UN special representative Jean Arnault told the UN Security Council there needs to be a robust international military presence nationwide to safeguard national elections set for September. "Whether it is counterterrorism, electoral security, counternarcotics, or control of factional fighting, at this critical juncture for the Afghan peace process, international security assistance continues to make a difference between success and failure," he said.
Earlier this week, a member of NATO's Parliamentary Assembly told RFE/RL that unless NATO deploys at least 3,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, the elections may be won by local warlords and drug traffickers.
But Pakistan's UN ambassador, Munir Akram, told reporters today that Afghanistan needs as many as 25,000 international peacekeepers to safeguard elections. Akram expressed the hope more countries would take heed of Afghanistan's security needs. "The project in Afghanistan now is moving forward but it hangs in the balance and this is not the time to falter and [we hope] they will renew their commitment to have a sizeable security presence in Afghanistan until peace and security are comprehensively restored," he said.
Arnault said that unless the disarmament process is accelerated, there will be a widespread drop in confidence about the integrity of the election process.
NATO leads a 6,500-member security force in the Kabul region and approved the expansion of the force's operating area beyond the capital in October. But the alliance has found few countries willing to contribute more forces. The NATO summit next month in Istanbul will discuss further deployments to Afghanistan.
UN envoy Arnault told the council today that there have been serious delays in efforts to disarm and demobilize the country's militias. The Afghan government, he said, has fallen behind its goal of disarmament of 40 percent of the militia forces by June and full cantonment of heavy weapons by July.
Arnault said that unless the process is accelerated, there will be a widespread drop in confidence about the integrity of the election process. "The principal goal of the 2004 elections, namely strengthening the legitimacy and authority of the next Afghan government, would no doubt be compromised if public perception should prevail that the election was distorted by military intimidation or interference," he said.
The Afghan disarmament process is voluntary. Senior militia commanders have been slow to cooperate because of what they see as a lack of balance between rival armed formations, concern about Taliban remnants, and a lack of confidence in the political integration process.
Voter registration efforts, meanwhile, accelerated in May, with nearly 1 million new voters registered, according to Arnault. That brings the overall number to 2.7 million registered voters out of a total of 10 million eligible in the country. The election process, he said, will also receive a boost from the U.S.-led coalition's deployment of 10 Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the south, southeast, and east by the end of July.
Arnault said the election process, despite its challenges, has mobilized interest throughout a large part of the Afghan population. "There is momentum and there are expectations. Those who were disappointed after June 2002 by the composition of the transitional government -- deemed too unrepresentative of the nation as a whole -- have now transferred their hopes to the national elections," he said.
Arnault expressed concern about under-registration in the south of the country. At latest report, he said, the nine provinces of the south and southeast represent only 12 percent of those registered.