the necessary environment is not."

He listed the recent fatal attacks on international peacekeepers in the capital, Kabul, factional fighting in the north, clashes between suspected ousted Taliban and coalition forces and assaults on mine clearance teams in the south. To that he added a host of other problems, including the lack of regional and ethnic balance in the northern-controlled defence ministry and woefully inadequate funding for the salaries of the new Afghan army, although he also noted some progress in administrative matters and in establishing the central government's authority.

"So much has been invested in the progress made to date in Afghanistan. The process has entered into its most critical and most sensitive stage - the constitutional and electoral processes - but prevailing insecurity poses a serious risk of derailing it," Mr. Guéhenno declared. "I encourage the Afghan authorities and the international community to demonstrate a shared commitment to provide the necessary conditions for the peace process to move forward."

Briefing the Council on the drug problem, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), called on the international community to help Afghanistan eliminate cultivation of the opium poppy, which feeds terrorism and for which it will continue to be the world's largest producer in the coming years.

"The Afghan drug economy can be reconverted to peace and growth if the government is assisted to address the roots of the matter," Mr. Costa said. In particular, the international community could develop under UN auspices a comprehensive approach to help the government in its own drug control strategy, promote concerted measures in Afghanistan and its neighbours against drug trafficking, and foster alternative development in opium-growing areas in partnership with specialized UN agencies.

He emphasized that Afghan drugs provided resources for crime and terrorism - with dealers, including remnants of the previous Taliban regime and the Al-Qaida terrorist network, recycling huge profits "in violence and death," influencing politics, fomenting regional strife and feeding armed conflict to destabilize the government.

With "the old Silk Road now turned into an opium-paved road," neighbouring countries, through which drugs are exported, and Europe and Russia, where heroin use feeds opium cultivation and efforts to reduce demand should be intensified, need to make convergent efforts, he said.

"UNODC will contribute to the largest possible extent, stretching our work beyond Afghanistan's borders," Mr. Costa declared.

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