Saturday, November 1, 2014

UN envoy calls for ensuring credible Afghan polls

UNITED NATIONS: The top U.N. official in Afghanistan has stressed the need to ensure that the elections slated for August are credible and that their results are accepted by all, noting that the candidates can contribute to this by campaigning with “dignity and fairness.” Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan, made the appeal Monday on the eve of the start of campaigning for the presidential and provincial council elections.

“It is the shared responsibility of all candidates to ensure that these elections strengthen Afghanistan’s democratic institutions and people’s confidence in the democratic process,” he said in a statement issued in Kabul. He also stressed that “intimidation, inflammatory language and violence of any sort have no place in this election campaign.” The country’s Independent Electoral Commission has set 20 August as the date for the presidential elections.

The top UN envoy also encouraged all Afghans to take part in the polls, stating that “the strength and legitimacy of a future government and provincial authorities depends on the active participation of the people in these elections. “I therefore appeal to all voters to follow the election campaign closely and to cast their votes on Election Day,” he stated. Noting that the elections will be administered by Afghan authorities, Eide said the UN and the international community at large will follow the election process closely and give its full support to an election process that is fair and credible.

Eide, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), met Sunday in separate meetings with presidential candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to discuss the election process. He presented them with a set of “Essential Guidelines for Conduct during the Election Process,” which have been issued by the Special Representative and endorsed by the international community. They have also been presented to President Hamid Karzai.

The guidelines aim “to ensure a fair and credible election campaign in which there is a level playing field. “The aim should be to avoid illegal interference into the election process and the impartiality of government institutions, election officials as well as representatives of the international community. The guidelines are also intended to ensure fairness in the media coverage of the campaign,” according to a statement issued by UNAMA.

U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Given More Leeway

The New York Times-
By THOM SHANKER and ERIC SCHMITT-

WASHINGTON – The new American commander in Afghanistan has been given carte blanche to handpick a dream team of subordinates, including many Special Operations veterans, as he moves to carry out an ambitious new strategy that envisions stepped-up attacks on Taliban fighters and narcotics networks.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new American commander in Afghanistan.

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new American commander in Afghanistan.

The extraordinary leeway granted the commander, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, underscores a view within the administration that the war in Afghanistan has for too long been given low priority and needs to be the focus of a sustained, high-level effort.

General McChrystal is assembling a corps of 400 officers and soldiers who will rotate between the United States and Afghanistan for a minimum of three years. That kind of commitment to one theater of combat is unknown in the military today outside Special Operations, but reflects an approach being imported by General McChrystal, who spent five years in charge of secret commando teams in Iraq and Afghanistan.

With his promotion approved by the Senate late on Wednesday, General McChrystal and senior members of his command team were scheduled to fly from Washington within hours of the vote, stopping in two European capitals to confer with allies before landing in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

General McChrystal’s confirmation came only after the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, went to the floor to make an impassioned plea for Republicans to allow the action to proceed, fearing that political infighting would delay approval of the appointment. He told of a phone call on Wednesday from Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Reid said that Admiral Mullen had told him that there was a sense of urgency that General McChrystal be able to go to Afghanistan that very night. He said that according to Admiral Mullen, “McChrystal is literally waiting by an airplane” to go to Afghanistan as the new commander.

Almost a dozen senior military officers provided details about General McChrystal’s plans in interviews after his nomination. The officers insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the effort, and insisted that their comments not be used until the Senate vote, so as not to preempt lawmakers.

For the first time, the American commander in Afghanistan will have a three-star deputy. Picked for the job of running day-to-day combat operations was Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, who has commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Generals McChrystal and Rodriguez have been colleagues and friends for more than 30 years, beginning when both were Ranger company commanders as young captains.

General McChrystal also has picked the senior intelligence adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, to join him in Kabul as director of intelligence there. In Washington, Brig. Gen. Scott Miller, a longtime Special Operations officer now assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff but who had served previously under General McChrystal, is now organizing a new Pakistan-Afghanistan Coordination Cell.

Admiral Mullen said that he personally told General McChrystal that “he could have his pick from the Joint Staff. His job, the mission he’s going to command, is that important. Afghanistan is the main effort right now.”

Just how this new team will grapple with the increasingly violent Taliban militancy in Afghanistan is unclear, although General McChrystal has said he will focus on classic counterinsurgency techniques, in particular protecting the population.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has asked General McChrystal to report back within 60 days of taking command with an assessment of the mission and plans for carrying out President Obama’s new strategy.

“Success will be difficult to define but will come in reduction in I.E.D.’s, reduction in poppy, more interdiction of Taliban crossing the border, some anticorruption arrests/exiles, and greater civilian effort possible as a result of a reduction in the threat,” said Maj. Gen. Peter Gilchrist, a retired British officer and a former deputy commander of allied forces in Afghanistan who praised General McChrystal’s appointment.

At the Pentagon, under General McChrystal’s direction, a large area of the Defense Department’s underground, round-the-clock emergency operations facility – called the National Military Command Center – has already been shifted to the Afghan war effort.

The makeover in the American military command is not the only major set of personnel changes in Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has surrounded the new United States ambassador to Kabul, Karl W. Eikenberry, a recently retired three-star Army general, with three former ambassadors to bolster diplomatic efforts in the country.

Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., a former ambassador to Egypt and the Philippines, has been tapped as General Eikenberry’s deputy. Earl Anthony Wayne, a former ambassador to Argentina, is heading up economic development initiatives in the embassy. Joseph A. Mussomeli, the former ambassador to Cambodia, will be an assistant ambassador in Kabul.

As director of intelligence on the Joint Staff, General Flynn holds a position, called the J-2, that has often been a springboard to a senior executive position across the alphabet soup of American intelligence agencies. But General Flynn, who was General McChrystal’s intelligence boss at the Joint Special Operations Command, has chosen to return to the combat zone.

In a sign of the importance being given to explaining the new strategy to Afghans, across the region and the world, General McChrystal will also be taking the first flag officer to serve as chief of public affairs and communications for the military in Afghanistan.

Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, who has served as director of communications and spokesman in Iraq during the troop increase under Gen. David H. Petraeus, had been scheduled to retire this summer. But officials said he received a personal request from Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to serve in the same capacity for General McChrystal.

David M. Herszenhorn contributed reporting from New York, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. from Austin, Tex.

Rethinking Iran

By FRANCO FRATTINI-

ROME – Why does Iran matter so much to the rest of the world? There are at least three reasons. First, Iran has become a key test case of the international community’s capacity to prevent nuclear proliferation, which would make the world increasingly unpredictable and dangerous. Second, Iran matters for the future stability of the Middle East, where its influence as well as the influence of the Shiites is on the increase. Third, Iran matters for the stabilization of neighboring Afghanistan.

For years the international community has been focusing almost exclusively on the nuclear aspect. Alas, diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium have failed to break the stalemate. After six years of “nuclear-only” diplomacy, the time has come to tackle the Iranian question in a more comprehensive manner. The new strategy should be based on two assumptions.

First, we cannot wait for the nuclear issue to be resolved before engaging Iran on other crucial fronts. An indefinitely isolated Iran could become an incorrigible saboteur in many areas, from Central Asia to the Middle East to Afghanistan.

Second, Turkey and the moderate Arab countries, as well as India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, have just as much of an interest in Iran as do the United States, the European Union, China and Russia. These countries legitimately expect their interests to be taken into account. They should be more closely involved in the international decision-making process if we want our policies on Iran to become more effective.

Italy was the first to propose that Iran should be directly involved in the debate on Afghanistan. We have been supported in our endeavor by the pragmatic approach adopted by the U.S. administration. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan also have apprised Italy of their belief that Iran can be part of the solution for the stability of their region.

The top-level leadership talks held in Tehran recently point to the three countries’ willingness to work together. Moreover, Western and Iranian interests in Afghanistan potentially coincide. Tehran has an objective interest in seeing Afghanistan “de-Talibanized” and stable, and in seeing a government in Kabul willing and able to keep narcotics from flooding into Iran, where drug abuse has become a national emergency.

For that reason, Italy has invited Iran to take part in the G-8 meeting of foreign ministers that is to be held in Trieste on June 26 and 27 and whose “outreach” session will be devoted to the stabilization of Afghanistan and Pakistan. We want Iran, along with other regional actors, to play a constructive part in a new regional compact designed to consolidate Afghanistan’s stability.

We urge Iran to contribute to the collective achievement of a number of regional benchmarks in several areas. These benchmarks range from border control, to fighting narcotrafficking and arms smuggling, to the implementation of a number of regionally co-sponsored economic projects designed to help revive the Afghan economy.

The Trieste meeting is meant to launch a process whose implementation will demand a sustainable commitment from every single regional and international player involved. Thus Afghanistan can be an important test for measuring Iran’s willingness to modify its conduct and to adopt a cooperative posture toward its neighbors and the international community.

Italy believes that Iran’s full and direct involvement in the Afghan question should be pursued at once and independently of attempts to resolve the nuclear issue. The nuclear issue can follow the path mapped out by the “5 plus 1″ group (the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany), although that group will need to become more inclusive by bringing in other relevant stakeholders if it is to increase its chances of success.

If Iran is re-engaged over Afghanistan and Pakistan, it may feel more motivated to interact constructively with the international community on the nuclear issue and on the Middle East, where its interests are now at variance with those of the international community.

Franco Frattini is Italy’s minister of foreign affairs.

Source: The New York Times