United States Leads Calls for Government-Taliban Peace Talks ‘without Preconditions’, Saying Group Must ‘Choose that Path’
Progress, as well as daunting challenges and opportunities for political engagement, characterized the situation in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country told the Security Council today.
Briefing members on the most recent political and security developments in that country, Tadamichi Yamamoto said steps were being taken to lay the foundation for the most important electoral reforms in Afghanistan since 2001. Important progress had already been made in organizing parliamentary and district council elections scheduled for July 2018.
He went on to state that Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission had completed its assessment of polling stations, and had reportedly reached more than 90 per cent of districts. The next step would be voter registration, he said, adding that those two processes would pave the way for the establishment of polling station-specific voter lists and the completion of a viable voter registry.
Despite those positive developments, however, the security situation remained a major concern, he said, noting that, with the persistence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in the east, and the group’s growing presence in the north, as well as in the capital, Kabul, the situation had become more complex. “I am convinced that a political settlement is possible,” he said, while cautioning against allowing another fighting season to begin without progress towards substantive negotiations. Otherwise, opportunities would be lost and the cost would be paid in thousands of Afghan lives and tremendous financial expense, he warned.
Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said terrorism and violent extremism in his country were the product of a neighbouring State’s long-standing policy of keeping Afghanistan unstable. The security forces and their international partners were fighting more than 20 internationally recognized terrorist groups, he added, noting that the Taliban had suffered major setbacks in manpower and morale while failing to hold territory. Their exaggerated claims of control over parts of Afghan territory amounted to psychological warfare, he stressed. The security forces had the upper hand and would continue — with sustained international assistance — on a positive trajectory, he said, adding that Afghanistan was pleased to see growing international recognition of the need to address the fundamental sources of insecurity. Despite being on the “receiving end” of provocations, including violations of the Durand Line, Afghanistan sought to resolve differences through dialogue, diplomacy and peaceful means, particularly in the case of Pakistan, he emphasized.
Pakistan’s representative, however, said she rejected the insinuations directed at her country, emphasizing that the fundamental sources of instability in the Minister’s country “lay inside and not outside” Afghanistan. The Government must focus on that rather than blaming others for its problems. More than 20 terrorist organizations were operating on Afghan soil, many of which were conducting terrorist attacks inside Pakistan, which unfortunately continued to bear the brunt of terrorist organizations operating in safe havens inside Afghanistan. Afghanistan must do more to end such attacks, she said, calling also upon the Taliban to end the violence and agree to talks. Pakistan was not prepared to fight Afghanistan’s war on its own soil, she declared, stressing also that it would not approve any strategy that had failed in the past and that would continue to destabilize the region.
The representative of the United States said her country would continue to support peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban — without preconditions. The path towards a negotiated settlement was available, but the Taliban must choose to take that path, she emphasized. The United States would continue to support the Government and security forces in the fight against the Taliban, Da’esh and other terrorist groups, and in ensuring that terrorists would never be able to exploit Afghan territory as a safe haven. She went on to underline her country’s message to the terrorists: “You cannot win on the battlefield. The only path to peace is negotiations.”
The representative of the Russian Federation expressed concern about the deteriorating military situation in Afghanistan and the growth of terrorist activity, particularly by the Afghan wing of ISIL. Putting the number of that group’s fighters within Afghanistan at more than 7,000, he said its expansionist drive posed a real threat to South Asia and to the Russian Federation’s southern region. The use of unidentified helicopters to assist ISIL must be investigated and stopped immediately, he emphasized, adding that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) presence had failed to address instability in Afghanistan.
Also speaking today were representatives of Japan, Uruguay, Egypt, China, United Kingdom, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, France, Italy, Senegal, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Iran, India, Australia and Belgium, as well as the European Union delegation.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 6:01 p.m.
TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative for Afghanistan presented the Secretary-General’s report on the situation there and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2017/783), saying that on the third anniversary of the creation of the National Unity Government, he saw progress and daunting challenges, as well as opportunities for political engagement in the interest of peace. Key reforms had been made despite ongoing security challenges and if they were consolidated and sustained, they would significantly strengthen the foundation for a more self-reliant Afghan State.
The Government’s efforts to address corruption had begun to bear fruit thanks to a major effort led by the Anti-Corruption Justice Centre, which was increasingly tackling complex cases involving high-level officials, he said, noting that the Centre had completed 21 cases and 14 appeals, thus far, enabling it to put a dent into the long-standing problem of impunity for Government officials. Senior officials would convene in Kabul next month to review progress of the commitments made in Brussels one year ago. That meeting needed to demonstrate to donors that reform and development programmes were translating into real improvements in the well-being of all Afghans.
There had also been progress on organizing parliamentary and district council elections scheduled for next July, he stated, adding that the Independent Electoral Commission had completed its assessment of polling stations, reportedly reaching more than 90 per cent of districts. The next step would be voter registration. Those two processes would lay the foundation of what would be the most important electoral reforms since 2001 — the establishment of polling station-specific voter lists and the completion of a viable voter registry. It was imperative to hold elections according to the plan, he said, emphasizing that timely elections would enhance the credibility of the political system and institutions.
Nevertheless, many stakeholders remained sceptical that elections would be held on time, he noted, calling for further public outreach by the Independent Electoral Commission to demonstrate greater transparency and urgency in its electoral preparations. He stressed that the independence of the electoral management bodies must be respected and that the Government must do everything possible to secure the elections. The announcement of the election date had prompted the creation of new political coalitions, some of which were highly critical of the Government. That must be seen as a constructive development, since democracies required responsible opposition. Many of those groups were crossing ethnic lines in a way that had not been seen before, he said, while warning that a risk remained that some may orient their activities towards actions that would destabilize the constitutional order, promote ethnic and geographic divisions, or that would seek to undermine the State.
The security situation remained a major concern, he said, noting that, with the persistence of Da’esh in the east, and the group’s growing presence in the north, as well as in Kabul, the situation had become more complex. The human cost of the violence was high and disproportionately affected women and children. Current security planning foresaw that Afghan forces would reach sufficient strength to reverse recent Taliban gains by 2020. However, the Taliban continued to resist appeals to negotiate with the Government, and at the current rate, tens of thousands more Afghans would have been killed by 2020.
All sides acknowledged there was no military solution to the conflict, he said. “Frankly, the efforts of the past few years have led to little progress,” he added. There had been renewed interest as well as efforts for political engagements for peace. The United States Administration’s recent announcement of its continuing commitment to Afghanistan had removed some uncertainties and some key countries in the region were actively seeking to foster and promote regional engagements for peace. It was well known that preparations leading up to the peace process were complex and would require patience and time, he said, underlining that such efforts must be pragmatic and flexible, yet principled to ensure an inclusive political process that would define the country’s future.
That could only occur when all relevant parties to the conflict communicated with each other to identify the contours of a mutual settlement, he continued. The process must allow for the strategic interests of countries in the region to be taken into consideration and built into a regional consensus. “I am convinced that a political settlement is possible,” he said, while warning against allowing another fighting season to begin without progress towards substantive negotiations. Opportunities would be lost and the cost would be paid in thousands of Afghan lives and tremendous financial expense.
Another potential challenge was the risk of possible backsliding on the progress made on human rights, he said, pointing out that violence against women and girls remained widespread and the criminalization of acts of violence against women included in the legislative decree still awaited approval by Parliament. The ongoing involvement of children in armed conflict remained a major problem, he added. Significant cuts to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) were expected following the Secretary-General’s strategic review, which had allowed the Mission to think more profoundly about its role. In that context, UNAMA would implement its mandate with greater focus and with a streamlined structure, he said in conclusion.
SALAHUDDIN RABBANI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, addressed the Council for the first time in that capacity, saying it was time for the international community to take a fresh look at its engagement in his country. Noting that terrorism and violent extremism in Afghanistan were the product of a neighbouring State’s long-standing policy of keeping the country unstable, he said the Afghan security forces and its international partners were fighting more than 20 internationally recognized terrorist groups. He also noted that the Taliban had suffered major setbacks in manpower and morale while failing to hold territory, and exaggerated claims of their control over parts of Afghan territory amounted to psychological warfare. The security forces had the upper hand and would continue — with sustained international assistance — on a positive trajectory, he said, adding that Afghanistan was pleased to see growing international recognition of the need to address the fundamental sources of insecurity.
“In this regard, I can say with confidence that the new strategy of the United States for South Asia has generated new hope among our people across the country,” he continued. That strategy recognized the need to address terrorist safe havens and sanctuaries in the region, and to reinforce the message that the international community would remain engaged until Afghanistan was stable and secure. There was now a chance to fundamentally change the status quo, with regional support being important in that regard. Despite being on the receiving end of provocations, including violations of the Durand Line, Afghanistan sought to resolve differences through dialogue, diplomacy and peaceful means, particularly in the case of Pakistan, he emphasized. Afghanistan had recently presented that country with another opportunity to engage in comprehensive State-to-State talks on peace, security and prosperity, and hopefully, that offer would prompt constructive engagement rather than “plausible deniability” and attempts to change the narrative.
He went on to say that the prospects for peace with the Taliban would depend on genuine and constructive regional engagement in support of an Afghan-led process, he said. In that regard, a paradigm shift could have a profound positive impact on peace efforts. A successful outcome, modelled on an agreement with another armed opposition group, was possible, he said, asking the international community to take the necessary measures to achieve that goal. Emphasizing that the consolidation of democracy was a priority for the Government of National Unity, he said the transparency, inclusivity and credibility of parliamentary and district council elections in 2018 would be crucial. The Government was standing by its commitment to ensure more accountable and effective institutions, and looked forward to highlighting recent achievements at an upcoming meeting in Kabul to review reform commitments made in Brussels.
The strategic review of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was essential for adjusting the Organization’s role in order to make it more responsive to the needs and priorities of today, he said. Welcoming the “One-UN” model for the delivery of development assistance, he said that his country hoped for an outcome by the end of 2017 that would enable the United Nations to deliver more efficiently. He went on to discuss Afghanistan’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council, saying that membership in that entity would enable his country to consolidate human rights gains at home, and give voice to victims of terrorism, as well as the dozens of countries in conflict and post-conflict situations.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said he was pleased with the progress made on electoral preparations. However, profound challenges remained that called for enhanced performance by UNAMA. The Security Council must consider the Secretary-General’s strategic review and how best to adapt the Mission’s mandate, he said. Japan took note of UNAMA’s envisioned expanded role as a mediator, and the National Unity Government, as well as other regional actors, must create an environment conducive to reconciliation, he emphasized. The peace process must be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned”, he added.
MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said that despite all efforts, the human cost of the conflict in Afghanistan remained staggering, with more than 5,200 civilian causalities, many of them children, in just the first half of 2017. The Afghan people paid the highest cost for the conflict, and anti-Government forces were to blame for the majority of the causalities, she said. The international community was and should be impatient with the situation.
Welcoming the results of the strategic review of UNAMA, she described it as a timely moment for the United Nations to take stock and ensure that its Mission could continue in its role. The promotion of peace and security, electoral reforms, national reconciliation, human rights and women’s issues would be critical in the years ahead. She said her country’s new regional strategic review for South Asia made it clear that the United States and the United Nations shared the belief that only a durable political settlement would lead to lasting peace. The United States would continue to support the Government and security forces in the fight against the Taliban, Da’esh and other terrorist groups, and in ensuring that terrorists would never be able to exploit Afghan territory as a safe haven.
She went on to underline the message from the United States to the terrorists: “You cannot win on the battlefield. The only path to peace is negotiations.” The United States Government would continue to support peace talks between the Government and the Taliban — without preconditions. The path towards a negotiated settlement was available, but the Taliban must choose to take that path, she said. Afghanistan’s neighbours could also help, bearing in mind that Afghanistan’s security and stability were critical for the well-being of the entire region, she added, calling upon those neighbours and all countries in the region unconditionally to condemn armed and violent extremist groups.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said that strengthened democratic institutions in Afghanistan would be critical, and welcomed, in that context, the progress made towards organizing the upcoming elections. The Government’s progress in some areas, such as the fight against corruption and impunity, was encouraging, as were its activities in tackling violence against women and children, and increasing the political empowerment of women. However, the lack of political progress on negotiations between the Government and the Taliban was concerning, he said, emphasizing that it was essential to make the utmost effort to establish the talks. The support of the United Nations and the international community for the National Unity Government remained critical to tackling the main political, economic and security challenges facing the country, he stressed, pointing out that despite all the recent efforts made to stabilize Afghanistan, the situation remained fragile, and in some cases had deteriorated further.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said his country was concerned about the deteriorating military situation in Afghanistan and the growth of terrorist activity, particularly by the Afghan wing of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). Putting the number of ISIL fighters within Afghanistan at more than 7,000, he said that group’s expansionist drive posed a real threat to South Asia and to the Russian Federation’s southern region. The use of unidentified helicopters to assist ISIL must be investigated and stopped immediately, he said, adding that international efforts to combat Afghan drug trafficking must be enhanced, he said, emphasizing the prospects for cooperation with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in that regard. The presence of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had failed to address instability in Afghanistan, he said, adding that negotiation efforts could lead to national reconciliation. Kabul must take the first step in that regard, together with its international partners. He noted the important role played by UNAMA and pointed out that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization-Afghanistan contact group would hold a meeting on 11 October.
IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt) recalled the growing number of security incidents and terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, saying there was need for an integrated strategy that would combine the political, security, economic and social dimensions. That strategy would be owned by the Government and supported by States in the region, as well as international partners, including the United Nations. It was important to intensify and coordinate Afghan, regional and international efforts to combat drug trafficking in the context of fighting terrorism, he said, stressing that the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) had a role to play in that regard. The Afghan State drew 60 per cent of its budget from international sources, and UNAMA must focus on building the capacity of Afghan institutions and on enhancing the State’s ability to deliver security, jobs and basic services. Instability could not be Afghanistan’s inevitable destiny, he said.
WU HAITAO (China) said the international community should continue to support the security forces so that Afghanistan could effectively respond to threats. Political dialogue was the only viable solution to the question of Afghanistan, he said, urging all actors to put the country’s long-term interests and the welfare of its people first. They should participate in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owed reconciliation process. He welcomed the assistance provided by relevant regional countries and mechanisms. Strengthening governance would be an important guarantee of Afghanistan’s peace and reconstruction process. Participation in the regional development framework would be an important pathway to peace and reconstruction, he said, adding that his delegation took note of the Secretary-General’s report and hoped that, through the strategic review, the United Nations would be able to further optimize the Mission’s tasks.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) warned that the international community simply could not afford to lose sight of Afghanistan, which continued to face severe security and development challenges. The human cost of the conflict was huge and it was obvious that UNAMA had a vital role to play, although the Mission must adapt to align itself with the conditions on the ground. The Secretary-General’s report contained recommendations that should strengthen its work, although implementation would be the key challenge. UNAMA’s national presence was an important symbol to local communities and would play a critical role in the elections. Only by establishing a credible peace process could Afghanistan move forward. The United Kingdom and the United States were close partners in Afghanistan and agreed that it was important to continue to provide security, development and governance. “It is in all our interests that Afghanistan becomes more peaceful and prosperous,” he stressed. He went on to reiterate his country’s belief that the only way to a political settlement was through negotiations between the Government and the Taliban.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, said the recent rise in sectarian attacks was deeply troubling. Civilians continued disproportionately to shoulder the burden of the conflict, he added, noting that 2016 had seen record levels of civilians killed and injured. The number of women and children killed had also increased. “This is unacceptable,” he emphasized. Building inclusive societies was not easy, he said, stressing that a politically negotiated settlement to the conflict was the only way to realize peace. All stakeholders, especially neighbouring countries, would be essential to a long-term solution, he said, adding that the Kabul Process must be supported by the United Nations. It was also essential to support Government efforts to build strong and independent institutions that would ensure a democratic process. Underlining the important role of UNAMA, he said concrete measures must be taken to strengthen implementation of the National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security in order to include women in various peace processes.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) expressed concern about the violence perpetrated by ISIL and the Taliban. It was imperative that the United Nations and the international community support that country’s reconstruction and development efforts. All Central Asian States had already committed to long-term cooperation with Afghanistan, but there could be no security without development, and no development without security, he said. In that regard, Kazakhstan proposed to establish a United Nations regional centre on the Sustainable Development Goals and Humanitarian Assistance in Almaty with the aim of assisting Afghanistan, he said. He expressed deep concern over the high number of casualties among children, and welcomed joint efforts by UNAMA and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in addressing that challenge.
EDUARD FESKO (Ukraine) said his country supported the National Unity Government’s actions to promote an Afghan-led inclusive peace process, yet there was a lack of political decisions to guarantee the credibility of the local elections to be held in 2018 and reinforce the measures that were part of the Government’s anti-corruption and anti-drug policies. The Taliban’s influence over regional Al-Qaida affiliates had led to an increase in their military capabilities, and the presence of ISIL in north Afghanistan had created a “potential base for attacks throughout the region”, he said. In that sense, there was a need for international partners to help reduce terror activities and facilitate the safe return of refugees while promoting the country’s economic recovery, he said. A strong UNAMA was needed, and the Secretary-General’s strategic review of the Mission should be swiftly implemented. The 2018 elections would require UNAMA’s efficiency in all its components, especially its field presence, he added.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), associating herself with the European Union, said the proliferation of armed terrorist groups in Afghanistan was of major concern. France shared the determination of the Afghan authorities and their allies to fight terrorism and welcomed all steps that would support that goal, in compliance with international law. With refugees returning from Pakistan and Iran, the Government must ensure equal treatment for them and for internally displaced persons. Reforms to improve governance and better serve the population must remain a priority, including commitments to promote women’s rights. Stability could only come about through negotiations and national reconciliation, she said, emphasizing that sincere engagement and unambiguous support from all neighbours was indispensable.
INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said terrorism remained a grave threat in Afghanistan, requiring renewed collective support for Government efforts to establish peace and security. Italy would continue training, advising and assisting the security forces within the framework of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Ultimately, however, the solution must be a political one, with negotiations between the Government and armed opposition groups within the framework of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process supported by the country’s partners. Welcoming the United States strategic review, he said the role of regional actors would be crucial. The fight against corruption must go forward with determination, while the promotion of women’s rights must remain a top priority.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal), noting a 5 per cent increase in armed clashes from the previous reporting period, emphasized the importance of security-sector reform, strengthening the capacity of the Afghan security forces, and aligning their operations with long-term political objectives. He noted the number of desertions from the security forces and the difficulties in recruiting personnel, saying the decision by NATO defence ministers to augment the number of troops serving in the Resolute Support Mission, as well as President Donald Trump’s decision to keep his country’s forces in Afghanistan, were encouraging. Senegal welcomed the ongoing improvement in cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the implementation of a crisis management mechanism following an agreement on the conduct of operations along their common border.
Mr. ZAMBRANA (Bolivia) expressed concern over the rise in attacks against civilians and vital infrastructure such as schools and hospitals. Noting the “random restrictions” against the movement of humanitarian aid, he also voiced concern over the continued targeting of humanitarian personnel. Bolivia was further concerned about the high number of internally displaced persons, which had increased by more than 32,000 since the last reporting period. That number was in addition to hundreds of thousands who had recently been displaced, he added, calling for a pooling of resources to ensure and facilitate their voluntary, safe and dignified return home. He stressed the risks posed by improvised explosive devices, reflected in the rise in the number of victims compared to 2016. It was essential to remove all such devices so as to ensure the safety of civilians and that humanitarian aid reached those most in need. He reiterated that there was no military solution to the conflict and that a political solution must be led by Afghans themselves.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, warning that “political temperatures will rise in the coming months” in the lead-up to the elections. There was need to create a political atmosphere for independent and credible elections, he emphasized. However, the lack of progress in negotiations between the Government and the Taliban remained a serious challenge and concern. Afghanistan’s long-term stability could only be ensured through an Afghan-led political process, he said, emphasizing that regional countries would be critical in creating the necessary conditions to fighting terrorism. He welcomed the Government’s engagement in bilateral and multilateral dialogue, expressing hope that Afghanistan’s relationship with Pakistan would be strengthened. He underlined UNAMA’s role, particularly in carrying out its mandates under such difficult circumstances.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said she rejected the insinuations directed at her country by Afghanistan’s Foreign Minister, adding that the fundamental sources of instability in his country “lay inside and not outside” Afghanistan. The Government must focus on that rather than blaming others for its problems. ISIL was expanding its reach, a worrying sign for Afghanistan, but also for its immediate neighbours, she pointed out, emphasizing that more than 20 terrorist organizations operated on Afghan soil, many of whom were conducting terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. Wars and turmoil in Afghanistan over the past four decades had afflicted the region with extremism and terrorism, she continued, noting that Pakistan continued to bear the brunt. The flow of terrorists, narcotics and refugees had severely impacted the country and stunted its growth. Pakistan had fought “a very successful war against terrorism”, having crushed and eliminated terrorists on its towns and cities, she said, recalling that some 27,000 civilians and soldiers had been martyred. The economic loss to Pakistan had been estimated at $120 billion.
Reiterating that her country unfortunately continued to bear the brunt of terrorist organizations operating in safe havens inside Afghanistan, she underlined that her country had strengthened its border. Nevertheless, Afghanistan must do more to end such attacks. There was need to support a peace process between the Government and the Afghan insurgency, she said, adding that peace could only be realized through negotiations. Pakistan called upon the Taliban to end the violence and agree to talks, she said, stressing that what her country was not prepared to do was fight Afghanistan’s war on its own soil. Pakistan also would not approve any strategy that had failed in the past and that would continue to destabilize the region. A coordinated effort to contain and defeat ISIL was critical, she said, emphasizing the need to promote dialogue with insurgents willing to negotiate. The bonds of religion, history and culture between Afghanistan and Pakistan were strong and would survive any episode of external manipulation and intervention, she said.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), associating himself with the European Union, said it was essential to engage with insurgent groups willing to find a solution to the conflict. Pledging his country’s commitment to Afghanistan, he noted its various financial contributions to aid efforts. The Government must continue to work with civil society groups that could help improve the implementation of aid initiatives. Women must be included in peace processes as well. Since Afghanistan was not yet a post-conflict country, the international community’s main focus must be on supporting peace and security efforts under an Afghan-led process, he said. Strengthening the rule of law in Afghanistan was critical.
MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) said peace negotiations between the Government and the armed opposition, including the Taliban, were necessary. Regional and international actors must support the common interest of regional stability and the creation of the conditions for peace. Neighbouring countries must also continue to support Afghanistan by providing essential services with the aim of setting the country on the path towards self-reliance and sustained peace, he said. However, Canada was deeply concerned about the continued deterioration of security, he said, noting that there had been an increase in casualties among civilians and aid workers in 2017, while civilian casualties and displacement remained pressing problems.
JÜRGEN SCHULZ (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, echoed the strategic review’s conclusion that UNAMA must prioritize political stability and the creation of an environment conducive to reaching an Afghan-owned peace agreement. Durable peace was the only way to end the Afghan people’s suffering, he said, urging the Council not to forget that “behind every figure lies a personal tragedy”, and that more should be done to protect the most vulnerable. Condemning the recent suicide attacks against Shia mosques in Herat and Kabul, which had left more than 110 people dead, he called upon Afghans not to give in to such provocations, but to stand united in the face of terrorist threats. He expressed support for the Independent Election Commission’s announcement that it would schedule the overdue parliamentary and district council elections for July 2018, saying transparent, fair and credible elections were indispensable for a peaceful and stable future in Afghanistan.
GÜVEN BEGEÇ (Turkey) said the achievements of the past 15 years in Afghanistan must be consolidated. With the security situation and the presence of Da’esh being sources of concern, Turkey would continue to help the Government fight against terrorism, he said, warning that further fragmentation of Afghan society would be detrimental to both the Government and the international community. The United States strategic review clearly demonstrated that Afghanistan would not be left alone in its fight against terrorism, he said, adding that increased regional cooperation was imperative for success. That could only be secured through dialogue and stronger engagement. In fact, it was the region itself that had the greatest interest, role and responsibility in establishing and sustaining a secure, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan.
ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) said the deteriorating security inside Afghanistan had deeper roots and would not be addressed solely through a military build-up. The proliferation of terrorist groups necessitated concerted international counter-terrorism efforts, and the international community would need to sustain support for the National Unity Government and address complex security, political, economic and development challenges. Iran welcomed any progress towards an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, and to that end, had participated in the Sixth Moscow Conference on International Security and the “Kabul Process” peace conference, he said, adding that his country would continue its participation in the meetings of the “Heart of Asia”.
He went on to note that the Trilateral Chahbahar agreement linking Iran, India and Afghanistan, as well as the Khaf-Herat railway, were two major transit projects under way that could serve as important initiatives towards development and stability in Afghanistan. Iran also continued negotiations on the bilateral Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation Agreement, which aimed to improve cooperation in security, economy, refugees, culture and education. On anti-narcotics efforts, he said Iran had offered alternative cultivation and livelihood plans to dissuade Afghan farmers from cultivating opium, but stronger international support from donors, the Afghan authorities and UNODC would be essential in countering illicit drugs and transnational organized crime.
Iran had continued to host hundreds of Afghan refugees for more than three decades, providing subsidized services and education for Afghan children, and would continue to participate in the Tripartite Committee to plan for their repatriation. Success in voluntary repatriation would depend on more international support and a coordinated approach involving the Government, donors and the United Nations. To that end, Iran supported efforts by UNAMA and United Nations agencies to provide development and reconstruction assistance, he said, reiterating the need to use its mandate and offices to strengthen national institutions and capacities in priority areas, as requested by the Government.
SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said his country’s new development partnership with Afghanistan involved $1 billion going towards infrastructure, institutional capacity-building and promoting human skills. Describing UNAMA as the biggest United Nations political mission in any country, he said its work must be implemented in regular consultation with the Government. Afghanistan’s sovereignty and stability must be strengthened, because those were the two things that terrorist elements were trying to undermine from their safe havens on the other side of the border. “What Afghanistan needs is not prescriptions, but support for its efforts,” he said, emphasizing that the country’s people should decide what they needed and what they wanted to do. Solutions and approaches must be driven by Afghans and Afghans alone. Underlining the international community’s duty to ensure that terrorists and extremists did not find sanctuaries anywhere, he said the Taliban, Haqqani network, Al-Qaida, Da’esh, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad and others of their ilk were all terrorist organizations, many of them proscribed by the United Nations, and should be treated as such. Concerning terrorist funding through illicit activities, he asked the Council to consider how its resolution 1988 (2011) sanctions could be leveraged to support the peace process.
CAITLIN WILSON (Australia) said that even though the peace process should be led by Afghans, neighbouring States also had a crucial role to play. She urged countries in the region to prioritize long-term strategic stability over short-term tactical advantage. She also commended the proposal to retain a significant UNAMA field presence and emphasized the importance of having field offices in place for outreach, programme implementation and visibility. The United Nations should also play a more prominent role in strengthening donor coordination to better align assistance with Afghanistan’s priorities and improve oversight, coordination and coherence, she said.
GUILLAUME DABOUIS, of the European Union delegation, acknowledged UNAMA’s “crucial role” in supporting the Afghan people and expressed full commitment to an Afghan-led peace process. She encouraged the Government to engage in a political process with the Taliban and other opposition groups. The European Union identified promoting peace, reinforcing democracy, supporting development and acknowledging migration problems as priority areas for a forward-looking strategy on Afghanistan. Turning to the electoral process, she welcomed the announcement of parliamentary elections and called for a transparent process, adding that funds had been allocated to strengthen Afghan electoral institutions.
The security-development link could not go ignored, she asserted, calling for regional cooperation to combat terrorism. Threats in the region had exacerbated migration problems, and enhanced economic development would help to mitigate its root causes, she noted. Civilian deaths remained a major concern, and the European Union called for increased protection of the civilian population, as well as humanitarian organizations. UNAMA remained a key partner in helping to ensure broader international support for the peace process. She closed by announcing the appointment of a new European Union Special Envoy to Afghanistan, was tasked with promoting regional consensus and advancing the bloc’s contributions to the peace process.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union, said regional actors must show support for Afghanistan with concrete action. The legislative elections must take place as scheduled and ensure the participation of women both as voters and candidates. The ultimate goal of partnerships must be peace and stability in Afghanistan. Noting that three armed groups, as well as the Afghan national police, were on the list of child recruiters, he said that the Taliban, meanwhile, were guilty of carrying out attacks against schools and medical facilities. For its part, the Government must intensify its fight against impunity and ensure the prosecution of all violators of international humanitarian law, he emphasized.
A representative of Afghanistan took the floor to say that the statement by Pakistan’s delegate was yet another attempt to divert attention from that country’s support for terrorism. Pakistan had a long history of using terror and violent extremism as an instrument of foreign policy, he said, adding that the instability in Afghanistan could largely be attributed to the export of violent and extremist groups from Pakistan. Afghanistan and Pakistan had much in common, as outlined by the latter’s delegate, he said, adding that it was time for a constructive dialogue between the two countries. It would be useless to try to distort the narrative through policies of deception, he added.
A representative of Pakistan said his country would not be a scapegoat for another country’s failures. Pakistan would continue to work to solve regional security challenges for the mutual benefit of both countries.