19 December 2012
Security Council
SC/10866

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

6896th Meeting (PM)


Afghanistan’s Progress ‘Unthinkable a Decade Ago’, Special Representative Tells


Security Council, Urges International Partners to Uphold Commitments

 


Country Now Requires Sustained Partnership

So Afghan People Can Focus on Building Better Future, Says Ján Kubiš


While Afghanistan had made progress “unthinkable a decade ago”, the challenges and tragedies that remained required both the Government and its international partners to follow through firmly on commitments made in recent international conferences, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative told the Security Council this afternoon.


“Certainty and sustained partnership with Afghanistan is what is required now, ensuring that the Afghan people have the confidence to focus on building a better future,” Ján Kubiš, who is also the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said as he introduced the Secretary-General’s latest report (see Background) ahead of a debate on the situation.


The Chicago and Tokyo conferences on Afghanistan had provided a solid foundation for the partnership required in the period during and beyond the transition to national leadership in security, governance and development, he said, with Government and development partners subsequently having met through the Steering Committee, and the endorsement of an Aid Management Policy expected to be agreed upon in January.


The perceived legitimacy of the presidential elections set for 5 April 2014 would have profound implications for improved governance, he said, describing preparations needed in that context.  Anti-corruption efforts were also high on the agenda, he added, welcoming the robust report on the Kabul Bank crisis and citing the need for decisive Government action to strengthen the country’s financial sector.


Greater attention to tackling the trade in narcotics, including through the efforts of international donors, was also required, using all frameworks developed, he said.  Effective leadership was needed in many institutional areas, particularly in human rights.  “Human rights gains of the last decade — particularly in the rights of women and girls — must be reinforced and expanded,” he stated, noting gains by women but also the killing of several women in public life.


Citing statistics showing that civilians continued to bear the heaviest burden of the conflict, he said anti-Government elements accounted for 85 per cent of civilian deaths.  He also called for sustained donor funding to implement a plan to clear remaining minefields.  On progress to Afghan leadership in the security sector, he stressed the importance of the Government’s civilian mitigation and tracking cell, and welcomed increased attention to the professionalization of the police.


On reconciliation, he said that the High Peace Council’s work was enjoying renewed momentum following a positive visit to Pakistan, facilitated logistically by UNAMA, which was also ready to facilitate an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue that was due to begin early next year.


With international troop drawdowns and reduction of some stabilization projects, he said, attention was needed on the issue of sustainable livelihoods, and development gains were at risk because of weak and inadequate systems of subnational governance, lack of support from the central level, capacity constraints and insufficient planning on the civilian side.  The United Nations would look to assist as requested within its capacity, while ensuring that the Afghan Government assumed leadership.  Finally, he stressed that the increasing humanitarian needs must not be forgotten.


Addressing the Council next, Afghanistan’s representative said, in the last 11 years, his country and the international community had “struggled together, worked together and joined hands for the noble objective of peace and a better future for the Afghan people”, and the Government was taking full responsibility for nation-building and normalization.  As 2014 approached, the overwhelming majority of Afghans now lived in areas where Government forces had lead security responsibility, and the Afghan national army and police were now operating with greater confidence and capability.  Nevertheless, he warned that, as the transition proceeded, it was imperative that the sustainability of Afghanistan’s security forces remain a priority.


“[Yet] transition is not about security alone”, he underscored, describing reconciliation efforts and preparations for coming elections.  Looking at the accomplishments of the Chicago and Tokyo conferences, he pledged that “we will work to address remaining challenges through a more results-oriented cooperation, with a special focus on ensuring that mutual expectations are met”.


Following those statements, Council members and representatives of other interested countries took the floor, welcoming the international frameworks for support to Afghanistan that had been developed in recent conferences for the transition period and beyond, and supporting UNAMA’s continued role.  At the same time, most expressed deep concern over continued insurgency and its high civilian toll, stressing the need to ensure that drawdown of international forces and other changes did not weaken the fight against the scourge.


Many speakers also pointed to the importance of Government reforms.  While most welcomed reconciliation efforts, some countries cautioned that only appropriate partners should be engaged.  Many speakers — particularly regional countries such as Iran, Pakistan and Turkey — also placed high priority on curbing narcotics trafficking, repatriation of refugees and regional initiatives.


Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Germany, Portugal, United States, India, Colombia, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, China, Guatemala, Togo, Azerbaijan, South Africa, France, Morocco, Japan and Australia.


A representative of the European Union’s Delegation also made a statement.


The meeting began at 3:16 p.m. and ended at 6:12 p.m.


Background


Meeting this afternoon, the Security Council had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2012/907), which provides an update on the activities of the United Nations in Afghanistan, including humanitarian, development and human rights efforts, since the previous report of 13 September 2012 (document S/2012/703).  It also provides a summary of political and security developments and regional and international events relating to the country.


During the reporting period, the report says, much attention was focused on agreeing upon the systems and structures to implement and monitor the mutual commitments made at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, held on 8 July.  The Secretary-General comments that Afghan and international stakeholders demonstrated a seriousness of intent to ensure momentum through the transition period and a solid foundation for the transformation decade of 2015-2024.  Security incident levels during the period remained considerably lower than 2011 and were comparable to those of 2010, with significant insurgent activity towards the end of Ramadan and a decline in line with seasonal trends thereafter.  From 1 August to 31 October, 4,801 incidents were recorded.


Welcoming the Government’s leadership in realigning aid architecture at Tokyo and beyond, and the continued facilitation provided by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), the Secretary-General stresses the donor emphases on extension of gains made in human rights, notably those of women and girls, as well as on attention to counter-narcotics and demonstrable progress in governance reforms.  He says that the publication of a comprehensive timeline for the presidential and provincial council polls, to take place in 2014, is a positive step; a transparently developed, robust electoral architecture is now needed.


The Secretary-General also welcomes the active engagement of Member States and regional organizations in the transformation of confidence-building measures into implementation plans.  Noting Afghan-Pakistani efforts to strengthen neighbourly relations, he said that engagement with the religious establishment could help tackle a rising tide of militancy, and the Council had an important role in Afghan-led reconciliation efforts.  In addition, the United Nations was prepared to render assistance as requested by the Government.  Particularly needed was the identification of solutions to combat the tragedy represented by the rise in civilian casualties.  In addition, as international military forces reduced their presence, it was vital to create sustainable livelihood opportunities.  As in other areas, Government leadership was key; the United Nations was ready to assist as requested.


Briefing


JÁN KUBIŠ, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, introducing the Secretary-General’s report (see Background), stressed that, although there were still problems and tragedy in the country, there was also progress “unthinkable a decade ago”, resulting in bustling municipalities and children attending schools.  “Certainty and sustained partnership with Afghanistan is what is required now, ensuring that the Afghan people have the confidence to focus on building a better future”.  The Chicago and Tokyo conferences had provided a solid foundation in that regard, with Government and development partners subsequently meeting through the Steering Committee and endorsement of the Aid Management Policy expected to be agreed in January.


Sound governance was central, he said; the perceived legitimacy of the outcome of the 2014 presidential election would have profound implications in that area.  A date of 5 April had been set for those polls, and a credible, robust electoral architecture needed to be put in place by early 2013 in a transparent manner.  The lack of an inclusive process in the recent appointment of a Chief Electoral Officer had been disappointing in that regard.  In addition, the voter identification and eligibility process required a coherent approach across Afghan institutions, respecting Constitutional roles and ensuring the broadest possible enfranchisement.  A United Nations Needs Assessment Mission, led by the Electoral Affairs Division, will advise on appropriate parameters for support to the Afghan-led and managed electoral processes.


Anti-corruption efforts were also high on the agenda, he said, welcoming the robust report on the Kabul Bank crisis and citing the need for decisive Government action to strengthen the country’s financial sector.  Greater attention to tackling the narcotics industry, including by international donors, was also required, using all frameworks developed.  Noting the protracted delay in making a number of senior Government appointments, he said that effective leadership was particularly needed at the country’s independent human rights commission. “Human rights gains of the last decade — particularly in the rights of women and girls — must be reinforced and expanded,” he stated.


In that context, although only a small number of cases of violence against women were reported, he was encouraged at what appeared to be increased confidence in approaching authorities and successful prosecutions.  Women still faced great challenges in taking an active role in public life, with several women in responsible or active positions having been murdered recently.  Civilians continued to bear the heaviest burden of the conflict, he said, citing statistics in the report, with anti-Government elements accounting for 85 per cent of civilian deaths, including many children, many of whom were killed in attacks on places of worship.  Noting that the Taliban leadership had reacted strongly to assessments on civilian casualty, he stood by the verification systems used.  UNAMA had been investigating all claims.


He said that the recently endorsed extension for Afghanistan in meeting international mine-ban commitments included a work plan to remove the remaining 4,500 minefields.  Sustained donor funding at current levels could allow Afghanistan to reach the goal of becoming mine-free within six years.  In that context, he welcomed the country’s ratification of the disabilities convention in September.  In progress to Afghan leadership in the security sector, he stressed the importance of the Government’s civilian mitigation and tracking cell, and welcomed increased attention to the professionalization of the police with a role distinct from that of the military.


On the reconciliation process, he said that the High Peace Council’s work was enjoying renewed momentum following a positive visit to Pakistan, facilitated logistically by UNAMA.  The Mission was also ready to facilitate an inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue, after initial consultative meetings were held among diverse stakeholders.  The first such dialogue, under the so-called “track-II” and under the UNAMA umbrella, was planned to take place in Turkmenistan in February 2013.  Afghanistan was also increasing participation in regional mechanisms, with the Istanbul Process beginning practical work on confidence measures and endorsement of implementation plans planned for Baku in February.


He urged cooperation from Member States as the Afghan Government transitioned to leadership in all areas.  Soon the start of the fourth phase of the security transition would be announced and Afghan authorities and communities needed to be better engaged on Provincial Reconstruction Team closures.  With international troop drawdowns and the reduction of some stabilization projects, attention was needed on the issue of sustainable livelihoods.  Sustainability of development gains was at risk because of weak and inadequate systems of subnational governance, lack of support from the central level, capacity constraints and insufficient planning on the civilian side.


While ensuring that the Afghan Government assumed leadership in meeting such challenges, the United Nations would look to assist in those areas.  He emphasized, however, that such efforts must be part of agreed Afghan national priorities and strategies and in line with United Nations mandates and capacities.  In addition, the immediate, increasing humanitarian needs must not be forgotten.  Noting that only 48 per cent of this year’s consolidated appeal was funded, he hoped donors would strengthen support in the coming year.  As the harsh winter season approached, he was working with United Nations agencies to try to meet the needs of the vulnerable.  In coordination with Afghan authorities, non-food items would be prepositioned in that effort.


Statements


“Eleven years ago, we were a weak nation,” said ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) as he addressed the Council.  Conflict and consecutive foreign interventions had led Afghanistan to become a “failed State and a broken society”, leaving it on the verge of collapse.  However, in the historic decade that ensued, Afghanistan and the international community had “struggled together, worked together and joined hands for the noble objective of peace and a better future for the Afghan people”.  Eleven years later, the Government was taking full responsibility for nation-building and for normalizing the situation through the process of transition and transformation.


Indeed, as 2014 approached, transition was gaining momentum.  The overwhelming majority of Afghans now lived in areas where Government forces had lead security responsibility, and the Afghan national army and police were now operating with greater confidence and capability.  The launch of stage four of the security transition would be officially announced in the coming days.  Nevertheless, he warned that, as the transition proceeded, it was imperative that the sustainability of Afghanistan’s security forces remain a priority.


“Transition is not about security alone,” he said, adding that, to normalize and stabilize the situation in the country, a comprehensive political framework was needed.  At the centre of such efforts would be Afghanistan’s strategy of national reconciliation.  In that regard, he said that the peace process road map presented to the Government of Pakistan during the recent visit provided a concise framework for effective action, focusing on the release of some Taliban detainees in Pakistan’s custody, establishing direct contacts with influential Taliban leaders, provisions for safe passage for Taliban negotiators and sustaining peace talks with the armed opposition groups, which included, but were not limited to, the Taliban.  As the process forged ahead, Afghanistan would continue to rely on the support of the international community and the United Nations in particular.  In that vein, he called on the Council to help expedite those efforts by meeting Afghanistan’s delisting and travel ban exemption requests for concerned individuals.


He described preparations for the upcoming elections, which would mark the end of the military phase of support and “a new chapter in Afghanistan”.  The Afghan Independent Electoral Commission, with the support of the Government, had begun preparations responsibly, announcing the elections calendar and focusing on all aspects of the preparation process — political, technical and financial — well in advance.  A draft electoral law was now under consideration by the Afghan Parliament.  “Elections have the potential to become a new venue for national consensus and unity, a reflection of our shared vision for a stable and peaceful country,” he stressed in that regard.


Through the Chicago and Tokyo conferences, the international community and Afghanistan had come together to build partnerships and to ensure success in achieving their shared goals, he went on, adding:  “We hope that this affirmation of international support will remain.”  In addition, visible progress had been seen in relations with Afghanistan’s regional neighbours, including Pakistan.  Indeed, regional cooperation, which was a crucial element of Afghanistan’s future peace and security, was taking a new shape as the Istanbul Process swiftly moved forward.  The “Heart of Asia” Kabul Ministerial Conference in June had marked the beginning of the implementation phase of that process, he said.


“Afghans see the transition as an opportunity for an end to war and a means for ensuring that stability and prosperity are realized,” he said, adding that the transition was also about fulfilling commitments to a safer, more secure and prosperous future for Afghanistan.  On the basis of the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, “we will work to address remaining challenges through a more results-oriented cooperation, with a special focus on ensuring that mutual expectations are met”, he concluded.


PETER WITTIG ( Germany) said the challenge ahead for Afghanistan was the swift and comprehensive implementation of agreed-upon plans.  Free, fair and transparent elections in 2014 were critical, he said, adding that all Afghan institutions should work towards those common democratic goals.  Welcoming the Afghan decision to request UNAMA’s support with the polls, he also welcomed the Government’s lead role in decisions taken at the recent Tokyo conference regarding development cooperation.  A stable security environment was of paramount importance to achieve Afghanistan’s goal of becoming an economically thriving country, and he stressed that the United Nations could play a crucial role in the decade to come.


SAHEBZADA AHMED KHAN ( Pakistan) said all United Nations Member States must support UNAMA to ensure sustained funding that would secure the fulfilment of its mandate.  He added that the role of the Mission should evolve on the basis of the situation on the ground and the aspirations of the Afghan people.  In the wake of drawdown in 2014, he urged the continued engagement of the United Nations to support Government institution-building, peace and reconciliation initiatives, counter-narcotics initiatives, return of refugees and the coordination of humanitarian aid.


An Afghan-led dialogue and reconciliation process should address the root causes and fundamental nature of conflict, he said.  Regional unity was also important, he said, noting that Pakistan had made a number of efforts, including bilateral trade, assistance and strengthening understanding on common issues, including combating narcotics smuggling.  He urged the donor community to meet the needs of the Afghan people in the years to come.


JOÃO MARIA CABRAL ( Portugal) said the international community had a clear stake in the path the Afghan people had chosen for their country.  “ Afghanistan will not be left on its own,” he said, pointing to bilateral and international efforts already under way and emphasizing that all stakeholders must strive to do their best to maximize already scarce resources.  Regional initiatives had demonstrated Afghanistan’s engagement of peace and reconciliation.


Turning to human rights, he said despite accomplishments, work in that area remained to be done.  He was concerned about the recent murder of Najia Sediqi, acting head of the Afghan Government’s Department of Women’s Affairs.  Noting that that tragic loss represented the fact that some saw women’s rights as a threat, he said Afghan women needed support; “their struggle is our struggle”.


ROSEMARY DICARLO ( United States) said progress in security-related issues had been robustly supported by the international community, a commitment reaffirmed by her country’s signing in 2012 of a partnership agreement with Afghanistan.  The Afghan political system would reflect the pluralistic society and she appreciated the role Afghans were playing in that regard.  She also welcomed reports of economic progress and said the international community had reaffirmed its support of a peace and reconciliation process.


Afghans were sitting down with other Afghans to determine the future of their country, she continued, welcoming this month’s forum to discuss strategies to include women’s voices in such dialogue.  Appreciating the role regional actors could play, she pointed to a recent visit to Pakistan by Afghan leaders.  Turning to Security Council sanctions, she said those who refused to participate in reconciliation should know the 15-nation body would act.  “The future of Afghanistan is indeed for Afghans to determine,” she said, noting that her country supported the United Nations efforts in supporting those efforts.


HARDEEP SINGH PURI ( India) said Afghanistan had achieved important milestones and the international community had renewed its commitments at the various conferences held during the year.  Regional cooperation had also received a new momentum this year, focusing attention on investments and economic development during the transition period.  As Afghanistan looked forward to holding elections in 2014, it was still facing terrorist threats, with a “syndicate” of terrorists active in the region that was far from being isolated.


The drawdown had proceeded as expected while keeping in mind the delicate balance of a security transition at a time when terrorist threats loomed, he continued, noting that the recent Security Council sanctions regime underlined that the fight against terrorism should not be diluted.  As Afghanistan moved ahead on national reconciliation, he fully supported including the critical efforts of regional confidence building.  In that context, he said economic viability depended on its full integration in the region, and noted India’s activities in that regard, including humanitarian aid pledges.  Added momentum was needed to strengthen the Afghans’ efforts to further improve security and boost economic development, he said.


NÉSTOR OSORIO ( Colombia) said that the agreements made in international conferences showed commitment by both Afghanistan and its partners to work together on consolidating stability in the country.  Holding legitimate elections would be important factor in that regard.  Expressing concern over continued civilian casualties, he said that security efforts under Afghan leadership must prioritize protection of civilians and the combat against impunity.  Though aware of the challenges of reconciliation, he expressed optimism in light of recent developments in that area and welcomed Council action on sanctions regimes that provided exemptions for those participating in peace conferences.


Peace and reconciliation, led by the Afghan people, must continue to be supported, he said.  On other issues, he trusted that the budget reduction for UNAMA would not prevent the Mission from fulfilling its mandates, and looked for coordination to prevent duplication of efforts.  Acknowledging vast humanitarian needs, he supported the call for greater donor contributions.  National institutions must be further built to tackle humanitarian, governance, security and development needs.  He called on all stakeholders to fulfil their commitments to that end.


MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) agreed that the 2014 elections were central, and he looked forward to credible polls delivering a peaceful transition of power, strongly supported by the international community, with a key role played by the United Nations.  A political settlement in Afghanistan should also be a top priority, through a peace and reconciliation process.  He welcomed Council action on Taliban sanctions in that regard.  Also welcoming steps towards partnership between Pakistan and Afghanistan, he noted that several significant meetings had been facilitated by the United Kingdom. 


Expressing serious concern over continued violence against women, he called for greater action against that scourge while condemning as well any killing of civilians.  For the future, he said it would be important that UNAMA have a clear set of deliverables, with the resources it needed in that regard.  Noting that his country today had announced specific troop reductions in Afghanistan, he pledged that the commitment of the United Kingdom to that country’s long-term stability and security remained steadfast.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that the elections would indeed be an important milestone and required the assistance of UNAMA.  Another deep concern was civilian casualties, he said, maintaining that those caused by international military action further needed to be reduced.  He expressed concern over increased insurgent activity as international forces withdrew, but also had concerns over any residual forces maintained in the country after the transition.


He welcomed Afghanistan’s greater participation in regional and international organizations and called for more effective measures to destroy drug crops and record drug lords on sanctions lists, as their activities were a threat to international peace and security.  Ending illegal drug trafficking was also central to fighting terrorism, which gained funding from the activity.  Supporting reconciliation efforts, he stressed, however, that only those who met appropriate criteria should be engaged.


WANG MIN ( China) said that international efforts in Afghanistan should continue to abide by the principle of Afghan ownership and strike a balance between security and development.  He said that the 2014 elections would be crucial, welcoming the time frame agreed upon and UNAMA’s electoral assistance.  He welcomed efforts to build Afghanistan’s national security forces and stressed that handover of responsibility to them should be gradual and orderly.   Welcoming reconciliation efforts, he welcomed as well the recent meeting of the High Peace Council in Pakistan.  He stressed the importance of development to the country’s stability, and hoped UNAMA would continue to coordinate support to the Afghan Government, noting that all efforts should respect Afghan sovereignty and the interests of other countries in the region.


GERT ROSENTHAL ( Guatemala) welcomed the provision of a detailed calendar for the coming elections, however, he noted that there were failings in establishing a legal and technical framework for the 2014 voting.  He urged the Government to prioritize those matters, since holding elections was a prerequisite for long-term stability.  The Afghan-led reconciliation process was another ingredient to stability, he said.  Renewed sanctions had reflected the belief that the improvements made in text would improve the situation on the ground.


On the subject of security, the planned transition was commendable, he continued.  Yet challenges and risks remained, including the early December attack on the Director of the Afghan intelligence service and the increase in the number of civilian casualties.  In addition, the report’s finding that more than 355 children were killed or injured between August and October was deplorable, as were reports on violence against women, he said, calling on the Government to ensure and support the rights of women and children.


KOKOU NAYO MBEOU ( Togo) said the Tokyo conference had identified measures to put the country on solid footing, with the 2014 elections being an important step.  In that regard, he hoped the joint commission that had been set up would work to resolve outstanding issues.  He appreciated Mr. Karzai’s meetings with the media on the elections, and Togo was grateful to the United Nations for its valuable support to election initiatives.  Afghanistan’s commitment to peace talks could be seen by its holding events to mark a week celebrating national unity and peace, as well as its release of certain Taliban individuals.  Genuine intra-Afghan dialogue on the country’s future after the 2014 elections should follow, he said.


Strengthening regional integration had been discussed at meetings that had been held last month to focus on economic development, he said.  Unfortunately, the situation in the security area was worse.  People in the south and east of the country were victims of inter-tribal clashes and attacks, he said, pointing to attacks on envoys.  Human rights had also suffered, with women and children continuously subjected to violence.  Welcoming the United Nations entity to address issues such as early child marriage, he supported efforts in that regard.  Turning to drug smuggling, he noted opium production had increased.  The situation in Afghanistan still needed international assistance concerning security, he said, noting that progress needed to be built upon.


TOFIG MUSAYEV ( Azerbaijan) said, despite progress achieved, of grave concern was the high death toll among civilians as a result of unabated assassinations and suicide bombings by insurgents.  All parties in Afghanistan must take necessary measures to minimize the number and scale of civilian casualties and insurgents must denounce the tactic of targeting civilians, which violated international law and contravened religious and humanitarian tenets.  Commending the Afghan national security forces, he also mentioned Afghanistan’s stronger political dialogue and cooperation with its neighbours.  Azerbaijan had been part of international efforts, including providing territory for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) overflights and financially supporting training and other initiatives.  Azerbaijan was committed to Afghanistan’s sovereignty and would support the country in its efforts bilaterally and multilaterally.


ZAHEER LAHER ( South Africa) said the coming elections were essential to further consolidate Afghanistan’s nascent democracy.  He encouraged the Government to complete the remaining elements of the electoral architecture including the publication of the outstanding electoral laws and to continue dialogue and public debates to ensure transparency.  Long-term stability and security could only be sustained through a process of reconciliation and nation-building, he said, welcoming the work of the High Peace Council and the release of Taliban detainees.  While he welcomed the decline in security incidents, he remained concerned about the impact of incidents on civilian populations and the continued insecurity in certain areas.  It was critical that Afghan police and security forces were well trained and equipped to protect local populations, he said, welcoming UNAMA’s role assisting Afghan authorities.  However, political stability inside the country would depend on regional stability.


Since the country relied on international support to address economic and development challenges, he went on to welcome the increase in assistance to $6.3 billion this year — up from $4 billion in 2010.  Despite other gains, he was concerned about civilian protection, citing recent child deaths from attacks and landmine explosions, and expressed concern about reports that ISAF air strikes had resulted in the killing of children.  Given the magnitude of challenges, a comprehensive strategy incorporating security, humanitarian efforts, good governance and socio-economic development was required, he said, underscoring the central role of UNAMA and saying that the role played by bilateral and multilateral partners was indispensable.


MARTIN BRIENS ( France) said that, despite positive transitional steps in the security sector, increased attacks on civilians were a grave concern.  With the last forces withdrawing 15 December, a new transition phase was in place.  A friendship and cooperation treaty had been signed between France and Afghanistan, he said, noting his country’s recent pledges for assistance.  The 2014 elections would be a test, he said, noting that it was vital they were credible, free and transparent.  He called upon the Government to ensure the country had the tools to hold such an election and he favoured the Government’s request for United Nations help.  In that regard, the international community must be duly informed of developments on a regular basis.  Turning to the peace process, he supported an Afghan-led initiative, which needed strong support in the region.  The Council had renewed its sanctions regime, which he also supported.


MOHAMMED LOULICHKI ( Morocco) said the Secretary-General’s report had covered the profound domestic debate on elections.  Welcoming advances in the electoral sphere, he then turned to the question of security.  Citing a reduction in security incidents compared with last year, he lamented the increased number of casualties.  On the regional level, meetings with neighbouring countries had aimed at expediting economic and political progress.  He commended the Afghan Government’s efforts and initiatives.  While the country had made considerable steps towards stability, challenges remained.  He commended the effective role of UNAMA and the Secretary-General’s envoy, who aimed at ensuring the advancement of peace.


KAZUO KODAMA (Japan) expressed the hope that the Afghan Government’s strong political will and efforts, combined with the engagement of its neighbours and the rest of the international community, would succeed in propelling the peace process forward and achieving further and more inclusive dialogue.  In that vein, he was encouraged to see the continued positive trend of the increasing number of ex-combatants under the Afghan Peace and Reintegration Programme.  Also welcomed were the Government’s intensive follow-up efforts in the past four months made in close coordination with international stakeholders, to realize the commitments in line with the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, resulting in the holding of the first meeting of the Steering Committee on 5 December.


Despite such recent positive developments, challenges in the field of security, including the high level of civilian casualties, continued to be a major obstacle to the country’s stability, he said, and called on all stakeholders to continue their efforts in addressing the persistent humanitarian needs and the worrisome decline in assistance, pointing out that, without improving the severe humanitarian situation, any gains achieved to date would remain fragile and unsustainable.  Continuing, he said that 2013 should lay the foundation for 2014 — the critical year for the sustainable future of Afghanistan.  Japan wished to see three developments in particular:  continuous efforts to further the Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process; concrete evidence of enhanced quality and capability of the Afghan national security force towards the successful completion of the transition process; and adherence to the commitments made in the Mutual Accountability Framework, especially the holding of fair elections in 2014.


IOANNIS VRAILAS, representative of the Delegation of the European Union, recalled that in Bonn, Kabul, Tokyo and Chicago, the international community and the Government of Afghanistan had reaffirmed their partnership.  Those conferences had “set the way forward” for Afghanistan to progressively assume responsibility for all aspects of policy and to achieve its security, development and governance goals.  However, progress would only be sustainable if the peace and reconciliation process was truly inclusive, engaging not only armed groups, but fully involving civil society and people from all regions of Afghan society, in particular women.


Both the process and the outcome must respect the principles set out by the Afghan Government and the international community in Bonn, including the human rights provisions of the Afghan Constitution, he said.  Moreover, it would be critical that future elections be inclusive and transparent, leading to an outcome that was widely accepted as legitimate.  “We call on the Afghan authorities to engage all political parties and civil society in agreeing to reform the electoral process, based on lessons learned from previous elections”, he stressed in that regard.  In particular, it would be important to put in place a legal framework consistent with the Constitution, with credible measures to prevent fraud and overseen by independent bodies.


Meanwhile, UNAMA had a critical role to play during the transition and beyond, in particular, in light of the elections.  “UNAMA must be properly mandated and adequately resourced to fulfil this role,” he said, adding that the Mission’s work would also be vital to, among others, enable Afghanistan and the international community to work effectively together to fulfil commitments made in Tokyo earlier this year.  The European Union’s commitment to Afghanistan was “long-term”, he asserted, concluding that the bloc was currently providing more than €1 billion in development assistance to the country each year, and that it would continue to provide support.


GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI ( Iran), noting notable political, economic and development progress in Afghanistan, said that an important change was the reduction of foreign forces.  He stressed that national reconciliation should be Afghan-owned and -led, and that any efforts towards national reconciliation should be undertaken without appearing to reward the perpetrators of terrorist acts.  At the same time, development support was critical, and Iran stood ready to assist with infrastructure projects.  He also stressed the importance of efforts to curb the menace of the drug industry.


Noting that more than 1 million Afghan refugees were registered in Iran, with an even greater number of unregistered persons, he called for additional efforts to repatriate them and ensure that they were reintegrated into Afghan society.  Affirming that his country had always strongly supported Afghan sovereignty and territorial integrity, he hoped that the international community adhered to the principle of an Afghan-led and -owned transition and supported the United Nations coordination role, including UNAMA’s role in assistance to peace and reconstruction of the country within its mandate and through a robust engagement of neighbouring countries on issues such as border security, immigration, refugees and drug control.


GARY QUINLAN ( Australia) said there had been serious progress in strengthening the partnership between Afghanistan and the international community, the security transition and preparations for elections.  Political settlement and the conduct of national elections were key issues, he said, highlighting the revitalization of the High Peace Council and recent visits of its Chair to Pakistan.  However, there were concerning trends, including the rise in civilian casualties from insurgent attacks.


This trend demonstrated the ruthlessness of the insurgency and that the Taliban remained capable and determined, he said.  The continued targeting of civilians remained a serious strategy of the Taliban and highlighted the need for sustained international support to the Afghan Government, he said.  Continued violence against women was another serious concern.  Since the country had made much progress in the last decade, he was confident that international resolve to assist the country would remain strong beyond 2014.


YAŞAR HALIT ÇEVIK ( Turkey) welcomed the report’s positive elements but said that serious political, economic and security challenges remained, including attacks on schools.  The potential economic consequences of transition were also worrisome, he said.  Realities on the ground must be kept in mind and tackling those challenges and building a sustainable, stable Afghanistan was crucial for its people and for peace and stability in the sub-continent, Asia and the world.  The international community must express a continued will to strengthen the hopes of the Afghan people.


Credible elections would be a clear indicator for a smooth and viable political transition process, with a successful peace and reconciliation process being another important step.  Emphasizing the importance of regional cooperation for establishing and sustaining a secure, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan, he said the Trilateral Summit process between Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey made a valuable contribution towards dialogue and cooperation, providing a functional platform focused on political dialogue and covering a range of common concerns.


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