UN envoy urges sustained support to tackle Afghanistan security challenges

Security remains a major challenge for Afghanistan, the United Nations envoy to the strife-torn nation said today, urging troop-contributing countries to resist the temptation to reduce their commitments with the caution that “now is not the time to wobble.”

Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council that, although the violence has subsided in the past two months, the number of violent incidents was up 30 per cent from last year.

“The sad result is a significant increase in the numbers of civilian casualties – at least 1,200 have been killed since January this year,” he stated, noted that the UN has recorded 606 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and 133 suicide attacks compared to 88 by this time last year.

Mr. Koenigs, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said it is imperative that the protection of civilians remain at the forefront of efforts in the country, and noted the concrete steps taken by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United States-led Operation Enduring Freedom on the issue.

“Failure to secure the population’s support will not only protract the conflict causing further devastation, but also hold the country’s development hostage to violence, and undermine the legitimacy of our efforts,” he stated.

Mr. Koenigs emphasized that for the time being ISAF represents the most capable defence of the government against the violent insurgency that has plagued Afghanistan, which has this year witnessed some of the worst violence since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

While the Afghan National Army is expected to be 70,000 strong by the end of 2008, he warned that “numbers are not a measure of capability” and also cited the “poor standards” of the Afghan National Police. Hampering the Police’s development is resistance in the Ministry of Interior to principles of accountability and transparency, he said.

The Special Representative also stressed the need to address the “twin challenges” of governance and outreach. “Only good governance, led by senior leadership within the Government, and delivered through both the civilian and military arms of the State, will end the culture of corruption and impunity that has dangerously eroded public confidence to date.”

He added that “for the dangers of weak governance, one needs to look no further than the 34 per cent increase in opium production in 2007.”

Against such a challenging backdrop, Mr. Koenigs did point to “clear signs of progress,” including the passage by Parliament in recent weeks of legislation governing political parties, government structure, and property, as well as a new law protecting the independence of the Afghan media.

In addition, the recent formation of two new political parties is “the healthiest indicator yet that Afghans are taking charge of their own destiny,” he said.