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UN: Terror, Factional Fighting, Drugs Threaten Afghan Political Process

  • Robert McMahon

A UN Security Council mission says Afghanistan's political process faces continuing threats from terrorism, factional fighting, and the revived opium trade in the country. The mission's leader, German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger, says security issues dominated its discussions with a wide range of officials in Afghanistan last week. The United States has signaled it will expand security to southern and eastern regions, but no widespread expansion of the NATO-led force in Kabul has yet been confirmed.

United Nations, 12 November 2003 (RFE/RL) -- After hearing warnings for months from UN and Afghan officials about instability in Afghanistan, the UN Security Council has seen for itself how the lack of security is affecting the peace process there.

A Security Council mission headed by German Ambassador Gunter Pleuger reported back yesterday that its visit to Afghanistan had found a country gripped with concern about terrorism, factional warfare, and drug trafficking. Those three threats were cited repeatedly during the 15-member mission's meetings last week with officials in Kabul, Herat, and Mazar-e Sharif.

Pleuger said there has been obvious progress in the two years since the Taliban was ousted from the country. But reconstruction has been significantly slowed, he said, by the triple threats. "The conditions necessary for a credible national political process are not yet in place," he said. "National reconciliation requires greater focus. Political parties need time to develop. National institutions must undergo reform. And the power of the factional leaders must be diminished."

Pleuger's briefing took place amid a backdrop of troubling new violence in the country yesterday. A car bomb exploded in front of UN offices in Kandahar, wounding at least two people. Separately, an attack on a convoy south of Kandahar killed one Romanian soldier participating in the U.S.-led coalition there and wounded another.

Pleuger told RFE/RL after the briefing that Afghan and UN officials were confronted with very different security challenges in the north and south. Ethnic Tajik commander Mohammad Ata and ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum are vying for power in the north and have resisted demilitarization and integrating local soldiers into a national force.

But Security Council members were able to meet the two factional commanders and press the case for participating in reforms. In the south, by contrast, there is an absence of any major leaders to engage with, according to Pleuger. "The little village and the town commanders, they are ruling the south, and they have a very limited perspective of what's necessary for the country," he said. "And as a consequence, not only reconstruction is hampered but the [majority] Pashtuns are feeling they are not included in the reconstruction work and they are not included in the political process, and that's very dangerous."

The mission heard complaints that throughout Afghanistan, local commanders and factional leaders continue to abuse the rights of Afghans. It received reports from women's groups and civil society organizations of intimidation, harassment, and exclusion from social, economic, and political activities.

Pleuger told the Security Council that the narcotics economy, fueled by a new surge in opium poppy cultivation, poses a particularly serious threat to efforts to revive Afghan society. "Judicial institutions remain weak, and the narcotics economy is largely unchecked," he said. "In particular, the rapid growth of the narcotics economy in recent months has the potential to dwarf the legal economy and threaten the small gains in the field of reconstruction and economic stabilization achieved to date."

To cope with these developments, the mission issued a series of recommendations aimed at bolstering the authority of the Afghan Transitional Administration led by Chairman Hamid Karzai. These included an appeal for more international financial support for a UN-established fund to pay police salaries.

The mission also said it supports Karzai's call for a follow-up conference to the Bonn process early next year to rally donor nations to contribute to the completion of Afghanistan's reforms.

Spanish UN Ambassador Innocencio Arias, who took part in the mission, told reporters that funding is a pressing need for Afghanistan's security structures. "What the international community promised them has not completely arrived, and they need help, especially to form the army and the police and to pay them later," Arias said.

Afghan officials have maintained a constant appeal for reconstruction aid and security assistance from the international community for much of the past two years. Both requests have taken on added urgency now that the political process has reached a critical phase.

A Constitutional Loya Jirga is planned for next month. A new constitution is needed to create the legal infrastructure for presidential elections scheduled for June. The Security Council recently authorized an expansion of the NATO-led security force outside Kabul, but there has been no decision yet by the alliance on whether to broaden its deployment.

Pleuger told the Security Council yesterday that U.S. officials informed the mission of plans to deploy a new series of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the south and southeast of the country. They told the mission they would also consider pilot projects of development zones. No other information on the U.S. plans was immediately available.

Afghan and UN officials have welcomed the teams, but say they are not adequate to deal with the security demands, especially as the country prepares for elections. Ambassador Arias of Spain echoed this view: "PRTs are not enough, unless you make them very big and very wide -- unless you make them very wide."

U.S.-led coalition troops have established PRTs in Gardez, Bamian, and Konduz. British forces have established a team in Mazar-e Sharif. There are four more such units under creation in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Herat, and Charikar.

Germany recently assumed command of the operation in the northern city of Konduz and may expand to up to 400 personnel, at least four times the normal size, to establish a zone of stability ahead of elections. Troops from New Zealand recently took over the PRT in Bamian.