The progress Afghanistan had recently made in the interrelated economic, security and political areas should neither be undervalued nor breed complacency, the top United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today, urging the international community to work towards lasting peace and reconciliation by facilitating direct talks between the Government and armed groups.
Failure in any of those three areas would have consequences for the overall success of the Afghan transition, Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said in his quarterly briefing to the 15-member body. The country continued to need the support of the international community and the sustained attention of the Council, he stressed.
The economic contraction that followed the withdrawal of international military forces presented a continued challenge to the Government to meet the fiscal gap and the Government was meeting and exceeding revenue targets, Mr. Haysom said. “At this time of continued low economic growth, we must also guard against the danger of an increasing shift to the illicit economy, particularly so in the case of the burgeoning narcotics production.”
The Afghan National Security Forces had been stretched as they took on full security responsibilities. There had been an intensification of conflict across the country, including in areas previously considered to be safe. Today there was a failed attack on Parliament as it was about to review the nomination for Defence Minister. While the Afghan Forces faced operational challenges, their commitment was beyond question and they demonstrated resilience in the face of efforts by insurgents to take and hold ground.
Foreign fighters from Afghanistan’s northern neighbours and elsewhere presented a particular challenge, he said, adding that there was considerable concern that Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) was seeking to establish a foothold. That demanded greater regional involvement and collaboration to address that shared threat. The most tragic index of the intensification of conflict was the toll on civilians, with 4,216 killed or injured so far this year.
On the political front, there had been modest progress, with all members of the Cabinet having been appointed. After long delays the Government had committed to appoint the Electoral Reform Commission within a week and the term of office of the lower house of the National Assembly was extended until elections could be held. It was now time for a surge in delivery of public services and fulfilment of election promises and implementation of the reforms set out in London and as promised in the ministerial 100-day action plans. The intensification of the conflict was eroding the atmosphere for constructive negotiations, and the international community and Afghanistan’s neighbours should help towards beginning direct peace and reconciliation talks between the Government and armed groups.
Regarding the request by the Council that the Secretary-General initiate an examination of the rule, structure and activities of all United Nations entities in Afghanistan, he said, the Mission had agreed with the Government to establish a commission. That body would be comprised of representatives of the Government, international donor community, and UNAMA and affiliated agencies, funds and programmes. He anticipated having a report ready for the Council by the time of its September meeting on Afghanistan.
In the ensuing debate, speakers condemned today’s Taliban attack on Parliament and expressed concern at the intensification of the conflict and civilian casualties.
For the first time, security forces had moved from a defensive to an offensive position and had shown their ability to protect the people and help maintain the stability of the region, Zahir Tanin, representative of Afghanistan, said. Government efforts, he said, were guided by a strong commitment to advance the rights of all Afghan people, particularly women.
The representative of the United States said determined leadership would be vital to achieving the country’s vital reform agenda, adding that although the daily headlines were dispiriting, there was inspiring and incremental progress on the ground.
Insurgent groups must not be allowed to exploit the situation created by the withdrawal of international security forces to change the balance of security in the region, the representative of the Russian Federation said.
Describing security in Afghanistan as tantamount to security along its own borders, the representative of Iran said UNAMA should be further strengthened in view of its unique role and multifaceted functions relating to the important political and socioeconomic challenges facing that country.
The representative of Pakistan affirmed enhanced engagement between her country and Afghanistan based on the principles of non-interference, preventing the use of territory to attack the other and treatment of each other’s enemies as common ones.
India’s delegate said his country would continue to support a truly Afghan-led and –owned reconciliation process and stressed the importance of enhancing that country’s economic connectivity to markets in the region.
Also making statements today were the representatives of Spain, China, Chad, Nigeria, New Zealand, France, Angola, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Lithuania, Chile, Jordan, Malaysia, Sweden, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Australia, Netherlands and Canada. The Head of the European Union Delegation also spoke.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 1:14 p.m.
ZAHIR TANIN (Afghanistan), condemning today’s attack against the Afghan Parliament, said it was part of “a new wave of fighting compounded by an unprecedented convergence of extremist and international terrorist networks on our soil”, comprised of Taliban and violent extremist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS). “Afghan security forces have responded to these tremendous challenges with bravery, strength and determination,” he stated. For the first time the security forces had moved from a defensive to an offensive position and had shown their ability to protect the people and help maintain the stability of the region. In the face of the “great challenges”, however, continued international assistance, including air support, would remain essential.
It was also clear, he said, that lasting peace required a political solution; for that reason the national unity Government had prioritized reinvigoration of the peace process through engagement between representatives of the High Peace Council and civil society, including women and the Taliban. As the role of neighbours was crucial to such efforts, the recent visit to Kabul by Pakistan’s Prime Minister represented a positive step. He expected that Pakistan’s commitment to peace and stability extended to “ending sanctuaries and compelling the Taliban to end their violent campaigns”.
Following last year’s historic elections, he said, the national unity Government was dedicated to advancing reform and the President had appointed all ministers and other officials from the viewpoint of merit, transparency and accountability and combating corruption for a “clean, functioning and effective Government”. Reporting a greater focus on the transparent and effective use of international aid and assistance, he added that development cooperation should evolve so that aid played a “facilitating and enabling role countrywide”. He looked forward to upcoming discussions on that matter.
Government efforts, he said, were guided by a strong commitment to advance the right of all Afghan people, particularly women. There were now four female Cabinet members and one female Governor; the appointment of more women officials was expected. The Government was also focused on comprehensive electoral reforms, having in March established a Special Commission for that purpose and planning to finalize the election calendar within a month. Summarizing efforts to strengthen regional cooperation, he stressed that international partnerships remained vital. In that area, he highlighted the Afghan President’s visit to Washington, D.C., and New York in March. Despite the attention and resources devoted to a multiplication of crises around the world, he stressed that “ongoing partnerships and the support of the international community was essential to the peace and stability of Afghanistan, the region and the world.”
ROMÁN OYARZUN MARCHESI (Spain), condemning today’s attack on the Afghan Parliament and endorsing the statement of the European Union delegation, acknowledged reform and other progress in Afghanistan and underlined the importance of continuing and accelerating such efforts. He pledged the continuing support of Spain in that work. Expressing concern over the ongoing violence, he recognized what he called valiant efforts of the Afghan forces and pledged continuation of support for them. More engagement of the Taliban in a peace process, led by the Afghan people, must be promoted, while gains in human rights, particularly those of women and children, must be maintained. Stressing the importance of regional engagement, he encouraged the Government to play the leadership role in all international processes involving the country.
LIU JIEYI (China) recognized significant progress towards a united, stable, peaceful and self-sustaining Afghanistan and affirmed the need for international support towards that end. The Government needed to continue its reforms and he underlined the importance of Afghan-led national reconciliation. He welcomed support by countries in the region and called on all stakeholders to help bring about an atmosphere conducive for reconciliation. Supporting efforts to bolster national security, he called for adequate international assistance in that area as well as in socioeconomic development, stressing that support must be based on respect for the sovereignty and independence of the country. He pledged further support to regional integration that included Afghanistan, and to further promote a strategic partnership between China and the country.
MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad), recognizing significant progress in Afghanistan, encouraged further efforts in reform and security. Continued international assistance was necessary for those purposes. Noting continued violence in the country, he condemned all attacks and called on armed groups to cease their activities immediately. The international community had to be more vigilant in its efforts to prevent foreign extremists from fighting in Afghanistan, he said, calling for stepped up efforts to stem the illicit traffic in narcotics as well. Humanitarian assistance also must be increased. Paying tribute to the United Nations and partners working in Afghanistan, he encouraged them to persist in their work.
MARTIN SENKOM ADAMU (Nigeria), also recognizing progress in Afghanistan, called for an acceleration of the governance reform agenda. He stressed in particular the importance of electoral reform and transparent, accountable governance. For those purposes he supported further support by the international community and underlined the need for strengthening the climate for international investment. Continuation of international security support after 2016 was also necessary, as were reconciliation efforts. Averring that more should be done in stemming illicit drug traffic, he welcomed regional action in that area as well as in wider issues of stability and economic development. The international community must be eternally vigilant to ensure that Afghanistan remained on the road to peace and stability.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States), welcoming the formation of a new cabinet and progress on other political fronts, said determined leadership would be vital to achieving the country’s vital reform agenda. The Taliban and other armed groups were intent on testing the resolve and capabilities of Afghan security forces since they assumed responsibility in the beginning of the year. The Afghan forces, for their part, had risen to the challenge through commitment and sacrifice. The cost of the conflict was seen in all segments of Afghan society, she said, condemning the latest Taliban attack on Parliament. The continued deliberate targeting of civilians was despicable and contrary to international law. The Afghan Government’s openness to dialogue was testament to its leadership, which the Taliban and other insurgents had not been able to match. The international community must work together over the long run to help Afghanistan achieve durable peace and stability. While the daily headlines were dispiriting, there was incremental progress on the ground, which provided inspiration.
GERARD JACOBUS VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand) said the international community must acknowledge that Afghanistan had made considerable progress and faced challenges. The trials that country had faced over the past 15 years were truly incredible, as was the international community’s response. In the context of the scale and scope of the 9/11 attacks, which were plotted in Afghanistan, international engagement was akin to the Marshall Plan. He expressed hope that the Afghan people realized that the international response was not a result of narrow self-interest. Accordingly, the country needed to step up progress towards reforms to lay the foundations for durable peace and stability.
ALEXIS LAMEK (France), associating himself with European Union, said his country stood by the Afghan people in their fight against terrorism and their quest to foster peace and development. One year after the election, the national unity Government was now able to work with a full slate. Electoral reforms would help the pace of democracy that was crucial to the future of the country. The spring offensive led to a large increase of civilian casualties, he said, and urged Afghan civil society to continue to be engaged in the effective implementation of the law on violence against women. The Government needed to step up efforts to stem the production and trade in drugs. The international community had to be engaged in Afghanistan over the long term, he said, urging the Government to implement its reform agenda.
JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola), commending the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in discharging its mandate in difficult conditions, said recent developments were a step forward towards laying a foundation for peace and reconciliation based on the trust and confidence of the Afghan people. Efforts to achieve regional cooperation in order to boost peace talks suggested that the country may be entering a new phase. However, the political process was taking place against the background of an intensification of violence and growing civilian casualties. There should be an end to impunity to crimes against women. Long-term peace and stability would depend on internal reforms and closer regional cooperation in fighting terrorism and extremism and boosting shared prosperity.
VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) expressed concern at the worsening situation in Afghanistan, exemplified by the attacks on Parliament. Of particular concern to the Russian Federation and the Commonwealth of Independent States was the concentration of terrorist groups in northern Afghanistan. Insurgent groups must not be allowed to exploit the situation created by the withdrawal of international security forces to change the balance of security in the region. The threat stemming from ISIS/ISIL continued to grow and the Secretary-General needed to devote priority attention to that matter in his next report. The increase in the production and trade of narcotics was troubling in view of the reality that much of the proceeds were used to finance terrorism and extremism. That problem was no less acute for Afghanistan than it was for the region and the world. National reconciliation depended on clearly defined conditions and a sustained desire for peace among all parties, he said, urging the effective participation of UNAMA in helping the Afghan people. A single consolidated position of the international community and a single-minded focus were essential to restoring lasting peace and security in Afghanistan.
MATTHEW RYCROFT (United Kingdom) said the Afghan people had stood behind peace and security, which his country continued to support. There had been progress on the political front providing the basis for implementing the reform agenda in order to build a better future for Afghans. The upcoming international meeting should take stock of the achievements made so far and devise of ways of moving ahead more effectively. The Afghan security forces had demonstrated their commitment and capacity to discharge their mandate. A political settlement, however, was the best means of ensuring peace and stability. The rise in civilian casualties was working and stood in stark contrast to the Taliban’s public protestations. Despite the Government’s commitment to improving the status of women, they continued to face violence and discrimination. The law on violence against women must be implemented forthwith in an effort to protect and promote the gains made so far.
RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) joined in condemning today’s attack and acknowledged progress in Afghanistan, welcoming efforts towards reconciliation as well as the growing participation of women at the national level. He encouraged further reforms to the electoral process as well as greater efforts in moving sustainable development forward. Recognizing the importance of further international support to Afghanistan, he called for the continuance of the role of UNAMA. He recognized, however, the growing threat of new non-State armed groups in Afghanistan, and underlined the importance of strengthening the armed forces of the country so that the Government could restore authority throughout its territory. International assistance was particularly needed in countering the use of explosive devices against the population and helping to end conditions that bred extremism.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania), associating herself with the European Union Delegation, acknowledged progress made towards peace and self-reliance in Afghanistan. She stressed the need for the Government to continue to demonstrate determination to end conflict and improve the lives of its citizens. Welcoming progress in Government appointments, including the appointment of women, she underlined the importance of maintaining momentum in bolstering accountability, transparency and effectiveness of institutions. Advancement in electoral reform was particularly necessary. She called for strengthened security, protection of women’s rights and access to justice, along with further efforts to improve the human rights situation. Highlighting the need for cooperation with Afghanistan’s neighbours, she noted Lithuania’s funding for efforts in that context as well as the completion of the mission of her country’s Special Operations Forces. Affirming Lithuania’s continued engagement in the NATO-led mission, she said that after 2016 the international community must continue assisting the country to build a secure and just future.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile), condemning the attack in Kabul today, affirmed the responsibility of the Government to protect its population and called for an acceleration in reforms, further empowerment of women and efforts for socioeconomic development. Greater protection of children was also needed. Expressing concern over the presence of foreign terrorist combatants, he urged further regional and international coordination to stem the threat. Social inclusion and social development were also crucial in stemming extremism, as was national dialogue and strengthening of the rule of law. In all such areas, international assistance should continue.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan), noting the challenges still faced by Afghanistan, affirmed the need for continued international assistance for that country to build a better future. Expressing concern over security as represented by today’s attack in Kabul, he encouraged international partners to enhance the capacities of Afghanistan to meet the threat of violence. Welcoming the formation of the Government in Afghanistan, he urged continued engagement of all stakeholders in moving ahead reforms. Nationally, Afghan-led reconciliation was necessary, he stressed, underlining the important role of UNAMA in that area and calling upon all parties to participate constructively. Further, measures needed to be put in place to prevent electoral problems as well as to accelerate the reform process and empowerment of women. He hoped steps would be taken to improve the economic situation and combat corruption, ensuring international assistance was effectively utilized and encouraging investment in the country.
SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) said that despite the Taliban’s attack against the Afghan Parliament earlier today, she hoped that Afghanistan would stay the course in finalizing the formation of the National Unity Government through power sharing. From its own experience of nation building via power-sharing and social transformation, Malaysia understood the significance of mutual respect and inclusiveness. Despite marked progress on the political front, the security situation remained precarious. It was deplorable that children continued to bear the brunt of violent conflict, and she was also concerned about the large presence of foreign fighters in the country. While there may be an absence of hard evidence to prove that certain terrorist and extremist groups were operating there, that should not prevent efforts to addressing the root causes which enabled such groups to gain support.
ASOKE KUMAR MUKERJI (India) said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s State visit to India in April further cemented the age-old historical and cultural links between the two countries. Those links had provided a solid foundation of the strategic partnership between the two countries based on their common perception of challenges and shared interests. Expressing concern at the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, he said terrorism, not tribal differences or ethnical rivalries, was the main source of insecurity and instability in that country. The spurt in violence was taking pace at a time when Afghanistan was in the midst of a sensitive historical political transition. Therefore, there was a strong case for the international community to take a fresh look at the manner in which the drawdown of the international military presence in Afghanistan was being planned. The 7,180 foreign fighters presently in Afghanistan — as documented in the Secretary-General’s report — could not have entered the country or continued to sustain their attacks without support from beyond that State’s borders. India would continue to support a truly Afghan-led and –owned reconciliation process, he said, stressing the importance of enhancing that country’s economic connectivity to markets in the region.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) welcomed progress in Government formation in Afghanistan while underlining the challenges ahead and stressing the need for the international community to continue to stand by the country, with UNAMA playing a critical role. She affirmed enhance engagement between her country and Afghanistan based on the principles of non-interference, preventing the use of territory to attack the other country and treatment of each other’s enemies as common enemies. Acknowledging that terrorism remained a common challenge, she reiterated condemnation of the recent rise in violence in Afghanistan and reaffirmed Pakistan’s commitment to cooperation with that country in fighting the scourge. “Let me be clear: we will be relentless in rooting out terrorism, whosoever its sponsors, external or internal,” she stated.
Welcoming what she called the first, tentative steps to advance the reconciliation process in Afghanistan, she pledged Pakistani support for it and expressed hope for direct talks towards de-escalation in the near future. Outlining activities related to the Heart of Asia process that Pakistan co-chaired, she stated that sustainable peace in Afghanistan would lead to regional stability. She also welcomed the Afghan Government’s commitment to the return and reintegration of the large population of refugees hosted by Pakistan and hoped for continued UNAMA assistance in that regard. She called for more focused action with international support to stem the illicit drug trade. The destinies of Afghanistan and Pakistan were intertwined, and her country would help the Afghan people in whatever way it could to reach the goal of lasting peace.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), associating himself with the European Union delegation, said 2015 was critical for Afghanistan and its people as well as for UNAMA. A reduced presence by international security forces in the country — and an upcoming review of the mandate of the Mission — gave the international community a unique chance to strengthen operations in those areas where it would have the greatest effect in the years ahead. The importance of an ambitious presence of the international community in Afghanistan could not be stressed enough and effective multilateral cooperation within the framework of the United Nations remained vital. The conflict could only be solved through peaceful dialogue that was inclusive and representative, which had the potential to be transformative in enabling Afghans to believe in an Afghanistan that could fully meet their legitimate aspirations.
THOMAS MAYR-HARTING, Head of the European Union Delegation, said that despite empty protestations to the contrary, the Taliban and other insurgent groups continued to plan and target attacks against Afghan civilians, leading to a record number of civilian deaths. The Union continued to support an Afghan-led and -owned peace process that led to a cessation of violence, an end to terrorism links, and respect for the rights of Afghans, including women and children. Supporting the Unity Government’s vision for reform, he stressed the need for a prioritized plan that would cement progress made to date and provide the foundation for future gains. In particular, the Government must look at immediate measures to increase economic confidence, generate revenue and enable the Election Commission to begin its work in looking at how the electoral system could be reformed.
YOSHIFUMI OKAMURA (Japan) said that when tens of millions of Afghan men and women took to the polls in 2014, the international community knew that the country’s path to self-reliance would present vast opportunities and important challenges. With the half-year mark of the Afghanistan Transformation Decade approaching, there were signs of both. The National Unity Government was near completion and strengthening economic and political ties with regional and international partners. On the other hand, economic growth remained weak and violence was on the rise. A strong and inclusive political leadership was needed to overcome those security challenges and pave the way for economic sustainability. As political certainty underpinned security and economic growth, electoral reforms and parliamentary elections must be held in a timely manner. While the security situation and the record high number of casualties were alarming, Afghanistan’s law enforcement and security forces were up to the task. Japan looked forward to further progress and the consolidation of Afghanistan’s democratic path to peace and prosperity and was encouraged by the long-term drivers of growth, particularly human capital and economic connectivity.
LEVENT ELER (Turkey), condemning today’s attack in Kabul, welcomed what he called significant progress in every field in Afghanistan and underlined the importance of continued international support to the country to build upon those achievements. The withdrawal of the international presence should not be “calendar-based” but “condition-based”, he said, and he stressed the importance of the Afghan-led reconciliation process. Describing his country’s contributions to Afghanistan, bilaterally and through the United Nations and NATO, he said Turkey’s commitment to the country was long-term and encompassed airport management, security training and resource enhancement, capacity-building in counter-narcotics and other law-enforcement areas, comprehensive development aid, significant humanitarian assistance and other support. Turkey would continue, in addition, to support dialogue between Afghanistan and its neighbours in the context of the Istanbul Process and other initiatives.
HARALD BRAUN (Germany) encouraged the Afghan Government to continue consolidating democracy and set a concrete timeline for parliamentary and provincial council elections in a timely manner. The pending electoral reforms had the potential to strengthen the credibility and sustainability of the election system, he said, welcoming the establishment of the Election Reform Commission and calling for the prompt assumption of its duties. Refreshing the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework was the cornerstone of a process for setting Afghanistan on the path of self-reliance. The international community would abide by its commitment to support that country during the Transformation Decade. At the London Conference in December 2014, Germany renewed its commitment to maintain its extraordinary level of civilian assistance — close to half a billion dollars annually up to 2016. As the role of the United Nations might evolve over time, the establishment of the Tripartite Commission was welcome. Any recommendation to improve cooperation among the Government, United Nations and donor countries would benefit the Afghan population.
CAITLIN WILSON (Australia), condemning today’s attack on the Parliament by the Taliban, noted that the group would continue its campaign of fear. It was therefore vital that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces continued to build their capabilities, particularly in provincial areas. Her Government was providing $300 million from 2015-2017 towards that aim. The Afghan economy and finances remained key concerns for Australia. Economic sustainability was the key to achieving self-reliance. This year was the start of a critical decade for Afghan women and girls. The recent appointment of four women to ministerial roles and the nomination of the first-ever woman to the Supreme Court were welcome news. Achieving a political settlement with the Taliban would be necessary for lasting peace.
HEDDA SAMSON (Netherlands) said that lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan was possible only through reconciliation. Important first steps had been taken towards bringing about peace talks with the Taliban, which must see the meaningful participation of women. With an almost complete cabinet now in place, he expressed hope that reforms would soon come to fruition. The new Government had made progress in furthering human rights, she said, adding that her country was looking forward to the presentation of the Afghan National Action Plan on resolution 1325 (2000) and the 100-day action plan of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The Netherlands had been a long-time partner of Afghanistan and would stand by the country and people. That support would go hand in hand with critical meaningful reforms within the Afghan Government so that self-reliance would be achieved.
GHOLAMHOSSEIN DEHGHANI (Iran) said his country considered the security in Afghanistan tantamount to security along its own borders. Iran hosted President Ashraf Ghani in April during which the two countries pledged greater cooperation in key areas. Trade and transit were two main fields of expansion of relations. Expressing concern about an increase in opium poppy cultivation, he said the threat should be addressed by the international community seriously and in a concerted manner. Afghan refugees continued to live in Iran and their voluntary repatriation needed to be supported by meeting their reasonable needs in order to help them integrate permanently in their home country. That underscored the necessity for mobilizing more international support. UNAMA should be further strengthened in view of its unique role and multifaceted functions relating to the important political and socioeconomic challenges facing Afghanistan.
MICHAEL DOUGLAS GRANT (Canada) pledged that his country would continue to stand with the Afghan people in the face of violence such as that committed in Kabul today. With the formation of the National Unity Government, the country must now focus on efforts to ensure stability and sustainability, eradicate corruption, reduce poverty, strengthen the economy, accelerate electoral reform, protect human rights — particularly those of women — and widen participation in politics and society. His country was contributing significant resources to support security efforts as well as development in such areas as maternal health, education, women’s empowerment, mine action, disaster reduction and governance improvement. He stressed the crucial need to end what he called violations of Afghanistan’s sovereignty through support to terror groups such as the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Al-Qaida and ISIL. Sanctuaries for terrorists in Quetta, Peshawar and elsewhere could not be allowed to continue to exist. The Taliban and its sponsors must end armed activities and join the Afghan-led peace process without further delay. Canada, he pledged, would continue to work with the Government and the international community on the many challenges that faced Afghanistan.