United Nations, 12 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The counting of ballots in Afghanistan will take at least two weeks and a probe into irregularities has just begun. But UN officials are expressing great optimism about the presidential election held on 9 October.
The deputy head of UN peacekeeping, Hedi Annabi, told the Security Council today that the process has proven to be "overwhelmingly positive" among Afghans.
"The impressive participation, the enthusiasm and pride of the women and men voting for the first time, the peaceful and orderly environment in which the electoral operation unfolded, have made it a special event that augurs well for the journey of the Afghans towards a vigorous democracy," Annabi said.
Annabi said initial estimates show a high voter turnout. And reports from out-of-country voting centers in Pakistan and Iran, he said, showed 800,000 Afghans casting ballots -- the largest-ever refugee vote.
"These results suggest that, just as disarmament is an important ingredient in the holding of credible elections, the electoral process itself helps advance disarmament."
Annabi said the electoral process also generated momentum in disarmament, demobilization, and defactionalization of military forces. He reported a surge in the number of soldiers entering the demobilization program by the end of September. By election day, more than 22,500 personnel had been disarmed -- one-third of the target -- and more than two-thirds of heavy weapons had been turned over.
"These results suggest that, just as disarmament is an important ingredient in the holding of credible elections, the electoral process itself helps advance disarmament," Annabi said.
The UN Security Council issued a statement welcoming the elections and commending the role of the Afghan National Police and National Army in maintaining security. The statement took note of the investigation being mounted by the Joint Electoral Management Body and its efforts to "enhance the transparency" of the electoral process.
Security Council President Emyr Jones Parry of Britain, reading the statement, cited major challenges still facing Afghanistan: "The Security Council urges the government of Afghanistan, with the help of the international community, to continue to confront the challenges that remain in Afghanistan, including security; timely preparation of the parliamentary elections in April 2005; the reconstruction of institutions; the fight against narcotics; and the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of Afghan militias."
UN officials said the security conditions for the 9 October elections "greatly exceeded" expectations. They urged the United States and NATO-led forces to remain in the country through the parliamentary elections next year.[For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.]