Press Releases

    GA/10101
    19 November 2002

    AFGHANISTAN PANEL PINPOINTS NATIONWIDE SECURITY,
    INSTITUTION-BUILDING, RECONSTRUCTION, ECONOMIC REVIVAL,
    OUTSIDE INTERFERENCE AS PERSISTENT AREAS OF CONCERN

    NEW YORK, 18 November (UN Headquarters) -- The challenges facing Afghanistan remained immense, from security to development to creating the political and social institutions necessary for a stable, free and prosperous society with equal rights for all, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast told the General Assembly this morning.

    The open-ended panel of the Assembly on the theme "Afghanistan: one year later" consisted of two sessions, the first on political issues and the second on economic issues. Delivering a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Prendergast said that the Emergency Loya Jirga was duly convened and a Transitional Administration established. Aid was now being provided. Salaries of Government officials were being paid. Roads were being built and a record number of refugees had been assisted in returning home.

    While Afghanistan had made remarkable progress in a short period of time, several panellists strongly felt it could do more. Among the remaining tasks were reform and strengthening of State institutions, the drafting of a new Constitution, the formation of an Afghan national army, the holding of free and fair elections by the middle of 2004 and economic revival. It was generally agreed that it was necessary to enhance security and increase the pace of reconstruction to maintain the legitimacy of the Government and the peace process initiated in Bonn.

    The main problem the country faced was restoring security, stressed Jean Arnaud, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan. That issue deeply undermined the value of the peace process in the minds of the Afghans. Likewise, Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies at New York University’s Centre on International Cooperation, said the real problem was not abuse of power, but lack of effective power to govern and provide security. "The lack of security has hindered reconstruction and sapped the legitimacy of the Government," he stated.

    Journalist Ahmed Rashid warned that President Hamid Karzai’s Government had failed to extend its writ across the whole country. Unless there was a meaningful process of reconstruction and governmental capacity-building -- and above all the elimination of outside interference in Afghanistan's affairs -- Afghans would continue to struggle to form a "normal country".

    The Afghan population was not seeing the evidence of reconstruction, noted Ishaq Naderi, New York University Professor and Economic Adviser to President Karzai. Because it was a "broken" country, security and the exercise of civil rights could not last without economic revival. Bernard Frahi, of the Office on Drugs and Crime, said that the elimination of opium would only occur when political and social stability was provided in a broader economic context. What was needed was the commitment of the Government and the international community for long-term strategies for poverty reduction.

    At the outset of the meeting, Assembly President Jan Kavan (Czech Republic) said that the panel had emerged from his efforts to seek ways to revitalize the meetings of the Assembly and promote interactive discussions of important international questions on the Assembly’s agenda. The panel, which suited both intentions, could lead to some specific conclusions from post-conflict reconstruction and provide recommendations for future United Nations activities in that domain.

    The other panellists were Amin Farhang, Minister of Reconstruction and member of the Afghan Transitional Government; Julia Taft, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Eric Morris, Director of the New York Liaison Office, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); and Mukesh Kapila, former special adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

    The first session was chaired by Mr. Prendergast and the second by David Malone, President of the International Peace Academy.

    The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday 19 November to consider the reports of its Sixth Committee (Legal), to consider a draft resolution on oceans and the law of the sea, and to continue its discussion on assistance in mine action.

    Background

    The General Assembly met this morning to hold an open-ended panel on "Afghanistan: one year later," which was chaired by Assembly President Jan Kavan. The first session, on political issues, was moderated by Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. David Malone, President of the International Peace Academy, moderated the second session, which was on economic issues.

    First session: on political issues

    Assembly President JAN KAVAN (Czech Republic) said the panel had emerged from his efforts to seek ways to revitalize the meetings of the Assembly and promote interactive discussions of important international questions on the Assembly’s agenda. The panel suited both intentions. It could lead to some specific conclusions from post-conflict reconstruction and provide recommendations for future United Nations activities in that domain. Also, if successful, it would prove that revitalization methods could work.

    Among the issues to be considered in the discussion were the lessons learned by the United Nations in Afghanistan, he said. The panel would also give Member States the opportunity to consider the consequences of decisions adopted by the United Nations regarding Afghanistan. What had those decisions achieved? Also, was it necessary to modify assistance to Afghanistan? Further, what else needed to be done to achieve the goals in Afghanistan as soon as possible?

    KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, delivering a message on behalf of the Secretary-General, said that the Bonn Agreement had set an ambitious schedule for 2002. An interim Government was to be established, a Loya Jirga (national council) to be held and a number of commissions to be created. All that, along with the provision of humanitarian assistance, was to take place in a land where infrastructure, both physical and institutional, had been destroyed. And yet much of that had been accomplished.

    The interim Administration was created on schedule, he noted. The Emergency Loya Jirga was convened and had elected President Hamid Karzai and created a transitional Administration. Aid was now being provided. Salaries of Government officials were being paid. Roads were being built and a record number of refugees had been assisted in returning home. The list was long, and was one everyone associated with the work of the United Nations in Afghanistan could be very proud of. The challenges facing Afghanistan remained immense: from security to development to creating the political and social institutions necessary for a stable, free and prosperous society with equal rights for all.

    AMIN FARHANG, Minister of Reconstruction of the Afghan Transitional Government, said that the convening of the Loya Jirga and the return to Afghanistan of the former King, to open the initial meeting of that body, had played key roles in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan. Importantly, while many had felt that the former King’s return was tantamount to a restoration of the monarchy, the former King himself had rejected that idea. This had been important for the social reintegration of Afghanistan. The establishment of the transitional Government during the Loya Jirga had concluded the first stage of the transitional Administration of Afghanistan.

    The next stage had been to form commissions, in preparation for State institutions, he added. Among those created were the commissions for administrative reform, human rights, civil society, private investments law and freedom of the press. Additionally, the commission to draft a new Constitution, made up of nine Afghans and including two women, had already started its work. Within the security arena, first steps had been taken for the formation of a national Afghan army, funded by the United States and the United Kingdom, and the creation of a national police force, with technical and staffing assistance from Germany.

    In spite of not having had much time, the transitional Government had made good progress, he concluded, although many problems remained. For example, two Government ministers had been assassinated and there had been an attempt on the life of President Karzai. Moreover, the transitional Government remained unable to centralize the country’s revenues, which were in the hands of local authorities, and there continued to be a problem of warlords. Much work still needed to be done, but Afghanistan could be optimistic, looking into the future.

    RAVAN FARHÂDI (Afghanistan), delivering a message from President Karzai, said that the implementation of the Bonn Agreement and the peace process had progressed in line with the vision expressed in Bonn. The Afghan people were enjoying their new-found peace, hoped to benefit from the reconstruction and were determined to take every step necessary to avoid a relapse into conflict and violence. Various commissions had been established, including those on the Constitution, justice, civil service and human rights.

    Noting that assistance to Afghanistan had been discussed at major international meetings, such as the Tokyo Conference in 2002, he said the course of events proved that such meetings should be convened at different stages. He added that he was grateful to General Assembly President Kavan, who had made today’s meeting happen, and hoped it would be instrumental in raising awareness about the problems Afghanistan faced, while reminding donors of their commitments. Furthermore, he said that the donor community was owed gratitude for its assistance, but should be reminded as well that reconstruction and security went hand in hand.

    JEAN ARNAUD, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said the peace process had three components. First, there was the political process whereby the country, over a two–year period, must establish a Government. Then came reform and strengthening of institutions, namely the establishment of a permanent human rights commission and judicial reform. The third component involved social and economic reconstruction. Today, Afghanistan was getting ready to hold general elections in the middle of 2004, and various independent commissions had been set up.

    The main problem the country faced, he said, was restoring security, which was what deeply undermined the value of the peace process in the minds of the Afghans. That was important because the war against terrorism continued, and Afghanistan was still a country subject to conflict between the remnants of terrorism and those who wanted peace. Conflict among factions continued. The Government did not have the means to deal with the security situation.

    If security was not restored in the coming months, he warned, the main danger was the massive defection of the Afghan people vis-à-vis the Bonn process. The issue was how the international community could help Afghan institutions successfully tackle the crucial problem of security throughout the country. Also, it was crucial for the international community to show creativity in supporting efforts to create a new army and other institutions.

    BARNETT RUBIN, Director of Studies at New York University’s Centre on International Cooperation, spoke about the progress of political reforms, relating them to the problems of Afghanistan, particularly the destruction of fundamental institutions. Without such institutions, the purely political institutions would have essentially no meaning. While, overall, the progress in Afghanistan had been amazing, it had not been amazing enough. The problems that remained were extremely serious. The Bonn process was an unrepresentative meeting, but the best that could be done at the time. What history would remember was not who participated, but how good the decisions made were and how effectively they were implemented afterwards.

    Free and fair elections were to be carried out by June 2004, he noted. In the course of that process, the United Nations had been requested to carry out a census and voter registration. There were still disputes over how many districts there were in the country.

    The real problem, he said, was not abuse of power, but lack of effective power to govern and provide security. Until the Government was able to govern, no amount of elections could make it legitimate. The lack of security had hindered reconstruction and sapped the legitimacy of the Government. The reform of the Central Bank and the issuance of new currency should be commended. The census was being prepared for, but it was very difficult to get donors to fund such a process. The consolidation of armed groups into a single security apparatus and demobilization were also crucial processes. It was unlikely that Afghanistan would be a consolidated democracy by June 2004. What was most important between now and then was to build up the capacity of the Government.

    AHMED RASHID, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Daily Telegraph, said that remarkable achievements had been made in Afghanistan over the past year, given the "ground zero" status of the country on 11 September 2001, yet the Afghans were still struggling to form a normal country. The international community had made three pledges to Afghanistan at Bonn. First, it had pledged that a process of reconstruction and governmental capacity building -- to extend its writ across the whole country -– would occur. That had not happened in any meaningful way over the last year. Second, having pledged to improve the security situation, the international community had failed to provide the necessary security outside the capital. Third, there had been a pledge to prevent interference in Afghanistan by its neighbours. That was important because of Afghanistan’s history with extreme forms of intervention. For the proverbial Afghan on the street, the single most important cause of his country’s destruction was not warlords, poverty or former governments, but outside interference.

    Just as during the 1990s, various factions and warlords had been armed through foreign interference, the current danger was an increase of foreign interference within the political vacuum of Afghanistan, he added. Furthermore, in addition to the outside funding of factions by rival neighbour States, some countries had not cracked down internally on their own extremist factions, which supported remnants of former Afghan factions. There was a need to put an end to the sanctuary extended to those escaped from Afghanistan, given the danger that they could reassemble and pose a renewed threat. Additionally, some countries were providing military equipment to the Afghan defence ministry, outside the purview of the international agreement to rebuild the security forces of Afghanistan. Such provision was legal, according to former bilateral treaties, but worrisome nonetheless because those armaments went in without the permission of the countries leading the reconstruction of the Afghan security forces, or of the international community. Those factors had to be tackled in a more comprehensive way by the international community, he said.

    Finally, offering the international community several practical suggestions on how to proceed, he said that the first thing would be to achieve a more meaningful commitment to non-interference from neighbouring States. Second, a United Nations-led mechanism could be established, through which Afghanistan and its neighbours could discuss issues of interference, refugee return, the drug trade, commerce and border security. That should allow Afghanistan to complain about its perceptions of outside interference. Third, the international community should make a decision and put into place precise mechanisms on how the security forces were to be rebuilt. Would it be with the help of the international community according to a single plan, or include the efforts of individual countries as well? Such pledges would do a great deal to enhance the goodwill and prestige enjoyed by the international community in Afghanistan.

    In the discussion that followed, Mr. RASHID noted that the Government, faced with a difficult task, had done a remarkable job in terms of "forgive and forget" with its neighbours. However, it did face interference, both from countries and radical groups within countries. A mechanism consisting of neighbouring countries would be beneficial for such fields as trade regulation and refugee return. Perhaps a summit of all neighbouring countries could be held to start up the process.

    Also, he continued, some sub-groups could be set up, such as one to monitor the intelligence agencies of neighbouring countries, in order to build trust. There had to be some mechanism whereby the fledgling Afghan Government could raise complaints about interference and the international community could provide redress.

    Responding to a question on attacks on schools, Minister FARHANG confirmed that such attacks had taken place in some provinces. He noted that Taliban cells remained and had been active, which indicated that peacekeeping forces should be extended beyond Kabul. Those remnants might reorganize themselves and form into a counter-movement against the central Government.

    Mr. ARNAUD added that the initial reaction to such attacks was to imagine that all those responsible were remnants of the Taliban. It was important to note that there were those who opposed the Bonn process and wanted to lead the Government and the Bonn process to a clash with Afghan tradition. It was up to the international community to ensure that such a clash did not take place.

    Regarding elections, Mr. RUBIN said that the United Nations electoral division had already visited the country and had done an assessment for the voter registration process. One of the problems was that people did not have identity documents, so voter registration could not be done in the traditional way. The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had hired a political officer to work with the Government to set up an electoral management body. An electoral law was needed, since the elections in 2004 would not come under the Constitution. It would not be possible to conduct a census before the 2004 elections, since it would take three to five years to conduct a census. He urged countries to use the United Nations as the central coordinating body for the election process.

    Asked about the future role of the United Nations in Afghanistan, Mr. ARNAUD said that the range of measures that could be taken by the United Nations had already been initiated. The main aspects of the peace process were consistent with United Nations efforts in resolving domestic conflicts. Current efforts were based on lessons learned elsewhere. It was necessary to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to contribute politically, to mobilize international resources and cooperation and to promote reconstruction on a mass scale.

    Mr. RUBIN added that in the coming year, the international community should focus on the provision of security, which was necessary for judicial reform, and reconstruction, particularly supporting the national Government’s implementation budget.

    Mr. RASHID said there was a perception that the central Government was weaker than it was a year ago, that the warlords were stronger than a year ago and that international resources had not been forthcoming. There was a need to see a rapid reversal in public perceptions to ensure that fanaticism did not take root again. While the donor community had some qualms at the beginning of the year, that situation had changed.

    Summing up, Mr. PRENDERGAST said that the overarching themes of the session were reconstruction, security and the rebuilding of institutions and elections. All panellists agreed that it was necessary to enhance security and increase the pace of reconstruction to maintain the legitimacy of the Government and the Bonn process in general. The rebuilding of State institutions would allow the country to play a role in regional development.

    Second session: economic issues

    JULIA TAFT, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said a number of processes reinforcing Afghan leadership had set an example for future international involvement, including the establishment of the donor trust fund to support the presidency and other ministers, civil service salaries and the Loya Jirga. The international community had come together to understand the Government’s priorities, not just to do relief work. For example, substantial reconstruction was to be provided for by a fund, managed by the World Bank, whose decisions for disbursements would be decided monthly in Kabul, at the request of the Afghan authorities. Furthermore, as a part of capacity-building, international agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) had supported the return of expertise and arranged three-to-six-month assignments for expatriates to work in various ministries. There had also been efforts to revitalize training programmes and academies to ensure an expansion of training opportunities. In that context, UNAMA’s efforts to train the Afghan police were noteworthy, while Germany had provided substantial leadership and funding.

    Training for ex-combatants had been less effective, but would be expanded more in coming months, she added. The Afghan Government had established a national development framework and budget. The Government had also expressed the desire for UNDP to assume greater involvement in civil service reform. Further emphasis had been placed on the restoration of agriculture and alternatives to poppy cultivation. The Transitional Authority had laid out an ambitious, but sound, agenda to establish its priorities and programmes. It had reformed the Afghan currency and made its procurement and fiscal procedures more transparent. There had also been new investment laws to promote business, as Government subsidies were not the long-term answer. The customs service had been expanded on the understanding that revenues would be given to the central authorities. Moreover, many competent ministers had conveyed a sense of direction to the vision of a new Afghanistan.

    However, less than one year into the transition, many challenges remained. Sustained resource levels from donors needed to continue for three to four years. Human resource depletion was a continuing problem; talented Afghan civil servants had been enticed away from Government posts by larger salaries. Furthermore, as had been mentioned many times, the security environment continued to be a critical factor which all players needed to address. Increased attention to the reform of the judiciary and rule of law was extremely important. Finally, the need to keep international attention focused on Afghanistan should not be underestimated; it needed to be sustained throughout the trajectory of reconstruction.

    MUKESH KAPILA, Former Special Adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, said that the latest chapter in donor engagement had started after the Bonn agreement as a joint assessment by Afghan authorities and donor countries, which provided the background to the Tokyo Conference. In fact, at Tokyo, donors had pledged more than $5 billion over a five-year period to Afghanistan, of which $1.7 billion was for the first year. Subsequently, a further $0.7 billion had been pledged. Of the resulting $2.4 billion, $1.9 billion had already been mobilized, including $1.4 billion actually dispersed, $0.3 billion locked in to improve existing programmes and $0.2 billion for projects being finalized.

    While the bulk of the contributions had come from the United States, the European Union and Japan, many other countries had made significant pledges, he said. That so many different countries had contributed to the effort meant that the enterprise could not be allowed to fail. Addressing what had been achieved so far, he cited such achievements as: 2 million refugees returned; 3 million children introduced to the education system; widespread vaccination programmes; the control of a locust plague; the near doubling of food production; hundreds of thousands of days of work targeted at repairing essential infrastructure; and payment of civil servants.

    Moreover, the legacy of previous aid groups had been instrumental in opening new opportunities, he added. Afghanistan was now on course to move to a consultative group arrangement. Addressing the criticisms leveled at the aid effort, he said the allegation that donor promises had not been kept was not true, as the figures cited earlier had shown. The fundamental point was that Afghanistan’s needs had been collectively underestimated. Second, on the charge that most of the money had gone to humanitarian aid, not reconstruction, he said that its was true that 60 per cent had gone to humanitarian aid, while 40 per cent had been spent on reconstruction. Yet that level of contribution to reconstruction in the first year was almost unheard of. Furthermore, reconstruction could not be successful without meeting the basic needs of the people. Finally, he said that the reason for giving aid to Afghanistan was not limited to fighting terrorism or fearing the failure of political recovery, but because it was in line with the spirit of the Millennium Development Goals.

    BERNARD FRAHI, Representative of the Office on Drugs and Crime, said that the important role of opium in the lives of farmers had been witnessed during the past year. The cultivation of opium had received legitimacy in the past two decades, making it acceptable both in the agricultural and social spheres. The interim Administration had inherited that situation. The cornerstone of progress against drugs was the explicit and unequivocal commitment of the transitional Government. Several decrees had been established for voluntary eradication of opium crops.

    The elimination of opium would occur only when political and social stability was provided in a broader economic context, he said. Opium production was not a cause of poverty, but rather a symptom. What was needed was the commitment of the Government and the international community to long-term strategies for poverty reduction. The Government had set up a plan to improve living standards in rural areas. Also necessary was the establishment or rehabilitation of physical structures, such as roads, irrigation systems, electricity, schools and health centres. The coordination of all actors in Government, as well as broad financing, were crucial to deal with the problem.

    Drug trafficking was linked, he added, to the source of the problem. First, a legal framework was needed in Afghanistan, with the establishment of a judicial system and the rule of law. Secondly, capacity-building for the police to fight drug trafficking was necessary. In addition, it was important to deal with the source of problem at the international level.

    ERIC MORRIS, Director of the New York Liaison Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that at the beginning of 2001, the single largest refugee population in the world was Afghanistan’s. While in the 1980s they had enlisted sympathy and support, by the 1990s there was very little such sympathy. An amazing return to Afghanistan had been witnessed. The estimate of 800,000 for 2001 had been met within the first 10 weeks of the year. Two million refugees had returned to date. That was worrisome, in that such a large number of returnees put a strain on already fragile structures and institutions, particularly with winter approaching. Among the necessary conditions for safe return was the establishment of rule-of-law institutions.

    One specific problem, he said, was the internal displacement of minorities in Afghanistan. A significant number of Pashtuns had left the north of the country. Also, many Hazaras were still in exile in Iran. It was necessary to focus on reconciliation so that the minorities could return home. There were concerns over the sustainability of such a large number of returnees. The consequences of failure could be immense, and tragic.

    Minister FARHANG said that earlier this year, there had been a meeting in Kabul on the issue of drugs. One proposal was to provide enough money to farmers so they would replace drug crops with other agricultural products. That had been done in some areas, but had not met with enough progress. Another proposal was to train special police to monitor the drug situation. Also proposed was collaboration among neighbouring countries, except for Iran and others which were not collaborating. In addition, it was necessary for consumer societies -- in other words Europe and the United States -- to do something to rein in consumption, which impacted drug production.

    ISHAQ NADERI, Professor at New York University, Senior Economic Adviser to President Karzai and adviser at the Bonn Conference, said that the Afghan population was not seeing the evidence of reconstruction. Because it was a "broken" country, elements such as security and civil rights could not last without economic revival. The amount of aid was not commensurate with the problems faced in Afghanistan, and might not meet the needs of the country.

    Also, he continued, capacity-building must not be concentrated on the public sector, but should be extended to the private area as well. The idea of an international conference on Afghanistan to deal with its multiple issues, mentioned by some panellists, was a welcome one. The Afghan economy must be revived through agriculture, which constituted the bulk of the economy. There was also a need for efforts to bring Afghan professionals back to the country to be part of the exercise.

    In the discussion that followed, the panellists addressed questions on such issues as concern that aid had been primarily channelled through foreign institutions and not the Afghan Government, the establishment of a consultative process for aid disbursement, the return of refugees and internally displaced people, drug policy and the creation of opportunities for women in Afghanistan.

    Leading off on the question of whether aid disbursement had been distorted, Ms. TAFT said that one remarkable leadership function of the Transitional Authority had been to ask donors to make transparent the programmes they had funded -- in which sectors and through which organizations -- so that the Afghan Government would have a better grasp of what had been provided. Moreover, it had never been the expectation that all $1.8 billion pledged would be transferred to the Government. Those meeting at Tokyo had understood that the bulk of the aid would be routed through United Nations agencies, bilateral programmes and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but that this would be done within the priorities set by the Government. However, Afghan efforts to introduce reform and investment rules would test donor willingness to provide money directly to the Government in the near future. Given those reforms, donors would have more confidence to make bilateral transfers.

    In response to a request that the panellists express their views on a proposed move to a consultative group process, she added that the idea had been discussed in detail at an earlier meeting. She said she was very concerned that in moving to a formal consultative group process the current, vibrant process would be dissipated. There needed to be an effort to keep NGOs at the table and not have meetings of foreign ministers only. Furthermore, the process itself should continue to be based in Kabul, not in Paris, as so many were. In conclusion, she noted that the Afghan Government fully intended to focus aid disbursement towards both humanitarian and reconstruction efforts, but that the major focus would be on reconstruction. The international community should follow its lead to ensure unison.

    The role of the international community was to support the Afghan Government, added Mr. KAPILA. The suggested "one-stop shop" for coordinating aid already existed. The Afghan Government had taken the lead in directing the reconstruction effort. His own message to donors was that they should make use of that focus. Moreover, although many different agencies were part of the international effort, they were all subsumed under the umbrella of UNAMA and part of the United Nations family, thus providing another "one-stop shop."

    Addressing the concerns expressed by several delegations over issues pertaining to the return of refugees, Mr. MORRIS said that the Afghan Government’s prediction that the flow of returnees could not be controlled had turned out to be true. In that regard, the picture was not rosy. The refugees returning to Afghanistan represented the single largest return of peoples to their home country since 1972, when those who had left East Pakistan returned to Bangladesh. The danger of that number of people returning to a country in the condition of Afghanistan, devastated by decades of war, should not be underestimated.

    In response to the concern voiced by Pakistan and Iran that former refugees had left Afghanistan again, he said that, if substantiated, those reported movements would be very worrisome, as they could erode the faith of other returnees, as well as those still remaining outside the country. It would be a tragedy if any reverse returns occurred because of a lack of Government or international community assistance. However, one needed to remain alert to the possibility that such reverse returns could be related to the security situation in parts of the country -- to which it was more difficult to respond. Moreover, 600,000 of the 2 million returned had not returned to their original rural homes, but to urban areas. While the security condition could be one reason for that decision, there was also the effect of urbanization in camps to consider. If the returnees just did not want to go back to their farms and villages, the social and economic consequences would be worrisome.

    Finally, on the question of the controlled return of refugees to their origins on ethnic terms, he said that any such possibility raised a critical issue and presented a worrying reminder of the Balkans. It was of utmost importance that all groups be allowed to return to their regions of origin. Anything preventing that must be opposed strongly and early by both the Government and the international community.

    Responding to the request that alternatives be proposed for addressing the drug problem in the medium-term, Mr. FRAHI said that there were three elements to take into consideration. First, geographic priority should be given to those areas -- five provinces accounted for 95 per cent of opium cultivation -- most affected by the issue. Moreover, there was a need for coordinated efforts, as sectoral ones lacked impact. Third, financial resources needed to be concentrated. The development of irrigation systems and road construction could provide alternative employment to those who would otherwise be involved in poppy harvesting.

    Finally, on the subject of women’s participation in the Afghan Government, Ms. TAFT noted that there simply were not enough qualified women to meet the number of positions in which one wanted them to serve. It was now necessary to make sure that the Government, NGOs and United Nations agencies worked to build the capacity of women. NGOs had done a very good job in those terms, in helping women to gain employment in teaching and health positions. But the role of women remained a huge challenge all had to deal with.

    Summing up the discussion, Moderator DAVID MALONE, President of the International Peace Academy, said that the second session seemed to reveal more optimism than the first. The security question remained key and needed to be addressed; otherwise, the achievements made to date could move into reverse. On the issue of assistance, it was not surprising that it had largely been humanitarian in nature to this point, but it would move into reconstruction as long as Afghanistan was not faced with renewed humanitarian crises. As the outer limits of credible donor commitments had most likely been achieved, sustaining levels of commitment and preventing future humanitarian crises was very important. Furthermore, the attention span of the international community remained a concern. Although by the standard of other recent crises, Afghanistan had managed to retain a certain amount of attention, in those countries where discussion of Afghanistan had originally been the loudest, there was no longer much talking. The United Nations community could and should do something to combat that trend. Finally, uneven development over time would be the enemy of sustainability. While it was inevitable that it should occur at the outset, it would lead to large problems if it continued.

    * *** *