AFP, February 24, 2011

Afghan security at worst state since Taliban: UN

"It is fair to say that security in the country is at its lowest point since the departure of the Talibans"

GENEVA — The security situation in Afghanistan has worsened to its lowest point since the toppling of the Taliban a decade ago and attacks on aid workers are at unprecedented levels, a UN envoy said Wednesday.

Insecurity in Afghanistan

"From the humanitarian perspective, security is on everyone's minds," said Robert Watkins, the outgoing UN deputy special representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan.

"It is fair to say that security in the country is at its lowest point since the departure of the Talibans," he added.

Watkins noted that before last year's surge in NATO military forces, the insurgency was centred in the south and south-east of the country.

"Since the surge of NATO forces last year, we have seen the insurgency move to parts of the country where we've never seen before," said the envoy.

"We've now confronted with security problems that we'd never dream that we'd have," he added.

"While NATO is claiming that it has turned the corner... we still see these very difficult security problems," said Watkins, noting "unprecedented attacks against humanitarian workers."

UN relief agencies now have regular access to just 30 percent of the country. Access is mixed for another 30 percent while there is hardly any access to the remaining 40 percent.

A key issue, Watkins said, is the "conflation of political, military, developmental and humanitarian aid."

"Because of the way aid is dispersed in Afghanistan... it has contributed to perception in parts of the Afghan population that somehow humanitarian work is lumped into this political and military effort," he said.

"We have to emphasise that we recognise that there has to be separation and we have to be very careful to try to address this perception," he said.

Watkins pointed out however that a positive development was that the international and Afghan military have publicly acknowledged that some kind of negotiated settlement was necessary to end the instability.

"2011 can be a crucial year if there is a breakthrough in finding some kind of reconciliation efforts," he noted.

The Taliban, a hardline Islamist movement, was forced from power in late 2001 after a US invasion launched in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

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