UN Hesitant To Tackle


By Todd Diamond *

Eurasia Insight
March 4, 2002

Despite a chorus of authoritative voices calling for the UN Security Council to expand and extend an international peacekeeping mandate in Afghanistan, the Council appears hesitant to take preventative action. Instead, Council members appear to favor a reactive response that will delay a decision until the current peacekeeping mandate runs out in June.

In recent weeks, Afghan Interim Authority Chairman Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and UN Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi have all argued that more peacekeepers are needed to help secure volatile areas outside Kabul.Other UN officials also support the Afghan authority's call for more peacekeepers.

At its most recent meeting on the subject on February 27, the Security Council heard UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast warn that "it is becoming increasingly difficult to separate issues relating to security from those relating to political developments" in Afghanistan.

The UN-authorized International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reached full deployment of 4,500 troops on February 18, according to Prendergast. Attempting to demonstrate ISAF's stabilizing influence, he said the peacekeepers' deployment had already played a significant role in lowering the crime rate in Kabul.

When Karzai visited the United States in late January, US President Bush offered to support Afghan efforts to create a national army and police force. But Bush would not commit to expanding ISAF. Since then, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, have all objected to increasing ISAF.

The international community is approaching the issue of troop deployment in a still-volatile environment outside Kabul with extreme caution. Diplomats argue that it is up to the Interim Authority to provide logistical details, as well as a political argument for more peacekeepers."It's really going to be up to the Afghans to show us what they need," one diplomat said. "They're obviously going to have to fill in the details." The details diplomats are looking for include what the force's new mandate would be, what its jurisdiction would be and how many troops would be needed.

But UN observers say that, given the complexities of Afghan politics and regional rivalries, it is difficult for the interim government to speak with one voice. Afghan attempts to harmonize views on political and security measures for the country could end up worsening rifts between Kabul and the outer provinces."While Karzai speaks to the need for peacekeepers in the provinces outside Kabul, his cabinet doesn't necessarily see it that way," said Dr. Glynn Wood, a South Asian expert at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "What's really at issue is whether Afghanistan can have the central government that the UN wants it to have."

For now, the Security Council continues to ostensibly entertain ideas of a new version of ISAF, based on Kabul's view of how the provinces should be protected. "Discussions will continue on how to expand ISAF," another diplomat said. "A lot of things need to go wrong before there will be political will to partition Afghanistan."But diplomats admit privately that they do not foresee the need or the desire for the Security Council to formally take up the issue of any new security arrangement for Afghanistan before the current peacekeeping mandate expires in June. Instead, Council members emphasize the training of a national army and police force that is already underway.

The ISAF has recently begun training the first battalion of new Afghan recruits from around the country, and a US assessment team spent several days in Kabul to discuss what contributions the United States could make to the military training.The formation of an Afghan police force has been aided by a German pledge of 10 million euros in 2002 (roughly US $9 million) to support the training of police officers and the renovation of police buildings, and the British government has provided the police in Kabul with nearly $300,000 for communications and other basic equipment.

Despite these efforts, the credibility of nascent national security forces was called into question in mid February when clashes between ethnic Uzbek and Tajik forces in Samangan province left at least two people dead despite the presence of 600-strong multi-ethnic police force in the area.

Prendergast suggested that the disparity between security in Kabul and other parts of the country is likely to come into sharper focus as the country moves closer to the convening of the emergency Loya Jirga, which is scheduled to convene in June.

If the Security Council does not act before June, it faces the dilemma of having to negotiate again between Afghanistan's competing interests at a moment when the international community will be asking why preventative diplomacy failed to foresee such developments.

* Todd Diamond is a journalist who covers the United Nations.

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