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UN: After Political Agreement, Focus In Afghanistan Shifts To Security

  • Robert McMahon

The agreement reached by Afghan factions on an interim political administration includes a request for a UN-authorized force to secure Kabul and surrounding regions. But any such mandate is not expected soon in the UN Security Council, and relief officials are worried that widespread instability outside of the capital could lead to a humanitarian disaster this winter.

United Nations, 6 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The factions that will make up Afghanistan's interim government have called on the United Nations for wide-ranging assistance, spanning from institution-building to human rights monitoring. But the most critical request is for a UN-mandated force to maintain security in Kabul and its surrounding areas. The factions are calling for such a force to be progressively expanded to other urban centers and other areas.

The request is contained in an annex to the agreement reached yesterday near Bonn, Germany, by leading Afghan political factions.

The UN Security Council is set to vote as early as today on a resolution formally approving the agreement in Germany. But a second resolution that would authorize a multinational force is not expected soon, due to concern by the U.S. military that such a force would interfere with its campaign against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan.

Council President Moctar Ouane yesterday read a statement welcoming the agreement and signaling that the Council is likely to eventually back some form of stabilizing force. "The Security Council declares its readiness to support the implementation of the agreement and its annexes," he said.

The accord reached by Afghan factions calls for an interim government to be set up by 22 December in Kabul. It is to govern the country for six months until former King Zahir Shah convenes a grand tribal council known as a Loya Jirga. The council will appoint a transitional government to rule until a constitution is approved and elections are held two years later.

A number of states have expressed their willingness to contribute to a multinational force to provide stability for the development of a new, representative Afghan government. When the Security Council does act, it is expected to approve a mandate for such a force but not organize it under UN auspices.

The countries expected to join a multinational force in Afghanistan include Britain, France, Germany, Turkey, and Bangladesh. They are to work out among themselves -- and in consultation with the United States -- the composition and command structure of the force.

The top U.S. military official overseeing the war in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, is responsible for deciding on when forces outside the U.S.-led coalition can deploy in areas liberated from Taliban rule.

The U.S. military campaign is focused on the southern Kandahar region where Taliban forces and suspected members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network are still in control. UN officials are eager for a stability force to be authorized soon.

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said yesterday that the inaccessibility of aid workers to much of Afghanistan is a growing concern: "Insecurity in a number of different areas of the country is a problem. For the sake of our humanitarian program, we would like to see these security issues addressed quickly."

The United Nations has returned international staff to only three Afghan cities -- Kabul, Faizabad, and Herat -- due to security concerns. UN officials say most of the relief supplies coming into the country enter by trucks from the Pakistani city of Peshawar. The trucks travel to the capital, Kabul, where distribution lines to the country's central highlands are solid.

A spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Oliver Ulich, told RFE/RL the World Food Program plans to ship large quantities of food from Iran into western Afghanistan via Herat.

But, he said, supply routes remain limited from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan to the north of Afghanistan. Ulich said the biggest concern of humanitarian officials is the area around the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, where looting, kidnapping, and thievery are reported to be rampant. He said infighting among Northern Alliance factions and bands of roaming Taliban groups have disrupted aid efforts throughout a vast portion of the country.

"We estimate that, because of insecurity all over the north and the northwest and west, more than 3 million people are currently not reachable with the levels of assistance they need," he said. "More than 3 million. That's a huge number."

Ulich said those Afghan civilians at risk need food, shelter, and health care. The provinces with the most severe humanitarian threats are Balkh, Faryab, Badghis, and Ghowr.

Meanwhile, the agreement reached near Bonn yesterday also provides for continuity in Afghanistan's UN membership. The agreement says the interim government will assume responsibility for Afghanistan's representation at the United Nations and in its specialized agencies, as well as in other international institutions and conferences.

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