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Afghanistan: ongoing violence threatens preparations for elections - Security Council told

24 June 2005 The ongoing insecurity and re-emergence of violence affecting preparations for Afghanistan’s upcoming elections was being made worse by rampant corruption and fallout from the country’s thriving drug trade, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today.

Emphasizing the consequences of the violence on the political transition, which would end with parliamentary elections in September, Jean Arnault, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that the international response to thwart the destabilization strategy could not be limited to combat operations on the ground. “It is necessary to attack resolutely the financing, the safe havens where the perpetrators trained, and the networks that supported them,” he added.

Mr. Arnault said that despite some overall improvements in the war-torn country, complacency would not be appropriate, “especially for the United Nations.” That warning had become increasingly urgent over the last three months, during which the number and gravity of incidents throughout the country had increased – five demining experts have been killed, a religious leader was decapitated in his mosque, and at least four Afghan police offices were killed by the Taliban.

While violence itself was nothing new, the re-emergence of violence this year was a disappointment. Another special effort was needed by Afghanistan and Pakistan – greater than last year’s, judging by the recent level of violence. Welcoming the recent high-level contacts between the two countries, he added that the violence jeopardized the chances for rebuilding in the most seriously affected regions and had obliged UN agencies and other international bodies to assume a low profile, which impacted on the quality and quantity of their projects.

Still, there were encouraging developments regarding the preparations for the elections, particularly that the electoral administration had been deployed countrywide. Offices were fully operational in Kabul, eight regional centres and all 34 provincial capitals. The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) Secretariat currently employed 350 international and 8,000 national staff. That staffing component would gradually rise, reaching 500 international and 200,000 national staff on election day, the bulk of them manning the polling stations.

Also briefing the Council, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), warned that some of the more “dubious characters” involved in drug production and trafficking would run for office in some of the troublesome provinces, perhaps seeking parliamentary immunity. In today’s Afghanistan, development assistance translated not only into survival for hundreds of thousands of poor villagers; it may mean the survival of the first democratically elected government in the nation’s history.

Drug control measures must be viewed in conjunction with efforts to alleviate poverty in the countryside and to restore justice countrywide, he said. That would help move forward on other fronts as well and remove major impediments to democracy, security and development at large. It was impossible to oppose Afghanistan’s narco-industry when investigation, prosecution, the courts and detention systems were weak or non-existent.

Reporting on positive developments, he said his Office had just completed its spring survey, combining aerial and ground observation, and estimated that opium cultivation in Afghanistan would decline in 2005. While well over 100,000 hectares would remain under cultivation, the Annual Opium Survey, to be released in September, would most likely show a reverse trend over the past few years. The surveyors had confirmed that the eradication campaign conducted by the Government with foreign assistance had yielded results.

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