US optimistic on Afghan elections despite delay
* Taylor says security and registration issues will be defeated
* Germany sees election delay as good sign for donor conference
BRUSSELS: The United States is confident delayed elections in Afghanistan will go ahead in September despite lawlessness, a senior envoy said Monday ahead of an aid conference for the war-torn country. William Taylor, the US coordinator for Afghanistan, also said this week’s Berlin conference would underline the international community’s support for rebuilding Afghanistan after two decades of war.
The election process has been hampered by low voter registration, threats by Taliban remnants, and security problems in large parts of Afghanistan’s south and southeast. Taylor acknowledged it would be a tall order to complete the voter registration in time with only 1.6 million people registered so far out of an eligible population of some 10 million.
“The challenge is a daunting one,” he told Brussels-based reporters via videolink from Berlin. “But the United Nations has indicated that with adequate resources and with adequate security, it can be done. I’m optimistic,” Taylor said. The onset of spring would enable officials to fan out to hard-to-reach villages, he said. “Registration at that time will increase dramatically.”
The US government has pledged one billion dollars in assistance to Afghanistan at the donors’ meeting in Berlin on Wednesday and Thursday, out of a likely total to be promised of four billion dollars. Taylor stressed that the United States and international community would be working hard on rebuilding Afghanistan’s shattered infrastructure to boost economic development, which now is largely reliant on the drugs trade.
EU conference: A commitment to hold elections in Afghanistan in September, three months later than originally planned, is “a good sign” ahead of this week’s international conference on the country, Germany said Monday. Under the original plan envisaged by the Bonn peace accords of late 2001, war-ravaged Afghanistan was to hold the polls in June 2004. German foreign ministry spokesman Walter Lindner said the delay was still “within the framework” of the accords. “We welcome the decision because it provides clarity as to when there will be elections,” he told a regular government press briefing.
“It is a good sign” offering “a clear perspective... and is important for the conference,” he added. The two-day gathering in Berlin starting Wednesday will assess the pace of reconstruction in Afghanistan and what still needs to be done to make it more secure, stable and peaceful. —AFP
UN wants funding to defeat opium trade
ROME: The UN food agency appealed for 60 million dollars (49.5 million euros) in funding for Afghan farmers to help fight the country’s booming “opium economy” on Monday, the eve of an international donors’ conference in Berlin. Afghanistan, the world’s largest opium producer, is expecting record poppy production this year, with cultivation spreading into remote areas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said. The funding would cover crop production and irrigation, animal health, horticulture and nutrition education, it said. Nearly half the money is being earmarked to finance agricultural development for 1.5 million people in Afghanistan’s four main poppy-producing provinces, the agency said. “The fight against opium production in Afghanistan should be based on law enforcement and the rehabilitation of agriculture,” said FAO Representative Serge Verniau. —AFP