UN Security Council Extends Afghan Mission Mandate, While Expressing Fresh Security Concerns
As part of an effort to retain a leadership role in international humanitarian initiatives, the UN Security Council recently extended the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) for another year. In doing so, however, top UN officials have expressed concern about security threats, and about the international community's ability to adhere to Afghanistan's reconstruction timetable.
UN officials say the Iraq conflict has created new obstacles for the UNAMA mission, whose mandate was extended March 28. Citing security concerns both relating to domestic factors and to the Iraq war UNAMA has temporarily halted various aid operations twice in recent weeks. At the outset of the Iraq war, UNAMA told its staff in to stay home for 48 hours as a "security precaution," according to Lakhdar Brahimi, the secretary general's special representative for Afghanistan. Afghanistan in recent weeks has seen a rise of Islamic militant activity, and other actions that are detrimental to stabilization attempts. [For additional information see the Eurasia Insight archives].
"The war in Iraq will be seen as an opportunity to further increase these efforts at destabilizing the situation in Afghanistan," Brahimi said. "We have no solid information, but I think that prudence orders us to be careful and to take into consideration the possibility that this war may be used by those who are intent on destabilizing the situation here to do so."
Since the Security Council created UNAMA in March 2002, the interim Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai has struggled to consolidate its authority over the entire country. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. Domestic instability remains a serious concern.
In a report to the Security Council, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warned that legal and political developments and human rights guarantees in Afghanistan are all "impeded by the uncertain security situation."
Annan's report stressed that not all the news in Afghanistan is bad. It noted that roughly 1.5 million refugees and 500,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have returned home in the past year, and that 3 million Afghan children have returned to school. The report additionally pointed to the launch of a new currency and the development of a comprehensive national budget as significant accomplishments.
But the secretary general's report also expressed concern that approximately 480,000 IDPs remain in Afghanistan. It also described the security issue as still "the most serious challenge" to the peace process.
"Afghans in many parts of the country remain unprotected by legitimate state security structures," Annan said in the report. "Criminal activity by armed groups has of late been particularly evident in the north, east and south, and in many areas confrontation between local commanders continues to contribute to instability."
In the latest attack on international personnel working in the country, a Red Cross aid worker from El Salvador was killed on March 27 by unidentified attackers in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan. Two days later, two American soldiers were killed in an ambush in Helmand province. These attacks followed a similar one in January on a UN refugee agency convoy in eastern Afghanistan that left two local UNHCR security guards dead.
Under the Bonn Agreement, which established a framework for Afghanistan's reconstruction process, the transitional period is supposed to end in June 2004, when elections are scheduled to be held. Meeting that commitment will be a "major challenge," according to Hedi Annabi, the Assistant Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, who briefed the Council prior to the vote.
As part of the extended mandate, the Council created an electoral unit within UNAMA to provide expert advice and technical assistance to the Afghan electoral management body on such issues as voter registration, voter education, the development of political party laws and the development of the electoral system.
Annabi also briefed the Council on Afghanistan's budget for this year, which was proposed at an international meeting in Brussels on March 17. The budget calls for some $2.26 billion in expenditures, with the government's estimated revenue collection of $200 million and donors pledges to date at $1.87 billion. The result is a funding gap of around $191 million.
The extension of the UNAMA mandate was overshadowed in the Security Council by efforts to reestablish control over at least the humanitarian aspects of the war in Iraq. The same day as the UNAMA vote, the Security Council also adopted a resolution to restart an oil-for-food program in Iraq as soon as conditions permit. Opposition to the Bush administration's Iraq war plans by France, Russia and China had opened a deep rift within the Security Council. The oil-for-food resolution may be the first, tentative step towards healing that divide.
In contrast to the Bush administration's caution on ceding responsibility to the UN Security Council on Iraq-related issues, an American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicated that Washington welcomes the UN's prominent role in the Afghan mission.
The United States has lent military support to Afghan reconstruction efforts. As part of its Operation Valiant Strike, which commenced concurrently with the invasion of Iraq, US troops in Afghanistan have seized weapons caches, including hundreds of mortars, rockets and land mines.
"Afghanistan was the point where we began the war on terrorism, and we're very committed to finishing the job and making sure the Afghan people have the freedom and safety they deserve," the US official said.
Todd Diamond is a freelance writer who covers the United Nations.