The security situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating as elections approach. While national governments debate their Afghan missions, international groups are working on the ground to ensure a free and fair election.
The drumbeat of bad news out of Afghanistan continues unabated. July is shaping up to be one of the deadliest months for international forces fighting in Afghanistan in the eight-year history of the conflict. As of Wednesday, at least 46 international troops were killed this month.
The increasing death toll has reignited debate in countries such as Britain and Germany about whether their Afghan missions are worth the high cost and new voices in both countries are calling for a reconsideration of troop deployment in a country that seems to be sinking deeper into a quagmire of militant violence.
But for international groups on the ground there in the run-up to elections on August 20, there is no doubt that a continued international presence is needed, and is vital, to ensure that the country has an election that is fair and credible.
"The stakes are extremely high, the challenges are significant, " said Aleem Siddique, the United Nation's spokesperson in Kabul." Afghanistan deserves the best leaders it can possibly obtain. The Afghan people are looking to the international community to provide that oversight to ensure their rights are protected."
This is the first time the Afghans are running their own presidential election. The Independent Election Commission Of Afghanistan is in charge of the polling, but the UN is providing support in the run-up to the vote.
The UN Development Program is giving the election commission logistics support and is also helping train Afghan police who will guard polling stations across the country on August 20. The global body is behind a team of 1,600 so-called civic educators, Afghans who are fanning out across the country to introduce the population to the democratic process – an idea very foreign to many.
"What we want to see is a process that is credible to the Afghans because we are talking about a very young democracy that is still in infant shoes," said Christiane Hohmann, spokeswoman for the EU's external relations section.
The European Commission announced late last week that it is sending about 100 election monitors to the country – 16 are on the ground now, the rest will go just before election day.
All in all, the EU is spending 40 million euros on Afghan election support – money that goes to train EU and Afghan election monitors and helps with practicalities, like printing up ballot sheets.
"The immediate priority is naturally to ensure that the upcoming presidential election brings the necessary legitimacy needed to the new government," European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a speech at a donor conference on Afghanistan in March.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is sending some 20 experts to Kabul at the end of this month to provide technical assistance with voter registration, vote counting and tabulation, and domestic observation teams. While Afghanistan is outside the OSCE's normal purview, it is looking at helping find ways to maintain long-term political in the country.
"There is a lot of international support for this election and a lot of expertise is in the country, a lot of know-how," said Jens-Hagen Eschenbächer of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. "We provide advice how these structures can be integrated to make the election process more sustainable."
German fears and hopes
The German presence in Afghanistan is considerable. It has 3,830 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and has been active in training Afghan police.
But support for the mission there in Germany has been slipping. According to a recent poll by German public broadcaster ZDF, 55 percent of Germans are not in favor of the peacekeeping mission there while 42 percent support the operation.
The country has also been involved in economic reconstruction projects through its GTZ technical aid organization. Despite the worsening security situation, the group's Afghan director Andreas Clausing said from Kabul that the upcoming elections are something of a light at the end of the tunnel.
"I think it is a very positive step," he said, adding that "we and our Afghan partners are looking very hopefully forward."
Author: Kyle James
Editor: Michael Knigge