Positive Actions Rather than Violence Against Innocents Must Prove Taliban Commitment, Says National Security Adviser
As ongoing direct talks between the United States and the Taliban further open the door for peace in Afghanistan, success will ultimately depend on aligning such efforts with those led by the Afghan people, the senior-most United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today.
“I stress the imperative need for the Taliban to directly talk with the Government,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The centrality of Afghanistan in the peace process is essential, he added.
He went on to note that although a February meeting held in Moscow between representatives of the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban offered hope for better understanding, the latter have not yet accepted direct negotiations. Emphasizing the importance of acknowledging the concerns of citizens that the gains made over the last 18 years might be compromised, he said all segments of society — women, young people, ulema (Islamic scholars) and community and political leaders alike — must be involved.
Against such a backdrop, he continued, presidential elections will be a critical step towards consolidating the representative political system, especially since the parliamentary elections in October 2018 were marred by widespread irregularities. That led to the selection of two new heads to lead the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission, he noted. “Now is the moment for the international community to look at Afghanistan with renewed eyes” and reassess how to work with the people and Government to promote development, he said.
Hamdullah Mohib, Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser, said the Government has accomplished “a tremendous amount” five years into the Decade of Transformation, despite the competing priorities of war, elections and drought, and considerable resistance from those benefiting from corrupt systems. The Government has worked to build consensus after President Ashraf Ghani’s unconditional offer of peace talks in February 2018, and the announcement of the Afghan negotiating team and peace road map in November 2018.
In December, he further recalled, the Government hosted a Jirga with 2,500 young people from 34 provinces, and in February, the first women’s gathering was held in the Loya Jirga tent, where 3,500 women met to seek agreement on what they expect from the peace process. A consultative Loya Jirga will convene in the coming weeks, followed by the third Kabul Process Conference, he said, emphasizing that it is now up to the Taliban to prove their commitment through positive deeds rather than attacks against innocent people.
Storai Tapesh, Deputy Executive Director of the Afghan Women’s Network, briefed from Kabul, saying that whereas Afghan women are cautiously hopeful, they are also worried that their rights will be compromised in the peace process. Among other demands, she called for women’s equal participation in the peace process, an end to impunity, the inclusion of gender-awareness provisions in any final peace accord, the creation of a mechanism to register women’s complaints, and efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence.
In the ensuing debate, delegates agreed that the new dynamic in the peace process presents an opportunity that must be seized, especially in light of the record numbers of civilian casualties from the conflict. The Russian Federation’s representative pointed out that the growing influence of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) creates a threat to the countries of Central Asia and to the southern regions of his own country. He went on to welcome regional efforts to support Afghanistan’s peace process, notably through the renewal of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Contact Group.
The representative of the United States pointed out the steps that his country’s Government took in January towards a framework peace agreement, and again in February when the Taliban appointed a negotiating team. He stressed that, whereas the United States would prefer an agreement that brings the Taliban into the political process, elections must move forward, even if that goal is not achieved.
On that point, the United Kingdom’s delegate called for a stronger voter-registration system for Afghanistan and asked what specifically UNAMA can do to support the electoral process. He also underlined the need for the international community to remain united in its demand that the Taliban sit down with negotiating partners.
“Only Afghans can make peace with each other,” Germany’s delegate pointed out, underlining that international support during and after the peace process must be contingent upon the continuity of the State, its institutions and the constitutional framework.
Also speaking today were representatives of Indonesia, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, China, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Peru, Belgium, Kuwait, Poland and France
At the outset of the meeting, the Council observed a moment of silence in honour of United Nations staff and others killed in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on Sunday.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 12:21 p.m.
TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that efforts to end the decades-long conflict in that country have yielded progress, with the United States and the Taliban continuing intensive direct talks and a number of countries extending support to facilitate them. During the January meeting of the International Contact Group, participants expressed hope that the talks will enable direct negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, he recalled, adding that a Moscow meeting in February between Afghan representatives and the Taliban offered an opportunity to have a better understanding of views. Yet, the Taliban have not yet accepted direct negotiations with the Government, he said, emphasizing the imperative need for such talks. All international efforts must come together in support of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process, which is essential for the peace process and for the implementation of any agreement to be sustainable, he stressed.
In working towards peace, he continued, it is important to acknowledge the legitimate concerns of citizens about possibly compromising the gains made over the past 18 years in the name of peace. The United Nations shares many of those concerns, notably regarding the fate of women’s rights, freedom of expression and space for civil society to function, all of which must be protected under any peace agreement. The peace process must include groups representing all segments of Afghanistan’s diverse society — women, young people, ulema as well as community and political leaders alike. “We also need to think about the rights of the victims and issues of transitional justice,” he emphasized, strongly advocating the perspectives of women, who are expressing a clear determination to safeguard their hard-won civil, political and economic rights under any peace agreement.
He said that he expects the presidential election to be a critical step towards consolidating a representative political system. However, it will be challenging to hold it on schedule amid widespread reports of irregularities during last October’s parliamentary elections, which continued throughout the counting process, delaying the finalization of results. Noting that political actors have expressed scepticism about the ability of the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission to deliver credible and timely presidential elections, he said that in response to those concerns, the election law was amended by presidential decree and a process to select new members and heads of the two commissions was held in early March, involving civil society, political parties and presidential candidates. The two commissions must now work to rebuild public trust, he stressed.
With less than five months until election day, the technical and political challenges are daunting, he said, urging the new commissioners to take urgent decisions on implementation of the amended election law, which outlines reforms relating to the use of biometric technology in the electoral system. The law also provides for the conduct of provincial council, district council and parliamentary elections in the province of Ghazni, and assessments must be conducted as to whether the electoral calendar will permit that timetable. Noting that all such efforts are taking place in the context of war, he described 2018 as the deadliest year on record for the Afghan conflict, with a total 10,993 civilian casualties, including 3,804 killed. Underlining that the deliberate targeting of civilians is a war crime, he said casualties arising from attacks by Da’esh/ISKP [Da’esh/Islamic State Khorasan Province, the local affiliate of Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, ISIL/Da’esh] in some places more than doubled from 2017 to 2018, accounting for more than 50 per cent of attributed attacks that year.
The number of children killed the same year reached a record high, with more than 900 child deaths verified, he said. More than half the population are living under the poverty line and severe drought has exacerbated living conditions, with 13.5 million people surviving on less than one meal a day, he said, adding that despite a decrease in opium production in 2018, significant cultivation of opium poppy and illicit trafficking of opiates remains a threat. “We estimate that 10 per cent of the adult population are addicted to narcotics,” he said, stressing the importance of tackling the entire supply chain in addressing that complex issue. Noting that Afghanistan and its partners have begun exploring opportunities to expand development assistance in a post-settlement context, he declared: “Now is the moment for the international community to look at Afghanistan with renewed eyes”, and reassess how to work with the people and Government of Afghanistan to promote development.
STORAI TAPESH, Deputy Executive Director, Afghan Women’s Network, said that whereas the women of Afghanistan are cautiously hopeful that peace will be achieved, they are also worried that their human rights will be compromised in the process and that they will not benefit from the dividends of peace. Warning that any solution failing to respect the rights and needs of women will not last, she underlined the important role of women’s organizations in lifting the voices of Afghanistan’s women and supporting the ongoing peace process. Among other demands, she called for the full, meaningful and equal participation of women in the peace process; an end to impunity; the inclusion of gender-awareness provisions in any final peace agreement; the establishment of a mechanism to register women’s complaints; and concrete efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence, which persists in spite of the adoption of various relevant laws. In addition, she called for improved legal protections and access to justice for all, stressing that an inclusive approach to peace and reconciliation — which includes and promotes the rights of women — will be essential for a successful and sustainable peace.
HAMDULLAH MOHIB, National Security Adviser of Afghanistan, said that in order to understand the Government of Afghanistan’s approach to peace, it is important to understand the many new realities in the country today. Having experienced an era of social transformation, 75 per cent of the population is under the age of 35, have grown up in a democracy and have a different set of expectations and principles from those of their parents and grandparents, who were born in war and grew up in conflict or exile, he said. “We yearn for peace”, he added. Millions of Afghans have benefited from the best opportunities for national and international education, he said, noting that members of that generation are now in positions of leadership. Afghanistan has also experienced the transformation of female citizens, from victims of institutionalized discrimination under the Taliban regime to empowered and engaged contributors in all spheres of society and politics, playing a vital role in economic growth and national security. And five years into the Decade of Transformation — launched in 2014 as a whole-of-Government reform agenda — the Government has accomplished “a tremendous amount”, despite the competing priorities of war, elections and drought, in addition to considerable resistance from those benefiting from corrupt systems.
He went on to highlight the World Bank’s 2018 “Doing Business Indicators” report, noting that it recognizes Afghanistan as the top-reforming country in improving its business climate. A new tone of intolerance towards corruption, set under the National Strategy to Counter Corruption in 2017, has enabled the completion of more than half of its outlined goals. Efforts to connect the region and address regional energy needs today means that farmers, producers, entrepreneurs as well as businessmen and women can export products to Europe by the Lapis Lazuli corridor; to India through the Chabahar port in Iran; or via air corridors to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, China and beyond. Nearly $1 billion worth of exported products was realized in 2018 alone, he said, adding that the legal foundation for a modern economy has also been laid, thanks in part to the perseverance of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. Providing an update on peace efforts, he said the Government has worked to build consensus across the country after President Ashraf Ghani’s unconditional offer of peace talks in February 2018, followed by the ceasefire in June and the announcement of the Afghan negotiating team and peace road map in November 2018.
In December, he continued, the Government hosted a Jirga with 2,500 young people from 34 provinces, and in February, the first women’s gathering was held in the Loya Jirga tent, where 3,500 women gathered to agree on what they expect from the peace process. A consultative Loya Jirga will convene in the coming weeks to bond the collective voice of Afghans, he said, adding that it will be followed by the third Kabul Process Conference, which will explore implementation of a post-peace plan. “Peace is imperative and needed urgently, but not at any cost,” he declared, emphasizing the importance of ensuring respect for the constitution, the democratic State and the elected Government that it constitutes. The Afghan Government and people have committed to peace, he said, stressing that it is now up to the Taliban to prove their commitment through positive deeds rather than attacking innocent people and Afghan security forces. Noting that peace goes hand-in-hand with elections, he recalled that Afghans have gone to the polls to reinforce their belief in democracy. In October, 2,565 candidates contested 249 parliamentary seats, and more than 4 million Afghans came out to vote, some 35 per cent of them women, he emphasized. It is the Government’s duty to match that trust in democracy with reforms that uphold democratic systems, he added, noting that the Government has worked to build credibility and transparency into the electoral process.
Citing the “unprecedented” move by presidential candidates to elect new members to the Independent Election Commission and the Independent Election Complaints Commission, he pointed out that both newly-elected commission heads are women — another first. He went on to emphasize that the Government must simultaneously maintain military operations while carrying out reforms to strengthen its National Defence and Security Forces, which defied predictions of failure when they took over in 2014. After the implementation of new policies, operational output on the battlefield improved, with the forces solidifying control over the national territory and weakening pockets of enemy contingents. Short on equipment and capabilities, the Government nevertheless overhauled the security sector, allowing for a much-needed change in generational leadership. Afghan forces will remain defiant in the face of terrorism, he said, emphasizing that counter-terrorism efforts require a sustained global response since only a zero-tolerance approach, based on cooperation among all States, will achieve success. The enforcement of Security Council sanctions, outlined in resolutions 1988 (2011) and 1267 (1999), should no longer be compromised, he stressed. Afghanistan will continue to pursue a sequential peace process leading to dialogue between the Government and the Taliban, he said, requesting that its partners see Afghanistan as a platform for regional and global cooperation, and not simply for mutual economic benefit. “We are clear-eyed about the challenges that remain, which still demand the Council’s support, he said.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), emphasizing the need for national reconciliation and democracy, welcomed plans to hold a Grand Jirga, which hopefully will consolidate the different opinions among Afghans. Successful dialogue with all parties, including the Taliban, is crucial, he said, emphasizing that there should be no reversals on human rights, the rule of law and inclusive democracy. Security must improve, he said, calling upon those with influence over insurgents and terrorists to thwart their vile attacks. He went on to underscore the need for effective State institutions and broad-based socioeconomic development.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) said the new dynamic in the peace process presents an opportunity that must be seized. The next step is the launch of intra-Afghan talks that must include the Government, the Taliban and other key Afghan stakeholders. “Only Afghans can make peace with each other,” he pointed out, emphasizing that such a goal will require much work, time and painful compromise. International support during and after the peace process must be contingent on the continuity of the State, its institutions and the constitutional framework, he said, calling also for safeguarding progress on human rights for women, minorities and vulnerable groups. In that regard, the Council can play an important role in clearly communicating its expectations. He went on to underline the need for timely, fair and democratic presidential elections in order to avoid a constitutional vacuum.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) expressed regret at the record level of civilian victims, the continued presence of ISIL/Da’esh fighters and the latter’s increasing influence. “This creates a real threat to our friends in Central Asia and the southern regions of Russia,” he noted, calling attention to the nexus between terrorism and drug production and trafficking. The Russian Federation trains drug police in Afghanistan and elsewhere, including Central Asia, and will continue to promote an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process, he said, recalling that in 2018, his country hosted a round of consultations in which various Afghan parties participated. Echoing calls to make the peace process as inclusive as possible, he also welcomed regional efforts to support the process, spotlighting the renewal of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Contact Group and calling upon all States to ensure that Afghanistan is no longer a launching pad for terrorist threats.
JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) echoed concerns about the challenges facing Afghanistan, including the humanitarian situation, noting that the country remains one of the most difficult places for humanitarian operations. The United States has contributed more than $232 million in humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan in the last year, he noted. “The United States does not seek a withdrawal agreement,” he stressed, adding that, instead, it seeks lasting peace. Steps were taken towards that goal in January, when the parties agreed on a framework agreement, and again in February, when the Taliban appointed a negotiating team. The peace process must preserve gains made since 2001, he said, emphasizing respect for human rights, freedom of the press and the empowerment of women and girls. While the United States would prefer an agreement that brings the Taliban into the political process, elections must move forward, even if that goal is not achieved, he stressed. Expressing hope for the establishment of a regional mechanism to facilitate the finalization of a peace agreement, he expressed support for the renewal of UNAMA’s mandate for another year and hope that 2019 will provide an opportunity to move towards peace.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) echoed other speakers in condemning deliberate, heinous attacks against civilians in Afghanistan — including with improvised explosive devices — which remain a grave source of concern. All parties must abide by their obligations under international law, protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian access, she said. Welcoming the establishment of the Independent Commission for Administrative and Public Service Reform — as well as the growing numbers of women involved in the peace process — she urged the Government to continue to work towards a comprehensive peace through direct, inclusive talks representing all Afghans and supported by regional countries. The parties should also actively prepare for the presidential elections to ensure they are free and credible, she added.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire), emphasizing the essential need for peaceful, credible elections in order to build peace, decried the dysfunction seen during October’s parliamentary polls, advocating corrective measures. Steps must also be taken to protect voters and secure polling sites against attacks by the Taliban and the local branch of Da’esh. While welcoming efforts to promote dialogue among political actors and with regional States, he said that alone will not achieve peace. He encouraged national ownership and the participation of all political and social actors, as well as efforts to promote women’s participation in the peace process. Government actions to combat violence against women must be strengthened by revising the 2009 law restricting their rights, he said. Expressing concern over the security situation, including the use of explosive devices in provinces controlled by the Taliban, he said that addressing Afghanistan’s multifaceted challenges — especially corruption, terrorism and drug trafficking — requires support for the Government. Côte d’Ivoire advocates maintaining troops in the Resolute Support Mission, he said.
WU HAITAO (China) urged sustained international support for Afghanistan, notably by promoting political dialogue and calling on stakeholders to seize the opportunity to embark on the path of reconciliation. He expressed support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process, and for efforts to persuade the Taliban to return to negotiations and support both the Kabul Process and the Moscow format. The conduct of elections must also be facilitated, with UNAMA providing technical support and adjusting its mandate, he said. Other mechanisms should assess Afghanistan’s reconstruction, he added. Emphasizing that national stability is a shared responsibility, he urged the international community to help the Afghan National Security Forces build capacity and fight terrorists hiding within the East Turkistan Islamic Movement. It must also help to improve the livelihoods of Afghans by honouring assistance commitments. China, for its part, has always supported the political process in Afghanistan, notably through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, he noted.
Ms. THSABALALA (South Africa) reiterated her delegation’s support for Afghanistan’s electoral reforms and for the presidential elections scheduled for July, expressing hope that they will be credible, timely, inclusive, fair, free, safe and transparent. Calling for support for the people of Afghanistan as they rebuild trust and work towards reconciliation, she voiced concern about the recent escalation of violence in the country, including indiscriminate attacks against civilians. Warning that the human cost of conflict only further weakens society, with devastating effects on women, children and other vulnerable groups, she stated: “Their hopes for a secure future deteriorate with every day that passes and we do not act effectively in their interest.” In that regard, he called upon all parties to protect civilians against sexual and gender-based violence, condemned violent terrorist activities and expressed deep concern about the growing links connecting terrorism and the production and trafficking of drugs. All parties should engage in direct talks and work to preserve the gains made over the years, he emphasized.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said there is a consensus today that the time for peace in Afghanistan has come. Elections in late 2018, and those planned for July, provide a window of opportunity, he said, urging the parties to seize it. Recent sessions of the Moscow format dialogue and the talks between the United States and the newly-appointed Taliban negotiator provide possible avenues towards peace, he noted. Calling for the rebuilding of trust — as well as the installation of an election complaints mechanism — he urged the international community to help Afghanistan organize credible, transparent presidential elections in July. Meanwhile, initiatives such as the June 2018 mutual ceasefire agreed between the Government and the Taliban should be the rule, not the exception, he emphasized. Expressing concern over the plight of more than 3 million Afghans in need of humanitarian assistance, he called upon all parties to continue to press for the full realization of human rights, including women’s rights, and for meaningful participation in the peace talks.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) welcomed the recent strides made in Afghanistan, emphasizing that the goal of such efforts must be to facilitate meaningful dialogue and to end the country’s difficult humanitarian situation. The participation of regional partners is crucial to ensuring that any peace is sustainable, he added, stressing that their input will also be essential to breaking the vicious cycle of death and destruction. “There is no military solution,” he reiterated, calling also for the ongoing peace negotiations to actively include the views of women and young people. Turning to the upcoming presidential election, he called for an examination of the October 2018 vote in order to help identify good practices and challenges while ensuring that the 2019 presidential election is both inclusive and credible.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), expressing hope that 2019 will see progress towards a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan, said that a lasting peace agreement can only be reached through comprehensive, inclusive intra-Afghan dialogue. Reiterating her delegation’s support for the Kabul Process, she said it should provide the basis for an Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled peace process. Belgium calls upon all actors to promote equal participation by women in all stages of the peace talks, he said, stressing that any agreement must guarantee protection of their rights. Since 2019 is an important year for building democracy, and since Afghanistan needs a representative legislature, it is essential to conclude the results of the legislative elections, she said, calling also for responsible efforts to ensure that the presidential poll is free, transparent and credible. She went on to express deep concern over UNAMA’s report outlining a record number of civilian deaths, calling upon all actors to end violations against children, including those arising from aerial bombardment and the use of explosive devices in populated areas. International humanitarian law must be respected, she stressed.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) said the preparations for the presidential election calls for redoubled efforts, using the lessons learned from October’s legislative polls, in order for voting to take place in July. On national reconciliation, an essential element of the political process, he welcomed the intensified efforts, seen in the second half of 2018, to build peaceful dialogue among Afghans. Recalling that the presidential decree called upon the High Consultative Council to join and strengthen the national dialogue, he emphasized the particularly important role of the Special Envoy of the United States in that regard. He went on to advocate efforts to hasten national reconciliation, noting with great concern the 20,000 “security instances” recorded in 2018 alone. UNAMA also found that 10,000 victims were killed or wounded in violence during 2018, the highest number since the Mission began recording such casualties, calling for a regional consensus on achieving stability in Afghanistan, since a lasting solution will not be found unless all levels of society and all regional States are involved.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) emphasized that all initiatives should promote an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned dialogue on reconciliation and political participation, calling also for the effective and meaningful participation of women in the process. Recalling that Afghanistan managed to conduct parliamentary and district council elections within an accepted time frame in 2018, she said that all experiences and lessons learned should be used to hold peaceful, transparent and credible presidential elections in 2019. UNAMA can provide assistance, she added. Noting also that overall civilian deaths reached a record level in 2018, she emphasized “this has to stop”, urging all parties to respect humanitarian principles, international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Poland stands with Afghanistan in the war against terrorism and supports its unrelenting efforts to spread State authority over its entire national territory, she added.
STEPHEN HICKEY (United Kingdom), commending UNAMA’s good work in difficult circumstances, called attention to recent terrorist attacks as concrete demonstrations of the challenges still facing Afghanistan. “As the Security Council, we must remind all parties that any targeting or killing of civilians is a serious violation of international law,” he stressed. Lessons from October’s parliamentary elections must be learned rapidly so that the upcoming presidential election can be convened fairly and credibly, he said, noting that much remains to be done in that area. He went on to call for a stronger voter-registration system, asking what specifically UNAMA can do to support the electoral process. Expressing support for efforts to restart a credible, Afghan-led peace process, he underlined the need to maintain the current momentum on women’s inclusion. He also underlined the need for the international community to remain united in its demand that the Taliban sit down with negotiating partners, including representatives of the Afghan Government.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), Council President for March, spoke in her national capacity, emphasizing that the priority of all partners must be a lasting, negotiated peace in Afghanistan. Calling upon the Taliban to accept direct negotiations with the Government, she echoed other speakers in stressing that women and young people must be able to engage, in a direct and meaningful way, in the peace process. Noting that the European Union can play a facilitating role in peace negotiations, she said the political process must preserve achievements in such areas as justice, human rights, rule of law and respect for fundamental freedoms. Urging the parties to avoid delays in the electoral process, she said credible institutions and legitimate representatives are crucial to rebuilding trust among the people. Citing the unacceptably high number of attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers in the course of 2018, she called upon the parties to uphold their obligations under international law and to abide by national laws prohibiting violence against women and the recruitment of children by armed groups. Meanwhile, UNAMA could include in its reports more information on early and forced marriage, including at the hands of ISIL-KP/Da’esh, she said.
Mr. YAMAMOTO, responding to remarks by Council members, said the centrality of Afghanistan in the peace process is imperative. The process must be owned by the Afghan people, especially women. Talks must take place between the Government — representing a cross-section of the population — and the Taliban, he said. Coherence and representation are vital for success, as is establishing a negotiating team, he emphasized. He recalled that, on 10 March, a presidential decree was issued for the holding of a peace consultative Jirga, which will hopefully help to create a national consensus around peace through an inclusive process.