Upcoming Presidential Election in Afghanistan ‘Key Moment’ to Reaffirm Legitimacy of Democratic Political Structure, Special Representative Tells Security Council

SC/13850
19 June 2019
8555th Meeting (PM)

Upcoming Presidential Election in Afghanistan ‘Key Moment’ to Reaffirm Legitimacy of Democratic Political Structure, Special Representative Tells Security Council

Speakers Point to High Hopes for Human Rights Protections, United States-Taliban Talks Ending Years of Fighting

The road to peace in Afghanistan is still long, but with united support for the country’s ownership of the peace process, there is reason for cautious optimism, the Special Representative told the Security Council today, stressing that ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban offer hope for ending years of fighting in the Central Asian country.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, who is also the Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said Afghans are focused on the need to reach a negotiated settlement.  While some prominent actors already exchanged views with Taliban representatives in Moscow in May, all such efforts must aim towards one common objective:  the start of formal negotiations between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.  “The common message to the Taliban is clear:  come to the table and negotiate directly with the Afghan Government,” he said.

The presidential election scheduled for 28 September will be a key moment to reaffirm the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democratic political structure, he said.  There are significant operational and technical challenges to be overcome.  Furthermore, the first quarter of 2019 saw almost 1,800 civilians killed or injured — fewer than in previous quarters but still far too many — he said, stressing that the targeting of civilians by anti-Government elements is a war crime and must stop.

Sima Samar, Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said hope and optimism for protecting human rights has “never been higher”.  At the same time, fear of returning to a time when people — especially women and minorities — were denied their freedoms “has never been greater”.  Talks with the Taliban have ignited widespread debate over lasting peace, and the recently launched National Inquiry on Women, Peace and Security has given voice to the expectations of women across the country.

Following the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan witnessed some progress in the fulfilment of human rights.  However, the conflict caused more than 11,000 civilian casualties in 2018 — a 19 per cent increase over the previous year.  She urged the Government and the international community to support the presidential election by refraining from interference, safeguarding voter safety and providing financial support for a civic awareness programme.

In the ensuing debate, Afghanistan’s delegate said a Consultative Peace Loya Jirga held last month brought together 3,200 elected members nationwide to create a mandate for talks with the Taliban.  A road map was adopted, which among other things, calls for an immediate permanent ceasefire, the start of direct peace talks and a feasible timetable for a withdrawal of international security forces.

Underscoring Afghanistan’s readiness to engage in comprehensive talks, she said the Taliban fail to show any commitment to peace.  “Only a dual-track approach of pressure and incentives can ensure a conducive environment for a successful outcome,” she insisted.

The United States delegate, meanwhile, said his country and the Taliban agreed that any comprehensive peace accord must include provisions for counter-terrorism, intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.  The United States has made clear it is prepared to reduce its forces, but it has not agreed to numbers or a timeline, as those elements will be determined by the post-peace Government.

Expressing support for continuing the intra-Afghan dialogue launched in Moscow, the Russian Federation’s delegate suggested that international players active in national reconciliation should consider what has been achieved in both the Moscow format and the trilateral dialogue among the Russian Federation, China and the United States.  Picking up that thread, Pakistan’s delegate expressed hope that the seventh round of United States-Taliban talks, expected early next month, can kick-start a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue.  “This could lead to a potentially decisive phase in the peace effort,” she said.

India’s representative, however, warned that some parties are driven by a sense of urgency in setting timelines that are not intrinsic to the needs of the Afghan people.  Voicing support for an Afghan-owned and -led peace and reconciliation process, he cautioned against ignoring the fact that groups enjoying support and a safe haven carry out terrorist activities from across borders.

Outlining her country’s readiness to contribute to the ongoing peace process through various regional formats, Kyrgyzstan’s delegate said confidence-building measures will help resolve the situation.  She pointed to a recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Bishkek, where participants discussed the peace process and reviewed a draft road map for further action.

Iran’s delegate said peace must be established by and for Afghans, and their needs can neither be dictated nor ignored.  He decried that the United States accuses his country of fomenting insecurity in Afghanistan, stressing:  “The sole purpose of this unfounded claim is to cover the United States’ failed policy in Afghanistan for the last 18 years.”

Japan’s delegate recalled that in March his country announced a new $96 million commitment to Afghanistan, which has since been disbursed to such projects as refugee and drought assistance.

Also speaking were representatives of Germany, Indonesia, South Africa, Poland, Dominican Republic, France, Belgium, Equatorial Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire, China, Peru, United Kingdom, Kuwait, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Italy, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, as well as the European Union.

The meeting began at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 6:50 p.m.

Briefings

TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the 12 months following last year’s unprecedented three-day Eid ceasefire have shown how arduous the path to peace really is, as the truce was not replicated this year.  The presidential election, scheduled for 28 September, will be a key moment to reaffirm the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democratic political structure.  As citizens have displayed enduring commitment to choosing their political leaders, electoral management bodies, State institutions, political leaders, candidates and international partners owe it to them to deliver a credible and timely election.

While the Independent Electoral Commission’s decision to hold the election on 28 September provided much-needed clarity to the electoral calendar, the timelines remain tight, he said.  Significant operational and technical challenges must be overcome, and new electoral management bodies face the daunting task of regaining public confidence after last year’s highly controversial parliamentary elections.   “The political stakes are high, and competition is intense”.  He recalled the responsibility of all political actors and Government agencies to ensure the elections are contested on a level playing field.  All actors should respect State institutions and refrain from actions that could give a candidate undue advantage.  “Afghanistan cannot afford a contentious and protracted post-election crisis,” he stressed.

Today, Afghans are focused on the need to reach a negotiated settlement, he continued, with ongoing talks between the United States and the Taliban receiving broad international support.  Afghanistan, along with Germany and Qatar, is preparing for an intra-Afghan dialogue which will bring together a wide spectrum of society.  Noting that some prominent actors have already exchanged views with Taliban representatives in Moscow in May, he said all such efforts must aim towards one common objective:  the start of formal negotiations between the Government and the Taliban to reach a peace agreement.  The common message to the Taliban is also clear:  come to the table and negotiate directly with the Afghan Government, and he called on those countries with influence over the group’s leaders to intensify efforts towards this goal.

He went on to say that the United Nations works on various initiatives to foster the conditions for peace, from support to Afghan grass-roots organizations and dialogue with all concerned parties, to convening discussions on behalf of the international community.  For its part, UNAMA is working with local communities to strengthen their mediation mechanisms, he said, noting that a 50-year-old dispute in Nangarhar over water was resolved through local mediation supported by the mission.  Such initiatives are a vital counterpart to global and regional efforts, where the United Nations comparative advantage of impartiality is particularly relevant.  He said Afghan society will need to confront many difficult questions in a peace process and much is at stake:  preservation of gains made over the last 18 years, the role of women, questions around accountability and over reintegrating those who carried arms back into society.  The United Nations is ready to offer its support in tackling these issues.

Turning to security conditions, he said that in the first quarter of 2019, almost 1,800 civilians were killed or injured — fewer than in previous quarters but still far too many.  Stressing that the deliberate targeting of civilians by anti-Government elements is a war crime and must stop, he said attacks on schools almost tripled between 2017 and 2018, leaving almost 500,000 children unable to learn.  It cannot be forgotten that 80 per cent of people live on less than $1.25 a day and in extremely precarious conditions, with the impact of last year’s drought still being felt today among the nearly 10 million people who are food insecure.  Noting that Afghanistan’s vast economic potential remains untapped because of the conflict, he said the important work of fighting corruption and enacting public sector reforms will only bear fruit if a settlement is achieved.  But with united support for Afghanistan’s full ownership of the peace process, “I am cautiously optimistic that we are moving in the right direction,” he said.

SIMA SAMAR, Chairperson of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, said Afghanistan is entering an important phase of its history.  “Hope and optimism for promoting and protecting human rights and human dignity has never been higher,” she said, adding that at the same time fear of returning to a time when Afghans – especially women and minorities – were denied their rights and freedoms “has never been greater”.  Talks with the Taliban have ignited a widespread debate over lasting peace, and the recently launched National Inquiry on Women, Peace and Security have given voice to the views and expectations of women across the country – including a lasting peace in which they are able to play a role.   “Women from all over the country stressed the importance of the preservation of a bill of rights in our Constitution and demanded women’s rights, human rights and democracy,” she said.

Calling on all stakeholders to demonstrate a comprehensive, sustained commitment and strong political will to those ends, she said women need to be able to overcome the challenges of a traditional and conservative society in addition to systemic and historic discrimination.  The international community should provide long-term support for the promotion of gender equality, as well as sustainable peace in Afghanistan.  Describing the impacts of more than four decades of conflict, she stressed that women and vulnerable groups have suffered the most and that the people had no role in choosing their Government.  Following the fall of the Taliban, Afghanistan witnessed some progress in the promotion, protection and fulfilment of human rights.  However, conflict, insecurity and attacks on civilians have continued, with more than 11,000 civilian casualties recorded in 2018 – a 19 per cent increase over the previous year.  While the Taliban and Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) are responsible for most, Afghan security forces and their international partners have also been involved in some cases.

In that context, she stressed that progress in holding free and fair elections in Afghanistan is critical to ensuring stability and security.  She called on the Government and the international community to continue to support the upcoming presidential election, including by refraining from interference, safeguarding voter safety and security and providing financial support for a civic awareness programme.  The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, meanwhile, will continue to verify rights to freedom of expression, association and movement, as well as monitoring impartiality and ensuring no interference, intimidation or discrimination in the election.  Emphasizing that torture and other serious human rights violations must be condemned and perpetrators held accountable, she said civil society and human rights defenders play a critical role in promoting and protecting human rights, fostering democracy and holding the State accountable.  They continue to face enormous challenges in Afghanistan and should be supported.

Turning to justice, accountability, the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts, she said holding to account perpetrators of human rights violations, war crimes and crimes against humanity has proved challenging for Afghanistan.  The International Criminal Court’s 2018 decision to initiate an investigation into the situation in the country created some hope, but then faded when the pre-trial chamber rejected the case.  Calling for an end to the culture of impunity, she stressed that “access to justice is not a luxury, it is a basic human right”.  Other challenges facing Afghan society include corruption, racial discrimination, children forced out of school and high levels of drug addiction among persons with disabilities.  While all parties should agree on a ceasefire and bring the war to an end, she also stressed that “healing the wounds and attention to the victims of conflict must be a priority for the Afghan Government and the international community in order to avoid a continuation of revenge and violence”.

ADELA RAZ (Afghanistan) said the Government of National Unity has long believed that peace can only be achieved through a process supported by all Afghans.  Last month a Consultative Peace Loya Jirga brought together 3,200 elected members nationwide from political parties, tribal and religious communities, women, youth and civil society to build consensus and create a mandate for talks with the Taliban.  A declaration was adopted outlining a road map for those discussions.  Among other things, it calls for an immediate, permanent ceasefire; the upholding of Afghan values; preservation of democratic gains and constitutional rights, especially for women; the start of direct peace talks; strengthening of national security forces; continued international support and a feasible timetable for a withdrawal of international security forces.

She said protecting the essence of the Constitution, especially equal rights, reflects the strong desire of the Afghan public — and as such, the outcome of any agreement should retain, expand and enhance women’s rights.  Underscoring Afghanistan’s readiness to engage in comprehensive talks, she said the best measure of progress in advancing negotiations is not only the extent to which the Taliban reduce their violence — but also that they end it entirely through a permanent ceasefire.  The important role of the region in facilitating direct talks must not be forgotten, and the Government has reached out to establish the needed consensus.  It also released nearly 900 Taliban prisoners.  Yet, the Taliban fail to show any commitment to peace, having recently attacked civilians during the launch of their offensive.  Thirty people were killed during the Eid holiday in 23 Taliban attacks in Logar, Helmand, Baghlan and Kapisa provinces.  “Only a dual-track approach of pressure and incentives can ensure a conducive environment for a successful outcome,” she insisted.

For their part, Afghan security forces have prevented the Taliban from capturing territory, she said, stressing that 85 to 90 per cent of productive territory is under Government control.  They also cleared the Taliban’s presence in Deh-Yak and Khwaja Omari districts of Ghazni province in recent weeks — gains against which the Taliban have countered by attacking soft targets and using civilian compounds as shelters.  Their changing tactics now include the use of improvised explosive devices and explosives in civilian spaces, notably schools, she said, noting that UNAMA’s report covering January to March 2019 identifies Taliban attacks as the primary cause of civilian casualties.  She cited the emergence of a democratic political order, inauguration of a new Parliament two months ago as among the gains made, assuring that technical arrangements for the upcoming elections have begun.  “We will spare no efforts whatsoever to ensure a credible, transparent and inclusive electoral process,” she said.

Statements

JÜRGEN SCHULZ (Germany) said that the current dynamic in the peace process creates an opportunity, urging the need to move forward to intra-Afghan talks inclusive of the Government, the Taliban and key stakeholders, including a high representation of women.  “A political process in Afghanistan only has a chance of success if the international community acts in unison and sends the clear message to the Afghan parties, including the Taliban, that it is time to talk about a common future,” he emphasized.  Only Afghans themselves can forge a broad and sustainable agreement which will require a lot of work, time and compromise.  The meaningful inclusion of women remains essential during these talks, he said, reiterating the importance of increasing their full and effective participation and leadership in decision-making.  A sustainable peace process must ensure the protection of human and women’s rights.  To avoid a constitutional vacuum, he said it is important to hold presidential elections in a timely, fair and democratic manner.  Turning to climate change, he said that Afghanistan faces serious symptoms whose consequences are only exacerbated by the violent conflict.  He also stressed the need to address corruption and challenges in law enforcement.

MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said support from the United Nations and other partners must be in line with the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan.  The presidential election scheduled for September, which should be realized with no further postponement, will renew hope among Afghans, he said, applauding the increased participation of women in nation-building efforts.  Emphasizing that military solutions are never an option for ending any conflict, he said it would be in the Taliban’s interest if the upcoming elections are held in a safe environment, with all Afghans engaged in taking the country forward.  Afghanistan must not be used by violent extremist groups to undermine regional stability.  Despite robust international efforts, peace is only possible through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process that includes intra-Afghan dialogue and the meaningful involvement of women and youth, he added.

XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) called on all parties to work together to ensure that the presidential election scheduled for September commence as planned and mandated by the Afghan Constitution.  “These elections are an essential step in renewing the trust of the Afghan people and towards a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan,” he said.  The Loya Jirga which has brought together politicians, tribal elders and other prominent people with the unified goal of finding a path towards peace talks with the Taliban is encouraging for the way forward.  He said the participation of civil society and women’s groups is essential as well.  “We hope that these all-inclusive talks, between all relevant national stakeholders continue,” he added.  Expressing concern about the high level of violence and terrorist attacks in parts of Afghanistan, he said that lingering violence could undermine progress made in the security and political spheres.  The restrictions to humanitarian access affect the most vulnerable members of Afghan society, he emphasized, calling for all parties to ensure women and children are protected, particularly from sexual and gender-based violence.

RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States), recalling that Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad is working with President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and others, said the United States and the Taliban reached an agreement that any comprehensive peace accord must include provisions for counter-terrorism, intra-Afghan dialogue and a permanent ceasefire.  The United States could soon be in a position to outline the Taliban’s commitments to ensure that Afghan territory is never again used for international terrorism. The United States has made clear it is prepared to reduce its forces, but it has not agreed to numbers or a timeline with the Taliban.  Rather, those elements will be determined by the post-peace Government. “Afghans demand and deserve an end to the violence,” he insisted, stressing that all parties agree that finalizing an understanding on terrorism and foreign troop presence will open the door for dialogue.  He welcomed efforts by Germany and Qatar to organize an intra-Afghan dialogue in Doha in early July.  The United States also is laying the ground for intra-Afghan talks to begin for agreeing on a timeline and political road map for a peace agreement.  “We insist women minorities and others be represented in those talks,” he said, adding that the United States is consulting countries in the region on how to achieve peace.  He encouraged States to implement their sanctions obligations, stressing that election planning must also advance simultaneously.  He urged the Government, the Independent Electoral Commission and all political stakeholders to ensure the upcoming election is credible, stressing that the Joint Coordination and Monitoring Board, an important tool for coordinating efforts between the Government and donors, must maintain a robust accountability component.  “Peace is our highest priority,” he asserted.

MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) said that any peace process in Afghanistan should ensure mechanisms include the interests of all civilians and particularly women, youth and minorities.  When it comes to a possible peace deal with the Taliban, Poland stands firmly behind the protection of fundamental rights.  “Peace should not come at the cost of progress made in the last years,” he emphasized.  It will be essential in the coming years to address shortcomings and lessons learned, especially in the electoral process to ensure credibility and transparency and to preserve inclusivity during preparations for the presidential election.  Expressing deep concerns about the security situation in the country, he called once again on all parties to protect civilians, especially women and children.  The vital role of humanitarian agencies must be preserved as well.  The fight against corruption requires greater focus.  Delivering concrete results will help maintain and increase people’s confidence in Afghan institutions.  He also stressed the need to focus on ending violence against women, protecting children and preventing torture.

VLADIMIR K. SAFRONKOV (Russian Federation) expressed support for UNAMA, particularly in coordinating humanitarian assistance, and hoped that the United Nations assessment of the situation will be based on the principle of objectivity and the correct identification of challenges — the main one being terrorism.  He voiced concern over increased terrorist activity and the continued presence of ISIL/Da’esh in Afghanistan.  Even after various defeats in the north, ISIL/Da’esh continues to implement its expansionist aspirations through its sleeper cells, creating a genuine threat to Central Asia and the southern regions of the Russian Federation.  The listing of ISIL/Da’esh—Khorasan Province must be followed by measures to end the terrorist threat, he said, warning that the revenue from drug trafficking provides significant support for terrorism and calling for greater international efforts to combat that scourge.

The Russian Federation will continue to train drug police in cooperation with many countries, including Japan, he said, recalling his country’s links to Afghanistan in a mutually respectful relationship of good neighbourliness, dating to 1919.  National reconciliation should advance as quickly as possible, as everyone will benefit from it, and the Russian Federation is ready to support those efforts.  Stressing that the peace process must be as inclusive as possible, he supported continuing the intra-Afghan dialogue launched in Moscow.  Some international players who decided to be active in national reconciliation should consider what has been achieved in the Moscow format and the trilateral dialogue among the Russian Federation, China and the United States.  Stressing that there are more than 20 terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including ISIL/Da’esh and Al-Qaida, he said election plans must aim to bring together all Afghans.

MADUISCA BATISTA DÍAZ (Dominican Republic) welcomed the inauguration of a new Parliament since 2011, underscoring that the next electoral process must be credible and legitimate.  Expressing concern over the number of victims from improvised explosive devices used by anti-Government forces, as well as the calls-to-arms heard by the Government and the Taliban alike, she urged those parties to pursue a unilateral ceasefire, and to continue the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga.  Welcoming regional efforts to promote intra-Afghan dialogue, as well as upcoming meetings in Germany, she acknowledged efforts to improve women’s participation in such processes as the Loya Jirga.  She nonetheless expressed concern over the dire humanitarian situation sparked by both conflict and natural disaster, as well as persistent sexual and gender-based violence, calling on the Government to investigate such crimes.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), associating herself with the European Union, underlined the importance of meeting the needs of all victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.  Noting that the number of attacks against humanitarian actors grew more than 150 per cent in one year and that the targeting of civilians continues, she described those actions as totally unacceptable and called for strengthened judicial capacity, as well as more measures to ensure safe, unimpeded humanitarian access throughout the country.  Welcoming efforts by the United States, Qatar and Germany in negotiating with the Taliban, she called on the latter to engage in direct talks with the Government.  Women must be able to participate meaningfully in all those discussions, she stressed, underscoring the need to prioritize the preservation of recent gains in the protection and promotion of human rights and the freedom of journalists.  Turning to the upcoming presidential election, she called on the Government to ensure their safety and security and to facilitate the widest possible participation of the Afghan people, including women.

KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium), associating herself with the European Union, said a lasting peace agreement can only be achieved through an inclusive, direct dialogue process that includes the Taliban.  Any future peace agreement should preserve economic and social achievements made in the last 18 years, including improvements in promoting and preserving the rights of women and minority groups.  The September presidential election should draw lessons from the 2018 electoral process, she said, noting that their successful convening is a joint responsibility for all stakeholders – all of whom should avoid any interference in their outcome.  Voicing concern about the continued attacks and the high number of civilian victims, she said the Council should pay special attention to the situation of children, the treatment of detainees and the rights of journalists.  On demining efforts, she welcomed recent efforts to align the national norms in that area with international standards.

NARCISO SIPACO RIBALA (Equatorial Guinea) said Afghanistan remains overshadowed by various challenges threatening its peace, security and development.  Drawing attention to large-scale attacks perpetrated by anti-Government forces and other armed groups, including suicide attacks and those using improvised explosive devices, he condemned the deliberate targeting of civilians, non-governmental organizations, Government workers and religious students and leaders.  Against that backdrop, he called on the Government to undertake all possible measures to prevent attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure and to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access.  The Government should also continue to push forward inclusive dialogue aimed at establishing a lasting peace, he said, adding that strengthening regional cooperation in all spheres remains crucial.  Stressing that the elections planned for 28 September should be free, fair, credible and inclusive, he said the full inclusion of women should be a non-negotiable element in their conduct.

GBOLIÉ DÉSIRÉ WULFRAN IPO (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed that vetting for Independent Electoral Commission candidates has concluded three months before the presidential election, urging that body to vigorously pursue voter registration.  All stakeholders should be included in fostering conditions conducive to holding the election.  He called on the international community, as well as Resolute Support troops to take steps to prevent security breaches, while candidates should refrain from actions that could inflame tensions.  Calling on authorities to ensure greater women’s participation in institutions and the peace process, he welcomed that the Leadership Council for Peace is aiming to restore stability, which along with the Loya Jirga, should serve as a vehicle for national ownership of the peace process.  He also welcomed efforts by the Special Representative for Reconciliation to kick-start peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban, calling for troops serving in the Resolute Support mission to be kept in the theatre, as well as for requisite finances.

MA ZHAOXU (China) said upcoming elections are intertwined with the peace and reconciliation process against the backdrop of a “disturbing” security situation.  The international community should continue providing firm support to ensure a safe presidential election in September.  Electoral institutions should learn from last year’s conduct of parliamentary elections and he called on UNAMA to provide strong support in that regard.  Advocating an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process, he said the international community and regional countries have promoted direct dialogue between the Government and the Taliban.  Afghanistan needs help in building its capacity to defeat terrorism, and the international community should better cooperate in efforts to combat terrorism, organized crime and drug smuggling.  More broadly, UNAMA should coordinate with United Nations country teams to help end poverty.  Recalling that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization met in Tajikistan from 13 to 14 June, he said China would use the Afghanistan-China-Pakistan Foreign Ministers Dialogue to encourage national reconciliation.  He expressed support for Afghanistan’s integration into the region, noting that China and Afghanistan have stepped up cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative.

PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) said resolving the crisis must be based on intra-Afghan dialogue and Afghan leadership of the process, citing the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga held in Kabul as a positive step that saw commendable participation by women.  Any attempts to cast doubt on the election cannot be tolerated.  Expressed alarm over the security situation, he said deaths from aerial attacks are heaping further misery on people who are already prey to indiscriminate terrorist attacks.  International efforts must be stepped up to stamp out ISIL/Da’esh in partnership with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  Noting that transitional justice and accountability are elements of the peace process, he pointed to headway made in the anti-corruption drive.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) said the recently announced joint initiative between her country and Afghanistan to launch a group of friends of women will further promote efforts to spotlight the crucial inclusion of females.  Welcoming important progress made through the engagement of the United States and other negotiating partners, she expressed hope that the Council can remain united in those efforts.  Member States should use their influence to push the Taliban to engage in those talks, and as efforts progress they must always include women at all levels.  Turning to the crucial upcoming presidential elections, she called upon all actors to behave responsibly and constructively and encouraged UNAMA to support the election management body in carrying out its work.  The timeline is tight, and therefore requires a sustained effort by all parties.  Urging the Afghan security forces to do their utmost to allow all people to safety exercise their voting rights, she said all parties must take immediate measures to address the violence that continues across the country.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), Council President for June, speaking in his national capacity, said the Afghan people have made many sacrifices in support of a democratic process that includes the upcoming presidential elections.  Expressing hope that those will result in expanded and more inclusive dialogue, he voiced concern about Afghanistan’s ongoing security challenges including unabated terrorist attacks and attacks against civilians.  Calling on all parties to take measures to prevent the further loss of life, he welcomed bilateral attempts throughout the region to improve the security situation and strengthen the political reconciliation process.  On humanitarian assistance and the plight of displaced persons, he warned that the number of the latter has risen sharply due to recent droughts and includes a large number of children.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said recent achievements – from governance to human rights - are not yet at a point of no return, with major challenges to be tackled, including a volatile security situation.  At this critical juncture, any attempt towards peace must be inclusive.  Sustainable peace can only be possible with a genuine reconciliation, and the Afghan people’s hard-won gains cannot be sacrificed, he said, noting that since 2001, the status of women has changed profoundly.  Going forward, he said ensuring women’s participation in elections, peace negotiations and the Government will help to preserve achievements seen in increasing school enrolment for girls.  Lasting peace and stability depend on support from neighbouring and regional countries alongside constructive engagement with the international community.  Since 2011, the Istanbul Process has been a unique platform bringing regional and international stakeholders together, including at a meeting for senior officials to be held 5 June in Ankara.  Increased trust between Pakistan and Afghanistan is also imperative for regional stability, he said, adding the Turkey stands ready to deploy efforts for the next trilateral summit.  Holding inclusive elections and conducting a truly representative peace process will be litmus tests.  The international community cannot afford to leave Afghanistan in a power vacuum.  At the same time, efforts must support the Government in making peace with the Taliban while protecting democracy and individual rights.

GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) encouraged the Government of Afghanistan to persevere its efforts to build a national consensus on the terms of a sustainable political settlement, with the buy-in of people across the country.  Welcoming the efforts of the United States Special Representative in engaging in meaningful negotiations with the Taliban, she expressed hope that that momentum will continue towards a comprehensive agreement.  “While these negotiations were never going to be easy, we are disappointed that the Taliban continues to resist direct talks with the Afghan Government,” she said, noting that a sustainable political settlement will not be viable without them.  Calling on the Taliban and other parties to immediately begin discussions without preconditions, she also encouraged the Government to ensure that the Afghan people can vote freely and fairly in credible elections on 28 September without the threat of violence and called on the Taliban to respect and engage with that process.

MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) voiced concern at the growing number of attacks on Afghan schools that are being used as polling stations.  To minimize the impact on pupils, the Government should seek alternative venues where possible.  More work needs to be done to ensure that women’s voices are listened to, he added.  “Men need to stand in solidarity with women to reach a settlement that benefits all Afghans.”  Women must play a substantive role in all peace negotiations to guarantee their rights, including in Taliban-controlled areas.  Recalling Afghanistan having some of the world’s highest rates of violence against women, he encouraged the Government to show greater due diligence in ensuring gender equality before the law.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said there are reasons for cautious optimism about peace prospects in Afghanistan, pointing to several rounds of direct talks between the United States and the Taliban.  For almost two decades, Pakistan has argued that there is no military solution to the conflict and that the only path to peace is through dialogue.  Apart from Afghanistan, no country other than Pakistan has suffered more from the four decades of war and foreign intervention in Afghanistan.  It responded to the United States request for help in the Afghan peace process by calling for a reduction of violence by all sides, as well as a ceasefire.  Its efforts helped to overcome the decades-old political impasse on the start of a peace dialogue.  Pakistan also released Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, and extended full support to the United States-Taliban talks.  It will continue to help promote a political settlement in Afghanistan, but hurdles remain before an agreement can be reached.  An intra-Afghan dialogue must be initiated, and she urged all sides to commit to this step, expressing hope that the seventh round of United States-Taliban talks, expected early next month, can kick-start a genuine intra-Afghan dialogue.  “This could lead to a potentially decisive phase in the peace effort,” she said.  As cooperation with Afghanistan is vital for peace in the region, she said strengthening bilateral relations is a priority and that President Ghani will visit Islamabad later this month.  Expanded trade, energy cooperation and transregional economic projects can also greatly enhance regional prosperity.

MARIA ANGELA ZAPPIA (Italy), associating herself with the European Union, said that persistent security threats continue to present very high costs, and drain precious resources and energies away from other urgent needs, such as institutional consolidation and economic and social development.  “The prospects for peace in Afghanistan have never been more tangible than they are today,” she continued.  Women must be empowered to have an active role in the process, to protect their rights as enshrined in the Constitution and to safeguard the broader civil and social gains achieved in the course of the past 17 years.  The presidential elections scheduled for September will be a litmus test for Afghanistan.  The credibility of the country’s institutions depends on elections being held without delays or shortcomings.  The importance of the upcoming vote should not distract attention from seeking peace, she said, joining in the appeals to distinguish between the electoral track and the peace track, pursuing each one independently of the other.

MAHMADAMIN MAHMADAMINOV (Tajikistan), pointing to the danger of international terrorism, religious extremism and illicit drug trafficking, said any further aggravation of the political situation in Afghanistan will pose a real threat to regional security.  Stressing the need to support the Government during its 2015-2024 decade of national reconstruction, he said international assistance should focus on meeting basic needs and giving hope to Afghanistan’s people.  Tajikistan supports the Government’s efforts to start a peace process as soon as possible, he said, adding that armed opposition groups must break ties with Al-Qaida and ISIL.  Emphasizing that terrorism cannot be eradicated by military means alone, he said Afghanistan’s involvement in regional economic integration is key to eliminating the foundations of terrorism and extremism.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) agreed with others that the upcoming presidential elections in Afghanistan should be credible, allowing their results to be accepted widely.  Commending efforts towards realizing peace with the Taliban, including holding the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga in April and May, he said dialogue among the Afghan people is fundamental to a sustainable peace and expressed hope that the dialogue between the Taliban and the United States — as well as the trilateral process between the latter and the Russian Federation and China — will help lead to a successful intra-Afghan dialogue.  Emphasizing that the participation of women in the peace process is fundamental, he recalled that in March Japan announced a new $96 million commitment to Afghanistan, which has since been disbursed to such projects as refugee and drought assistance.  In addition, it has also provided emergency relief goods in response to flood damage and will continue to provide such short-term support.

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) agreed with other speakers that the gains made in Afghanistan over the last 18 years must be maintained during this crucial year.  Noting that the Afghan people remain the main victims of transnational terrorism, he said that despite that ongoing violence the strides made in that country are visible and tangible and “reversal and rollback are not options that can be considered”.  The international community must continue to support those painstakingly achieved gains.  Expressing support for the ongoing negotiation process, he nevertheless warned that some parties are being driven by a sense of urgency in setting timelines that are not intrinsic to the needs of the Afghan people.  Voicing support for an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led and Afghan-controlled inclusive peace and reconciliation process — one which promotes and protects the country’s unity, sovereignty, democracy and prosperity — he warned against ignoring the fact that groups enjoying support and safe haven carry out violent terrorist activities from across borders.  “They cannot be allowed to negotiate from a place of advantage,” he said, stressing that the terrorist activities of the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Da’esh and Al-Qaida — as well as the latter’s affiliates — must end.  Meanwhile, experiences with the Hizb-e-Islami show that a peace settlement within the rubric of the current Constitution is possible.

MIRGUL MOLDOISAEVA (Kyrgyzstan) underlined the importance of implementing the Geneva Mutual Accountability Framework, adopted in November 2018, and welcomed achievements made in advancing Afghanistan’s political, economic, governance and social reforms.  Expressing hope that the upcoming presidential elections will mark another step forward, she agreed that the political situation nevertheless remains unstable, characterized by the continued activities of armed anti-Government and international extremist and terrorist groups as well as human, arms and drug trafficking.  Stating Kyrgyzstan’s readiness to contribute to the ongoing peace process through various regional formats, she said confidence-building measures will help resolve the situation.  In that regard, he recalled that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Afghanistan Contact Group met recently in Bishkek with participants discussing the peace process and reviewing a draft road map for further action.  In addition, at the eighth annual meeting of Deputy Foreign Ministers — also held in Bishkek in November 2018 — participants considered ways in which the Central Asian States can respond to the threats and challenges facing the region, as well as new joint initiatives that will contribute to Afghanistan’s economic development.

BAKHTIYOR IBRAGIMOV (Uzbekistan) said that prospects of stable and sustainable development in Central Asia are directly intertwined with peace in Afghanistan.  The Afghan Government should be the main party to any peace process, which should also encompass all political forces and ethnic groups of the country.  “Only the Afghan-led and the Afghan-owned political process could lead to a peaceful settlement of the current conflict,” he stressed.  Uzbekistan has met with the representatives of the Qatar-based Taliban political commission both in Tashkent and in Doha and has underscored the importance of enforcing a ceasefire and delivering humanitarian assistance.  Noting the various other international negotiations on Afghanistan that Uzbekistan participates in, he said that his country is committed to facilitating the peace process by creating conditions for direct negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban movement, without any preliminary conditions.  Uzbekistan is also aiding Afghanistan in rebuilding infrastructure and in training local personnel.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said the security situation in Afghanistan remains fragile, with a growing number of civilian casualties due to attacks by anti-Government forces and terrorists.  The worsening humanitarian situation is alarming, while ISIL continues to recruit new members, threatening all States in the region.  Underscoring the need to draw lessons from the 2018 polls, he said successful elections this year will have a profound impact on Afghanistan’s future development.  Speedy direct dialogue between the Government and the Taliban is vital, he said.  Emphasizing the need for greater regional cooperation, he said Afghanistan’s interaction with the States of Central Asia should be a practical and tangible model of partnership.  For their part, the United Nations should coordinate its efforts and donors should increase their contributions.  Noting his country’s establishment — under United Nations auspices — of an interregional hub for the Sustainable Development Goals in Almaty, he also welcomed the Government of Afghanistan’s ongoing efforts to promote and protect the rights of women and their participation in the peace process.

JOÃO PEDRO VALE DE ALMEIDA, Head of the European Union delegation, recalled that High Representative Federica Mogherini visited Kabul in March, and several bilateral meetings were held in May under the auspices of the framework of the European Union-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development.  Urging all international partners to strengthen their efforts and coordination in the coming weeks and months to capitalize on the current momentum, he said 28 Foreign Ministers of the European Union have endorsed the offer made by the bloc at the 2018 Geneva Ministerial Conference — namely, helping the Afghanistan Government make its peace process more inclusive; supporting post-conflict reforms including disarmament, demobilization and the reintegration of former combatants; supporting cross-border trade, infrastructure and connectivity; and the possible role of the European Union as a guarantor of the peace process.

Describing dialogue between the Government and the Taliban as a priority that should begin as soon as possible, he also called for the current negotiations between the latter and the United States to be integrated into the consultation process.  The Union stands ready to facilitate a dialogue that will include Afghan civil society and supports the active participation of women.  “A peace agreement is not peace itself,” he said, stressing that the latter will take time.  Meanwhile, there remains a need to strengthen Afghan ownership and leadership of the process, including the ongoing intra-Afghan negotiations.  The country’s political class — both Government and members of the opposition — should prioritize peace and remain actively engaged.  “Elections and peace should remain two separate processes,” he added, pointing out that insecurity continues to plague the country and humanitarian needs are increasing.  In that context, the Union will continue to provide support — over €18 million — to address the technical difficulties seen in previous elections, while remaining a strong development partner supporting the needs officially defined by Afghanistan’s Government.

MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) said the people of Afghanistan are tired of years of invasion, occupation and foreign military presence, as well as the vicious cycle of terror, insecurity and instability.  The call for peace has never been as loud and strong as it is today, he said, emphasizing that those demands must be realized.  To be durable, peace must be established by and for Afghans, and their needs can neither be dictated to them nor ignored.  Regional and international partners, therefore, can only support Afghanistan’s aspirations for peace.  Welcoming the convening of the Consultative Peace Loya Jirga, he said it is unfortunate that the United States – instead of acknowledging the role played by Iran – continues to accuse his country of fomenting insecurity in Afghanistan.  “The sole purpose of this unfounded claim is to cover the United States’ failed policy in Afghanistan for the last 18 years,” he stressed, adding that Iran has always stood firm in support of peace on its neighbour’s soil.  Preserving and strengthening Afghanistan’s defence and security forces is crucial as the time-bound and responsible withdrawal of all foreign forces is pursued, he said, noting that particular attention should be paid to the dangerous activities of such terrorist groups as ISIL/Da’esh.

For information media. Not an official record.