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Afghanistan: Peace Process Making Steady Progress, But Stability Far From Guaranteed

Two top UN officials say the peace process in Afghanistan is well along but that the country is far from having achieved stability. Afghanistan still needs to solidify the key institutions of the state and form a competent national army and a reliable police force.

United Nations, 13 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- After 23 years of war, the peace process in Afghanistan is on track, and reconstruction aid is flowing in, but much still needs to be done to preserve stability.

That's the view of Ercan Murat, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country director for Afghanistan, and David Lockwood, the deputy director of the UNDP's regional bureau for Asia and the Pacific. The two officials spoke yesterday at a UN press briefing on developments in Afghanistan.

The two officials said the UNDP is working with a number of Afghan ministries on the important task of expanding the central government's presence outside of the capital, Kabul.

Lockwood said strengthening the institutions of the central government is one of the most challenging parts of the peace process. "This capacity of government to function as a government is such an important part of the peace process, [a government] being seen to function not only in Kabul but also in all of [Afghanistan's] 32 provinces, where security, of course, is not found everywhere. But at the same time, there are government functions in each of those provinces, and we are working with all the provincial governments to try to ensure that they begin to govern in the best way they can," he said.

The UNDP, according to Lockwood, is playing an increasing role in support of Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative to Afghanistan, and the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which Brahimi heads.

For example, Lockwood said the UNDP is cooperating with UNAMA to assist in the drafting of a new constitution for Afghanistan and to help establish functioning governmental commissions, such as a civil service commission, a constitutional drafting commission, a judicial commission, and a human rights commission.

Murat said the UNDP is also helping returning refugees with financial assistance and job placement. He said the program has been too successful. "As many as 2 million people came [back to Afghanistan] in 2002 and [authorities] are expecting at least another 1.2 or 1.3 million to come [back to Afghanistan] this year. Of course, it's not that easy to offer jobs to 2 million people, but there has been a very successful return program of UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], but now there are arrangements under way to convert that return program into a successful reintegration program. And this is where UNDP and UNHCR are working together -- with the [Afghan] government, of course," he said.

But Murat said there are still many problems to solve in Afghanistan. Security is one of the most important. "There are some major challenges facing the government. Security is definitively and continues to be number one. [We need] to build as much as possible, [for example] a nucleus of an army -- a national army -- a national police force, where the UNDP is playing a major role. Of course, demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of ex-combatants is going to be a major program again, with the UNDP playing a major role with UNAMA in designing and supporting the government to deliver. Of course, another two ongoing problems of Afghanistan [are the] drug [eds: heroin trafficking and poppy cultivation] problem and the demining program. Afghanistan remains the no.1 most heavily mined country in the world."

Over the next two years, the UNDP will help re-establish the Afghan police force and has established the Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan at the request of UNAMA. It has started by paying the salaries of some 7,000 police officers in Kabul and plans to expand to pay police salaries nationwide.

Lockwood said the UNDP is working closely with Afghan Transitional Authority President Hamid Karzai and is receiving strong support from the donor community. Lockwood says international organizations and donor states pledged $1.7 billion in aid for Afghanistan for 2002, but that the actual disbursement made by various members states has exceeded that amount.

According to UNDP estimates, some $2 billion of assistance was delivered in Afghanistan last year. "I think it would be very easy to see Afghanistan slide back into what happened in the early '90s [civil war and factional fighting] if that support that began is not sustained. Even the amount of money that is committed is way less than the needs either stated by the UN itself a year ago or indeed by the Afghans themselves, if you ask them. The range for assistance in a low-case/high-case scenario in our initial needs assessment with the World Bank was between $10 billion and $20 billion, depending which case you used. Donors have committed so far $5 billion for the first five years. I think estimates are probably a little higher if you take what happened in 2002-03, but it is nothing like the high case of $20 billion and nor even the low case of $10 billion. So it is absolutely critical that at least the existing commitments are met," Lockwood said.

Lockwood said the UNDP is hopeful that no matter what happens in Iraq, the international commitment to contribute aid to Afghanistan will be met.