Thursday, July 31, 2014

Afghanistan Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Zahir Tanin, Addresses UN General Assembly on the Situation in Afghanistan

November 4, 2010 – The United Nations General Assembly today convened to adopt its annual resolution on the “Situation in Afghanistan.” The adoption of the resolution signifies the GA’s continued support and commitment for lasting peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.
During his statement, Ambassador Tanin outlined the many important developments which took place over the course of the year. Among them include President Karzai national agenda, announced in November of last year, which prioritized reintegration and reconciliation, security, governance, development and regional cooperation for the coming years. He also highlighted Afghanistan’s national consultative peace-jirga; the outcome of the London and Kabul Conferences, and the holding of recent Afghan parliamentary elections.

In the area of socio-economic development, he said that “the average income had nearly quadrupled since 2001”, while “government revenue surpassed one billion dollars for the time,” in Afghanistan’s history. In the areas of education and health, he referred to the “71% student enrollment rate, construction of 4,000 schools over the past nine years, and increased accessibility to health-care, including immunization for children, which has led to a decrease in the under-five and infant mortality rates. With regard to empowerment of women, he said Afghan women would make up more than quarter of the Afghan national assembly. Further, he stated that the percentage of female government employees had increased to 18 percent and number of females serving in Afghanistan’s national security forces (ANSF) exceeded 1,000.

Turning to the recent parliamentary elections, he noted that the recent polls were the first which were led by Afghans, and highlighted the broad participation of all segments of society in the elections. “This recent election included 2,556 candidates, 406 of whom were women.  Millions of Afghans cast their ballot to choose 249 members of parliament, shaping our nation’s future by strengthening Afghan institutions and building momentum for stabilization,” said Ambassador Tanin.

Ambassador Zahir Tanin at the General Assembly Plenary Meeting on the Situation in Afghanistan

Ambassador Tanin alluded to continued efforts of the Afghan government to strengthen bilateral cooperation and collaboration with neighboring and regional partners. In that regard, he referred to President Karzai’s visits to China in March, India in April, Japan in June and Pakistan in September. He also underscored President Karzai’s participation in various regional forums, including the South-Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in Bhutan in April, as well as the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey Trilateral in January; Afghanistan-Iran and Tajikistan Trilateral in Tehran; Afghanistan-Iran-Tajikistan Trilateral in Tehran, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Tajikistan-Russian Federation Trilateral in SOCHI.

On security, Ambassador Tanin noted that terrorists and extremists continued their efforts to expand the scope of their attacks. “The Taliban and its allies continue their attempts to increase insecurity and spread violence to new parts of the country.  The violent campaigns of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have killed thousands of innocent men, women and children,” he said. He however affirmed that Afghanistan and its international partners continued progress in the fight against terrorism by disrupting and defeating the activities of extremist groups.

In addition, he underscored “effective regional cooperation” as “vital for peace and security in the country,” while stressing the need for meaningful and sincere cooperation at the regional level. In that regard, he emphasized increased focus on “ending sanctuaries where terrorists continue to receive training, financial and logistical support in the region.”

Moreover, Ambassador Tanin highlighted Afghanistan’s transition strategy, which is aimed at Afghan ownership and leadership in meeting the security needs of the country.  He highlighted the up-coming NATO Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, at which Afghanistan and its international partners would “establish steps needed for a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that will endure beyond the completion of NATO’s combat mission.”
He also stated that Afghanistan’s transition strategy would be among the important issues to be discussed at the NATO Summit.

Ambassador Tanin reiterated Afghanistan’s commitment in building the size and strength of its national army and police so as to “take the lead in combat operation in volatile provinces by 2011 and assume full security responsibility by 2014.  He noted that the transition process would be a “gradual and conditions-based process,” which required the sustained support of the international community for increased Afghan security force capability.
He also said that achieving peace and security would not be possible by military means alone.  He noted that “reconciliation and reintegration of former combatants is critical for establishing peace and security in our country.” He referred to Afghanistan’s peace and reconciliation initiative, aimed at “reconciling those who would like to join the peace process.”  In that regard he emphasized that “human rights, including the rights of women would remain a priority,” throughout the reconciliation process.

Ambassador Tanin reiterated the sincere thanks and appreciation of the Afghan people and government for the continued support and commitment of the United Nations, and the international community for lasting peace, security and stability in Afghanistan.

Raisins Give Hope to Afghan Farmers

KABUL — Raisin Producer Cooperative Center No. 2 stands alone astride the highway in Parwan Province, an hour north of Kabul. Inside the clay-colored building with a cheery yellow gate, a group of Afghan raisin farmers sits cross-legged on the tan carpet, talking about the past — and the future.

“Before the wars, we were exporting our raisins to the U.K., to the Soviet Union, to India,” said Haji Hamidullah, who was chosen by his fellow farmers to serve as president of the Parwan cooperative. “It’s our hope that we will again find good markets for our products on the international market.”

Next month, raisins grown in Parwan will once again land on shelves in Britain, selling in health food and fine food retailers under the Tropical Wholefoods brand thanks to an unusual alliance among Afghan farmers; Mercy Corps, an international aid organization based in Portland, Oregon; and Fullwell Mill, a British food producer.

The venture is part of an effort to bring the practices and profits of the so-called fair-trade movement to Afghanistan, a country known more for conflicts than cooperatives. Along the way, participants also hope to build more stable and more prosperous Afghan communities by building and improving on an indigenous business that in years past was a source of local pride.

In the decades before war decimated Afghanistan’s infrastructure and its land, the country produced 10 percent of the world’s raisins. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, the country’s raisin production peaked at 86,000 metric tons in 1981 before plunging to less than a quarter of that figure by the end of the 1980s.

Since 2001, Afghanistan has slowly climbed back into the global marketplace, with production hovering at 25,000 to 30,000 metric tons annually for the past several years. Official figures show the country exporting more than 80 percent of its dried grapes, but the sweet, seedless Afghan raisins are an easy-to-find snack in local markets and a staple of Afghan rice dishes. The country is now home to 3 percent of the world’s raisin production, with the biggest producers — the United States, Turkey, China and Iran — now accounting for roughly three-quarters of the one million metric tons of the raisin market.

With competition stiff and Afghanistan still struggling to recover from the destruction of war, farmers like Mr. Hamidullah have struggled to sell their goods any farther away than Pakistan, leaving them at the mercy of local markets — and local prices. So Mercy Corps, together with Fullwell Mill, set out to change that.

“We went to the farmers and we asked them, ‘Do you want to export your raisins? If so, and if you try your best, we can find a good market for you,”’ said Aman Taheri, program coordinator at the Kabul office of Mercy Corps. “We told them our strategy was to increase their knowledge and their sales and to help give them linkages: the farmer to the trader to the buyer to the processor.”

The effort, which includes two months of technical training each year for the 300 Parwan farmers in the program, is part of a three-year, $2 million Mercy Corps program started in June 2008 with financing from the U.S. Agency for International Development. Along with Parwan, the Mercy Corps program operates in Kandahar Province, which is far less secure. The goal of the project, the Global Development Alliance, is to increase training, jobs and sales for Afghan participants along the grape and pomegranate production value chain. (Pomegranates have been harder to link to global markets, given security constraints in the south, where they grow in abundance, but Mercy Corps has had some success this year in helping farmers to earn more from the lucrative fruit.)

The grape-growing season lasts about six months, from spring through early autumn, with raisin drying in the Parwan region requiring four to five additional weeks. How many grapes each hectare of land yields depends to a great extent on the weather: Last year, the Parwan cooperative had a bumper crop of more than a thousand metric tons. This year, given the heavy rains, that figure could drop below 400.

Although billions of dollars have been spent on development programs in Afghanistan since 2002, few have had such a direct link to international markets. And judging from the challenges Mercy Corps and Fullwell Mill have faced since starting the program in Parwan, it is not difficult to see why the program is such a rarity.

Mercy Corps first reached out to Fullwell Mill in 2006 to study the possibility of producing organic raisins in Kandahar. The two organizations decided to collaborate several years later after agreeing that together they could overcome the myriad obstacles necessary to turn the far-fetched idea of Parwan fair-trade raisins into reality.

The first issue Fullwell Mill faced was persuading the Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International, or FLO, and its certifying body, FLO-CERT, to consider allowing raisins grown in Parwan to carry the Fairtrade label, a logo that signifies to consumers that growers have received a fair price and that a portion of their profits will be used to further economic development.

As part of the labeling process, FLO-CERT auditors visit producers to verify that they meet the group’s stringent environmental, labor and organizational standards. In the case of the Parwan raisin cooperative, however, FLO had no ability to verify facts on the ground and did not want to risk the danger of sending its staff to Afghanistan, no matter how secure Parwan itself might be.

After months of talks with Fullwell Mill, a solution was found in which Mercy Corps provided FLO-CERT with pages of documents regarding the cooperative’s ability to meet Fairtrade requirements. For now, the Parwan raisins will be available only in Britain, the largest global Fairtrade market, though the process may serve as a pilot for bringing Fairtrade to other conflict areas.

From the view of the fair-trade representatives, the decision to allow the Parwan raisins project to proceed under their label presented formidable business risks.

“We would all recognize that actually these are the sorts of groups we want to be working with,” said Chris Davis, who manages producer partnerships at the Fairtrade Foundation. “The debate was around whether, by coming up with a new way of working with this group, could that, if anything goes wrong, potentially bring the fair-trade movement into disrepute? Do we run the risk of undermining the benefits that we can provide to other farmers and workers around the world?”

In the end, the foundation decided that by being open with consumers about the unusual certification process, it could indeed give the raisins the Fairtrade seal.

Then there was the challenge of getting farmers to embrace new farming techniques and standards so that their products could be competitive overseas. And convincing them that if they did so, they could indeed trust the foreigners who promised to come back at harvest time to buy their products.

“We are trying to put a bit of institution in there so that from this very cowboy Wild West, we get a situation where there are rights and responsibilities within the supply chain,” said Richard Friend, co-founder of Fullwell Mill, which also works with almond growers in northwestern Pakistan to supply almonds to Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream maker. “The farmers are guaranteed a whole series of things like reasonable quotas of what we are willing to buy from them, and they know in advance there are guaranteed prices and a guaranteed premium on Fairtrade certified product. Concomitantly, there are a series of things they have to give.”

Those things include being trained in and adopting certain modern techniques, like mat-based drying of the grapes. Traditionally, the farmers had let their grapes dry on the ground and then sold them to the first bidder so that they would not be left with perishable products on their hands. Mr. Taheri, the Mercy Corps program coordinator, and his colleagues told farmers that they simply had to dry their grapes on the new mats made of river reeds because they produced cleaner and plumper raisins for the international market.

Fullwell Mill’s pledge to buy 7 kilograms, or about 15.5 pounds, of raisins for 350 afghanis, or about $8, rather than the going market rate of 7 kilograms for 200 afghanis, added a strong financial incentive.

For their part, the farmers at the center of the program say that all the education has been a boon to their production and to their families. Now that they know they can trust the Fullwell Mill team to deliver on its promises, they hope that this is just the beginning of the collaboration. From the 35 farmers who initially agreed to try the new mats, more than 200 have signed on this year.

“We want to find many more foreign markets — this is our hope,” Mr. Hamidullah said, proudly showing visitors row upon row of his ripening grapes a few minutes after urging his Mercy Corps trainers to extend the program past its current end date of May 2011. “When we get such good benefits from our products, we can improve our whole lives: our homes, our machinery, our education.”

And for Fullwell Mill, the unusual partnership with Mercy Corps and the Parwan Raisin Producer Association has translated into a strategic business opportunity for a niche company operating in a field of far larger players. The first Afghan raisin shipment of 35 metric tons arrived in late August after months of transit to London. While the amount is only a tiny fraction of the 340,000 metric tons of raisins imported last year by the 27 nations of the European Union, Fullwell Mill sees the program as a robust start that promises great potential for future expansion — so long as British buyers are interested.

“I see opportunity where a lot of other people see risks,” said Adam Brett, Fullwell Mill’s director. “Going into Afghanistan will give us a really exciting unique product that the largest customers will be curious about and want to have, which will give them an edge. If we are lucky, Afghanistan moves toward stability and then it can become a real powerhouse for trade.”

Already, customers like Community Foods, a British supplier of natural and organic dried food that purchased Afghan dried fruits in the 1970s, have pledged to buy the Parwan Fairtrade raisins this year and next.

“It is going to be seen as a bonus that the raisins come from Afghanistan,” said Paul Moore, Community Foods’ marketing director. “I think the British public realize that we are there because forces have been sent their by their government, and any project that involves bringing people together will be viewed as positive. A country like that, that has been at war for 30 years, if you can bring calm and happiness to a few families’ lives and that can grow, why wouldn’t you want to do that?”

By GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON

source: The New York Times

37 Days Prior to Election Day: Statement on the Election Process

STATEMENT ON THE ELECTION PROCESS BY SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE SECRETARY-GENERAL, STAFFAN DE MISTURA

12 August 2010 – The Wolesi Jirga elections are now only a little over one month away – and we can see the country’s attention focusing on this event. Campaigning of the significantly large number of candidates has become more active and I am particularly encouraged by the active campaigns of women candidates. We maintain complete neutrality in this process, but we are committed to helping the Afghans have the best possible elections, which they deserve.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is continuing to operate according to its electoral timetable. The last of the sensitive materials (ballot papers) arrived in the country last week. Operationally and administratively the IEC is on track. United Nations support to the elections has been as we promised – effective but with a light footprint in deference to the growing capacity of Afghanistan’s electoral authorities.

I want to highlight some challenges ahead – the primary challenge being elections security which could be the real spoiler of the whole process. We have already seen widespread intimidation with regard to female candidates, the killing of three candidates and other violence directed against a number of other candidates. This is unacceptable and we call upon the Afghan security forces to be on heightened vigilance over the coming two months.

We all know that security challenges will be a significant obstacle and we must ensure that poor security in parts of the country is not used to manipulate the votes of the people.

I note that the IEC has received the assessment from the security institutions on the polling centre locations and that they are now conducting their own verification to ensure the final list is a realistic one. This will be completed on 15 August. We are in agreement with the IEC that it is of paramount importance, including for operational reasons, and for the credibility of the elections that they be in a position to make this public by 18 August. Making this list public one month in advance of the elections is essential for the transparency of the electoral process. It will also show a marked difference and progress compared with the same stage of last year’s Presidential elections.

I am also pleased to learn that the Ministry of Interior (MoI) has undertaken to recruit, train and deploy additional female body searchers to ensure the security of female polling stations. It is imperative now that no further time is lost in this regard.

I want to encourage election observation missions – both international and national. I also encourage candidates to register their own candidate and party agents – these agents can make a significant impact in observing the whole election process.

The Electoral Complaints Commission has suggested that the voter registration exercise might be extended. The IEC, however, has taken the position not to extend this process any further. We fully support the decision of the IEC and its continuing efforts to take difficult decisions aimed at mitigating fraud and other electoral irregularities.

My final message is to the voters themselves. These elections are your elections. Follow all the candidates’ campaigns and their political messages to ensure that you can make an informed vote on 18 September. Your vote is the final decision maker in this important process in determining your country’s future.

Strategic Communication and Spokespersons Unit

United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)

Kabul, Afghanistan

Tel: +93 (0) 79 000 6121; +39 083 124 6121; +1 212 963 2668 ext 6121

http://unama.unmissions.org