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Afghanistan: Annan Says Lack Of Security Threatens Elections

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has warned the Security Council that violence could jeopardize Afghanistan's crucial presidential election scheduled for midyear.

Prague, 7 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Just days after the ratification of a new Afghan constitution by the country's Constitutional Loya Jirga, Secretary-General Annan has warned that violence in the country could threaten the final stage of the Bonn peace process -- the presidential election due to take place in June.
Eckhard suggested as many as 10 million Afghan voters could be disenfranchised -- resulting in a ballot that is not free and fair -- unless there is a secure environment for voters, campaigners, election workers, and observers.

Annan's spokesman, Fred Eckhard, told reporters at UN headquarters in New York yesterday that the secretary-general's latest report on Afghanistan says the peace process there has reached "a critical juncture."

"[The secretary-general] warns that Afghanistan's insecurity problem needs to be addressed and that electoral registration in particular cannot be accomplished if broad geographical access is denied to the registration teams. Afghanistan, he writes, has experienced a deterioration in security at precisely the point when the peace process demands the opposite," Eckhard said.

Eckhard suggested as many as 10 million Afghan voters could be disenfranchised -- resulting in a ballot that is not free and fair -- unless there is a secure environment for voters, campaigners, election workers, and observers.

"The secretary-general warns that the number of registration centers currently open is too low to meet the target rate of registration and adds that there also must be an environment enabling free political organization and expression," Eckhard said.

Eckhard specified that the problem is most acute along Afghanistan's southern and southeastern border with Pakistan, where U.S.-led coalition forces continue to battle the remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

"In effect, much of the south and southeast of the country is off limits to the United Nations, to the assistance community, and to central government officials except under special escort," Eckhard said.

Annan issued his report to the Security Council just hours after a bomb in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar killed at least 12 people -- including several schoolchildren. Annan condemned those killings as "heinous acts of violence."

From Kabul, the International Crisis Group's resident Afghan expert Vikram Parekh told RFE/RL today that Annan's report highlights several issues that should be closely monitored in the weeks and months ahead.

"Mr. Annan's comments are driven by the fact that they are coming immediately on the heels of the Constitutional Loya Jirga, which was supposed to actually herald a consensus on the form of governance for Afghanistan and to mark the inclusion of different ethnic groups -- including the Pashtuns, who up to this point had felt, in many cases, outside of the political process," Parekh said.

Parekh said a minimal amount of violence during the Constitutional Loya Jirga during the past month was a good sign. But he said he thinks yesterday's bombing in Kandahar was meant quite clearly to send a signal that the Bonn peace process is not entirely on track.

"Unfortunately, the bomb explosion in Kandahar points to the fact that the political process is still very much subject to an insurgency -- to guerrilla actions by forces that are in no way committed to being participants in the process. And this is something that we are probably going to see more of in the weeks and months ahead as the election comes around," Parekh said.

Parekh said winning the cooperation of some Pashtun tribal leaders in southern and southeastern Afghanistan could benefit attempts to register Afghan voters ahead of the presidential election.

"The difficulty is going to be confronting an insurgency by rejectionist forces and, as was the case with this bombing in Kandahar, they're not going to be terribly concerned about civilian casualties among ordinary Afghans. That may be the price of disrupting the political process," Parekh said.

Parekh said ongoing rivalries between factional militias across Afghanistan also pose potential security threats. He said several critical steps have yet to be completed in order to eliminate that threat.

"One is the success of disarmament efforts in northern Afghanistan. There has been resistance from commanders in some areas -- such as Panjshir and some parts of the north -- to doing so. I think there may be greater difficulty going into this because the support that [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai has got for his constitution -- for a strong presidency -- from some of the northern leaders in the cabinet has actually weakened, or compounded weaknesses, that they have vis-a-vis the commanders below them. This is a key issue that we are going to have to watch in the coming months," Parekh said.

Parekh said one reason for optimism is a commitment from the United States to assist regional police training centers. He said he expects that program to have a significant impact on provincial areas outside of Kabul in about one year's time. That, he said, is because police recruits will receive consistent training, the government will be able to offer regional police a livable wage, and because a security network is being created in which officers will work in areas close to their own homes.

But in the meantime, Parekh said the onus of provincial security will continue to fall upon the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition's understaffed bases for Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

"The most important thing the international community can do to help these security sector reforms take place is to provide additional troops for the Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- specifically, with a security mandate -- because it is going to take a matter of months, if not longer, to get even the first batch of new police recruits trained and up and running. And that is going to create a bit of a vacuum. In that time, international forces can probably best be poised to fill that vacuum."

Annan has called for a new political and donor conference during the first months of this year as one way to address the security vacuum and to obtain financial contributions needed to rebuild the country.

The current UN Security Council president, Chilean Ambassador Heraldo Munoz, also warned yesterday that violence in Afghanistan threatens the final stage of the Bonn peace process.

Senior UN officials note that there have been more attacks against civilians in Afghanistan during the past three months than in the entire 20 months after the signing of the Bonn agreement in December 2001.