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UN Envoy Kai Eide On Afghanistan's Critical Election

Campaigning is in full swing in Kabul with just over a month to go.

Campaigning is in full swing in Kabul with just over a month to go.

With the presidential election a little more than one month away and a major military offensive under way, the current situation in Afghanistan is the most complex we have experienced for many years. However, if managed well, it could also become a turning point in our efforts to bring the conflict to an end.

The August 20 election is about more than choosing Afghanistan's future leaders. After years of conflict and developments that have not met Afghans' expectations, it is important to strengthen confidence in the democratic processes and to strengthen Afghanistan's democratic institutions. It is about the legitimacy of leadership.

Therefore, it is critical to ensure a level playing field that can provide the basis for a credible and inclusive election process and a result acceptable to the Afghan people. Nobody's interests can be served by an election result that is disputed and harms the legitimacy of a future government.

UN Appeal

The UN has called on all candidates to campaign with dignity and avoid language that is inflammatory and could incite violence. An election campaign will always be divisive. But in this country and at this juncture, it is critically important that the disagreements of the campaign can be followed by unity of purpose in building the country when the next presidential inauguration has taken place. All candidates share the responsibility for giving Afghanistan a stable and strong leadership.

We have also called on government institutions and officials to avoid interference during all phases of the election process. The president has issued a decree prohibiting such interference. Ministers and heads of security institutions have assured me of their determination to protect the integrity of their institutions. They have offered candidates close protection for their security and air assets for campaigning within existing means. Violations of the president's decree have taken place in favor of different candidates. We will monitor this closely and address cases of interference when they arise. Such interference undermines the credibility and fairness of the election process.

Finally, the UN has appealed and will continue to appeal to all voters to take part in the election process. Such participation is essential to the legitimacy of the election results and to the future strength of democratically elected institutions. Our call goes to all Afghan citizens -- without any exceptions. We appeal to those who use the bullet to make use of the ballot.

The Afghan people now need to hear the candidates' vision for Afghanistan's future. The country needs a campaign focused not only on who will lead, but where they will lead. The international community must avoid any interference in the election process. . However, with its strong military and civilian engagement, it is also -- as are the Afghan people -- entitled to have expectations from a future government.

Let me mention three of them:

First, during recent months we have seen important progress in strengthening the police and the army, in reforming agriculture and the private sector, in improving revenue collection and the government's internal coordination, and in developing comprehensive civilian institution-building programs. I believe that we could now be turning a corner: the Afghan government is better coordinated and more competent. The international community works better together. This progress must be continued and expanded to other critical areas -- such as tackling corruption and strengthening provincial governance -- under the leadership of a competent government.

Second, the current government has developed a solid and constructive relationship with Pakistan. That relationship is essential to the future stability of Afghanistan. Any future government must be able and committed to consolidating and strengthening this relationship.

Third, the future government must be able to launch a credible and inclusive peace process, which respects the rights of all Afghans -- men, women, and children -- and which brings the various parts of the Afghan society together in an inclusive manner. It must be a government that is able and ready to seek unity and will not bring fragmentation.

We -- the future Afghan government and the international community -- need a shared strategic vision that can guide us over the next years and consolidate our partnership in support of the Afghan people. The August 20 election is of critical importance to nurturing the strength of that partnership.

Kai Eide is the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Afghanistan. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL