Lack of Inclusive Peace Process Will Undermine Progress in Afghanistan, Special Representative Tells Security Council

SC/12640
19 December 2016
7844th Meeting (AM)

Lack of Inclusive Peace Process Will Undermine Progress in Afghanistan, Special Representative Tells Security Council

While great progress had been made in Afghanistan, a better future for that country would not be possible without an inclusive peace process that involved Afghans from all strata of society, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) told the Security Council today.

Briefing the 15-nation body, Tadamichi Yamamoto said that the ongoing conflict had deprived the country’s opportunities for development and growth, pointing out that the financial resources being spent on the conflict could be utilized for Afghanistan’s economic prosperity.  Underscoring that there was no military solution, he called upon the Taliban to commit to direct talks with the Afghan Government without preconditions.  The peace process needed to be inclusive, involving Afghans in all strata of society, including youth and women, who could play a crucial role in helping shape a lasting peace.

He welcomed the reconstitutions of the electoral management bodies, as well as the commencement of prosecutions by the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Centre which showed the Government’s seriousness in tackling corruption.  The peace agreement with Hizb-i Islami showed that the Government was prepared to negotiate on key issues.  As regional countries would also benefit security‑wise and economically, he said the active contributions of those nations to assist Afghanistan was encouraging. 

Of concern, however, was the increase in opium poppy cultivation and production, said Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), noting that cultivation had increased by 10 per cent and production by 43 per cent.  Afghan heroin was linked to terrorism, with the bulk of opium cultivation taking place in areas controlled by the Taliban. 

In addition, because the illicit drugs trade also fuelled corruption, the Office was working with Afghan counterparts to draft a new comprehensive anti‑corruption law based on international standards and best practices, he said.  The new National Peace and Development Framework and the National Drug Action Plan underscored the Afghan Government’s determination to counter illicit drug production and trafficking.  The Office was also promoting cooperation in the region through its Regional Programme; the Triangular and the Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan initiatives; the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre; and the Gulf Cooperation Council Criminal Information Centre to Combat Drugs. 

Gerard Van Bohemen (New Zealand), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, said the Committee aimed to deter the Taliban and associates through tools such as an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo. 

The sanctions regime mattered to the Taliban, he said, noting that removal from what the Taliban called the “UN blacklists” was consistently in the top three demands of that group.  Yet, despite sanctions, the Taliban had retained the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan forces, the Afghan people and the international presence in Afghanistan and listed Taliban continued travelling.

The representative of Afghanistan said that any kind of outside contact with the Taliban, or other such groups, without the prior knowledge and approval of the Afghan Government was seen as a legitimization of terror, a direct breach of sovereignty, and a clear contravention of the sanctions regimes.  Effectively enforcing existing resolutions, including the sanctions regimes, could have a significant impact.  The timely inclusion of select irreconcilable Taliban leaders in the sanctions list and more meaningful interaction between counter-terrorism bodies and Afghan security agencies was essential.

“Winter is about to start in Afghanistan,” he said, noting that in the Taliban calendar, that usually marked the “official” end of the so‑called fighting season, with Taliban militiamen returning to rest and refuel in the “warmth of the madrassas in Pakistan”.  He urged all Afghan Taliban groups and their foreign supporters to enter into genuine peace talks with the Afghan Government. 

However, while acknowledging the challenge terrorists presented to long‑term stability in the region, the representative of Pakistan stressed that drivers of violence were in Afghanistan and not in other countries, adding his rejection of the notion that the Taliban reorganized during the winter in Pakistan.  As host to millions of Afghan refugees, he underscored that the two countries enjoyed age‑old kinship and a shared destiny, adding that Pakistan stood ready to support its Afghani brothers and sisters in their struggle for a better future that would bring peace and stability for the whole region.

Iran’s representative said strengthening regional cooperation was a major pathway to consolidate peace in the region.  The trilateral agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan on the development of the port of Chabahar was an important step in that direction, and would make it possible for Afghanistan to have access to world markets through open seas.  More so, as a frontline country in the war against narcotics, he noted that Iran had offered alternative cultivation plans to dissuade Afghan farmers from opium cultivation.

In order to bring sustainable peace to that country, stressed the representative of India, groups and individuals perpetrating violence “must be denied safe havens and sanctuaries in Afghanistan’s neighbourhoods”.  He echoed the call of his counterpart from Iran for strengthening regional cooperation, noting that the trilateral agreement would have the potential to engage young people and attract young talent back from overseas.

Speakers welcomed progress made between the President and the Chief Executive in effort to unify leadership, as well as the swearing in of election commissioners.  In particular, speakers expressed hope that the signing of the peace deal between the Government and Hizb-i Islami would be a model for agreements with other factions.  Still, concern was expressed regarding the fragile security situation and the increase in poppy cultivation and drug trafficking.  They called on the Taliban to start negotiations with the Afghan Government, stressing that the path to reconciliation should be through an Afghan‑led and Afghan‑owned process. 

Speakers also voiced their shock at the announcement that the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, had been shot and killed in Ankara, and expressed their condolences to the Government of Turkey and the family of the victim, with Turkey’s delegate condemning the attack and stressing that the Turkish authority would ensure justice through a thorough investigation.

Also speaking today were representatives of Ukraine, Russian Federation, United States, China, Malaysia, United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, France, Venezuela, Egypt, Senegal, Angola, Uruguay, Spain, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Australia and Kazakhstan also spoke, as did the representative of the European Union.

The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and ended at 1:40 p.m.

Briefings

TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the National Unity Government had demonstrated a unified stance at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) meeting in Warsaw and the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan.  Afghan leaders had stressed their shared commitment to security, development and reform priorities, and had continued working to overcome their differences.  He welcomed the reconstitutions of the electoral management bodies, as well as the commencement of prosecutions by the Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Centre which showed the Government’s seriousness in tackling corruption.

He said Afghan citizens were returning home in record numbers from both Pakistan and Iran.  Yet, with over 1.5 million people “on the move”, it was likely that the coming year would see similar numbers.  Welcoming the international community’s response to the appeal for assistance for the displaced and returnees, he said the longer term needs of integration must be addressed with urgency.  Greater efforts must be made to ensure due to recognition of the voluntary nature of return and for the process of return to be undertaken with dignity and respect.

A better future was not possible without peace, he continued.  In 2016, thousands of Afghans had been killed and tens of thousands more had been wounded.  The conflict had eroded the living conditions of people and had deprived the country’s opportunities for development and growth.  There was approximately a 50 per cent decrease in economic investment as well.  Pointing out that the financial resources spent on the conflict could be utilized for the economic prosperity of Afghanistan, he underscored that the conflict had no military solution and called upon the Taliban to commit to direct talks with the Afghan Government without preconditions.

There were issues of mutual interests and high priorities to all parties, such as lessening the civilian casualties, he said.  The basic agreement on fundamental principles should make it possible to reach a peace agreement.  The process would need to be inclusive, involving Afghans in all strata of society, including youth and women, who could play a crucial role in helping shape a lasting peace.

The peace agreement with Hizb-i Islami showed that the Government was prepared to negotiate on key issues, such as prisoner release, lifting of sanctions, and integration into the political life of Afghanistan.  He welcomed Government assurances that there would be no compromise of the rights of Afghans in implementing the peace agreement, including the rights of victims of gross violations of human rights. 

Furthermore, regional countries would also benefit security‑wise and economically, he said.  The active contributions of the regional countries to assist Afghanistan was encouraging, and he called upon the countries of the region to ask what more they could do to help create an environment conducive to peace in Afghanistan and the region.  “I am encouraged by the positive messages of support of the regional countries for an Afghan‑lead peace process, and I look forward to these messages showing positive results,” he stated.

YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the recent report “Afghanistan Opium Survey 2016” showed a “worrying reversal” in efforts to combat the matter.  Opium poppy cultivation had increased by 10 per cent and production by 43 per cent.  It was against that background, as well as the ongoing insurgency, that the Office’s efforts continued in Afghanistan.  As well, regional countries and organizations had committed to a sustained and integrated approach to dealing with the production and trafficking of illicit drugs.

The Afghanistan Country Programme of UNODC, which was linked to its Regional Programme for Afghanistan and Neighbouring Countries, assisted in building capacity for the ministry of counter-narcotics, he continued.  The Office was also promoting cooperation in the region through its Regional Programme; the Triangular and the Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan initiatives; the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre; and the Gulf Cooperation Council Criminal Information Centre to Combat Drugs.  To build links between those bodies, UNODC had introduced an initiative to leverage information sharing.

Afghan heroin, he underscored, was also linked to terrorism and the insurgency, with the bulk of opium cultivation taking place in areas controlled by the Taliban.  He welcomed the Afghan Government’s decision to develop a national action plan on violent extremism, adding that UNDOC would assist in its implementation. Illicit drugs also fuelled corruption, and the Office was working with Afghan counterparts to draft a new comprehensive anti-corruption law based on international standards and best practices.  The new National Peace and Development Framework and the National Drug Action Plan underscored the Afghan Government’s determination to counter illicit drug production and trafficking.

GERARD VAN BOHEMEN (New Zealand), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities, said that close coordination with UNAMA was important for the overall effectiveness of the 1988 sanctions regime.  The Committee aimed to deter the Taliban and associates through tools such as an assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo. 

The existence of the 1988 sanctions regime mattered to the Taliban, he said, noting that removal from what the Taliban called the “UN blacklists” was consistently in the top three demands of that group.  Furthermore, the Taliban followed developments in the Committee closely and often issued statements on reports of the Monitoring Team.  Yet, despite sanctions, the Taliban had retained the ability to conduct attacks against Afghan forces, the Afghan people and the international presence in Afghanistan.  The latest report from the Monitoring Team outlined how that group continued their offensive against the Government of Afghanistan following the leadership transition in May.

While there were many structures and frameworks in place, implementation of the sanctions measures could be uneven, he said, adding that he continued to receive reports of listed Taliban travelling without approved exemptions from the Committee; that issue clearly needed to be addressed.  Member States should play a more active role in providing information that would help keep the sanctions list as up‑to‑date as possible.  In addition, more could also be done to target narcotics smugglers who were financially supporting the Taliban, whose income from narcotics was estimated at around $400 million per year. Cutting off that financial stream could have a significant impact on the Taliban’s ability to resource its offensive against the Government of Afghanistan.

The overall effectiveness of the sanctions regime relied on close coordination with the Afghan Government and the region’s countries, he said, recalling his visits to Afghanistan in his capacity as Chair to engage with interlocutors in the Government.  Those meetings in Kabul showed there was potential for greater use of the sanctions regime to deter the Taliban and to support the peace process.  He also emphasized that the Committee welcomed the various commitments made by the Government of Afghanistan during that visit to engage more actively with the sanctions regime, including by providing the names of narcotics smugglers who financially supported the Taliban.

MAHMOUD SAIKAL (Afghanistan), thanking Member States for their positive contributions to his country’s progress, said that for too long “terror has found a comfort zone in the occasional tectonic shifts of security fault lines”, with terrorists exploiting fragmented counter-terrorism measures to spread violence and discord.  Any kind of outside contact with the Taliban, or other such groups, without the prior knowledge and approval of the Afghan Government was seen as a legitimization of terror, a direct breach of sovereignty, and a clear contravention of the sanctions regimes as well as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Calling for a three-tier counter-terrorism strategy, he added that at the debate level, the international community must address the impact of State rivalries and State-sponsored violence in pursuit of political objectives.  At the operational level, it was necessary to refine relevant existing resolutions or adopt new resolutions.  At the implementation level, effectively enforcing existing resolutions, including the sanctions regimes, could have a significant impact.  The timely inclusion of select irreconcilable Taliban leaders in the sanctions list and more meaningful interaction between counter-terrorism bodies and Afghan security agencies, was essential.

“Winter is about to start in Afghanistan,” he stated, noting that in the Taliban calendar, that usually marked the “official” end of the so‑called fighting season, with Taliban militiamen returning to rest and refuel in the “warmth of the madrassas in Pakistan”.  Even though such seasonal and tactical use of war and peace left little room for genuine peace efforts, he nevertheless urged all Afghan Taliban groups and their foreign supporters to enter into genuine peace talks with the Afghan Government.  Noting progress in the implementation of the peace agreement signed with Hizb‑i Islami in September, he added that those who wanted to take advantage of that historic opportunity should refrain from all divisive activities.

Turning to economic progress, he said that the recent inauguration of the Turkmenistan‑Afghanistan railway, the arrival of a cargo train from China, the construction of the Iran‑Afghanistan railway, and the forthcoming cargo air corridor between Afghanistan and India were reviving centuries of old trade routes that would help revitalize the regional economy.  However, insecurity created by the Taliban undercut economic development and regional connectivity.  Furthermore, with nearly one million Afghan nationals returning over the past year, the humanitarian crisis would worsen. It was vital to respond to the Organization’s flash appeal to provide for immediate life‑saving assistance.  The joint partnership between his country and the international community was a strategic investment towards a safer world order.

Statements

YURIY VITRENKO (Ukraine), associating himself with the European Union, said some progress had been achieved in countering corruption and terrorism.  The peace deal signed with one armed faction had been a contribution to normalcy.  Regional cooperation had been strengthened by infrastructure projects and investments.  However, rivalry between Afghan high-level officials and postponement of parliamentary elections hindered the peace process and return to the rule of law.  There was a need for the Government to seek common ground with the Taliban's moderate wing.  There had been attempts to negotiate with the Taliban behind the back of the Afghan Government.  Sanctions on the Taliban’s leadership were unconvincing, he said, noting that the movement’s current leader – elected six months ago — was not on the sanctions list.  It was necessary to disrupt financing of the Taliban by disrupting the narcotics trade.  The protection of civilians was a complex challenge and the number of collateral victims were growing due to indiscriminate shelling by both parties.  All violations of international law needed to be investigated.

VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said he was concerned at the security situation, especially in Afghanistan’s north.  Eliminating the leader strengthened the influence of radicals.  He supported the Government’s efforts to achieve national reconciliation, among other things by helping to ease the sanctions regime.  The main goal of the national reconciliation process was to involve the Taliban.  That had not been accomplished.  The large‑scale production of illicit drugs was a threat to the stability of Afghanistan, the region and the world, and provided financial support to terrorism.  ISIL was trying to establish a caliphate in Afghanistan.  Syrian and Iraqi fighters could find refuge in Afghanistan.  He assured the Council that his country was not conducting any kind of behind‑the‑scenes negotiations.  Its contacts only served to provide security for Russian nationals and to move the Taliban to join negotiations.

ISOBEL COLEMAN (United States) said she had been encouraged by progress.  The President and the Chief Executive were working together and the Electoral Commission had been sworn in.  She commended the Government for its efforts to seek an inclusive peace, and called upon the Taliban to enter into negotiations with the Government.  The strong commitments made by the international community were encouraging, she said, but noted that difficult challenges remained.  She was concerned that attacks by the Taliban, ISIL and other groups were hindering development and noted that the main victims were civilians.  Afghanistan had experienced a spike in the number of refugees returning, including undocumented Afghans, and was concerned at the possibility of a humanitarian emergency as winter approached.  The return of refugees should be voluntary, humane and in accordance with international law.  Anti‑corruption initiatives must show the ability to hold officials accountable.  She looked forward to the completion of election reforms and parliamentary elections, noting that UNAMA should prepare Afghan women to run as well.  She underlined that sanctions were a good tool to countering the Taliban and supporting peace in Afghanistan.

WU HAITAO (China) applauded the Afghanistan Government’s promotion of economic development and stability, adding that it also faced great challenges, and the road to peace and development remained long.  It was China’s hope that the international community would continue to see Afghanistan as a priority.  It should help support capacity-building with regard to counter-terrorism and transnational crime measures.  To advance the national reconciliations process in Afghanistan, there should be an inclusive process, led and owned by that country.  She hoped that the international community would deliver on its aid promises, commended UNAMA’s work and supported the Mission’s role in promoting development.

SITI HAJJAR ADNIN (Malaysia) said that the briefings had raised a number of serious challenges, and the escalation of armed clashes was worrisome.  UNAMA’s recent report on the protection of civilians underscored the gravity of the situation.  She also expressed concern over the escalation in the number of child casualties, which was up by 15 per cent over the same period last year.  She reiterated the call on all parties to undertake the necessary measures to ensure the safety and security of all civilians in Afghanistan, particularly children.  Countering narcotics remained one of the protracted challenges faced by the Government.  Opium poppy cultivation had increased by 10 per cent in 2016, and eradication efforts had decreased.  She remained convinced that the United Nations, with full respect for the sovereignty of the country, would play a key role in achieving lasting stability in Afghanistan.

PETER WILSON (United Kingdom) said that 2016 was an important year for Afghanistan and that as the National Unity Government had a clear signal of support, he looked forward to 2017.  With regard to countering extremists, he noted ISIL/Da’esh was a global threat that Afghanistan had seen at first hand; one month ago, that group had killed 30 people in the streets of Kabul.  Last week, it had stopped a university student and hanged him in public, evoking the “darkest days of life” under Taliban control.  Those senseless deaths showed that the Afghanistan security forces had a tough road ahead.  The United Kingdom was working with the Government as the coalition leader of the Afghanistan Officer Academy, and was proud to help train military leaders.  His Government had also helped support 7.2 million children who were going to school, over 3 million of whom were girls, and he called upon all members of the Council to follow suit.

KORO BESSHO (Japan), recalling the international community’s expressions of commitment to Afghanistan at the NATO Summit in July and at the Brussels Conference in October, voiced the hope that the country would soon achieve self‑reliance to the point where donors no longer needed to announce multi‑year pledges.  Calling for comprehensive solutions, he noted that Japan was providing support to allow Afghans to fight poverty, not with poppies, but with the revival of their legitimate agricultural sector.  Since Afghanistan’s unstable situation impeded development opportunities, his country also provided $100 million in security assistance each year.

CAROLYN SCHWALGER (New Zealand) said that 2016 had seen its share of ups and downs for Afghanistan.  The Taliban’s offensive had intensified over the past year and the cost of weathering the storm had been considerable.  Efforts to provide more united leadership had been welcome but divisions with the Afghan Government — as witnessed by the recent dismissal of seven ministers by Parliament — remained clear.  At the same time, prospects for peace talks with the Taliban appear to have dimmed for the foreseeable future.  On a more positive note, the international community recommitted its support to Afghanistan for another four years at the Warsaw and Brussels conferences.  Looking ahead, New Zealand would not hesitate to demonstrate its enduring commitment to the people of Afghanistan, she said, stressing that the cost of failure would simply be too great.  However, no amount of international support could, by itself, bring peace and security to the country.  In that regard, a unified and effective National Unity Government that placed the interests of its people first would be essential for success.

ALEXIS LAMEK (France), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, acknowledged the progress made, including a road map for development for the coming years and the signing of an agreement to limit migration to Europe.  The Afghan Forces also had made major strides.  However, the continued deterioration of the security situation was worrying.  The new attacks by the Taliban and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) had confirmed the fragility of the situation.  There was a need for a strong and united Government to handle the security and development challenges.  As the conflict had a high human cost, in particular children, he said there was a need to relaunch the discussions for the peace process by and for Afghans.  Drug trafficking fed illicit economy, corruption, financed the Taliban and threatened the health of many Afghans, he added, expressing concern at the increase of opium production and the drop in opium eradication.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela) welcomed the peace agreement between the Government and Hizb-i Islami with hope it would encourage other groups to join reconciliation efforts.  The Sanctions Committee should look at delisting the Hizb-i Islami, since its leader had rejected any terrorist links.  He also welcomed the outcome of the Brussels Conference.  Noting that the security situation was volatile, he expressed concern at civilian casualties from bombardments by the international coalition.  In addition, many children were being recruited by non‑State actors.  Encouraging Afghanistan to continue its talks with Pakistan, he also welcomed the strengthening of bilateral relations with India and other countries, expressing the hope that Afghanistan would soon join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  Drug trafficking continued to be a threat to peace and stability, as it financed terrorist activities by the Taliban.  Regional cooperation was vital in that regard, he stressed, noting that cooperation by consumer nations was also necessary.

IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) commended the Afghan Government for its efforts to put together a framework for peace and development in Afghanistan.  The international community had expressed its support for that framework at the Brussels Conference, which resulted in commitments of $15.2 million in aid.  He also welcomed the peace agreement between the Government and Hizb-i Islami, voicing hope it would be a model for other factions.  Terrorism remained a main challenge and the spread of ISIL/Da’esh was a major danger that should be combatted with support of the international community.  Drug trafficking was a parallel threat as it financed terrorist groups; regional cooperation was needed in that regard.  The worsening of the humanitarian situation was a challenge for the country and the international community, he said, describing Egypt’s efforts to help Afghanistan, through training and humanitarian assistance, among other things.

GORGUI CISS (Senegal) said that while the Council’s attention was focused on other parts of the world, the Secretary-General’s report was a reminder of the huge humanitarian and security challenges Afghanistan faced in spite of progress by that country’s Government.  That progress included the easing of tensions on the political front due to the 29 September peace agreement.  Regarding security, much needed to be done, as armed gangs and terrorists continued to threaten the population, and the Taliban had continued to step up their attacks.  All efforts should be undertaken to convince that group to engage in dialogue with the Government, without any preconditions.  On human rights, he welcomed the efforts of the Government to protect women against harassment, but was concerned about the persistent obstacles that they encountered while working in various State institutions.  The United Nations should continue to represent the voice of women as they played a key role in a peaceful society by combatting violent extremism.

MAHMOUD SAIKAL (Angola) highlighted troubling elements in the Secretary-General’s report, including persistent political tensions, the rising number of internally displaced persons and returning refugees, as well as a stalled peace process.  He also underscored that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report revealed an expansion of opium production and a decrease in eradication efforts.  Due to the role of illicit drugs in the financing of insurgents and terrorists, eradication efforts should be stepped up, as should the finding of alternatives to opium production for the country’s economy.  Measures taken by the Government on the promotion of women’s rights and economic empowerment were encouraging.  However, little progress had been made on the road to peace.  While the Taliban was engaged in a spree of violence, no progress could be made on a peace settlement.  He joined the Special Representative in calling on that group to join peace talks, without conditions.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) called upon the Afghanistan authorities to pursue a path to lasting peace, and welcomed efforts carried out by the Government to overcome obstacles to peace.  It should also show the necessary leadership to achieve peace in the short, medium and long term, and undertake necessary steps to rebuild the country.  He underscored that he was concerned at the worsening humanitarian situation in the country, noting that 5 million people required assistance, a figure that was 13 per cent higher than last year.  Because of the rapid rise in internally displaced persons and the return of undocumented refugees from Pakistan, humanitarian aid was urgently needed, particularly in restricted areas.

JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity and aligned himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union.  He welcomed the considerable progress achieved, noting agreements on electoral reform, good governance, fighting corruption and protection of human rights, in particular for women and children.  He expressed outrage at the persistence of terrorism and violent extremism, adding his support for all efforts for the peace process under Afghan ownership.  He also welcomed the peace agreement with Hizb-i Islami and urged the Government to protect women and ensure women’s participation in the peace process and in society.  The situation of displaced persons was worrisome, including those in Afghanistan, as well as the many Afghans who were returning, many of whom were undocumented.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said the international community would persist in creating an environment that allowed the Afghan people to look towards a future of peace, economic prosperity and self-reliance.  As the situation in the country remained fragile, he was concerned that the violence continued to take its heaviest toll on the innocent and most vulnerable.  He drew attention to the plight of internally displaced persons, noting that the dramatically increased flow of returnees from neighbouring countries was particularly challenging.  In that context, Italy had contributed €1 million in order to meet the humanitarian needs of returnees and internally displaced persons.  Afghanistan must complement the international community’s support with an unwavering commitment to carry out reforms in a manner that promoted mutual accountability, he said, adding that the empowerment of women and the fight against corruption were top priorities.

HARALD BRAUN (Germany) said that the peace agreement with Hizb-i Islami gave the international community new hope that lasting peace was possible in Afghanistan.  He was encouraged by the transparent recruitment process for electoral commissions, yet the security situation continued to be the main challenge in that country.  Recalling a 22 per cent rise in the number of armed clashes, he said that the recent attack on the German Consulate in Masar-e-Sharif was one of the incidents.  Furthermore, the production and trade of illegal narcotics negatively affected the Afghan society and the region.  In that regard, he encouraged the Government to fight opium poppy cultivation and production more decisively.  Among other things, he called upon all parties to ensure the successful reintegration of returning refugees.

NABEEL MUNIR (Pakistan) welcomed the resolve of the Afghan leadership to address differences in a spirit of cooperation, but stated that the continued political volatility and the security situation was a cause of concern.  Pakistan had expressed its support for Afghanistan in Brussels and would continue its regional cooperation.  His country was committed to a lasting peace to which successful implementation of reforms and active efforts for peace and reconciliation were key.  Terrorists and extremist groups presented a challenge to the long-term stability of Afghanistan and its neighbours.  However, drivers of violence were in Afghanistan and not in other countries, he emphasized, adding his rejection of the notion that the Taliban reorganized during the winter in Pakistan.  Robust border management was critical to counter cross-border movement.

He said the peace and reconciliation process had yet to produce results, but that was not due to lack of efforts on Pakistan’s part.  Afghan parties must realize that military efforts did not bring peace.  Faithful implementation and remaining trust among parties was fundamental.  The peace agreement with Hizb-i Islami could serve as a model for other groups.  In addition, his country had hosted millions of refugees and was committed to their return in honour and dignity.  The two countries enjoyed age-old kinship and a shared destiny, he said, stating that Pakistan stood ready to support its Afghani brothers and sisters in their struggle for a better future that would bring peace and stability for the whole region.

KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands) said that his country had been a long-time partner of Afghanistan, and had pledged €240 million for its reconstruction.  Welcoming the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework and the Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework, he said that it set clear results for the Government to achieve further progress.  It was now paramount that such announcements were translated into concrete action.  He went on to commend efforts by Afghanistan’s Government to advance its anti-corruption agenda.  While the inauguration of the new Anti-Corruption Criminal Justice Centre was a positive development, corruption remained a big problem in the country.  On the security situation and regional cooperation, he noted that armed clashes between national security forces and the Taliban had intensified.  Together with the increasing number of returning refugees, the humanitarian situation was worrisome.  To achieve a truly stable country, it was critical that the Afghan-led peace process would intensify, while countries in the region continued to work together.

PER THÖRESSON (Sweden), associating himself with the European Union, said that peace in Afghanistan remained a priority for his country.  He was also encouraged by efforts by UNAMA to promote the rule of law, as well as human rights.  Unity and cooperation remained key for the continued development of Afghanistan, and he underlined the importance of the political reforms pledged in Brussels in October by the Government.  Sustained engagements by countries in the region remained vital for Afghanistan’s future.  In 2016, many Afghanis returned from Pakistan, and joined internally displaced persons to face a challenging winter.  Noting that women’s participation in society was crucial if the country was to lift itself out of poverty, he emphasized that excluding half of the population was wrong and proven to lead to less sustainable peace agreements.

GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said the region continued to suffer from an alarming surge in extremist violence and a dramatic increase in drug production.  The international community needed to increase support for the Afghan Government in its fight against terrorism, as well as its efforts to address security, economic and political challenges.  Strengthening regional cooperation was a major pathway to consolidate peace in the region.  The trilateral agreement between Iran, India and Afghanistan on the development of the port of Chabahar was an important step in that direction, and would make it possible for Afghanistan to have access to world markets through open seas.  As a frontline country in the war against narcotics, he noted that his country had offered alternative cultivation plans to dissuade Afghan farmers from opium cultivation.

He went on to say that Iran had hosted three million Afghan nationals at any point for the past 37 year, and was now providing education to nearly 400,000 undocumented Afghan students.  As well, his country continued to participate in the work of the Tripartite Commission in order to plan for voluntary, safe, dignified and gradual repatriation of Afghan refugees.  A stronger coordinated approach between the Government, donors and the United Nations and an overall strategy for addressing the combined needs of the displaced and returnees were crucial in making repatriation of Afghan refugees successful.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said that efforts at rebuilding institutions, infrastructure and networks in Afghanistan were being undermined, schools destroyed, mosques bombarded and religious gatherings targeted.  In order to bring sustainable peace to that country, groups and individuals perpetrating violence “must be denied safe havens and sanctuaries in Afghanistan’s neighbourhoods”, he stressed.  Turning to the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference held in early December in Amritsar, India, he said a key focus of India’s co‑chairmanship of that process was to underscore the importance of connectivity for Afghanistan.  Earlier in the year, Iran, India and Afghanistan had signed a trilateral transit and transport agreement to provide year-round, reliable connectivity to Afghanistan via Chabahar, Iran.  Such connectivity would have the potential to engage young people and attract young talent back from overseas.  He voiced his country’s full support for Afghanistan’s National Unity Government in its efforts to strengthen defence capabilities in its fight against terrorism, adding that the path to reconciliation should be through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process. 

JOANNE ADAMSON, of the European Union, said that the $5.6 billion pledged by the bloc at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan was a display of its continued engagement, which was based on the principle of mutual accountability between the Afghan Government and international donors.  Recalling the Conference’s high-level event on women’s empowerment, he said that their empowerment was not only a matter of human rights and social justice, but also about development and security.  The Union would continue to support the Afghan authorities in their efforts to increase women’s participation in society and the economy.

“Migration continues to represent an important challenge for both the European Union and Afghanistan,” he said, reaffirming the common aim to work together within the United Nations framework to shape a global answer based on solidarity.  The Union fully supported the principles contained in the Sustainable Development Goals which foresaw the promotion of safe, responsible and orderly migration on the basis of well-managed policies.  Also welcoming the undeterred willingness of the Afghan Government to engage with all armed groups in a political process, he added that it was crucial to implement the breakthrough agreement with the Hizb-i Islami and open the way for future peace agreements.

MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) said that the Canadian Government had committed $465 million for Afghanistan between 2017 and 2020, including $270 million for development assistance and $195 million in security sector support.  He commended the role being played by political leaders in support of the National Unity Government and the progress that had been made on electoral reform.  Nonetheless, he expressed deep concern over the deterioration of security and its toll on civilians, noting that their displacement and increased vulnerability was unacceptable.  In that regard, he called on Afghanistan’s neighbours to work with the Afghan Government to better manage the return of Afghan refugees.

CAITLIN WILSON (Australia), applauding efforts towards an Afghan-led peace process, cited the peace agreement with Hizb-i Islami as a historic achievement.  Ongoing attention to that accord’s success was crucial.  Encouraged by the progress of the anti-corruption agenda and the electoral programme, she also urged attention to the work needed to be done in the planning for 2017 elections.  Australia was committed to maintaining its strong contribution to Afghanistan, she said, noting that her country had extended its deployment of the Australian Defence Force personnel to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission into 2017, committing $750 million to development and to sustaining the security sector over the next four years.  The large number of civilian casualties in 2016, as well as the growing needs of returning refugees and internally displaced persons, highlighted the dire humanitarian situation.  Looking towards 2017, security, governance and reform would remain key priorities for building Afghanistan, she stressed. 

GÜVEN BEGEÇ (Turkey) informed the Council of his regret and sorrow that the Russian Federation Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov, had just lost his life after being attacked by a gunman in Ankara.  He condemned that attack and expressed his solidarity with the Russian Federation.  The Turkish authority would ensure justice through a thorough investigation.

Turning to the subject of Afghanistan, he noted that during the last fourteen years, it had gone through a remarkable transition process and had achieved considerable progress.  However, there was still much work to be done, and those accomplishments were still reversible.  The NATO Warsaw Summit and the Brussels Conference were encouraging, and in those meetings the international community had displayed its commitment.  The stability of that country would depend on improved security, and lasting peace would only be achieved through a successful conclusion of the peace and reconciliation process.

He welcomed the signing of the peace agreement between the Afghan Government and Hizb-i Islami.  His country would help the Afghan Government realize its security and development agenda for as long as was needed, and would continue its bilateral assistance as well as its contributions to NATO’s efforts as a Framework Nation within the Resolute Support Mission.  Between 2002 and 2015 Turkey had contributed more than $962 million aid to Afghanistan, he said, also noting that it had pledged $150 million during the Brussels Conference for the period of 2018 to 2020.

KAIRAT ABDRAKHMANOV (Kazakhstan) said the illicit production and trafficking in drugs - a key source for terrorism financing – posed a great threat in Afghanistan and beyond.  As such, a comprehensive approach was needed in countries of origin, transit and destination.  Providing market incentives for cultivating other agricultural products could also substantially lead to a decrease in opium production, he said, calling for international support to the Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre in its efforts to combat illicit narcotics.  Worsened by the increase in Afghan refugee returns, the humanitarian situation was another major threat.  As a result, greater assistance from donor countries and international organizations would be vital to meet that challenge. 

The representative Afghanistan, taking the floor a second time, called the shooting of the Russian Federation Ambassador to Turkey “a sad day for diplomacy”, and extended his deepest condolences to the Government and the people of the Russian Federation, as well as the family of the Ambassador.  He also paid tribute to the work of Gerard van Bohemen, who had chaired the Sanctions Committee for the last two years, before welcoming the new Chair.

For information media. Not an official record.