Afghanistan: Press Briefing by Aleem Siddique, Senior Public Information Officer, 25 Sep 2006

Talking Points

Death of women's affairs director in Kandahar

I am sorry to have to start the press briefing with the sad news that this morning, at approximately 07:20, Safia Annajan, the Director of Women's Affairs in Kandahar, was shot and killed outside the front gate of her home as she left for work in district 7 of Kandahar city.

UNAMA is appalled at the senseless murder of a woman who was simply working to ensure that all Afghan women play a full and equal part in the future of Afghanistan. At this difficult time, our sincere sympathies go to Safia's family, friends and colleagues.

Humanitarian and development assistance in southern Afghanistan

Despite security constraints in the south and southeastern regions, an important focus of our work at the moment is to ensure that both humanitarian and development assistance reaches communities affected by the current conflict.

UNICEF (the UN children's fund) and the World Food Programme (WFP) have already pre-positioned humanitarian supplies in the southern provinces. UNICEF is leading on delivering essential non-food items such as blankets, warm clothing, medical kits and other essential non-food items for up to 1,500 families. Meanwhile, WFP has positioned 322 metric tons of food in Kandahar city and Lashkargah city in Helmand province -- enough supplies for 3,000 people.

Additionally the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is providing some 4,300 shelter units to build homes for over 30,000 Afghans as part of its initial reintegration effort for vulnerable returnees.

The project includes 740 shelter units for four districts in Kandahar province, and 300 units for three districts in Helmand province.

In southeastern Afghanistan, more than 850 houses have so far been completed in Paktya and Khost provinces, while another 2,100 shelter units have reached the roofing level.

Countrywide, UNHCR's shelter programme aims to help more than 18,000 families to build their houses in 2006. About half of the planned shelter for the year has already been completed, with the rest expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Click here to see the press release.

UNICEF to construct 55 new schools in eastern Afghanistan

Many of you will already know that Afghanistan has illiteracy rates of around 85 per cent for women and 55 per cent for men -- new schools are making a vital contribution to helping to address this by providing Afghanistan's children with at the very least a primary education.

UNICEF is working with the Department of Education to shortly start construction on 55 new schools in four of Afghanistan's provinces.

The people of Nangarhar and Nuristan provinces will benefit from 18 new schools, while 10 new schools are planned in Kunar province and a further 9 new schools in Laghman province.

The project will include both formal and community-based schools and will cost some $1,357,000.

Polio and measles campaigns

As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the Ministry of Public Health, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) are carrying out a polio eradication initiative in the country.

Afghanistan has seen a six-fold rise in the number of polio cases over last year (28 cases confirmed in 2006, compared to 4 cases in the same period in 2005). All but one of these cases is in the southern region of the country.

The second round of National Immunization Days was carried out throughout Afghanistan from 17 to 19 September, including in the south. We'll have more details on the results of the initiative once the information has been collected and analyzed.

Meanwhile, WHO and UNICEF are also carrying out two parallel campaigns for vaccinating women of childbearing age (15-45) against neonatal tetanus and children from 9 months to 5 years against measles.

The first phase of the campaign was implemented in August in 9 provinces - Bamyan, Ghor, Nooristan, Badakhshan, Kunar, Ghazni, Dai Kundi, Samangan and Faryab. Some 900,000 women were vaccinated against neonatal tetanus, and 1 million children against measles.

The second phase of the campaign is planned for November.

ANBP -- women graduate from teacher-training programme

In news from Afghanistan's New Beginnings Programme and UNDP:

Today, 61 women from ex-combatant communities will graduate from a teacher-training programme in Kart-e-Char, Kabul.

The teacher training certification programme developed by the Ministry of Education started in June and ended last week.

Eventually, a total of 335 women will be enrolled countrywide on this five-month training course enabling them to teach at primary school level. Programmes such as these are an important part of our efforts to strengthen peace stability and development across Afghanistan.

This programme is supported by both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Women's Affairs and is an example of the reintegration support offered to ex-combatants and their relatives as part of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process.

Click here for the press release in English and Dari.

DIAG -- weapons surrendered in Laghman

Last Thursday, 21 September, two former commanders from Laghman province surrendered their weapons under the Disarmament of Illegal Armed Groups (DIAG) programme.

Besides surrendering 49 different heavy and light arms to DIAG, the two commanders vowed to support the Government and play their role in the ongoing reconstruction process of the country.

The arms and ammunitions handed over to DIAG by Sardar Wali and Mohammad Naim included two rockets, RPG-7, one Pika machinegun and 44 Kalashnikovs.

Laghman Governor Golab Mangal said the authorities were determined to disarm all commanders and said that 1,049 different light and heavy arms had so far been collected from armed men in Laghman.

The DIAG programme was launched in Laghman last June and in the country last year. So far 25,000 arms had been surrendered by commanders and armed men.

Questions and Answers

AFP: Who might have killed her [Safia Annajan]?

Senior Public Information Officer: This is news that we have literally just had in and the police are currently investigating the matter. I think it would be wise for them to complete their investigations before we start speculating as to who might be behind this senseless murder. I think we all in agreement that what we need to see in Afghanistan is peace, development and progress and acts such as this do nothing to contribute to this, I think we share the sentiment of the vast majority of Afghan people who will be appalled by this killing. This woman was simply working for peace, progress and development of Afghan women.

Question: (translated from Dari) The press release says that DDR has now finished. Is there any other process to follow DDR?

Senior Public Information Officer: Maybe it's worth me explaining the difference between DDR and DIAG process. The DDR process was completed last year and it was aimed at targeting groups that had links to Government officials and the remnants of the Afghan Military Forces (AMF). It was also a precursor to the elections to weed out those groups that were standing for election and to remove them from the electoral process. The DIAG process is specifically targeting illegal armed groups. That's a group of individuals of five or more who have arms illegally in Afghanistan. The DIAG process started in June of last year and is being implemented in a phased process throughout Afghanistan over the coming months. It's due for completion in 2007. The DIAG process is vital if we are to cement peace and security in Afghanistan and it is an important part of both the Government of Afghanistan and our work here. If I may also just add, the Government of Afghanistan leads the programme.

ANBP Spokesperson: (translated from Dari) DDR was completed on 30 August 2006, except of the ongoing parts of DDR there will not be any more integration projects. However, in June 2005 we started the DIAG programme as a continuation of DDR, but mainly aimed, as its name suggests, at illegal armed groups. Its aim is to be completed by December 2007 and there is a possibility that the programme will be extended.

Question: DIAG has been categorised into three phases. The first phase is for those to voluntarily surrender their weapons, the second phase would be based on consultation and the third phase would be to force those who do not abide. Which phase is DIAG in now?

ANBP Spokesperson: (translated from Dari) The DIAG is now in the first phase -- the voluntary phase. We are still negotiating with the commanders of illegal groups in the provinces to abide by this phase. We have had this phase in five provinces and we have had a lot of achievement across the country, but our best achievement has been in Takhar province.

Senior Public Information Officer: If I may also add and stress this point, disarmament is probably the most difficult things any country can do in a post-conflict stage. It's never easy, but it is vital if we are to secure the future of this country. The DIAG programme is meant to run well into next year, so this is a long-term process and we are simply at the very beginning. We are determined to complete the DIAG programme.

Aina TV: (translated from Dari) President Karzai is now in New York attending the General Assembly. How effective does the UN think the meeting between Afghanistan and Pakistan will be in light of the political situation in Afghanistan?

Senior Public Information Officer: Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. It's worth reiterating the United Nations position on this. We have the word "United" in United Nations for a very good reason. One of the focuses of our work is to unite nations, and that includes Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Our own SRSG has made very clear on several occasions that the future of Afghanistan lies in the future of this region. And that is a message we continue to stress to both the Afghan authorities and to the Pakistani authorities. We've seen encouraging signs of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. We need to see more, and that is the message we continue to stress to all of Afghanistan's neighbours. As the SRSG has made clear, pointing fingers at each other leads nowhere. What we need to see is the building of mutual trust, understanding and cooperation. We've seen signs of that, and we need to see this continuing

AP: President Karzai said at the UN recently that there were 200,000 students in Afghanistan, fewer students now than 2 years ago - which doesn't quite jive with some figures that the US military is quoting from UNAMA that say that there are 700,000 more students now than a year ago. I was wondering if you might be able to sort through that and give us the true picture.

Senior Public Information Officer: Unfortunately, I don't know where President Karzai got that figure of 200,000. So I'm not in a position to comment on that particular figure. But in terms of the general jist on the numbers, the figures that you're quoting from UNAMA, I'll need to check the exact figure but it's most likely the total number of students that have returned to school following 2001, who were not in school before 2001, and we're talking in the millions, the number of children who have returned to school following 2001. You'd have to ask President Karzai where he got the figure of 200,000. But he may be referring to the number of children who are no longer able to go to school because of attacks on schools, particularly in southern Afghanistan.

If you're interested in this issue, we can put you in touch with UNICEF, who can highlight some of the actions they're taking to deal with attacks on schools, such as the deployment of protection advisors in every province across Afghanistan to give schools advice on how to ensure protection of buildings and students, and also the new communications system set up so reports can reach Kabul more effectively, so that appropriate action can be taken to ensure the safety and security of schools and students.