Applauding Afghan People’s Courage, Special Representative Tells Security Council They Defied ‘Undeniable Threats’ to Vote for Better Future

SC/13625
17 December 2018
8426th Meeting (AM)

Applauding Afghan People’s Courage, Special Representative Tells Security Council They Defied ‘Undeniable Threats’ to Vote for Better Future

Despite Challenges, Afghanistan Has Turned Corner on Journey towards Stability, Self-reliance, Says Permanent Representative

Despite undeniable threats to their safety, the Afghan people came out to vote for a better future for their country in the recent parliamentary elections, the top-ranking United Nations official in the country told the Security Council today.

Briefing Council members on the current situation, Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), highlighted that some 4 million Afghans voted in parliamentary elections on 20 October, adding that the polls represent a key step on the path to representative democracy.

He went on to commend the courage of the Afghan people in coming out to exercise their right to vote, in defiance of Taliban threats to their safety.  The threats were real, he emphasized, citing the 400 civilian casualties involved.  There were also major irregularities in the conduct of the polls, he said, adding that improvements in that area are critical ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

Presenting the latest report of the Secretary-General on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2018/1092), he underlined the progress made during the recent Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan in November, which was co-hosted by the country’s Government and the United Nations, saying the possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict in Afghanistan has never been more real.  Not only did President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani suggest a peace plan at the conference, but a team was created to negotiate directly with the Taliban.  Political space must now be allowed for the main actors to formulate their positions and reactions to recent developments, he said, adding that the next step would be for representatives of the Government and the Taliban to meet.  This is a moment of hope and possibility, but also a moment of risk, he cautioned.

Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), provided an update on the illicit opium trade in Afghanistan, emphasizing that it is among the most urgent challenges facing the country.  “Continuing high levels of supply have brought prices down to rock bottom,” he said, while explaining that drought caused the decrease in the area under cultivation.  More than 5,000 tons of opium are currently available for heroin production, 600 tons of which is of export quality, he said, adding that some 200 tons of raw opium is consumed in Afghanistan every year.  That not only presents a grave threat to public health, but also hinders peacebuilding and stability, he stressed.  The Government, supported by UNODC, has taken steps to counter illicit financial flows through anti-corruption laws, banking regulations and other such measures, he added.

Ghizaal Haress of the Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution, noted that whereas the charter guarantees equality between men and women, gender inequalities and barriers to meaningful participation by women persist.  “Building sustainable peace while preventing the re-establishment of extremist rule depends on the meaningful inclusion of women,” she emphasized.  The Government must ensure that obstacles to their participation are eliminated.  She went on to underline the need to uphold the constitution adopted in 2004, noting that calls to amend it in accordance with the Taliban’s demands have placed the country’s progress in jeopardy.  Changing the constitution in order to negotiate a peace deal “is a red line we must not cross”, she cautioned.

Kairat Umarov (Kazakhstan), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), said it is essential to follow up relevant procedures such as the timely submission of travel-ban exemptions.  Despite being under sanctions, the Taliban have proceeded with a ferocious military campaign that has included such tactics as targeted assassinations, kidnappings for ransom and suicide bombings, he said.  Noting that the potential remains for greater use of the 1988 sanctions regime to deter the Taliban and support the peace process, he called for renewed efforts to list as yet unlisted individuals and entities associated with the Taliban who carry out activities that are harmful to peace and security.

Afghanistan’s representative said the completion of the parliamentary elections provided an opportunity for the country to take a step towards the rule of law.  Despite challenges, the Afghan people have turned a corner in their journey towards stability and self-reliance, he added.  In the face of atrocities carried out by the Taliban and affiliated groups, the people were defiant in their pursuit of peace and democracy, and more than 45 per cent of registered voters came out to cast their votes despite the threats and the attacks staged throughout the country.  Now they must turn to the upcoming presidential election in order to ensure its success, he said.

Council members applauded the new phase in the nation’s history, with the United Kingdom’s delegate noting that there is a new generation of Afghans knocking on the door of a new Afghanistan.  The Taliban, meanwhile, live in the Afghanistan of the past, which no one wants to see return.  On the upcoming presidential election, she underscored the importance of a transparent and credible poll, noting that many technological and operational challenges remain to be ironed out.

The representative of the United States said UNAMA should continue to bolster the Government’s capacity, while the Government should in turn step up its efforts to combat terrorism and protect human rights.  Regarding the security situation in the country, he emphasized the need to make its police force fully inclusive and representative of the population.

Kazakhstan’s delegate said the situation in Afghanistan has been one of his country’s main priorities during its tenure as a non-permanent Council member.  The Government of Kazakhstan helped to focus the Council’s attention on the need to establish peace and prosperity throughout Afghanistan and in the region, organizing two visits to Afghanistan and Central Asia to that end.  Those initiatives were instrumental in helping the Council understand the situation and find ways to resolve it, he said, adding that there continues to be a need for close regional economic cooperation.  “A regional approach is the way forward to success,” he said.

China’s representative said Afghanistan has entered a new phase, and the international community should help it prepare for the 2019 presidential election.  He recalled that a recent meeting involving his own country alongside Afghanistan and Pakistan led to an agreement on promoting regional security, stability and development.  The three also signed a memorandum of understanding on combating terrorism and accelerating the Belt and Road initiative.

Other delegates emphasized the need to address the underlying causes of Afghanistan’s instability.  India’s representative said the international community has failed to deal effectively with the source of the country’s problems.  Sadly, the international community, and the Security Council with all its tools, have simply failed or been unwilling to deal effectively with the source of the problem, he added.  The Council’s sanctions committee, which refuses to designate new Taliban leaders or to freeze the assets of the group’s slain leader, is falling short of what Afghans and the international community expect of it, he emphasized.

Iran’s representative identified the presence of foreign troops as another root cause of Afghanistan’s problems, noting that the phenomenon has provided a recruiting ground for extremists.  “We continue to call for a time-bound and responsible withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, regardless of their mandate or structure,” he said, emphasizing the need to strengthen Afghanistan’s own military and security forces, a crucial effort in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh).

Others speaking today were representatives of Netherlands, Sweden, Kuwait, Poland, France, Equatorial Guinea, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Peru, Russian Federation, Côte d’Ivoire, Pakistan, Canada, Germany, Italy, Tajikistan, Japan, Turkey, Australia, Uzbekistan, Belgium and Kyrgyzstan.

Also delivering a statement was an observer for the European Union delegation.

The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 1:58 p.m.

Briefings

TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that an estimated 4 million Afghans voted in parliamentary elections on 20 October, and in 2019, the people will make a critical political choice for President.  The elections represent essential steps on the path to firmly establishing a representative democracy, he added, noting that it has been almost two months since parliamentary elections were held in 33 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.  Preliminary results for the 29 provinces released so far show that 28 per cent of the newly elected members are women, he said.

Commending the courage and strong will of the Afghan people for defying Taliban threats to exercise their fundamental right to vote, he went on to point out that the preparations, implementation and security management for the elections were conducted primarily by the Afghan people with assistance and advice from international experts.  In the area of security, the threats were real, with more than 108 verified incidents causing 400 civilian casualties, the largest number on a single election day since the keeping of systematic records began in 2009.  There were major avoidable irregularities in the preparations and implementation of the parliamentary elections by the electoral management bodies, he said, emphasizing that it is clear the latter must significantly improve themselves before the presidential election.

Recalling that the Government of Afghanistan and the United Nations hosted a ministerial conference in Geneva on 28 November, he said the meeting acknowledged the need to improve on reform while recognizing the Government’s commitment to mutual accountability and a real reform agenda.  The possibility of a negotiated end to the conflict in Afghanistan has never been more real in the past 17 years than it is now, he stressed, noting that, on the Afghan side, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani suggested a peace plan at the Geneva conference.  A team to negotiate directly with the Taliban was appointed, as was a senior peace advisory board representing a broader set of Afghan politicians to support the peace efforts.  UNAMA has been encouraged by such developments, he said, adding that political space must be allowed for the main actors to formulate their positions and reactions to recent developments.

The key next step will be for representatives of the Government and the Taliban to meet, or at least formally initiate “talks about talks”, he continued, calling upon all countries in the region to contribute to creating an environment conducive to peace negotiations.  By moving from contracts to talks, the benefits of a stable Afghanistan can be envisaged, he said.  As President Ghani has stated, there is a need to change the perception of Afghanistan from “a site of danger or a battleground” to “a platform of cooperation by location and by strategic perspective”.  This is a moment of hope and possibility, and like all such moments when adversaries engage with each other, it is also a moment of risk, he said, stressing that these opportunities must be fulfilled and the risks managed for the sake of a peaceful future for Afghanistan.

UNAMA’s human rights component has reported that more than 8,000 civilian casualties occurred between 1 January and 30 September 2018, he said.  Casualties among children remain high, with 2,136 recorded in the same period.  Efforts must be made by all concerned to reduce casualties, almost 60 per cent of which were caused by suicide attacks and ground engagements.  Noting the increase in direct targeting of civilians by anti-Government elements, he said there has also been a significant increase in civilian casualties from aerial operations.  UNAMA has also recorded 1,513 civilian casualties from suicide and other improvised explosive device (IED) attacks claimed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) in 2018.  This is a more than three-fold increase compared to the same period in 2017, he noted.  Despite progress on economic reform, Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest countries, he said, underlining that of the most immediate concern are people struck by drought and violence, and the need to alleviate the suffering of 4.5 million people.  The United Nations and its partners are issuing the Humanitarian Response Plan for Afghanistan, he said, noting that around $612 million is required for 2019.

YURY FEDETOV, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that illicit opium and the criminal economy are among the urgent challenges facing Afghanistan, as recognized in the Secretary-General’s Geneva Communiqué.  According to the 2018 Afghanistan Opium Survey, the overall area under cultivation remains the second highest since the systematic monitoring and recording of poppy growing began in 1994.  The area under cultivation fell by 20 per cent compared to the record levels seen in 2017 and was accompanied by a drop in opium yield, he said.  However, both decreases can be attributed to drought, he observed, adding that eradication remains insignificant, falling to 400 hectares in four provinces, compared to 750 hectares in 14 provinces in 2017.  As a result, more than 5,000 tons of opium are potentially available for heroin production inside and outside Afghanistan, which means more than 600 tons of export-quality heroin, he reported, adding:  “Continuing high levels of supply have brought prices down to rock bottom.”

He went on to note that Afghanistan also remains an important source country for hashish, with the World Drug Report finding that the country reported 22 per cent of the global total seized in 2016.  “Afghanistan is the first victim of this overproduction of drugs, which contributes to high rates of drug use in the country,” he said out, pointing out that 200 tons of raw opium are consumed there annually.  This poses a grave threat to public health and safety, hindering peacebuilding, economic growth and stability, he emphasized.  The Government has taken steps to increase resilience to illicit financial flows and foster good governance, undertaking such measures as banking regulation, digitalization of processing, anti-corruption laws and strategies, among others.  UNODC continues to provide support and is seeking to step up its strategic responses, such as strengthening interconnectivity between country, regional and inter-regional action to facilitate alternative development activities, he said.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), said that in order for sanctions to be credible and effective, it is essential to follow relevant procedures at all times, including the timely submission of travel-ban exemptions.  In the course of 2018, international engagement with the Taliban has focused on encouraging them to enter into a political dialogue, primarily through the Kabul process initiative, he said, noting that, in addition to initiatives by Uzbekistan and Indonesia, overtures were made by prominent religious clerics in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

He went on to note that, despite the sanctions, the monitoring team’s prediction that fighting in 2018 would be at least as bloody as that of 2017 has, unfortunately, been proven correct.  Indeed, the Taliban have pressed ahead with a ferocious military campaign that has included targeted assassinations, kidnappings for ransom and suicide bombings.  They were also successful in overrunning ISIL/Da’esh in northern Afghanistan after the group was critically weakened by United States and Afghan forces, the latter having struggled to repel repeated Taliban assaults on provincial capitals.  Meanwhile, there has been no change in the relationship between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, who remain closely allied.

With finances from the taxation of narcotics and the illegal extraction of natural resources, he continued, the impact of the freeze on Taliban assets on their illegal activities will only increase once additional information is gathered on where they have invested illicit proceeds.  While many structures are in place to implement the 1988 sanctions regime, the effectiveness of its implementation depends not only on internal actors, but also on regional and international ones, he emphasized, encouraging Member States to play a more active role in providing information that would help to keep the sanctions list as up-to-date as possible while helping the Committee enhance the effectiveness of the sanctions measures.  He said there is also potential for greater use of the 1988 sanctions regime to deter the Taliban and support the peace process, calling for renewed efforts to list as yet unlisted individuals and entities associated with the Taliban who carry out activities harmful to peace and security.

GHIZAAL HARESS, Independent Commission for Overseeing the Implementation of the Constitution, recalled that on 20 October, Afghans defied threats of violence to participate in long overdue parliamentary elections, with women constituting 34 per cent of the voters.  While such strong participation represents a significant achievement, the elections were marred by challenges that must be addressed before the upcoming presidential election in April, she emphasized, recalling that the risk of violence led to many polling centres remaining closed, and that voters were killed or injured at others.  Moreover, there was widespread disappointment over the underperformance of the Independent Election Commission, with thousands of complaints registered.  Noting that Article 22 of the Constitution of Afghanistan guarantees equality between men and women, she said gender inequality and barriers to meaningful participation persist.  “Building sustainable peace while preventing the re-establishment of extremist rule depends on the meaningful inclusion of women,” she emphasized.

She went on to call upon the Government to ensure that persistent obstacles to women’s participation are eliminated, stressing:  “Their inclusion is a non-negotiable priority.”  Young people must also be consulted and included in any peace agreement.  While Afghanistan has made modest progress following the adoption of its constitution in 2004, this progress has been placed in serious jeopardy by suggestions that it be amended to accommodate the Taliban’s demands.  Such suggestions raise concern about the preservation of democratic governance, the protection of human rights and the separation of powers as enshrined in the constitution, she cautioned.  Recalling that the Taliban attempted to intimidate people into staying home on Election Day, deeming the democratic process a sham, she warned that constitutional amendments will result in “bartering away rights and freedoms for which we have fought for 17 years”.  She stressed:  “Making changes to the Constitution in order to negotiate peace is a red line we must not cross.”

Statements

MAHMOUD SAIKAL (Afghanistan) said there has been a renewed international partnership affirmed by a variety of factors, including the Geneva Ministerial Conference and new measures in the context of Afghan-led peace efforts supported by regional and global partners.  In spite of challenges, parliamentary elections provided an opportunity for the people to take another step, through their ballots, towards the consolidation of democracy and the rule of law.  These events provide a clear picture of the way in which the Afghan people have turned the corner in their difficult journey towards stability and self-reliance, he said, adding that the United Nations played a crucial role in co-chairing the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan and in supporting the parliamentary elections.

Turning to the area of security, he said the national security forces kept terrorist elements at bay throughout Afghanistan, while the Taliban and affiliated groups failed to register real gains anywhere in the country.  Attacks to capture territory, including provincial capitals, were foiled with massive casualties among the enemy ranks.  The enemies, including foreign terrorist fighters, resorted to new levels of brutality, with increased attacks against population centres that led to a dramatic increase in civilian casualties.  In the face of these atrocities, however, the Afghan people were defiant in their pursuit of peace and democracy, he emphasized, pointing out that more than 4 million Afghans, over 45 per cent of registered voters, came out to cast their votes on Election Day despite all threats and attacks in different parts of the country.

While awaiting the final results of the parliamentary elections, the next focus is to address the shortcomings in order to ensure successful a presidential election in 2019, he said, adding that the Afghan people have embraced the international community’s renewed partnership.  Among the important issues discussed in Geneva were the peace efforts in the context of the Road Map for Peace, which was deliberated at great length.  It has fostered an unprecedented level of consensus on the imperative of peace.  Internally, a consultative process culminated in the creation of a negotiating team and an advisory board that will provide strategic input on various aspects and stages of the peace talks.  Regionally, a number of additional countries have stood behind Afghanistan’s efforts, recognizing that the prospect of peace is now within reach, he said.

LISE GREGOIRE VAN HAAREN (Netherlands) noted that human rights were denied most of Afghanistan’s people under Taliban control, but much progress has been made since the end of their brutal rule.  However, many challenges remain, with the security situation being a major obstacle to safeguarding fundamental rights.  The deliberate targeting of civilians is entirely unacceptable, she emphasized.  Noting that more than 4 million Afghans cast their votes in October’s parliamentary elections, she expressed her delegation’s hope that turnout for the 20 April 2019 presidential elections will be higher, with greater participation by youth and women, both as candidates and voters.  Stressing that peace is possible and the moment is now, she urged the Taliban to reciprocate the Government’s offer to engage in direct peace negotiations.  She said the fact that young, educated, talented women and men who do not wish to return to the dark period of clerical rule was put on clear display when Ramiz Bakhtiar – the first Afghan youth representative to the United Nations elected as part of a joint initiative by the Netherlands and Afghanistan – briefed the Council in September.

Mr. UMAROV (Kazakhstan), speaking in his national capacity, said his delegation is now an outgoing Council member engaged in its last debate on the situation in Afghanistan.  That question is one of Kazakhstan’s main priorities during its tenure, he said, noting that his country helped to focus the Council’s attention on the need to establish peace, progress and prosperity throughout the country and the entire region, including by organizing two visits to Afghanistan and Central Asia, a model of the security-development nexus.  Emphasizing that those initiatives helped the Council to better understand the current situation in Afghanistan and to seek ways to resolve it, he also underlined the importance of the 2019 presidential election and of the international community’s continued assistance.  The security situation on the ground remains volatile despite political efforts at the Tashkent Conference under the auspices of the Moscow format, he said, voicing concern over the growing presence of ISIL/Da’esh in northern Afghanistan.  He went on to highlight the need for close regional economic cooperation.  “That means investments in trade, transit routes, transport and infrastructure development should be seen as assets promoting stability through enhanced connectivity,” he said, adding:  “A regional approach is the way forward to success.”

RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States) said that Afghanistan’s international partners have agreed on the need to move beyond peace negotiations towards a broader economic agenda.  The United States recently appointed a new Special Representative for Afghan Reconciliation tasked with leading its efforts in that arena, he added, noting that the appointment sends a clear message that peace in Afghanistan is possible.  Urging the international community to seize the present opportunity, he called upon the Taliban and all other parties to engage in inter-Afghan talks.  Expressing support for such post-settlement economic initiatives as job creation, enhanced regional integration and greater foreign investment, he emphasized the need to share the burden in that regard, while also voicing support for efforts to ensure that the 2019 election is transparent, free and secure, including by addressing technical issues and investigating allegations of electoral fraud.  Meanwhile, UNAMA should continue its efforts to bolster the Government’s capacity, he said, stressing the need for the latter to step up efforts to enhance the rule of law, combat terrorism, protect human rights and increase economic prosperity.  Turning to the security situation, he underlined the need to make Afghanistan’s police force fully inclusive and representatives of the country’s population, as well as the critical need for effective implementation of sanctions.

OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said the Afghanistan peace process must be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led, including groups traditionally lacking a strong voice in that society.  All stakeholders — especially its neighbours — must support the Kabul process, he said, adding that Sweden will be considering all issues carefully as it recalibrates its development cooperation with Afghanistan.  “Development partners have an important contribution to make in this process,” he observed, noting that the continued delivery of mutually agreed commitments will prove essential for sustained international support.  Also, preparations for the 2019 presidential elections must be improved at all levels, with responsible institutions drawing the necessary lessons from recent elections and addressing any unresolved issues.  Expressing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, he also noted that a severe drought has caused food insecurity for 3.6 million people.  Calling for closer coordination between humanitarian and development actors in that regard, he emphasized that “attacks against humanitarian and development workers are unacceptable.”

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said that there is a new generation of Afghans knocking on the door of a new Afghanistan.  Peace needs to be durable and will increase economic and social opportunities, she said, noting that is a message that the Taliban need to hear loud and clear from all Council members.  The Taliban live in the Afghanistan of the past that no one wants to see return.  She called on the Taliban to recognize that in the recent election, the wishes of Afghans from across the country to have a say in their country’s future have come through loud and clear.  She condemned the intimidation and attacks on civilians.  Regarding the upcoming presidential elections, she said it is important that the Afghan people get the transparent and credible elections they deserve.  There are many technological and operational challenges that need to be ironed out, she said, so that any outstanding issues are resolved before the presidential elections.  She welcomed the support of UNAMA for these efforts and urged the Mission to consider what more it can do and what resources it will need.  On the humanitarian situation, she expressed concern and underscored the seriousness of the food security issue, noting that it should add impetus to the peace process.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) congratulated Afghanistan for holding historical parliamentary elections, where the Afghan people showed their courage in the face of violence by going to the polls to choose their representatives in Parliament.  The Security Council and the international community followed the elections closely and have expressed their support for them.  In November, the Geneva conference was held that reaffirmed that the international community continues to stand with Afghanistan.  Regarding the peace and reconciliation process, he said that the delicate political situation in the country requires that all political leaders give primacy to the national interest over party interests and make all efforts to ensure success for the upcoming presidential elections.  Regarding security, ongoing instability continued, as did suicide and aerial attacks on civilians.  All parties to the conflict should honour their obligations under international human rights law, he said.

JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said her country is a strong supporter of the nexus between security and development.  Climate change poses a threat not only to the stability of Africa but affects the security situation of other regions, including Afghanistan.  As a strong contributor to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) engagement in Afghanistan, Poland is deeply concerned by the recent developments in the Ghazni province, in particular large-scale Taliban attacks as well as the clashes between the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and anti-governmental elements.  Her delegation encourages the Government to restore stable security conditions that allow the local population to live normal lives.  Poland also remains concerned over the growing number of civilian casualties, including women and children, of mines, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), noting that Afghanistan’s 2018 elections revealed the determination of the country’s people, said that the momentum must continue into 2019 with any outstanding challenges addressed.  Emphasizing that confidence in credible institutions and representatives is a guarantee of peace, she said that NATO is committed to helping Afghanistan combat terrorism.  Meanwhile, the ongoing peace process should lead to a negotiated peace with the Taliban.  This requires the adoption of conditions – acceptable to both sides - for the exercise of power within the framework of the Constitution, as recently laid out by President Ghani.  All countries of the region, and the international community, must support those efforts.  Expressing concern about the continued high level of poppy cultivation - which feeds the financing of terrorism and jeopardizes the lives of thousands of Afghans - she underlined the important principle of shared responsibility and called for redoubled efforts to combat drug trafficking through the Paris Pact.

ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) said security regrettably remains the key challenge to Afghanistan’s long-term stability and economic development.  Condemning all deliberate and heinous acts of violence witnessed during the reporting period, he said all parties must uphold their responsibilities to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure in line with international law.  The Afghan political process should be Afghan-led and Afghan-owned, he stressed, noting that despite terrifying security conditions the country’s population courageously went to the polls in 2018 to exercise their constitutional right to elect their representatives.  Emphasizing that peace lasts longer when women take part in political negotiations, he said major strides have been seen in economic and governance reform, including far-reaching fiscal reforms and improvements in the participation of women in public life.  “We hope we’ll see more robust legal protection for women and their rights,” he said, adding that the perpetrators of any serious crimes must be brought to justice.  Calling for strengthened regional cooperation, he said the international community must also stand united in helping Afghanistan combat such challenges as terrorism, drug production and drug trafficking.

VERÓNICA CORDOVA SORIA (Bolivia) reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the work of UNAMA and underscored the democratic commitment that was shown by the people of Afghanistan during the recent elections.  The Afghan population participated in a spirit of great discipline, she said, noting that, according to the Independent Election Commission, in three days of voting, 4.2 million Afghans turned out to vote and turnout was highest in provincial capitals.  Some 30 per cent of voters were women, according to the Secretary-General’s report, she noted, underscoring that it was important to achieve the greatest possible participation of women.  Calling for the cessation of terrorist acts, she conveyed her outrage at the number of civilian deaths in 2018 due to such attacks.  In the Secretary-General’s report, the figures demonstrated that there is a clear intention to use civilians as targets, she said, repudiating all violence carried out by extremist groups.

MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said that Afghanistan continues to face multiple and complex challenges to its security, stability and development.  The people continue to pay a heavy price because of the instability and violence affecting the country.  She expressed her concern over the deliberate acts of violence against civilians throughout the electoral process, including the spike in attacks against electoral and related targets on 20 October, which resulted in the highest number of civilian casualties on a single day in 2018.  She reiterated Ethiopia’s support for the proposal by President Ghani for direct negotiations with the Taliban, which has received broad and strong support from Afghans and the international community.  The long-term security of Afghanistan can only be ensured through a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation and political process, she said.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) hailed both the Afghan authorities and the millions of people who participated in the recent parliamentary elections, while emphasizing the crucial importance of widespread participation by citizens in building democracy and lasting peace.  He also noted the increased participation of women in the recent elections, encouraging them as well as young people to participate in the country’s political life.  Condemning terrorist attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, he expressed concern over the high degree of political fragmentation in Afghanistan.  Political leaders should conduct themselves with maturity to foster a climate of democratic unity that rejects violence, he said.  The competent authorities should work in a transparent manner as they count and tabulate votes, he said, stressing that national institutions must be effective in preventing the kind of technical and logistical difficulties seen in the recent parliamentary elections.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the international conference in Geneva involved the high-level participation of the Russian Federation and demonstrated the importance that the international community attaches to peace and stability in Afghanistan.  Noting with concern the tensions in the security arena that continued to deteriorate, he also shared his delegation’s concern over the strengthening of ISIL/Da’esh, noting that its ranks are being filled mainly by foreign terrorist fighters who remain loyal to their aim of strengthening their numbers.  Terrorist acts have been targeting civilians, including women and children, he said, adding that ISIL/Da’esh is combining its propaganda with effective use of information technology.  The expansionist activities of jihadists create a real threat to security, he said, underlining that it is unacceptable to underplay the threat ISIL/Da’esh poses to Afghanistan.

MA ZHAOXU (China) said Afghanistan’s political process has entered a new phase, with the new Government committed to advancing economic development and improving security.  Urging the international community to honour all its commitments to the country, he said that must include helping Afghanistan maintain stability and prepare for the 2019 election; improving the security environment; reducing drug production and implementing relevant Council resolutions on areas including drug trafficking and transnational organized crime; engaging in Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and inclusive peace talks without conditions; improving livelihoods; and advancing Afghanistan’s sustainable development by respecting the path chosen by the Afghan people.  Pledging to continue to support the country in those endeavours, he recalled that a recent tripartite meeting involving China, Afghanistan and Pakistan led to an agreement to promote regional security, stability and development.  The three signed memoranda of understanding on combating terrorism and accelerating the Belt and Road initiative he said, noting that China continues to provide assistance to Afghans affected by the current drought.

KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), Council President for December, spoke in his national capacity, expressing regret that Afghanistan’s 2018 elections were characterized by violent attacks carried out by the Taliban and ISIL/Da’esh.  Some 17 years after the fall of the Taliban regime, more action is still needed to strengthen Afghanistan’s security.  The presidential election slated for 2019 will be critical, he said, expressing hope that the vote will be inclusive, free, fair and credible.  Underlining also the importance of implementing the Afghanistan-Pakistan plan of action on peace and security as well as regional tripartite talks, he voiced concern over challenges facing refugees returning to Afghanistan, welcoming efforts by the United Nations and its partners to support some 5 million returning refugees while condemning attacks against humanitarian workers as serious violations of international law.  Efforts among Afghanistan’s partners to combat drug trafficking should also continue, he said, adding that strict respect for sanctions is crucial.

CHAUDHRY TIPU USMAN (Pakistan) said that instability caused by the vicious cycle of foreign military interventions and civil war has engulfed the entire region and impeded peace, development and progress.  While the international community is committed to bringing the conflict to a negotiated end, “we finally see efforts to actually achieve this goal”, he said, emphasizing that the present moment could prove to be a watershed in Afghanistan’s long, violent history.  With the present ceasefire, the country should galvanize the warring parties to commence negotiations towards a sustainable solution, he emphasized.  Welcoming the latest round of talks between the United States Special Envoy and the Taliban in Abu Dhabi earlier today, he expressed hope that all sides will demonstrate flexibility and pledged Pakistan’s support to an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process.  He recalled that during their second round of talks, Pakistan, China and Afghanistan agreed to support reconciliation, development, connectivity, security and counter-terrorism efforts.  Pakistan and Afghanistan, in particular, are working to improve bilateral relations through the recently agreed Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity, he added.

MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) echoed other speakers’ support for stronger regional engagement in the situation in Afghanistan, describing the successful recent Geneva funding conference as a “testament to the world’s continued support for the people of Afghanistan”.  Urging the Taliban to respond positively to offers of peace and dialogue extended by the Government of Afghanistan, he added that the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on 6 December also demonstrates the global community’s continued support and solidarity.  As an elected Council member for the period 2021-2022, Canada will continue to support and help expand multilateral engagement for the Afghan people.  Stressing the need to ensure the meaningful inclusion of Afghan women and girls in their country’s decision-making processes, he said Canada has partnered with Oxfam on its “Amplify Change” project, which promotes that goal.  To date, the organization has helped 860 women and 600 men better understand and safeguard women’s legal rights, from both religious and secular perspectives.  Expressing hope that lessons will be learned from Afghanistan’s 2018 elections as the nation prepares for a vote in 2019, he asked the country’s authorities to continue to actively address irregularities and protect the rights of rural dwellers — especially women — to participate in public affairs.

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said that as the second-largest donor and contributor of troops to UNAMA, his country welcomes the adoption of the Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework in November as a clear sign of the international community’s commitment to Afghanistan and of the Afghan Government’s willingness to continue the nation’s reform process.  Germany will continue to do its part in countering multiple challenges and stabilizing the country.  Afghanistan has been battling the serious impact of long-lasting drought.  Climate change affects all countries, but in a nation like Afghanistan grappling with violent conflict and poverty its consequences can be even more devastating.  Germany, together with Indonesia, is looking forward to acting as the Security Council penholder on Afghanistan over the next two years.

STEFANO STEFANILE (Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said one important outcome of the recent Geneva conference was a shared commitment to the fight against corruption.  In light of the pledging conference to take place in 2020, the Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework clearly outlines the areas where there is scope for further progress on that issue, he said, joining others in underlining the importance of the high participation in Afghanistan’s 2018 elections.  The organizational, procedural and security-related difficulties that emerged should serve as a blueprint for lessons learned, he said, noting that the elections in 2019 must be credible and transparent.  The only viable solution to the conflict lies in an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process, he stressed, noting that the unprecedented offer extended by President Ghani to the Taliban has opened a new window of opportunity.  Prospects for a negotiated peace have not been this tangible since 2001, he said, emphasizing that the international community and regional partners must do their part to create the conditions needed for peace.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan), pointing out that his country shares the longest border with Afghanistan of all the Central Asian nations, said the two nations also share close cultural, historical and linguistic ties.  Emphasizing that terrorism and extremism in Afghanistan cannot be eliminated by military operations alone, he said the peace process there should be both Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.  “Without stability in Afghanistan, there will be no stability in the Central Asian region,” he said, adding that progress on social, economic and environmental issues will be equally impossible.  Terrorism, transnational organized crime and drug trafficking can undermine the region and — if not addressed — will become major obstacles to its timely implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Tajikistan’s law enforcement agencies have been working with colleagues from other countries in the region, including Afghanistan, to share information and improve border control under the frameworks of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and hosted an international conference on the matter in May.  Noting that another such event will be convened in 2019, he underlined the importance of providing Afghanistan with agricultural and infrastructure support and investing in the country’s prosperity.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) welcomed the fact that, in addition to reform, development and reconciliation were included on the agenda of the Geneva ministerial conference for the first time.  Highlighting the Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework, he said Japan supports the Afghan Government’s efforts to move forward with reforms.  Turning to Afghanistan’s recent parliamentary elections, he paid respect to citizens who cast their votes despite a difficult security situation and noted the importance of a free and fair process as the backbone of democracy.  Moving forward, an improvement in the security situation will be fundamental for peace and reconciliation, he said, expressing support for an Afghan-led process.  At the same time, Japan is concerned about the severe drought affecting Afghanistan, with millions facing serious food insecurity and a humanitarian crisis looming.  His Government will extend $13 million in assistance in response to that natural disaster, as well as approximately $15 million to improve irrigation infrastructure and water management.  In addition, Japan has approved $17 million of assistance to promote the Maternal and Child Health Handbook and provide immunization against infectious diseases.

FERIDUM HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) declared:  “Afghanistan stands at a crucial juncture in […] its political, security and economic transformation.”  As the country approaches the midpoint of is transformation decade, it continues to face significant and complex challenges, with a rising number of civilian casualties testifying to the volatile security situation.  Turkey has been actively supporting Afghanistan since 2001 and it pledged $60 million for the 2018-2020 period to support the Afghan National Security Forces.  Stressing that the engagement of the international community remains vital, he said it is now imperative to live up to commitments made.  The total amount of aid provided by Turkey to Afghanistan’s development and reconstruction processes exceeds $1.1 billion, with more than 1,000 projects completed across the country.  A further $150 million was allocated to such work for 2018-2020.  Underlining the crucial importance of development in particular, he said the Afghan people need a peace that they both lead and own.  Citing the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process as a positive example of regional cooperation, he said it is the region with the greatest role, interest and responsibility in establishing and sustaining a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.

DAVID GREGORY YARDLEY (Australia) urged the Government of Afghanistan to address deficiencies in the electoral processes in order to ensure the 2019 presidential election is credible, transparent and fully reflects the people’s will.  The Kabul Process should form the framework for pursuing peace in Afghanistan, he said, welcoming efforts made by the United States delegation to build upon the Afghan Government’s 2018 initiatives.  However, he expressed disappointment that the Taliban have refused to engage with the Government, calling upon them to end violence and enter into genuine negotiations.  Australia will continue to stand with its allies and partners in the NATO Resolute Support mission, working with Afghan security forces to overcome challenges.  Moreover, he recalled that in March, Australia pledged $39 million over three years to support vulnerable groups affected by conflict and displacement, bringing its humanitarian aid for Afghanistan to $89 million since 2014.   During the Geneva conference, Australia announced an additional $5 million contribution to provide emergency assistance to Afghans on the verge of acute famine, he observed.

BAKHTIYOR IBRAGIMOV (Uzbekistan) said his delegation actively participates in various international negotiations on Afghanistan, including the Kabul Process, the Moscow Format and the International Contact Group, among others.  Uzbekistan’s principal position in this regard is that only an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process can lead to a peaceful settlement of the conflict.  Moreover, Uzbekistan is providing practical assistance to help Afghanistan rebuild its socio-economic infrastructure.  Among such projects, his country supports the construction of a railroad corridor from Mazar-i-Sharif to Herat, providing employment to 30,000 Afghans and allowing Kabul to generate between $400 million and $500 million in profits from transit.  Moreover, the construction of the electric power transmission line between Surkhan and Puli-Khumri will allow electricity supplies from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan to increase by 70 per cent, switching Kabul to Central Asia’s unified energy system.  Uzbekistan has also created a free economic zone at its border with Afghanistan, where it is planning to establish industrial production lines to manufacture items necessary for projects underway in that country.

TANMAYA LAL (India) noted that one quarter of all terrorism-related deaths in the world are due to attacks inside Afghanistan.  Sadly, the international community, and the Security Council with all its tools, have simply failed or been unwilling to deal effectively with the source of the problem.  The Council’s actions against ISIL/Da’esh can serve as a template for action against terrorists and their supporters in Afghanistan.  The Security Council sanctions committee, which refuses to designate new Taliban leaders or to freeze the assets of the group’s slain leader, is falling short of what Afghans and the international community expect of it, he emphasized.  However, there has been considerable progress in education, health care and other fields, even as the security, peace and development challenges continue to mount, he said.  Noting India’s age-old cultural and economic ties with Afghanistan, he said it is engaged in various connectivity projects in the region, including the Chabahar Port project and the direct India-Afghanistan air-freight corridor.

SERGE LEON A. CHRISTIANE, European Union, said the coming months were critical for advancing the peace agenda in Afghanistan.  At the Geneva Ministerial Conference, the European Union made a concrete offer to, among other things, help the Afghan Government make the peace process more inclusive; support post-conflict reforms; and more broadly, act as a guarantor of the peace process.  Any peace process should include mechanisms to represent the interests of all Afghans, especially women and minorities, he said, adding that peace must not come at the expense of progress made in the last 17 years.  To guarantee full Afghan ownership of an eventual peace process, direct peace talks between the Government and the Taliban cannot be delayed much further.  In that vein, the international community must bring all negotiations under the auspices of the Kabul Process.

Highlighting the support package of €474 million announced by the European Union at the Geneva Ministerial Conference, he called on the Afghan Government to focus not only on the adoption, but also the implementation of its reforms.  Nevertheless, progress has been made in providing an environment more conducive to business, as well as promoting private-sector growth and security-sector reforms.  To increase people’s confidence in Afghan institutions, the fight against corruption needs to continue to deliver concrete results, he said, adding that the same applies to the protection of human rights.  More specifically, he urged the Afghan Government to implement the Law on the Elimination of Violence against Women and to adopt the Child Protection Law, which was recently rejected by Parliament.  Looking ahead to the country’s upcoming elections, he said the international community must remain firm in supporting both a Kabul-led peace process and presidential elections that are transparent and strengthen the legitimacy of the resulting Government.  Towards that end, the European Union will be providing more than €18 million in electoral assistance.  He went on to express concern about the security situation in the country, particularly the high level of civilian casualties and violence affecting children.  In that context, he called on all parties to comply with international human rights and humanitarian laws to ensure the protection of the civilian population.

JEROEN COOREMAN (Belgium) said that recent elections ushered in a new era for the consolidation of democracy in Afghanistan.  The Government and other institutions must now hold credible presidential elections, drawing on past experience and investing in transparency and communication.  Expressing concern about the high number of civilian casualties, he called on all parties to protect civilians, particularly women and children.  He also called on Taliban leaders to respond to President Ghani’s offer for direct peace talks, and on the international community to support that process.  Turning to the role of women in peace, he announced his country’s €2 million contribution to United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) operations in that country, also encouraging the Afghan Government to increase women’s participation in public institutions.  Belgium will substantially increase its contribution to the NATO-led mission and will also expand its contribution to the Central Emergency Response Fund for the drought there.  “Peace is within Afghanistan’s grasp,” he emphasized, adding that Belgium will continue to support a peace process that is Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.

MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) emphasized the central and impartial role of the United Nations in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan.  Highlighting her Government’s serious concern for that country’s security and stability, she called on States to strengthen their international and regional cooperation to enhance information-sharing, border control, law enforcement and criminal justice.  In that context, she welcomed steps taken by the Afghanistan Government to promote an Afghan-led and -owned peace under the Kabul process, as well as the national progress made on political, economic, governance and social reforms.  As an important regional partner, Kyrgyzstan is collaborating with Afghanistan to implement regional projects, including the CASA-1000 energy project, which will contribute to the economic development of the country and help address several of its socioeconomic problems.  Her Government is also seeking to establish a trilateral agro-industrial consortium, and together with Afghan partners, is piloting a teaching project at its educational institutions for Afghan students.  Noting recent discussions with representatives of other Central Asian States, she reiterated their joint commitment to strengthened cooperation with Afghanistan.

ESHAGH AL HABIB (Iran) said the time is ripe for an inclusive, Afghan-owned, Afghan-led political solution, and the parties should seize the momentum currently being generated by the complementary Kabul, Tashkent and Moscow talks.  Calling for efforts to address the underlying causes of Afghanistan’s insecurity and instability, he said one major driver has been the presence of foreign forces which provide a recruiting ground for extremists.  “We continue to call for a time-bound and responsible withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan, regardless of their mandate or structure,” he said, emphasizing that instead of deploying foreign forces, efforts should be undertaken to strengthen Afghanistan’s own military and security forces.  Such efforts are particularly critical to fighting ISIL/Da’esh, he said, noting that the group’s arrival in Afghanistan has led to increased bloodshed and dangerous sectarian tendencies.

For information media. Not an official record.