WILL the United Nations remain in Afghanistan after this week's Taliban attack on members of its staff in Kabul which cost at least five deaths and nine serious injured? The situation was being reviewed at the highest level in New York last night. It will be recalled that when the Secretary-General's personal representative in Iraq, Sergio Viera de Mello, and twenty-two of his staff were killed by a car bomber in August 2003, Kofi Annan immediately decided that there would be no withdrawal, saying The people of Iraq need us; however, following further attacks, the majority of UN staff were withdrawn one month later.
In Kabul this week Kark Eide, the head of mission, said that the UN would stand firm, reminding everyone that it had been in Afghanistan for the past fifty years. There is a difference between the UN operations in Iraq in 1983 and in Afghanistan today where the UN is pervasive in official and civil life, providing services ranging from extensive food aid to training Afghan civil servants and co-ordinating the activities of the many humanitarian agencies in the country. Most immediately important, of course, is the supervision of the second stage of the presidential election in nine days time. A decision to withdraw would cause administrative chaos in various ways and probably lead to the departure of many aid agencies also. The only short-term solution is greatly improved security.