ADB Grants Funding for Afghani Power Grid Project
Monday May 31, 1:58 PM Asia Pulse
MANILA, Philippines, May 31 Asia Pulse - The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is helping the government of Afghanistan to prepare a national power transmission grid project, through a technical assistance (TA) grant approved for US$750,000.
According to an ADB statement, the project will interconnect the northwestern power system with northern and central power systems to supply the provinces of Badghis, Faryab and Jawzjan, which are not currently electrified from a grid.
About 800km of double circuit 200 kV lines are planned under the project from Mazar Sharif to Herat, including the upgrading of 142 km of existing single circuit 110 kV transmission line from Mazar Sharif to Shebergan.
It will also develop a National Load Dispatch Center in Kabul to coordinate the dispatch of generation and power imports from neighboring countries.
"The project will improve system stability, reduce losses and boost the reliability of electricity supplies in a country where there is no national power transmission grid and much of the power sector has been destroyed or damaged after more than two decades of conflict," says Chong Chi Nai, an ADB Senior Energy Specialist.
The statement says that Afghanistan's power sector is characterised by the daily rationing of electricity, frequent brownouts, ageing power generation plants, missing overhead transmission and distribution lines, and the proliferation of small diesel generators that are inefficient and polluting.
The electrification rate is estimated to be about 6 per cent and the annual per capita consumption of electricity is among the lowest in the world.
Under an ADB-financed Emergency Infrastructure Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Project, 220 kV transmission lines are being repaired in the north, while India is financing the detailed design of a line to interconnect the northern and central power systems and enable the import of power from Uzbekistan to meet acute shortages in Kabul.
But the western power system centered on Herat does not yet have a transmission network system.
Under construction is a double circuit 132 kV transmission line from Iran and a single circuit 220 kV transmission line from Turkmenistan to make it easier to import power from these two countries.
The total cost of the TA is about $900,000, of which the Government will fund $150,000 equivalent. The Ministry of Water and Power is the executing agency for the TA, which is due for completion around January 2005.
2nd Power Line to Afghanistan to Be Launched
TEHRAN (PIN) -- Managing director of Khorasan Regional Electricity Company announced that the second power transmission line to Afghanistan will become operational in a month. Mohammad Ali Vahdati added that a 20-kv power line from Taibad to Herat was established to supply electricity to western parts of Afghanistan last year.
"The second phase of the project includes building two 132-kv two-circuit line, as well as a 132/20 kv, 50 megavolt ampere station. The line will come on-stream by next month at the cost of 115 billion rials. It will pave the way for exporting 50 MW electricity to Afghanistan," he said.
Based on a contract signed between Iran and Afghanistan, Iran has pledged to supply Herat electricity to Herat.
At present, Iranian electricity is sold to Afghanistan at three cents for every kilowatt hour.
Pakistan Exports 10 Mt Fertilizer To Afghanistan
2004-06-01 08:48:57 Pakistan News Service
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan : June 01 (PNS) - Afghan Chemical Fertilizer Company Chief, Syed Jan Wali has said that Pakistan is providing ten million tonnes of fertilizer to Afghanistan.
He told Voice of America (VoA) after having talks with the senior officials of Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Pakistan that, the fertilizer is being exported via Spin Buldak to Kandahar, Helmand province and via Torkham to Southeast, Southern provinces and Kabul. He said that Afghanistan is importing fertilizer from its neighbouring countries to fulfil demands of agricultural sector of the country.
Dutch, Afghan envoys call on Hiraj
The News International, Pakistan
ISLAMABAD: Dutch Ambassador Marcel Kurpershoek and Afghan Ambassador Dr N Tarzi called on Minister for Law, Justice and Human Rights Raza Hayat Hiraj here on Monday.
During the meeting, they discussed issues concerning human rights and law.
The Netherlands ambassador appreciated government’s initiatives to improve human rights condition in the country and hoped that the situation of law and order would further improve through the concrete steps taken by the official authorities.
The Afghan ambassador expressed gratitude for the contribution of Pakistan for war-torn, devastated and destroyed Afghanistan.
He said both countries are brotherly countries and the progress, prosperity and stability of one is related to the other.
Tarzi hoped that Pakistan would continue to extend help in the field of construction, environment and law.
Hiraj assured Afghan Minister for providing all possible help to the brotherly country and informed that the president and the prime minister would be pleased to assist the people of Afghanistan for their prosperity and success.
Three Special Operations soldiers die in Afghanistan, including Oregonian
05/31/2004 Associated Press
Three Special Operations soldiers, including one from Oregon, were killed Saturday when their vehicle hit a land mine in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the Department of Defense said Monday.
Pfc. Joseph A. Jeffries of Beaverton was among the dead. He was assigned to the Army Reserve's 329th Psychological Operations Company in Portland.
Also killed were two Green Beret members from Fort Bragg's 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group: Capt. Daniel W. Eggers, 28, of Cape Coral, Fla., and Staff Sgt. Robert J. Mogensen, 26, of Leesville, La.
Jeffries, 21, was a psychological operations specialist.
Members of Jeffries' family told reporters that Jeffries, a stock car racing enthusiast, had just recently gotten married, and that his wife is 4 1/2 months pregnant.
A statement from the Army's Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg said the soldiers were fatally wounded while returning to their base when a roadside bomb detonated as they tried to avoid another explosive device in the road. The explosion also killed an unidentified sailor, according to the statement.
Jeffries joined the Army in October 2001 and completed the Psychological Operations Specialist Course at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He is survived by his wife, Betsy, of Beaverton, and his parents, Mark and Linda Jeffries, also of Beaverton.
His family told television reporters Monday that he had wanted to be a police officer, and joined the military in order to get money for school.
Plea to wipe out $84bn debt in 15 war zones
George Bush wants to write-off Iraq's $100bn borrowings. But what about the other strife-torn nations? Nigel Morris reports
31 May 2004 Independent Digital (UK)
The western world is challenged today to relieve the chronic suffering and poverty of 15 war-torn countries by wiping out their debts.
President George Bush is expected to argue for Iraq's foreign borrowings - estimated at $90bn (£49bn) to $134bn - to be cancelled at next week's meeting of the G8 group of the leading industrialised nations. But for a lower price, the sufferings of 15 other war zones, where fighting has claimed 14 million lives and driven more than 18 million people from their homes, could be relieved.
They include Sudan, currently wracked by ethnic cleansing, which owes the West $20bn, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with debts of $11.4bn, where 17 million people are starving. Up to 20 million landmines riddle the landscape of Angola ($9.6bn in debt) while wars and Aids have left more than one million children in Rwanda (£1.3bn in debt) orphaned.
And, as revealed last week by The Independent, Afghanistan ($2.4bn in debt) remains in a desperate state following the US-led war to oust the Taliban from power. Hunger is endemic and just one in eight Afghans drinks clean water.
The catalogue of despair is detailed by World Vision, one of the largest aid and development organisations in the world. The indebtedness of the 15 nations - eight in Africa - means they face a desperate battle to rebuild their economies and tackle disease, poverty and illiteracy.
Alan Whaites, World Vision's director of international policy, said: "Debt forgiveness is vital in bringing stability to war-wracked countries and in preventing renewed conflict. The alternative is to continue to bankrupt the state and disempower the government, greatly increasing the risk of a renewed cycle of violence."
Its report, An Ounce of Prevention, says none of the countries has the same economic potential as Iraq and that all have suffered longer wars. It calls for the $84bn combined foreign debts of the 15 to be wiped out. It berates the G8 nations, including Britain, for failing to meet the "modest" Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development target of spending 0.7 per cent of their gross national product on aid.
"Industrialised countries can barely expect to make a dent on current conflicts with current low levels and poor quality of aid," the report says. "The lack of strategic and long-term investment in sustainable development ... breeds inequality and tightens the descending spiral of greed and grievance, exacerbating latent tensions into explosively violent conflicts."
Inadequate international curbs on weapons flooding into war zones and the illegal exploitation of natural resources lead to "the breakdown of the rule of law and order and increased criminal activity". As a result, nations attempting to recover from conflict are "trying to swim with a millstone around their necks".
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has championed an initiative to double the amount of development aid for the Third World to $100bn by 2015 by issuing bonds on the international capital markets. But he has yet to win support from the US and several European countries. The Treasury said yesterday that agreeing concrete action on tackling the Third World's debt mountain would be a key British aim at next week's G8 summit in the US.
Taliban step up attacks in Afghanistan
David Rohde The New York Times Monday, May 31, 2004
KABUL Hours after an explosive device killed four U.S. soldiers in Zabul Province in this country's south on Saturday, a convoy of Taliban killed four Afghan soldiers in an attack on government offices in Helmand, another southern province.
The attacks, reported by U.S. military officials and by Afghan officials quoted by The Associated Press, underscore the continued resilience of a low-level Talib insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan that has killed about 350 people, nearly all of them Afghans, in the past year.
After a drop in attacks in March attributed to a Pakistani offensive against militants staging cross-border raids, attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces have resumed, U.S. military officials said. After suffering heavy casualties in the offensive, Pakistan is pursuing a political effort to capture hundreds of foreign militants believed to be hiding on its side of the border.
Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager, a spokesman for U.S. forces here, said: "We've found that while there were actions in Pakistan, we've had fewer attacks. The number of attacks we're having in Afghanistan is back to where we expected."
With the resumption of attacks, the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until U.S. troops moved in after Sept. 11, 2001, are now hitting isolated Afghan government posts once or twice a week, killing several Afghan soldiers and police officers each time, according to government officials and news reports. Six U.S. soldiers were killed in action in May, one of the highest one-month combat death tolls in Afghanistan in more than two years.
But while continuing to carry out raids, the Taliban appear unable to carry out large-scale attacks in Afghanistan, and an expected Talib spring offensive has so far not proved overwhelming. Their biggest successes have been against poorly armed police officers and unarmed aid workers, a tactic that has slowed reconstruction in the country's south and east.
The United States recently increased the number of its troops in Afghanistan from 11,000 to 20,000. Their mission is to provide security for national elections scheduled for September and to continue to hunt Talib and Qaeda fighters.
The Taliban appear determined to disrupt the voting, which they call a farce designed to legitimize U.S. rule in Afghanistan. After targeting Afghan aid workers last autumn and this spring, they have begun attacking UN workers and police officers involved in voter registration efforts. In the attack on the Afghan government post on Saturday, Talib fighters moved into the town of Musa Qala and attacked the local government offices, the AP reported.
Besides the four Afghan soldiers who were killed, one Talib attacker died in the clash.
Attacks on international military forces also continue.
Lieutenant Colonel Michele DeWerth, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the four American soldiers who were killed on Saturday died when the explosive device detonated under their Humvee.
No fresh demarcation of Pak-Afghan border: FO
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Monday dismissed as “entirely inaccurate” a news report suggesting fresh demarcation of the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Asked to comment on a news report suggesting that Pakistan and Afghanistan had recently agreed to draw a demarcation line in the Lawara Mandi area, Foreign Office spokesman told reporters, “This report was entirely inaccurate as no fresh demarcation of the border had taken place in that area as suggested in the news item,” APP reported.
Staff report adds: The spokesman welcomed the statement of US Secretary of State Colin Powell about not supporting an extra-constitutional step to dislodge the present government and said the statement was a clear signal that democracy had been established in Pakistan. About the Wana situation, the spokesman said the government’s strategy was very clear: to eliminate terrorists from that area.
He said many tracks were being used to achieve the objective and economic sanctions had been imposed against those tribes who had violated the agreement reached between the jirga and the government. He said the foreigners living in that area would have to register with government authorities and terrorists would have to surrender and there was no question of a compromise.
“If the objectives are not achieved through political strategy, force will be used to clear the tribal areas from the scourge of terrorism. The government is following many options and the military option remains open,” he said.
The spokesman said the new resolution on Iraq was being debated among the Security Council members. Pakistan specifically raised the issues of restoration of sovereignty, recognition of the Iraqi peoples’ rights and decision-making for themselves, the UN’s role in Iraq and humanitarian issues. He said the main objectives should be peace and stability in the area.
In his opening statement, the spokesman said a two-day international seminar called “OIC — Challenge and Response — Enlightened Moderation” begins in Islamabad Tuesday (today).).
President General Pervez Musharraf will inaugurate the seminar and Senator Mushahid Hussain Syed, Pakistan’s nominee for the OIC Commission of Eminent Persons on Enlightened Moderation, will chair the seminar. The seminar is being organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where 50 scholars, researchers and academics from 40 OIC member states with proven expertise on Islamic issues will participate in the seminar.
Press briefing by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, UNAMA Spokesman 30 May 2004
Source: UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan 30 May 2004
Arnault: "International Security Assistance Continues to Make the Difference between Success and Failure"
During his briefing to the UN Security Council on Thursday, 24 May, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Jean Arnault told Ambassadors that security in the country, and in particular for the electoral process, is ultimately an Afghan responsibility, "but it is a responsibility that Afghans cannot shoulder without international assistance." He called upon NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] member states to deploy more international forces to enable ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] to expand. At this critical juncture of the peace process, he said, "international security assistance continues to make the difference between success and failure."
In his first briefing to the Council since being appointed Special Representative in Afghanistan, Mr. Arnault provided the Ambassadors with an analysis of the security situation and briefed them on the state of the electoral process, of DDR [Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration] and of institution-building.
He noted that the result of the elections would be compromised if public perception should prevail that election was distorted by military intimidation and interference. This is why, he added, UNAMA insists that DDR is not optional but a central and urgent task of the government. He called DDR a critical component of a larger process aimed at addressing one of the most dangerous legacies of the lengthy Afghan conflict -- the continued existence of multiple Afghan armies.
Mr. Arnault provided Council members with statistics on voter registration and alerted them to current concerns, in particular those related to possible regional registration unbalances, primarily due to security conditions in some areas. He also briefed Ambassadors on details of the new electoral law, local elections and on the discussions regarding out-of-country registration and voting.
The Special Representative went over the political environment and the various stages of implementation of the security and political benchmarks the country has to meet in order to hold elections that can lead to the "fully representative government" called for in the Bonn Agreement. He announced that the verification of political rights by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and UNAMA is expected to start throughout the country in mid-June.
For more details and the full text of his presentation, please pick up a copy on the side table or visit our website at www.unama-afg.org.
Over 1,150 Officers and Soldiers Disarmed in First Two Weeks of DDR Main Phase
The total number of officers and soldiers who have been disarmed under the main phase of DDR now stands at more than 1,150. This is after just two weeks of activity. The programme began in Kabul on 17 May.
The officers and soldiers who put down their guns under the DDR programme can choose from a variety of reintegration packages. Options include: business opportunities such as managing a shop or factory or getting a loan to start a small business; receiving vocational training in construction, tailoring or carpentry; going into agriculture which entails a start up package of seeds and fertilizer, or livestock; or joining the Afghan National Police or Afghan National Army.
The DDR programme is also creating new reintegration packages for officers and soldiers coming in through the main phase. To take into account the high number of officers who are going through DDR, the programme is creating some 5,000 reintegration packages with government ministries or private businesses specifically for skilled and educated personnel.
A partnership between the Ministry of Education and the DDR programme will enable ex-officers and educated ex-soldiers to become teachers. A partnership between the Ministry of Communication and the DDR programme will allow skilled personnel to train in the fields of information technology and communications networks. Ex-officers will also be able to choose from jobs with private companies.
50,450 Afghans Register in Single Day -- Highest Daily Total since Start of Voter Registration
As of 25 May, 2,719,444 Afghans had registered to vote. The gender breakdown is 1,840,831 men and 878,726 women or 67.7 percent to 32.3 percent. This shows that the number of women participating is slowly and steadily increasing. On the last day that we have complete statistics for (25 May), 50,450 Afghans registered -- the highest single day turn out since the start of voter registration in December.
There are now 718 sites with 1,258 teams working across the country. There are still no sites in Daikundi, Paktika and Nuristan. I believe that Nuristan and Paktika expect to have sites open very soon but we do not yet have dates to announce. Over the past week, the Ministry of Justice registered two new political parties, bringing the total number of registered parties to sixteen.
On 26 May, the Minister of Women Affairs, Habiba Sorabi, traveled to Farah province, where she attended a ceremony organized by the Department of Women's Affairs. During her visit, the Minister stressed the importance of women participating in the forth-coming election and urged all women to register to vote. Registration sites opened in Farah on 1 May and since then 14,918 Afghans have registered, 30 percent of them are women.
In Khost on 27 May, the Governor hosted a meeting at Khost University to seek support for the electoral process and to pass on civic education messages. The meeting was attended by university students as well as representatives from the Electoral Secretariat and the local Department of Women's Affairs. And during Friday prayers on 28 May in Herat, Governor Ismail Khan made a speech at the mosque during which he encouraged Afghans to register and to vote.
All of these efforts by authorities and leaders, no matter where in the country, are very important, not only for registration in general but for women in particular. I want to give you a set of figures that show how this is important, especially in areas where traditional norms and behavior do not make it easy for women to participate in the process. As you know, registration in Uruzgan began on 10 May. We now have 16 sites open in Tirin Kot with 32 teams working. So far, 9,007 people have registered, 163 of them are women. I also want to bring to your attention that the percentage of women registering per region has increased. In areas that it was high, it remains high but in areas where participation was very low, in particular the south, southeast and east, it has increased. The participation of women in the east is now at 27 percent, the south is at 23 percent and the southeast is at 26 percent. You might recall in the past we were talking about thirteen to fifteen percent for women in those areas.
Nangarhar's Political Harmonization Committee Holds First Meeting
A new forum for political debate has been established in Nangarhar province. The forum is called the Political Harmonization Committee and was organized by UNAMA's office in Jalalabad. It is open to representatives of registered and yet-to-be-registered political parties, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), the Governor's office, the Electoral Secretariat, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and other outside observers, as invited. The goal is to bring together all party representatives to provide a forum for the passage of information and complaints in order to promote conditions for a free and fair election.
The first meeting of the Committee was held last Thursday, 27 May. It was well attended by all of the groups just listed and the debate focused on security, voter registration, civic education and DDR. All participants agreed that the Committee was a useful forum and that they would continue to participate. The next meeting will be held in two weeks.
UNODC Chief to Address Severe Drug Cultivation and Trafficking Situation during Visit to Afghanistan
Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) began his eight-day visit to the Afghanistan yesterday, 29 May. While in the country, Mr. Costa will review the situation on the ground and urge a more effective implementation of the National Drug Control Strategy. Before arriving in Kabul, Mr. Costa will be visiting Kunduz, Balkh and Herat provinces where he will be meeting with key governors, police chiefs and military commanders, as well as some opium-growing farmers.
In a press release issued by UNODC, Mr. Costa says, "Counter-narcotics efforts need to distinguish between farmers' need and traffickers' greed. Law enforcement needs to target traffickers and disrupt trafficking routes and clandestine laboratories. Farmers, including those affected by the Government-sponsored opium eradication campaigns, should be supported by development assistance."
In 2003, the opium production in Afghanistan reached an estimated 3,600 tonnes, an increase of six per cent from the previous year. Opium generated an income of US$ one billion for farmers and US$ 1.3 billion for traffickers, equivalent to 52 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The recent UNODC surveys -- the Farmers' Intentions Survey of January and Rapid Assessment Survey of February this year -- indicated the likelihood of a further increase in production.
A full copy of the press release is available on the side table.
UNCHR Spokesperson Vesna Petkovic
3.6 million Afghans Return Home
The resumption of the facilitated repatriation operation this year in March started with high figures that continued to raise by week -- from March to 26 May this year 242,303 Afghan refugees returned home from Pakistan and Iran with or without assistance, bringing the total number of returnees from these two countries to 3, 157, 178 from March 2002.
Taking into account 443,897 internally displaced who also returned to their previous homes, the total figure of those who returned to their places in Afghanistan is 3,601,075.
In the past few weeks, an average of 5,000 Afghans daily crossed over from Pakistan and Iran. The returning figures this year seem to be already higher than last year in the same period. However, the peak of returns is expected when the school year ends in Pakistan and Iran, in mid June.
In just one month, from 23 April to 23 May this year, 557 families or over 3,100 persons returned from the bordering camps in the NWFP in Pakistan to their places in Ahmad Aba, and Sayd Karam in Paktya passing through Khost and Gardez encashment centers, under the facilitated group return movement.
Since mid April there have been 5 major such movements of refugees to the Paktya province. So far, and according to the previously identified needs, all families were screened and 91 of them were already chosen for shelter beneficiaries in places where refugees returned under the FGR program in that province.
The overall return to Paktia, Khost and Paktika has already exceeded 10,000 persons this year, which is about as many as during the last 2.5 years.
UNHCR Sub-Office Jalalabad is preparing to receive a group of 54 Tajik families, now living in Khairabad, near Peshawar, Pakistan to return to Laghman province, district Farashghani under the FGR movement very soon. Although their primary concern -- water, education, and health will remain for some time in the future, they based their decision to return on the information coming from 38 families and elders who repatriated in September last year and news from home broadcast by the radio program aimed at Afghan refugees, displaced and returnees.
In cooperation with BBC, UNHCR started radio program Return, specifically aimed at Afghan refugees, IDPs and returnees a year and a half ago. The program deals with the situation in the country, informing about the security, development activities of the government, UN agencies and humanitarian organizations and the challenges that the Afghans, especially returnees are facing. Return is broadcast 6 days a week, from Saturday to Thursday, in Pashto and Dari languages on short wave frequencies of 13,605 kHz and 9,795 kHz and on FM frequency of 89 MHZ in Kabul.
The bulletin Return, issued by UNHCR is a bi-weekly information update intended for Afghans abroad and displaced in the country to provide them with enough information about returning to their homes. Each issue in addition to usual service information covers a particular topic; the last Return provided extensive information on the transportation system in Afghanistan, while the previous one dedicated the most of its space to shelter program. The bulletin is public document and is distributed widely at places where people gather, in mosques, schools, shuras at community services points etc.
UNHCR has also a joint radio program with Afghanistan Radio and TV Coming Home as another effort to provide information for returnees. This program is broadcast in Dari and Pashto on Sundays and Fridays at 21:00 for 30 minutes.
Questions and Answers
Question: I have a general issue that I am hoping you can address and it involves security. There have been a lot of bad things going on in a number of areas, including four Special Forces killed. A number of incidents have taken place in the south and southwest in particular. Would you talk a little bit about the issue of security? What the challenges are and what the likelihood of NATO expanding is?
Spokesman: Our views on NATO expansion were made clear at our last briefing and were made even more clear by Mr. Arnault during his address to the Security Council during which he made an appeal to NATO member states in advance of their summit in Istanbul in the month of June. There is a commitment by the institution and there have been repeated statements by the Secretary General of NATO on the priority that Afghanistan represents for the organization. We hope that the troop contributing nations will find the means to honor this commitment.
Security as you know is an issue that we have brought to your attention through statements, briefings to the Security Council as well as through the Secretary-General's reports since the beginning of this operation in March 2002. Security has been a constant theme. I will repeat what we have already said by saying that I don't think anyone doubts that security in the long run is the responsibility of the Afghans but this is in the long run. They started from scratch. Progress has been achieved. One may argue that it has not gone as far or fast as the population expects or as the process would call for. But nevertheless there is progress, which is important. You have almost ten thousand ANA well-trained and well-prepared soldiers and officers. You have a large number of new police trained and many more will graduate from training programmes by the summer. Some 20,000 by this summer and this figure will be doubled by next year.
But the threats to security continue. They continue because there has been action by spoilers -- those who oppose this process and do not want to see a new Afghanistan that meets the expectations and aspirations of the vast majority of these people who have suffered so much over the past 25 years of war and wish to leave that as part of the past. That is one part of the problem. These spoilers are primarily being dealt with by the Coalition and the ANA.
There is also another element of security which is militia and factional fighting. While this is not constant and often does not make the news in the west, it affects the hearts and minds of Afghans because it touches on their daily lives. These are the people who abuse power because they have arms and who are not observing the authority of the government. The action for this is DDR. DDR began and concluded its pilot phase. The main phase began a couple of weeks ago and it has to gain momentum. We believe that it is going in that direction but as you know the commitment of the government is to have 40 percent of the military formations under the MOD disarmed and demobilized by early July. It began late and a lot of ground must be covered in order to recover the time wasted.
What we may be seeing is that due to security concerns in areas in the south, southeast and east the assistance programme people have not been able to go there in large numbers and in some cases not at all. Voter registration must happen throughout the country so you have an expanding presence in areas that in the recent and mid-term past there were no international organizations. In this particular case, the new presence is that of the Joint Electoral Management Body staff, which has the support of the international community and in particular the United Nations.
A lot of care is put into the deployment of these registration teams. In order to make this possible, there is a lot of work by ISAF, the Coalition and above all the Ministry of the Interior and Ministry of Defence. Their role is very important and they take it very seriously. They need to take it very seriously because the process is extremely important and necessary for this country and this is what the Afghans want. In the areas where there are no registration sites yet, the message that we are getting is: when are you coming, when will registration begin where we are. They also take it very seriously because there are those who want to spoil this exercise.
I hope this gives you some of the security context. Chris [Henderson, Spokesman for ISAF], would you have anything to add?
ISAF: Unless you can provide me with a more specific NATO related question, I would not presume to add anything to what Manoel has just outlined.
Question: What signals are coming from the top, from the troop contributing countries in terms of expansion and with the elections getting closer? Will expansion suddenly happen or what is being indicated?
ISAF: You used an interesting phrase there: will this suddenly happen. It will not be sudden. It is a complex process because we are dealing with a large number of nations that work in a consensual manner. There are 26 member nations of NATO and there are 34 member nations of ISAF so we are dealing with some non-NATO troop contributing nations as well. NATO works on a consensus. It was agreed in October of last year that NATO would expand its role in ISAF and it has taken a long time to reach the consensus amongst those 26 nations as to exactly when NATO will expand ISAF and to what extent.
I have explained in previous briefings that the plan is initially a phased geographic expansion going counter-clockwise: starting in the north, moving to the west, then the south and then to east. I think the signals we have gotten are pretty solid. At the end of April, the North Atlantic Council, including some 26 Ambassadors, the Deputy Secretary General and the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, all visited Afghanistan. They visited PRTs in Kunduz, Mazar and Kandahar and immediately following that visit NATO reiterated its commitment to Afghanistan and it has been reiterated subsequently. The priority given to Afghanistan is as high as it can possibly be for the Istanbul summit and I think we can see on the ground that there is movement. Just this morning, an Antonov arrived at Kabul International Airport and disgorged three Turkish helicopters. This is a tangible example of NATO support to ISAF and to Afghanistan.
These things do not happen quickly. There are complicated dynamics in every national capitol that effect the decisions that presidents and prime ministers make with regard to the commitment of their nation treasure in terms of their sons and daughters and their military equipment. Last night I had a telephone conversation with a colleague in NATO headquarters and he reiterated to me that they were extremely confident that they will meet their stated commitments to the expansion of ISAF by the Istanbul summit by the end of June. That is what we are working towards and in the meantime, ISAF will continue to conduct its operations in the areas of responsibility that we have. This includes Kabul and Kunduz.
In support of the voter registration and electoral process we have been slowly moving beyond our areas of responsibility geographically, slowly moving outward to provide security for voter registration in the immediate adjacent areas to the capitol region. That will start to pick up momentum.
Question: There have been discussions between Karzai and other leaders about the structure of the government. How sure are you that the election will be free and fair?
Spokesman: I hear what you are saying through you and your colleagues in some media reports but that is all we know. These discussions have nothing to do with the electoral process from the point of view of the freedom and fairness of it. Politicians anywhere in the world negotiate -- that is the job of politicians. They do it behind the scenes, in front of cameras, talking to friends. This is what they do. Afghanistan is not an exception. In fact there is another way to look. It is a good thing that they are talking and not exchanging fire. It is quite a change from the past, isn't it? But I don't know the content of what they are discussing.
I first want to acknowledge that this is what politicians do but from the perspective of your question, I think it is important to note that in a country like Afghanistan where institutions are still weak after so many years of civil war and people do not yet have confidence in these institutions, rumors abound. People don't know enough about elections. They do not have enough experience as voters to understand that when they go to the voting booth and they cast a secret vote, nobody will know who that person is voting for, who the woman in Ghor or who the man in Kandahar is going to vote for. Voters and citizens should also discuss the different opinions and develop their own opinions so that when the time comes to cast a ballot, it is the vote that counts. The collective result of these millions of secret votes by Afghan men and women is what will define the political frame in which the politicians will operate. Politicians can continue to have their discussions, which they should do, but the framework will be decided by the result of the voting.
Of course, this can only happen when there is a free and fair election. Is there a lot of work left to do to ensure that elections are free and fair? Yes. Do Afghans need to do a lot to make the elections free and fair? Yes. Some of it has begun. For example, at the last briefing I told you about the directions issued by the Ministry of Interior for police and governors on their role as impartial actors. This included a list of things they can and cannot do as civil servants during an electoral period.
I mentioned today that UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission will begin in June the verification of the exercise of political rights. This is very important. There is a group of civil society in Afghanistan getting together as monitors, which is extremely important as well. You now have 16 political parties and there are many more that have applied. Lets hope that this process moves a little faster but you are beginning to see the political parties take actions and meet with the JEMB. Above all, you have DDR which I said earlier needs to gain momentum. That is what Afghans since the Emergency Loya Jirga have been repeating. They feel that they will feel freer if there is a significant reduction in the number of militia and armed men in the country. This is why we and others have been working so hard to help DDR gain momentum.
The point is: politicians talk, politicians negotiate but the political frame is determined by the citizens as they exercise their right through a secret vote in the context of a free and fair election.
Question: The Kuchis have come to the BBC office saying that registration is only along the roads but not among their tents. They are concerned they are losing the chance to cast their votes. What is your reaction to this?
Spokesman: I have to ask my colleagues in operations what is actually happening. What I can tell you is that the concept of operations is that voter registration must reach all of those who want to register. We are not going to go house to house because on the day of voting, the ballot will not go house to house. The people have to go to vote at a polling station. This is also the principle guiding voter registration for Kuchis. If that means, road A or road B or going up the hill, I don't know the specific detail. I would have to check with the operations people how we will do that. What is important at this point is that the objective of voter registration is to make it available for all of those men and women who wish to register.
Question: After one month of the second phase of voter registration, you have expanded to just 428 sites, which is just one tenth of the target number of sites that are to be established. What are the difficulties in making this happen?
Spokesman: I think you may have been one of the first arrivals and picked up the wrong sheet of paper. There are 718 sites open as of 25 May. This is just a detail but in any case, the total number is not 4,000. [I think that is the point you wish to make]. I don't think anyone thought that on 1 May we would open 4,000 registration sites at the same time in locations across the country.
At the beginning of May, we had 100 sites and now we have over seven times that number. What are some of the difficulties? One is security. The second is logistics and the third is qualified people to work as registrants, in particular women. This is not an easy task. It takes a lot of courage from the Afghans who are running this process to pull this together. You come from India, which is a very large country and just had a democratic election. India ha computers all over the place that just in a few hours showed the results. This will not be the case here. It will be manual voting. You do not have roads to go everywhere you want to go. We currently have four helicopters and one plane for the voting and registration exercise because there are no roads. There are people who have to go to registration sites that are more than one day walk from the provincial capitol. Lets be realistic about understanding the environment in which this is happening.
The idea is still to have voter registration sites open in as many districts as possible but you will see this as a gradual expansion. In three weeks it has gone from 150 to by now well over 800, taking into account the delay in reporting. Is this the speed that everyone wanted? I am sure it is not but it is the speed that is possible in this environment. Five days ago, we had 50,000 people registering which under these conditions in a very large number. Is it the ideal number? No. But are we getting closer to ideal indicators? I hope so. I think so.
Question: The groups of monitors that you mentioned. When will this be forming? Are they Afghans or internationals as well?
Spokesman: The one I was referring to is an Afghan civil society group. I would refer you to National Democratic Institute (NDI) because they are the one supporting them and helping them get organized. I know that some of them recently when to the Philippines to observe the election as part of their training as monitors.
In addition to that there are international possibilities. As in many counties, there are international organizations and/or countries that want to volunteer to monitor. I know that there are discussions on-going for the monitoring of elections in Afghanistan.
You -- the press -- are amongst the best monitors. That is part of the role of the press because you have access everywhere and you write about it so it's a wonderful way of monitoring and bringing the problems to the attention of those who have power.
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