Drug trafficking, organized crime and terrorism are among the interconnected " security challenges Afghanistan faces, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today, calling on the international community to continue supporting the South Asian nation`s efforts to move towards a better future.
These ills bring violence into the lives of everyday Afghans, Mr. Ban said at an informal regional meeting on Afghanistan of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, held in Trieste, Italy.
The obstacles thwart development and endanger not just the region, but the entire world, he said, with drugs flowing out of the country while weapons and chemicals stream in.
There can be little question that we have a shared responsibility to deal with these threats, the Secretary-General said, urging the participants at the gathering to provide political and economic assistance to unlock Afghanistan`s wealth of local expertise and know-how.
But global support must be coherent and planned in consultation with the Afghan Government and people, he stressed, for it is they who hope to move irreversibly along a new path, toward a new vision for their future.
In a crucial political and operational move, the first joint counter-narcotics operation was undertaken recently by Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, the Secretary-General said, also welcoming the steps towards closer cooperation taken by Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Improving border management and combating organized crime can boost trade, he pointed out. So can fighting illicit opium production, as long as it is done in conjunction with increasing productivity in traditional agricultural commodities.
The fighting in Afghanistan is at its most intense since 2001, according to a new report by Mr. Ban that was made public today, as the country gears towards its presidential and provincial council elections slated for August.
The first quarter of 2009 has witnessed a 43 per cent surge in security incidents compared to the same period last year due to ever-frequent clashes in the south and the east, while insurgent activities in previously stable areas, especially in the north, are also on the upswing.
Over the past four months, there has been an increase in foreign fighters, most likely affiliated with Al-Qaida, engaged alongside the Taliban, " he wrote.
The report called for momentum to be maintained in making positive gains " such as the increased awareness that military might alone will not ensure success " or Afghanistan will at best lose valuable time and at worst experience new disappointments and setbacks, leading to further disillusionment in the Afghan public and the international community.
The report also welcomed the deployment of additional international troops which are necessary to ensure security for the elections and to speed up the strengthening of the Afghan National Army.
However, every effort must be made to avoid a situation where more troops and more fighting lead to more civilian casualties and behaviour that offends the population, the Secretary-General said. Special forces operations must be urgently reviewed and efforts made to "Afghanize` these operations.
He appealed to military leaders to continue training their personnel to avoid practices which could result in civilian deaths and alienate the population, which could jeopardize gains made.
It is of critical importance that the international civilian and military presence maintains its broad multinational character, Mr. Ban said. Now is not the time to scale back, but to further our efforts in a coordinated way that benefits the entire country.
He added that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) needs adequate resources to carry out its Security Council mandate, as well as to fulfil the expanded role assigned to it by more than 80 countries and groups at an international conference at The Hague, Netherlands, in March.
Currently, UNAMA has eight regional offices and 12 provincial ones, and has the funding required for three additional offices to be opened soon. To have a presence in each of Afghanistan`s 34 provinces, it would need more resources, including for security, to set up 11 more offices, the report said.