New York, NY (BBN)– There is an increasing sense that conditions for reconciliation in Afghanistan are becoming more favourable and that there may soon be a real opportunity for a political dialogue leading to a settlement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his latest report on the war-torn country.

“While governance, security and economic growth are strengthened under the leadership of the Government of Afghanistan, efforts must continue to end the conflict and create the foundations for a sustainable peace through political dialogue,” he adds, noting that the significant challenges that remain can be overcome by all sides making compromises and with the sustained support of all stakeholders.

These include the government and neighbouring and troop-contributing countries, the leadership of armed opposition groups and, most important, a unified population.

“The United Nations stands ready to support this Afghan-led process – logistically, materially and technically – if the major stakeholders agree,” he writes in his latest report to the Security Council, which includes an update on the activities of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

He calls for further efforts in terms of regional cooperation, including continued dialogue between Afghanistan and Pakistan, to deepen political, economic and security relationships, ranging from trade policy liberalization and the modernization of customs procedures and transport infrastructure to the energy sector and power to counter-narcotics.

The international community must be fully committed to aligning its assistance with the government’s policies and priorities in a flexible partnership based on dialogue, which adapts to needs and conditions on the ground.

In a review of the past three months, Mr. Ban notes that the number of security incidents was 66 per cent higher than during the same period in 2009, with anti-government elements increasing their use of improvised explosive devices and directly targeting civilians through abductions and assassinations, and suicide attacks averaging three per week, primarily against international military forces, police and Government officials.

Citing the suicide attack against the UN Multi-Agency Compound in Herat in the west, the third such attack against the world body in the past three years, he stressed that staff security “remains a major concern for the Organization.” There were no staff casualties in this incident, and all attackers were killed before they could come near the compound.

Anti-government elements were responsible for the deaths and injuries of 4,738 civilians, or 76 per cent of the total, during the reporting period, with suicide and improvised explosive device attacks causing most casualties. These elements continued their intimidation campaign against perceived supporters of the government and the international community with 403 assassinations and executions and 219 abductions reported.

Compared with the same period in 2009, the number of civilians assassinated or executed by anti-government elements in 2010 surged by more than 107 per cent. More than half of all civilian assassinations were carried out in southern Afghanistan.

The continuing deterioration of the security situation has inhibited the implementation of development projects and limited access for humanitarian activities, he writes, noting that coordinating development activities at the sub-national level is an increasing priority for UNAMA.

BBN/SI/AD-21Dec10-12:36 am (BST)