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(New York) -- In the face of worsening security, Afghanistan urgently needs support from the United States and the other G-8 countries to protect the integrity of the nationwide elections scheduled for September, Human Rights Watch said today as Afghan President Hamid Karzai begins a visit to the G-8 summit and the White House.

During his visit this week to the G-8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia, and his June 15 meeting with President George W. Bush at the White House, President Karzai should secure urgent new troop contributions for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) and pressure donor nations to increase assistance to help make the Afghan elections free and fair.

Human Rights Watch said that numerous promises by donor governments over the last year, both to increase funding to Afghanistan and to supply troops to expand ISAF's geographic mandate, had already been broken. The G-8 nations are all major donors to Afghanistan, and all but Russia and Japan are NATO members.

"There's been too much doubletalk on Afghanistan," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. "It's time for the United States and its NATO allies to honor their pledges to provide aid and ensure security in Afghanistan before things deteriorate even further."

Human Rights Watch cited specifically a funding shortfall for the upcoming elections. Donors have not supplied any of the $101 million needed by the U.N. and Afghan government to administer the elections. At the recent conference in Berlin, donors pledged only $70 million—far less than the calculated amount.

Troop commitments have lagged as well. Well over two years after its initial deployment, ISAF is still stationed almost exclusively in Kabul, with a small contingent deployed in the relatively calm city of Kunduz. Plans for the force to progressively move into other provincial centers, originally envisioned in the December 2001 Bonn Agreement that created the first post-Taliban government, have failed because of reluctance of NATO member states to commit troops, equipment and funding to ISAF.

"The NATO countries should be ashamed of their foot-dragging," said Zarifi. "It's bad enough that the United States and Europe treated Afghanistan's security like a hot potato, tossing the responsibility back and forth for months, but it's even more regrettable that Europe won't muster the troops to do the job."

Human Rights Watch urged President Karzai to give an honest assessment about Afghanistan's security problems during his visit, and to actively renew his efforts to encourage international actors to help establish stability outside of the capital.

"In the absence of international security forces, many Afghan provinces have become autocratic fiefdoms ruled by local military commanders," said Zarifi. "President Karzai said recently that poverty is the main problem in Afghanistan, and as he has repeated often, there can be no reconstruction without security."

Human Rights Watch noted that, in the past week alone, a police chief was assassinated in the eastern city of Jalalabad, five aid workers were killed in the northwest, and a U.N. convoy was attacked near the southeastern city of Khost.

With regard to the upcoming elections, Human Rights Watch said that it was likely that without additional international security support, many candidates planning to run against local leaders in parliamentary parts of the elections would be threatened or targeted for violence.

"Barring new efforts, most Afghans expect that local strongmen will dominate the elections in many parts of the country and the Taliban will disrupt voting in the south and southeast," said Zarifi. "This election could signify either the emergence of a new, relatively democratic Afghanistan, or the country's return to rule of the gun."

Human Rights Watch called for an increase in the number of U.N. human rights monitors and political affairs officers deployed in Afghanistan to help protect vulnerable candidates for the elections and improve monitoring of the election process. Currently the United Nations has only eight human rights monitoring positions in the country, not all of which are staffed. This number contrasts sharply with U.N. deployments in other conflict areas like the Balkans and East Timor, where dozens of U.N. human rights monitors helped provide security and support for civil society during post-conflict elections.

Afghanistan's security problems, although overshadowed by events in Iraq, remain extremely severe and international actors need to respond quickly to improve the situation, Human Rights Watch said.

"After an initial burst of self-congratulatory rhetoric when U.S. forces removed the Taliban, the international community has essentially shortchanged Afghanistan's efforts at reconstruction," said Zarifi. "The simple fact is that the country is still in shambles. It's time for international actors in Afghanistan to get serious."

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