17 September 2018
8354th Meeting (PM)

Afghanistan’s Pre-Election Decisions Will Have Far-Reaching Implications for Peace Process, Senior Official Tells Security Council

Permanent Representative Says Country, Global Community ‘Are at a Crossroads’ in Their Strategic Journey for Stability

Amid the recent rise in civilian casualties inside Afghanistan, decisions made now ahead of elections in October will have far‑reaching implications for the country’s future and play a key role in advancing the peace process, the senior United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that, although election preparations are on schedule, security is a great concern.  Presenting the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2018/824), he said political challenges could jeopardize tight timelines and derail the elections unless all political leaders engage constructively and peacefully to ensure that voting timelines are met.

Strategic decisions, underpinned by a national consensus, must be taken to guide the next steps towards peace, he continued.  Despite challenges, conditions for commencing a peace process that will lead to talks for a negotiated end to the conflict are better today than at any time in the last 17 years, he said, emphasizing that, with the most difficult phases still to come, all sides should agree on concrete measures to build confidence for more structured talks with the Taliban.

However, Ramiz Bakhtiar, a youth representative, said young Afghans barely remember the Taliban, let alone the preceding regime, and are poised to take the country towards a brighter horizon.  Two thirds of the country’s population is under 25 years of age, he said, stressing that his generation belongs to a new Afghanistan.  “We want peace more than anyone else,” he said, noting that young people have driven many successes since 2001, with media being one shining example.  “We are not a failed nation, we are a resilient nation that is tested and challenged the way very few other nations have ever been,” he pointed out.  “Our ambition is to make our country a hub for regional connectivity and a land of opportunities.”

Afghanistan’s representative said national unity and political stability are the best guarantees of long‑term stability.  Afghanistan must work on all outstanding issues relating to the upcoming elections and towards national objectives in a spirit of unity and understanding.  Indeed, despite the difficult security environment, Government efforts are already solidifying gains in governance and development.  Emphasizing that regional and international support are vital for the peace process, he said Afghanistan welcomes all coordinated efforts leading to direct talks with the Taliban and that can generate results.  At a time when Afghanistan and the international community are at a crossroads in their strategic journey for peace and stability in the country and global security, “let us complete this vital journey with greater resolve and commitment”.

Council members condemned the recent attacks, emphasizing their support for the peace process and reforms.  Many speakers urged the Government of Afghanistan to ensure free, fair and inclusive elections, including those from Bolivia and the Netherlands, who underlined the importance of ensuring the active involvement of women and young people.  Meanwhile, Ethiopia’s delegate and others noted the proposal by the President of Afghanistan for negotiations with the Taliban.  The representative of the United States and others commended UNAMA’s support for the Government’s efforts to advance peace.

Speakers also called for enhanced support to help Afghanistan deal with the humanitarian consequences of the drought and to assist Afghan refugees and the host countries helping them.

Also delivering statements today were representatives of the United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Equatorial Guinea, Peru, Kazakhstan, France, China, Poland, Kuwait, Côte d’Ivoire, Sweden, Turkey, Pakistan, Canada, India, Belgium, Italy, Uzbekistan, Germany, Australia and Iran, as well as the European Union.

The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and ended at 6:09 p.m.


TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), presented the findings of the Secretary‑General’s latest report on the situation in that country (document S/2018/824) and their implications for international peace and security, saying it is time for important decisions that will affect the fundamental fabric of Afghan society and the country’s future.  Ahead of elections on 20 October, strategic decisions, underpinned by a national consensus, must be taken to guide the next steps towards peace.  While preparations are on track, security is a concern and political challenges could jeopardize tight timelines and derail the elections unless all political leaders engage constructively and peacefully to ensure that voting timelines are met.

Technically, elections are possible, he said, pointing to the finalized lists of candidates, ballot‑printing procedures and the Independent Election Commission’s report that more than 9 million people are registered voters.  However, many opposition parties are questioning that report, raising concerns about security which prevent many from registering while alleging fraud.  Recently, supporters of a coalition of parties started to block several election commissions, demanding additional safeguards, he said, emphasizing that political concerns must be addressed within institutional mechanisms and not through blockades.  Regardless of reforms, the parliamentary elections will be a major test for Afghanistan’s young democratic institutions, he continued, noting that almost one third of more than 7,000 polling centres could not open due to insecurity, which raises questions about inclusivity.

He went on to underline three key points:  international support cannot be taken for granted; parliamentary elections will have implications for the April 2019 presidential election; and there is a need for all political actors and institutions to act responsibly in performing their duties.  At this critical juncture, the voters will look to the Independent Election Commission to discharge its function with integrity, professionalism and accountability to the Afghan people, he emphasized, urging the Commission to redouble its efforts to reach out to the public so as to increase awareness.  UNAMA will spare no effort to support a successful electoral process, he added.  President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s February offer to engage in talks with the Taliban has created unprecedented political space for peace, demonstrating that reconciliation is possible, he said.

Whatever setbacks may lie ahead, conditions for commencing a process that will lead to talks for a negotiated end to the conflict are better than at any time in the last 17 years, he said.  However, the most difficult phases lie ahead, requiring resilience and persistence by all stakeholders.  He urged all sides to agree on concrete measures to build confidence, leading to more structured talks that could include the release of prisoners and technical measures in such areas as agriculture, education and health in contested parts of the country.  Concerned about a disturbing pattern of attacks and rising civilian death tolls, he noted that reconciliation becomes harder with each life lost.  In addition, journalists have been killed and injured, he said, asking the Government to ensure their protection.

Looking ahead, he said a ministerial‑level meeting to be held in November in Geneva will give the Government and international partners an opportunity to discuss civilian efforts and follow up on mutual commitments made in Bonn, Germany in 2011.  The gathering will also provide a chance for the international community to clarify further its expectations of the peace process.  Citing former Secretary‑General Kofi Annan’s Nobel Peace Prize speech in 2001, he said “today in Afghanistan a girl will be born”.  That girl is now almost a woman who will soon be old enough to vote, attend university and pursue a vocation of her dreams, he said.  Will she be able to do so, he asked, adding that the girl will be closely watching the developments of the next few months.

RAMIZ BAKHTIAR, Afghan Youth Representative, said “we are not a failed nation, we are a resilient nation that is tested and challenged the way very few other nations have ever been”.  Afghanistan is fighting against terrorism on behalf of all.  Two thirds of the nation’s population is under the age of 25 and they barely remember the Taliban’s rule, let alone the regimes before that.  They belong to a new Afghanistan, he said, adding that they have similar ambitions to those of their fellow youth in other parts of the world.  “Our ambition is to make our country a hub for regional connectivity and a land of opportunities,” he continued, noting that the young generation has been the key driver of many successes of the past 17 years.  Media are one shining example, he said, pointing out that independent media did not exist before.  “We want peace more than anyone else,” he said, adding:  “Our generation also believes in democracy.”  He recalled that he drafted his speech on 11 September, but in 2018.  “This reminded me of the terrorists’ most heinous attack on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, and this should remind all of us that terrorism is a global phenomenon that threatens all of us.”


MAHMOUD SAIKAL (Afghanistan) said today’s meeting is taking place at a crucial moment, with parliamentary elections due in October, an international conference on Afghanistan set for Geneva in November and presidential elections scheduled for April 2019.  Despite the difficult security environment, Afghanistan is on track to solidify gains in governance and development, among other areas, thanks to the strength and resilience of its people and the support of its many international friends and allies, he said.  The right lessons must be drawn from the history of engagement with the Taliban to ensure that peace efforts are on the right track.  Recalling the Taliban’s rejection of a second ceasefire, he emphasized:  “Making real progress in peace efforts will not be possible unless the consistent pattern to manipulate, misuse opportunities and deception for strategic gains comes to an end.”

Stressing the vital importance of regional and international support for the peace process, he said that his country welcomes all coordinated efforts leading to direct talks with the Taliban that can generate results.  In that regard, it is keenly following the second round of talks envisaged by the United States and the Taliban in Qatar, coordinated with the Government of Afghanistan.  Thanking the Council for its new emphasis on transparent elections, he said national unity and political stability are the best guarantee of long‑term stability.  In that light, and through a broad national dialogue, Afghanistan must work on all outstanding issues relating to the upcoming elections and achieve national objectives in a spirit of unity and understanding, he emphasized.

Regarding the Geneva conference in November, he said it will mark a new chapter in Afghanistan’s relations with its international partners, providing a platform for exploring the way forward on peace efforts and regional economic cooperation.  Afghanistan and its neighbours must work in tandem in a spirit of mutual trust and confidence for win‑win cooperation, he said.  Only such an approach will lead to success in overcoming common transnational threats and challenges, he added, pointing to such initiatives as the Heart of Asia‑Istanbul and the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) processes.  Afghanistan and the international community are at a crossroads in their strategic journey for peace and stability in the country and, more broadly, for global security, he said.  “Let us complete this vital journey with greater resolve and commitment.”

LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) said it is critical for the upcoming elections to be free, transparent and inclusive, with the active involvement of youth and women.  Expressing deep concern over the recent spike in violence, involving terrorist attacks and Taliban offensives, she said the country must lead its own peace process, linking lasting peace and prosperity to the existence of resilient public institutions.  Urging the Government to do more to end corruption, strengthen governance and guarantee respect for human rights, with the support of UNAMA, she said that almost halfway to Afghanistan’s Transformation Decade, the Geneva conference will be an opportunity to assess progress.  Noting the importance of involving young people in a country with 63 per cent of its population under 25, she emphasized the importance of Council support and called for political courage and perseverance.

VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia), welcoming the participation of women in the coming election process, said UNAMA support has been helping the Government, yet sporadic violence is a great concern.  Expressing hope that the conflict does not worsen conditions for civilians and infrastructure, she reminded all parties to abide by international humanitarian law in that regard.  Also concerning is the high degree of impunity for sexual violence.  To address those and other violations, she said the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission must ensure due attention and action are taken.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) provided several suggestions about the coming elections, saying voter lists must be made available locally, complaints must be dealt with and the security of voters, election officials and voting materials must be ensured.  Calling on all parties to play their respective roles, she said preparations must be allowed to go forward.  She remained optimistic about Afghanistan’s future, yet raised concerns about the violence inside the country being triggered by insurgents funded from outside.  The United Kingdom will play its part for the upcoming Geneva meeting.  All sections of Afghan society and citizenry must now work to uphold the rule of law and to be tolerant, while communities must invest in the future, work to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and make tangible progress on regional cooperation.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said his delegation is “profoundly alarmed” by the Taliban’s activities and their fine‑tuned operations, and also expressed concern over the threat posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh), who honed their war skills in  Syria and elsewhere.  The Taliban sporadically join ISIL and it is necessary to leverage the United Nations counter‑terrorism sanctions regime to target certain individuals and entities associated with those terrorist groups, he said.  Increasing production of opium is also alarming as the narcotics trade provides financial resources for terrorist groups, he added, emphasizing that his delegation is doing its utmost to support the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in countering this problem, and helping to train anti‑narcotics police officers.  The forces of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have not stabilized Afghanistan, he said, noting that they have escalated the conflict.  Emphasizing that there is not military solution, he said a pan‑Afghan solution is essential, and an optimal platform for international support must be established.  The Russian Federation commends the selfless dedication of the members of UNAMA, he added.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said his delegation is extremely concerned about the security situation in Afghanistan, noting the increase in suicide attacks and air strikes over the last six months.  The most vulnerable groups are the ones most affected by the violence.  Any solution requires effective and constructive political dialogue, he said, adding that any negotiations must focus on the security and prosperity of the Afghan people.  With the 20 October elections around the corner, Equatorial Guinea commended the progress made in the preparations for elections, he said, welcoming the President’s offer of a ceasefire with the Taliban.  Alarmed at attacks against public facilities, he said the proportion of children and women among the casualties are high, emphasizing that it is crucial to protect civilians, especially women and children.  He also expressed concern over the increase in the production of opium and its link to terrorism.  He also noted that two thirds of the population suffer from drought, and stressed the need for humanitarian assistance.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) noted with concern the complex security situation, especially terrorist attacks, including the recent one by ISIL.  Regarding the upcoming elections, he expressed concern about possible boycotts, stressing the vital importance of citizens participating in the vote.  Highlighting the Government’s commitment to empowering women and youth, he said young people can play a key role in combating terrorism and violent extremism.  It is regrettable that the Taliban did not agree to a ceasefire, he said, adding that Afghanistan must build its defence and security capacity and reduce its dependence on external support.  It must also create decent jobs for young people, who represent two thirds of the population, he said, underscoring the important role of UNAMA.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), expressing concern over ISIL and Taliban violence in Afghanistan’s northern provinces, urged the Government to implement security sector reform and other strategies to strengthen national institutions.  Citing Afghan efforts to counter terrorism and narcotics, he called upon the United Nations and the international community to do more to help through the Kabul Process and the Heart of Asia‑Istanbul Process, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization‑Afghanistan Contact Group and the Afghanistan‑Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Prosperity.  Social and economic development are crucial, he said, proposing a new “whole of system” United Nations approach.  He went on to stress the need to involve women and youth in efforts to prevent conflict, as well as his country’s efforts in that regard, including the initiative to educate 1,000 Afghan civilian specialists.  He also applauded Afghan efforts to keep children out of its security forces, while decrying the recruitment of boys by terrorists and praising the ongoing partnership among UNAMA, Afghanistan and the international community.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) expressed concern at the growing presence of foreign terrorist fighters in Afghanistan, as well as an upsurge in Taliban and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) attacks, and called on countries in the region to commit at all levels to combat drug trafficking.  Given the security situation, elections in October will be a major challenge, she said, urging all parties to work towards a large turnout, particularly among women.  On peace efforts, she called for the Taliban to respond to overtures and allow a return to regional peace and stability.  It is also important for all countries in the region to unambiguously support the goal of peace.

MA ZHAOXU (China), concerned about the current security environment, commended efforts by the Government of Afghanistan to bolster both economic growth and stability.  Firm support for the forthcoming elections is essential, he emphasized, adding that all political parties must resolve differences through consultations and the international community must respect all Afghan‑led processes.  Turning to security concerns, he said record high civilian casualties must be reversed and the Government must have the support to tackle those and related challenges.  Greater attention is needed to address the humanitarian situation during the current drought, and humanitarian support must include Afghan refugees and countries hosting them.  Efforts must also help Afghanistan to achieve economic growth, he stressed, noting that, as a neighbouring country, China reaffirmed its support for the political process, combating narcotics trafficking and promoting economic development.  China will also continue to help Afghanistan develop its roadway initiative with a view to promoting connectivity, he added.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the young generations of Afghans constitute hope for a brighter future and the international community should support them.  The peace process should continue through constructive dialogue.  Calling for unlimited access for humanitarian assistance, she said more must be done to curb the suffering of the Afghan people.  Poland welcomes the Government’s commitment to conducting transparent, inclusive elections, she said, adding that outstanding issues must also be addressed.  Involving women in the coming elections is essential and efforts are urgently needed for international partners to support efforts to that end.  Turning to the recent spate of violence, she emphasized the importance of strengthening the Government’s institutions, including bolstering the capability of the Afghan security forces.  Expressing concern about attacks against schools and mosques, she called upon all parties to cease attacks on civilian targets.

NAWAF A. S. A. ALAHMAD (Kuwait) commended UNAMA and the Independent Electoral Commission for their role in the upcoming parliamentary elections, noting the demonstrable desire of the Afghan people for a path of self‑determined democracy, despite security threats.  Kuwait hopes that political action in various provinces, including the forming of political alliances ahead of the elections, will accord priority to national interests over partisan ones, since national reconciliation is essential to sustainable peace and stability.  Welcoming international and regional support for the Government and its effort to bring peace and security to all segments of the population, including its appeal for direct dialogue with the Taliban, he noted the continued instability of the security situation, especially in the lead‑up to the parliamentary elections, and expressed hope that the authorities will double their efforts to protect public utilities and fight terrorist groups.

GBOLIÉ DESIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) noted that one month before the elections, significant progress has been made by the Independent Electoral Commission, with the help of UNAMA.  However, the sociopolitical situation remains a matter of concern.  Due to protests, some voter registration facilities have been shut down, casting doubt on the conduct of fair and credible elections in October.  On the security situation, he emphasized the importance of scaling up international support with a view to tackling threats by terrorist groups and curbing violence.  However, positive developments that give rise to hope for peace and reconciliation include the ceasefire offer, increased engagement by civil society and enhanced regional cooperation, he said, adding that his delegation supports the fight against corruption and the stepped‑up cooperation with UNODC and other relevant entities.

DAWIT YIRGA WOLDEGERIMA (Ethiopia) said Afghanistan faces multiple and complex challenges to its security, stability and development.  Improvised explosive devices are the leading cause of civilian casualties in 2018.  Ethiopia appreciates Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani’s proposal for direct negotiations with the Taliban.  Long-term stability and security can only be ensured by pursuing an Afghan‑led and ‑owned reconciliation and political process with the meaningful support of all stakeholders.  The Taliban must engage in direct peace talks without any preconditions.  Building the confidence of the Afghan people in the electoral process is essential to ensuring timely elections.  The international community must deliver on its commitments to assist Afghanistan in ensuring sustained and inclusive economic growth.

CARL ORRENIUS SKAU (Sweden) said the future of Afghanistan clearly lies with its youth.  Young people must actively engage in all decision-making processes.  Only an Afghan‑owned and ‑led peace process is viable.  The Afghanistan Government is taking unprecedented steps in the pursuit of peace.  Sweden urged the Taliban to cease all violence and immediately engage in talks with the Government.  All stakeholders must act on their commitment to support a political solution.  Upcoming elections must be credible and transparent and the Mission’s assistance to the electoral process is crucial.  The humanitarian crisis in the country continues to deteriorate, with some 4.2 million people needing assistance.  All attacks against civilians and humanitarian and development workers are unacceptable.  UNAMA must continue documenting civilian casualties.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States), Council President for September, speaking in his national capacity, cited recent attacks and warned that the violence may intensify.  Expressing hope for timely and credible elections in October and in 2019, he said that, as a first step, there must be accurate and transparent voter registration and the inclusion of women in all processes.  UNAMA plays a significant role in providing support for the Government in preparing elections, he said, while also welcoming Afghanistan’s efforts to advance the peace process with the Taliban.  They must come to the negotiating table, he said, emphasizing that they face an immediate decision to become obsolete in an old Afghanistan or to thrive in the new one.  The international community, including Afghanistan’s partners, must devote themselves to supporting the country’s many efforts to advance peace, he said.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) stressed the need to strengthen regional cooperation.  Building and consolidating a genuine atmosphere of trust and cooperation remains essential for strengthening regional collaboration efforts in a mutually beneficial manner.  His country’s vision for Afghanistan continues to be for a peaceful, secure and stable nation, which enjoys good and cooperative relations with its neighbours while being at the centre of major regional cooperation projects in infrastructure, trade and transportation.  His delegation is pleased to co‑chair the Heart of Asia‑Istanbul Process in 2018, together with Afghanistan.  The second senior officials meeting of the Process will take place in New York on 28 September on the margins of the high‑level week of the General Assembly.  Review of the implementation of the confidence‑building measures within the Process will be one of the agenda items.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that, for many years, her country’s recently elected Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has declared that peace in Afghanistan can be restored only through a negotiated political settlement between the principal parties.  Afghanistan was the first country visited by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi.  Cooperation between the two countries is a vital component of the endeavour to realize peace and security within Afghanistan and the entire region.  The Afghanistan‑Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity provides such a framework.  The Pakistan‑Afghanistan Border Management project has been designed to address multiple challenges including cross‑border movement of terrorists and criminal elements, drug trafficking and smuggling, upgrading and increasing trade/transit terminals and automation of customs and other trade infrastructure.

RICHARD ARBEITER (Canada) said that, in Afghanistan, it is clear that equitable access to social services is essential to support youth, especially for girls and minorities.  He noted the progress made since 2001 in terms of school child enrolment, but noted that 4 million children, mostly girls, remain outside of school today.  This prompted Canada and other donors to develop a community‑based education policy that increases education and led to the establishment of more than 9,200 community-based schools, with 80 per cent of female students.  Canada looks forward to the Geneva Ministerial Conference in November, hoping to hear how Kabul will continue to increase women’s participation, reduce gender-based violence and increase Government accountability.  He noted the importance of the upcoming Parliamentary elections and remains fully committed to seeing Afghanistan’s diversity reflected in the process, especially for women and the marginalized.  He commended the Independent Election Commission for its gender policy, and other bodies that promoted the rights of women, ethnic and religious minorities.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said that, given a deteriorating security situation, it is time to strengthen collective support to counter the inhumanity of those who are having a brutal impact on the lives of ordinary Afghans.  Stating that the “business‑as‑usual” approach must be reviewed, he wondered if Afghanistan is getting the attention it deserves, given the risk to regional peace and security.  In that regard, he emphasized that Taliban offenses are being planned and launched from safe havens in Afghanistan’s neighbourhood that have for years also given shelter to the Haqqani Network, ISIL, Al‑Qaida and its proscribed affiliates such as Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.

Those organizations are getting money not only from extortion and forced levies and taxes, but also from criminal networks operating drug cartels and stealing Afghanistan’s natural resources, he said.  While Security Council resolution 2405 (2018) focuses on the link between extremism, terrorism, drug production and illegal exploitation of natural resources, it falls short of expectations when it comes to crippling the Taliban’s drug trade.  Recalling the targeting of ISIL oil revenues in Syria and Iraq, he said it is time for the Council to replicate that success by similarly crippling the Taliban’s illicit drug trade.

Emphasizing that India is willing to work with all countries in the region and beyond to resolve the situation, he said Afghans should lead peace efforts not only between Governments, but also with civil society and business.  “India stands ready to support Afghanistan in every way we can,” with a focus on the economic pillar of stability as well as reliable connectivity for the Afghan people.  Concluding, he said the Council must look beyond routine consideration of Afghanistan and chart a more innovative way forward.

JOÃO PEDRO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Head of the European Union delegation, voiced concern about the recent increase of violence in Afghanistan, including the Taliban’s attack on Ghazni, and reiterated the bloc’s support for all efforts to broaden the political consensus for peace.  The Government must demonstrate progress on implementation of the reform package to which it committed itself during the 2016 Brussels Conference at the upcoming Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, he said.  In addition, the Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework should set concrete and measurable indicators for further reforms.  He went on to emphasize the need to agree on lasting anti‑corruption measures and credible implementing measures on human rights in Afghanistan.  Regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections, he said much remains to be done at a technical level and in the political sphere.  He encouraged the Afghan authorities to implement legislation, especially in the areas of violence against women, implementation of the National Action Plan 1325, protection of children, and the prevention of torture and ill treatment.  The European Union remains concerned about the high level of civilian casualties and the rising number of displaced people, and therefore supports NATO‑led Resolute Support Mission efforts to provide training and assistance for the Afghan security forces.  He urged all parties to take advantage of the positive momentum for peace generated in June.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium) commended the peace process with Pakistan and emphasized that all processes should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.  He called upon the Taliban to participate in peace talks.  Lauding efforts to organize elections despite security challenges, he called for close cooperation among the Government, opposition parties and the Electoral Commission, and asked the Taliban to refrain from preventing the process from moving forward.  Turning to Afghan youth, he said they faced violence and poverty, exacerbated by the drought, but stood ready to shoulder their responsibilities.  Welcoming child protection measures, he called on the Government to enforce them.

Ms. ZAPPIA (Italy), alarmed by the recent rise in violence, said her country is supporting the NATO forces and their support efforts.  She commended the Afghanistan Government’s drive to bring about peace, noting that the Taliban’s rejection of a continued ceasefire demonstrates the difficulties in achieving results in that regard.  On elections, she underlined the importance that the Afghan people deserved to cast their vote in a transparent, fair election process.  Reforms are required in a range of sectors and should fully consider the needs of young people.  She applauded UNAMA and its work, conducted at times in an environment of insecurity.

BAKHTIYOR IBRAGIMOV (Uzbekistan) recalled that his country hosted an international conference on Afghanistan entitled “Peace process, cooperation in security area and regional connectivity”, which was convened at the joint initiative of the Presidents of both nations.  High-ranking officials from 21 States and international organizations, including the United Nations, European Union, NATO and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, adopted the Tashkent Declaration, which calls for full support by the international community for the Afghanistan Government’s proposal to launch direct negotiations with the Taliban without any preconditions aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement.  As a practical step, the Uzbek side recently negotiated with representatives of the Taliban from the Qatar-based Taliban Political Commission.  In the meeting, the Uzbek side underlined the importance of enforcing a ceasefire and its extension to operation of delivering humanitarian assistance and to large scale economic projects to be implemented in the country.

JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany), associating himself with the European Union, said that Parliamentary elections in Afghanistan must take place in a timely, free and fair manner and within the framework of the country’s Constitution.  Regarding the peace process in the region, efforts should now focus on initiating direct talks between the Afghanistan Government and the Taliban, he said.  Countries in the region can contribute to the process, he said, noting that the policy comments from Pakistan’s new Government have raised hope.  Young people play a crucial role in Afghan society, he said, citing that the average age in Afghanistan is about 18 years old.  As a result, increased efforts in basic education, child protection and the inclusion of younger people in the political process should be made.  His country actively contributes to the academic infrastructure in Afghanistan and continues to support UNAMA and United Nations agencies operating in the country.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) said that his country will contribute $5 million to the United Nations electoral support programme to assist in the conducting of the 2018 parliamentary elections and the 2019 presidential elections.  His delegation deeply regrets the continuing violence outlined in the report, and condemns brutal and illegitimate attacks by insurgent groups.  Together with allies and partners in the NATO-led resolute support mission, Australia is committed to supporting Afghanistan to meet the challenges presented by these groups.  Pakistan can play an important role in bringing about a negotiated peace in Afghanistan by taking sustained and decisive measures against insurgent groups that threaten regional peace and stability.

ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) said that, as a neighbouring country, his nation continues to contribute to and support Afghanistan’s stability, political‑security conditions and socioeconomic development.  Certain efforts are under way to ensure that such a contribution is carried out in an institutionalized and sustained manner.  The development plan of Iran’s Chabahar Port will have a significant impact on the promotion of trade and economic cooperation with Afghanistan.  Any attempt to disrupt this vital project will only play into the hands of those who do not want peace and progress for the Afghan people.  Counter‑terrorism efforts must have the highest priority.  Iran will continue its full support to the fraternal people and the Government of Afghanistan in their endeavour to achieve lasting peace and prosperity in their country.

For information media. Not an official record.