The U.N.'s top envoy for Afghanistan warns political consensus is vital to that country's stability, particularly in the lead up to the August presidential election, which falls during the insurgency's peak fighting season.

The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, told the Security Council that Afghan politicians and the opposition must reach a political consensus that ensures the legitimacy and strength of the country's institutions until the next presidential inauguration. He said failing to do so in the past has had high costs for Afghanistan.

"We cannot afford that these months also become a period of political and constitutional instability," said Eide. "We need a government, and we need institutions that can continue their work with full strength and broad legitimacy."

He expressed particular concern about the period between May 22 - when President Hamid Karzai's term ends - and August 20 - when the election is scheduled to take place.

Eide said the concerns of the opposition regarding the transparency and fairness of the election process are "real and well-founded."

He called on the international community to do its part, in cooperation with the Afghan authorities and civil society, to help establish mechanisms for a free and fair election.

"All involved - the government, the opposition, and the international community - must understand the costs of a flawed and unfair election process," he said. "The result would be prolonged political instability when stability is more than ever required. And the result would create doubt in the minds of many Afghans about the value of democratic processes when confidence is needed."

The United States, which currently has 38,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to deploy 17,000 more, said it sees the upcoming election as a "key strategic event."

"The United States supports the [electoral] commission's decision to hold the elections on August 20th in order to maximize the fairness, transparency, and universality of the voting," said U.S. envoy Rosemary DiCarlo. "We call upon Afghanistan's leaders to find a solution within their constitutional framework that will ensure the continuity, legitimacy and stability of their government throughout the election process."

On the development side, Eide urged the international community to focus on building Afghan institutions. He said enhancing security and judicial institutions, ministries and provincial and district administrations is the most critical element in enabling Afghans to run their own affairs and allow for an international exit strategy.  

Later this month, the international community will hold two conferences on Afghanistan. The first in Moscow next week, will examine ways for countries to jointly tackle threats arising from the conflict and instability including terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime. The second, a U.N.-sponsored meeting in The Hague, will be on March 31. It will examine the current political, security and development issues that Afghanistan faces.