17 to 21 September 2005 - ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION, AFGHANISTAN
1. Five members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly - Kresimir Cosic (Croatia), Rasa Jukneviciene (Lithuania), Jeppe Kofod (Denmark), Lucio Malan (Italy), and Karel Schwarzenberg (Czech Republic) plus Zachary Selden, Director of the Assembly's Defence and Security Committee - traveled to Afghanistan to observe the parliamentary elections. Transport to Kabul was by German military aircraft via Termez in Uzbekhistan. Their reception and accommodation was organized by the ISAF Visitor's Bureau. Their transport on election day was organized by individual embassies. The delegation also met with military commanders in Kabul and members of the international community to discuss issues such as the security situation, counter-narcotics policy and cooperation on developing judicial institutions in Afghanistan. The group also visited Herat in the western part of the country.
Political and Security Situation Surrounding the Afghan Elections
2. Before setting out on election day, the delegation met with the Commander of ISAF, the NATO Senior Civilian Representative, and Joint Election Management Body (JEMB) officials who briefed the group on the current political and security situation.
3. The JEMB is a joint body composed of UN employees and Afghan election officials who work as a single unit to build the institutions needed to support the democratic process in Afghanistan. JEMB officials briefed the group on the election process and the responsibilities of international election observers. JEMB officials were careful to point out the distinction between election observation and election monitoring. Election observation, which was the purpose of this mission, allows outside groups to watch the process and form their own conclusions. It is not a formal process like election monitoring where monitors have the right to ask specific questions, fill out uniform checklists, and produce a formal report that evaluates the fairness of the election. This distinction is significant because although JEMB officials were confident that the elections would produce results that are representative of the will of the Afghan people, they realistically assumed that the logistical difficulties in conducting a post-conflict election in very underdeveloped country would not produce an election process that would benefit from a formal monitoring mission.
4. The JEMB produced an impressive amount of election materials to promote democracy and educate voters on their rights and responsibilities. They had to overcome several challenges. First, most of the population is illiterate, so all election materials had to be comprehensible to illiterate voters. This meant that ballots were produced listing each candidate's name, photograph and an easily recognizable symbol. The ballots were generally quite large as there were many candidates for each available position, and to further complicate matters, each province had a different ballot. Despite those challenges, the JEMB produced a ballot that was reasonably accessible to the general Afghan voting population. The election process for the parliamentary elections was specifically designed to correct for problems in the previous election. For example, JEMB officials discussed how they had improved the process of how they inked voters' fingers to prevent fraud.
5. General del Vecchio, Commander of ISAF briefed the delegation on the current security situation. He assessed the security situation as stable and similar to the 2004 presidential election period, but he warned that ISAF would have to be on guard against security problems throughout the election process. This would run through to 22 October when the final results were expected to be announced. He noted that several countries had added forces for the election period including the Netherlands, Spain, Romania and the United States. The temporary increase of a total of 2000 troops significantly boosts ISAF's ability to provide a secure environment.
6. Despite this increase, General del Vecchio noted the lack of certain assets that constrain his operational capability. Most significantly, ISAF lacks sufficient air assets, particularly helicopters. ISAF can function quite well in the Kabul region, but the lack of transport helicopters hinders operations in other parts of the country. He also discussed the issue of national caveats, noting that he must always consider the national restrictions on the use of forces. For example, he noted that some troops stationed at Kabul International Airport are restricted by national caveats from leaving the airport. Another national contingent that has command of a PRT is prevented from staying outside their base overnight. In effect this restricts them to an 80 kilometer radius from their base, allowing them to be present in a small part of the province in which they are based.
7. Minister Hikmet Cetin, the NATO Senior Civilian Representative at ISAF, briefed the delegation on the overall political and security situation. In general, the security situation continues to improve and NATO continues to play an increasingly large role in the ongoing stabilization and reconstruction mission. ISAF will expand to take control of operations in the south of the country in the first part of 2006, and eventually the eastern part of Afghanistan will come under NATO command as well. For the time being however, the United States maintains a separate command, Combined Forces Command Afghanistan (CFCA), for coalition forces in the south and east of Afghanistan, although cooperation and communication between the two operations is very good.
8. Coordination on security between the Afghan government and the international forces continues to develop. A weekly security coordination committee chaired by President Karzai brings together all of the principal actors from the government, ISAF and CFCA. President Karzai has requested a broad strategic partnership with NATO that would formalize the relationship. Minister Cetin noted the need for still more coordination and a change in emphasis. For some time the focus has been on developing the Afghan National Army. Although that is coming along well, Minister Cetin believes the time is right to shift the emphasis to developing the Afghan National Police, a force which will have a more substantial impact on ordinary Afghan's day to day lives. To some extent that shift in emphasis is already taking place and the United States has recently taken over training the police, investing one billion dollars in the project.
9. Minister Cetin also raised the issue of national caveats. In particular he noted the caveats that some members have regarding the use of their forces in counter-terrorist operations. He emphasized that counter-terrorist operations are a critical part of the mission and will become even more significant as NATO takes over the provinces with relatively high amounts of terrorist activity. Caveats, such as one member's ban on allowing its forces to patrol at night, will seriously hinder NATO's ability to provide the secure environment needed in those regions with terrorist activity.
10. Minister Cetin underlined that security and economic development are closely linked. Although 8 billion dollars has been pledged by the international community, this is not much in per capita terms and more will be needed. But more important than financial aid is the long-term economic development of the country that will provide employment and a tax base so that the government of Afghanistan can stand more on its own. He noted the opportunities in mining, agricultural products and processing and hydroelectric power. Afghanistan could export 25,000 megawatts of electricity, although this would require a very large investment and take years to develop.
Observation of the 18 September elections in Afghanistan for the lower house of Parliament (Wolesi Jirga) and the Provincial Councils
11. Security for the elections was provided almost entirely by the Afghan National Police with the Afghan National Army playing a supporting role. International forces were specifically asked by the Government of Afghanistan to stay at least 500 meters from polling stations except in extreme circumstances. For this reason the delegation could not rely on ISAF for transportation to the polling stations. The delegation is grateful for the support of the Italian, Danish and Czech diplomatic representatives in Kabul who provided transportation and made this mission possible. Accordingly, the members divided among the three embassies and collectively visited 30 polling stations in the greater Kabul region.
12. In general the delegation found that the election process was well managed. Afghan election officials were well prepared and knowledgeable of the rules of the election process. No serious irregularities were witnessed by any member of the delegation. Some problems that occurred in last year's Presidential election did not mar this election at the polling sites visited by the delegation.
13. Most importantly, the members of the delegation were impressed by the participation of Afghans of all ethnicities and ages. Women also participated in force both as voters and election officials, albeit at what appeared to be a lower rate than men. Turnout also appeared to be lower than for the Presidential election held last year. This may have been caused in part by the complexity of the ballot, which ran to seven pages in Kabul area.
14. The delegation spoke informally with several members of the international community who were critical of the election. Although the process worked well, they were concerned about what sort of parliament was to be elected and what its role would be in the political system. Some also voiced concerns about the lack of political parties, which may lead to many members of parliament being selected by the electorate on the basis of ethnicity rather than ideology or political program. Others would have preferred to see a proportional representation system as opposed to the single non transferable vote system that was used to elect the parliament
15. Others were more optimistic and noted that regardless of the flaws, it is better to have a system that pulls former combatants into the political process than to have them outside it and potentially destabilize the country. In addition, the parliamentary elections had already been postponed once leaving President Karzai as the only elected official in the country for more than one year. Another postponement might discourage the many Afghans who expressed a desire to serve as members of parliament or the provincial councils.
16. Only time will tell if the elections will provide Afghanistan with representative government and lasting democratic institutions. The elections are only a first step and that much must be done to build sustainable democratic institutions in Afghanistan. This will require a long term commitment on the part of NATO, the individual allies and other international organizations. The delegation was also made aware of the need to build sustainable institutions that can be supported at least in large part within the Afghan government's financial means. This election cost the international community $150 million, approximately half of the government's current annual income. Cleary a less expensive means of conducting elections must be found if the country is to hold them again without the complete financial support of the international community.
17. The delegation was briefed on the counter-narcotics program by an expert from the UK embassy as the UK is the lead nation on this issue in Afghanistan. In general the trends are mildly positive. The area of poppy cultivation in the country is down by 20% compared to last year although the total reduction in the amount of opium produced is only 2%. This is because exceptionally good rains and growing condition produced record yields in all crops in Afghanistan so the yield per hectare of poppy planted was higher than usual. Some provinces such as Nangahar show very sharp declines in poppy production. This is mainly due to a sustained effort by the local government to eradicate poppy production. Other areas, particularly Helmand province, show an increase this year. The situation is currently being examined to see if any lessons can be learned that would shed more light on what causes the success or failure of the counter-narcotics effort in different provinces and use that analysis to refine the national program.
18. A new counter-narcotics plan was agreed to by all of the Afghan ministers in February 2005 and a multi-faceted program is underway. The UK has taken the lead on institution building. After an admittedly bad start for the Counter-Narcotics Ministry, much has improved in the last 6 months. President Karzai is personally involved and more international funding is being directed to the effort. Several specialized teams of Afghan police have been trained in counter-narcotics and are operating across the country, targeting drug labs, heroin stockpiles and smugglers. Most importantly, the current program is more focused on working with the governors of each province and lending support to their counter-narcotics effort.
19. Although the trend is positive, the long-term success of the counter-narcotics effort will ultimately depend on creating alternative livelihoods for Afghan farmers. Until the irrigation and road systems are repaired across the country, poppy will remain one of the few financially viable crops for farmers in many parts of the country.
20. Another critical factor is reducing demand. Most of the heroin consumed in Europe comes from Afghanistan's poppy fields. As President Karzai has pointed out, it is demand for heroin in Europe that fuels poppy production and a significant drop in its consumption would make poppy a far less attractive crop for Afghan farmers.