As Afghanistan Elections Approach, Special Representative Underscores Importance of Resumed Talks between Kabul, Taliban, in Briefing to Security Council

SC/13945
10 September 2019
8613th Meeting (AM)

As Afghanistan Elections Approach, Special Representative Underscores Importance of Resumed Talks between Kabul, Taliban, in Briefing to Security Council

While operational and technical preparations for the upcoming 28 September presidential election are on track, deep concerns such as voter security, turnout and possible fraud still remain, the top United Nations official for Afghanistan told the Security Council today.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that that the Organization is supporting the efforts of the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission, security institutions, civil society, and above all, candidates, their supporters and voters to ensure that elections are credible and inclusive.

However, “we still hear much anxiety expressed by Afghan citizens particularly in view of the Taliban’s stated threat to disrupt the electoral process, especially by targeting civilians participating in the elections,” he said.  Recent attacks by insurgents in Kunduz, Baghlan and Farah, and above all multiple attacks in Kabul, are of grave concern, he continued, reiterating that the targeting of civilians, including by Islamic State in Iraq and Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP), is a war crime.

Stressing the need to resume direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban, he emphasized that a political settlement must include a promise to continue to protect and advance human rights and fundamental freedoms for all who live in Afghanistan, including women, youth and minorities.  “Many young people, especially young women, are worried about future restrictions to their participation in the socioeconomic and political life of their country,” he said.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that financial crime, corruption, money‑laundering and the financing of terrorism continue to severely strain the Government’s ability to create jobs and grow the private sector.  “Insurgents and other non-State actors control areas under opium poppy cultivation and are raising hundreds of millions of dollars,” he warned.  The Office remains committed to strengthening regional cooperation, creating jobs and disrupting terrorist linkages to drug trafficking.

Indonesia’s representative, speaking as Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), noted that the Committee in April adopted a nine-month travel ban exemption for 11 listed Taliban members to attend talks in the interest of promoting reconciliation.  He also expressed concern for the continued strong association of the Taliban with the Haqqani Network and with Al‑Qaida, underscoring that the Taliban continues to participate in terrorist acts and remains involved in the cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics.

In the ensuing debate, Member States condemned recent attacks on civilians, especially those targeting women and children, and stressed the need to resume talks between the Government and Taliban, secure preparations for the upcoming elections, empower women and promote an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

Belgium’s delegate called on the Taliban to engage in talks with the Government, adding also:  “You cannot have peace in one hand and a bomb in the other.”

The representative of the United Kingdom noted that, on the eve of a historic meeting with the United States, the Taliban chose to deploy attacks against civilians.  “These are not the actions of a group that is searching for peace,” she stressed, urging the Taliban to end its attacks and join the peace process.

The representative of the Russian Federation regretted the suspension of talks between the Taliban and the United States, adding that discussions could have paved the way to such fruitful dialogue.

The representative of the United States said his country supports Afghanistan’s political and electoral institutions, having pledged $29 million towards the presidential elections.  He also expressed concern for Afghanistan’s narcotics trade.

Iran’s delegate said no country has the right to decide for the future of Afghanistan and any peace negotiation in the absence of Afghanistan’s Government and political factions or conducted in a unilateral, exclusive and non-transparent manner is doomed to fail.

“Afghanistan wants to move forward, not backward,” said that country’s delegate.  Voting centres have been allocated countrywide and 72,000 security officers have been assigned to protect votes, including 9,900 female officers tasked with securing women’s voting centres.  Afghanistan’s people are ready to cast their ballot, reflecting their determination to continue on the journey to prosperity and stability.  The Government also remains committed to peace talks, she said, underscoring that the Taliban and global terrorist groups continue to attack civilian targets, and threaten people, infrastructure and aid workers.

Also speaking today were representatives of Germany, Peru, Poland, China, Côte d'Ivoire, Kuwait, France, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Turkey, Italy, Kazakhstan, Canada, Japan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Australia, India and the European Union.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 1:24 p.m.

Briefings

TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said it is imperative that direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban commence as soon as possible.  “Many young people, especially young women, are worried about future restrictions to their participation in the socioeconomic and political life of their country,” he added.  Any political settlement must include a promise to continue to protect and advance human rights and fundamental freedoms for all who live in Afghanistan, including women, youth and minorities.  The recent informal talks in Moscow and Doha between representatives from Afghan society and the Taliban gave opportunities for dialogue to address some key issues needed for peace.

On 28 September, the people of Afghanistan are scheduled to head to the polls in the fourth presidential election since 20001, he continued.  The United Nations stands ready to support the efforts of the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission, security institutions, civil society, and above all, candidates, their supporters and voters to ensure that elections are credible and inclusive.  Technical and operational preparations for the elections are on track.  “Our United Nations advisers are working hand in hand with the electoral management bodies during these last weeks and days of intense preparations,” he added.  However, concerns still remain including security, voter turnout and possible fraud.  “We still hear much anxiety expressed by Afghan citizens particularly in view of the Taliban’s stated threat to disrupt the electoral process, especially by targeting civilians participating in the elections,” he said.

“The most difficult choice for candidates after elections is to accept defeat, but it is the supreme act of statesmanship in a democratic process,” he emphasized.  Recent attacks by insurgents in Kunduz, Baghlan and Farah, and above all multiple attacks in Kabul, are of grave concern.  “I am troubled by the continuing high number of civilian casualties by these attacks,” he said, reiterating that the targeting of civilians is a war crime.  He further expressed concern over continued harm to civilians caused by Islamic State in Iraq and Levant-Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP).  United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations currently work in 331 of the country’s 400 districts and their access to civilians remains imperative.  He also expressed concern that the final stages leading to the start of intra-Afghan talks have become more difficult, requiring delicate handling.

YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), via video link from Vienna, said that the situation in Afghanistan as related to drug production and trafficking and transnational organized crime remains complex.  “Insurgents and other non-State actors control areas under opium poppy cultivation and are raising hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added.  Financial crime, corruption, money‑laundering and the financing of terrorism continue to negatively impact the Government’s macroeconomic objectives of financial inclusion, job creation and private sector growth.  UNODC is providing enhanced technical assistance and capacity-building to enable Afghanistan to pursue balanced responses to drug supply and demand.  Mobile detection teams and precursor control units, with support of UNODC, in 2018 seized some 800 kilogrammes of heroin, more than 1.2 tons of opium and nearly 9 tons of hashish.

His office is committed to strengthening regional cooperation, as well, he continued, noting the mechanisms established between neighbouring Central Asian countries, including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.  Turning to job creation, he reported that, through UNODC’s alternative development work, more than 8,500 jobs were created and more than $4 million of income was generated in 2018.  UNODC is also scaling up support to Afghanistan’s Government to address vulnerabilities to human trafficking resulting from conflict.  Just last week, it launched the Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling in Migrants.  Disrupting terrorist financing and linkages to drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime remain a priority, he stressed.

DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), noted that its main goal is to deter the Taliban from continuing to support Al-Qaida and its affiliates and to deter Taliban attacks against the Government of Afghanistan.  To achieve results, the Committee uses tools such as global assets freeze, global travel ban and global arms embargo.  The Committee also helps facilitate conditions that will promote Taliban dialogue with the Afghanistan Government.  On 6 April, the Committee adopted a nine‑month travel ban exemption, ending 31 December, for 11 listed Taliban members to attend talks in the interest of promoting reconciliation.  The exemption to the ban was accompanied by a decision to grant a limited asset‑freeze exemption for the financing of exempted travel.  He reminded Member States likely to host the peace process of their obligations to provide follow-up reporting to the Committee on the completion of travel and reporting of costs incurred.

Expressing concern regarding the continued strong association of the Taliban with the Haqqani Network and with Al-Qaida, he also underscored that the Taliban continues to participate in terrorist acts and remains involved in the cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics.  While there are structures in place for the implementation of the 1988 sanctions regime, the effectiveness of the implementation depends not only on internal, but also on regional and international actors.  He urged Member States to play a more active role in providing information that would help to maintain that Sanctions List is up to date.  It is imperative for the Security Council to start considering extending the work of the 1267 Monitoring Team in pursuance of its mandate relating to Taliban sanctions to align with that of the ISIL (Da'esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee to the end of 2021.

Statements

ADELA RAZ (Afghanistan) said her country is taking another historic step towards strengthening and further institutionalizing democracy.  Afghans will go to the polls later in September, exercising their constitutional rights, and the Government is now making strides in line with the Independent Election Commission timetable, sparing no effort to ensure safety and security of voters.  Providing a snapshot of developments, she said voting centres have been allocated countrywide, and for the first time ever, voter lists are available online and biometric verification will be used.  In addition, 72,000 security officers have been assigned to protect votes, including 9,900 female officers tasked with securing women’s voting centres.  Despite all security threats and challenges, the people are ready to cast their ballot, reflecting their determination to continue on the journey to prosperity and stability.  “Afghanistan wants to move forward, not backward,” she said.  She called on the Council to show its continued support and to call on countries that could influence the Taliban to respect the aspirations of every Afghan.

Peace is another top priority, she said, with Afghanistan President Mohammed Ashraf Ghani laying the foundation for a clear path forward, including unconditional peace talks, a ceasefire and the release of prisoners.  Welcoming all international initiatives in support of national peace efforts, she said the Government remains committed to peace talks in accordance with the people’s demands.  Underlining the role and participation of women as agents of change and symbols of resilience, she commended the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General for her strong support.

Turning to the greatest challenge to achieve a stable, self-reliant Afghanistan — the protracted war against international terrorism — she said the Taliban and global terrorist groups continue to attack civilian targets, threatening the population, infrastructure and humanitarian workers.  Recalling recent attacks, she commended the critical work of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in fighting terrorism.   In line with efforts to defeat terrorist groups militarily, Afghanistan has also been working on limiting their operational capabilities, including tackling financing.  In addition, improved airport and border security have resulted in apprehending persons involved in the drug‑trafficking trade.

Emphasizing Kabul’s intention to realize a self-reliant Afghanistan as a hub of connectivity alongside global, economic and regional cooperation, she spotlighted several megaprojects under way that have reaped dividends in the region and beyond.  The gains of the last 18 years have left Afghanistan with a committed young generation that continues to take charge of the country, she said, thanking the United Nations and partners for their assistance along the way.  She expressed hope that the Mission’s mandate will be thoroughly renewed for at least one year, incorporating updates to the country’s situation.  “We remain focused on facing the challenges,” she said.  “You can count on Afghanistan’s firm commitment as a partner to the defence of the rule of law, respect for international rules and obligations and the promotion of values of peace and international solidarity.”

CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany) condemned recent attacks, applauding the Government and Afghanistan’s people for their courageous efforts ahead of the election.  As the second largest donor and troop contributor, Germany remains committed to Afghanistan.  Meaningful inclusion of women remains essential during all upcoming negotiations, including overall peacebuilding strategies at the national and subnational level.  To avoid a constitutional vacuum, it will be important that elections are fair, transparent and democratic.  Raising another concern, he said the effects of climate change have devastated parts of Afghanistan, and all stakeholders must factor in this risk and act.  A strong, substantive UNAMA mandate must correspond with the expectations of Afghanistan’s people.

Mr. DJANI (Indonesia), speaking in his national capacity, said security conditions are worrisome and must urgently be addressed.  Whatever the political differences are, no harm should come to the population, and violence and attacks must stop, he said, calling for a nationwide ceasefire.  In addition, hard-won gains for women must not be reversed.  Free and fair elections are critical, he said, expressing support for UNAMA efforts in this regard.  Supporting the call for peace during the election, he recognized the Afghanistan authorities’ many challenges and supported the Government’s fight against corruption.  The resolution on the Mission’s renewal must reflect the Council’s support and the interest of the country’s people.

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), emphasizing that the current situation that sees men, women and children used as a measure of pressure during negotiations is not acceptable, said “you cannot have peace in one hand and a bomb in the other”.  Afghanistan’s people deserve peace after years of conflict, he said, calling on the Taliban to engage in talks with the Government.  A sustainable peace agreement must include respect for women’s rights.  At the same time, presidential elections must be credible, free and fair, he said, condemning the Taliban’s announced intention to launch attacks against the electoral process.  Raising concerns about the rising number of civilian victims and displaced persons, he also condemned human rights violations against children.  Agreeing with the current sanctions regime as a means to dissuade the Taliban to support Al-Qaida and its affiliates, he underlined the critical role UNAMA and United Nations agencies play in supporting peace.

JONATHAN R. COHEN (United States) said his country supports Afghanistan’s political and electoral institutions, having pledged $29 million towards the presidential elections.  The United States also supports women’s participation in the process.  Raising several concerns, he worried about the narcotics trade, expressing hope that the international community can make progress in this regard.  Turning to the Mission renewal, he said the UNAMA mandate is critically important and its continuation should not be held back by one Council member.

GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru) said forthcoming elections will provide a new historic context to contribute to stability, lasting peace and reconciliation.  In this vein, the process must be fair, transparent and equitable for all candidates, ensuring that funds are not used for political campaigning.  The Afghan dialogue should include direct talks between the Taliban and the Government to achieve a cessation of violence.  Turning to the Deputy Secretary-General’s recent visit, he recalled that the peace process must reflect the desires of all of Afghanistan’s people and include women in all aspects of society and Government.  Concerned about the presence of ISIS narcotic traffickers, Peru supports United Nations efforts to assist the Government in combating this phenomenon.  UNAMA initiatives are also helping Afghanistan in various sectors, he said, firmly supporting the mandate’s renewal.

KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom) raised concerns about the peace process, forthcoming elections, UNAMA and the issue of women, peace and security.  Recalling that, on the eve of a historic meeting with the United States, the Taliban chose to deploy attacks against civilians, she said “these are not the actions of a group that is searching for peace”.  Calling on Taliban leaders to stop their group from making violent attacks and join the peace process, she pointed out that President Ghani remains committed to direct peace talks, as lasting peace must be built with all parties involved in dialogue.  Turning to the elections, she said the Council must offer its full support to help ensure the process is transparent and free from violence.  Welcoming UNAMA efforts, she hoped the Mission’s work could continue up to election day and beyond, with the Council uniting to support the country at this critical time.  The United Kingdom remains committed to a peaceful future for Afghanistan, including women playing an essential role in society.

PAWEL RADOMSKI (Poland) spotlighted the elections, the importance of international humanitarian law and the preservation of social achievements.  Leading up to voting day, he said the process must be transparent and inclusive.  Urging anti-Government elements to restrain from attacking polling stations, he reiterated his delegation’s support for the Afghan National and Defence Security Forces and their work in protecting the population.  He also urged all parties to the conflict to ensure compliance with international law with a view to ending violations, abuses and impunity for perpetrators.  He also condemned the unlawful denial of access to humanitarian assistance and personnel.  Recalling recent developments, he said any peace process should ensure that mechanisms safeguarded the interest of all the country’s citizens.  Peace should not come at the cost of reducing progress made in the last years, he said, adding that full participation of all of Afghanistan’s people in all aspects of social and political life must be ensured.  Expressing support for UNAMA efforts, he said the current negotiation process on renewing its mandate should lead the Council to adopt a resolution that provides a strong foundation of the United Nations active role in Afghanistan.

MA ZHAOXU (China) said that Afghanistan faces a critical period as it prepares for its presidential elections, calling on the international community to continue to assist the country in its security situation.  To maintain the political and social stability of Afghanistan, he called for orderly, inclusive and credible elections.  UNAMA is instrumental in providing support to Afghanistan’s institutions to ensure that elections are viable.  China notes that the international community and regional countries actively encourage the Government of Afghanistan to hold direct talks with the Taliban.  He expressed hope that the negotiations between the United States and the Taliban take place and called on all parties in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, to reach a political framework acceptable to all.  Terrorist organizations in Afghanistan are still active, he said, urging the withdrawal of all foreign troops from the country.  The international community should provide training and funding for Afghan troops and police and assist Afghanistan in its social and economic development.  Regarding a future political arrangement for Afghanistan, he underscored the need to ensure broad representation and inclusiveness, fight terrorism, and uphold a foreign policy of friendly relations with regional and international partners.

KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d'Ivoire) commended the remarkable work of the Independent Electoral Commission in its preparations for the presidential elections.  The security context which remains marked by persistent attacks on security forces and civilians is a source of profound concern.  The holding of elections represents an essential link in the chain of requirements to establish peace in the country.  He welcomed the creation of a Ministry of Peace which will further enhance the implementation of programmes aimed at promoting stability.  The Government’s peace initiatives could be bolstered through an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, he added, condemning all attacks carried out against civilians.  “Everything must be done to resume the political process,” he added.  To be effective, support from the international community must help Afghanistan tackle poverty and promote the rights of women and girls.  He welcomed the improvement of bilateral relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan and expressed hope that UNAMA’s mandate will be renewed.

MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) noted the significant progress achieved in preparation of elections, underscoring that Afghanistan is going through a historic time.  He commended the vital role of UNAMA and the Independent Election Commission in helping register voters.  Afghanistan’s people are choosing the track of democracy.  The new Ministry of Peace is constructively contributing to de‑escalating tensions.  On the security front, Afghanistan continues to suffer from instability amid ever‑growing responsibilities on its institutions.  Peace discussions in Afghanistan must include talks on drugs and human trafficking.  Permanent peace and stability will only be achieved through diplomatic efforts.

ANNE GUEGUEN (France), associating herself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, expressed grave concern for the persistently high levels of violence and deadly attacks.  Women and children continue to play the highest price.  “This is not acceptable,” she stressed, welcoming measures that uphold the rights of women and girls.  Humanitarian and medical personnel need to be protected and the needs of Afghanistan’s people need to be met.  She stressed the need to combat drug trafficking which gravely imperils the safety of country’s people.  She welcomed the registration of millions of voters, particularly commending the participation of women.  The future President of Afghanistan will shoulder the responsibility of rising to the aspirations of Afghanistan’s people.  She stressed the importance of an Afghan-led peace process, which must be inclusive and leave no population group behind.  “This hinges on the abandonment of violence,” she added.

AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said the presidential elections are a major opportunity for all Afghans to decide on a future for their country.  She called all stakeholders to ensure security measures so that Afghanistan’s people can exercise their right to vote safely.  She reiterated calls on national leaders and candidates to ensure responsible participation and urged the Taliban to cease their attacks on the electoral process and civilians.  She also expressed support for all efforts to move forward the intra-Afghan peace talks.  Equatorial Guinea believes that the peace process should be inclusive and Afghan-led.  She expressed concern that civilians continue to suffer from terrorist attacks, pledging to support any language in UNAMA’s mandate renewal that touches on the protection of Afghanistan’s civilians.

JERRY MATTHEWS MATJILA (South Africa) said that the only way for Afghanistan to achieve durable peace and stability is through a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process.  The engagement and inclusion of women in political life and all segments of society will help safeguard the significant progress made in women’s and girl’s rights.  “Peace in Afghanistan can only be achieved by the Afghan people themselves,” he added, urging all stakeholders to work towards this noble goal.  Expressing deep concern at the levels of violence and security incidents, especially attacks targeting innocent civilians through the use of improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks, he also cautioned:  “The ongoing violence only erodes the positive progress made in recent years.”  The effect of this violence is particularly felt by women, children and those living with disabilities, he emphasized, calling on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians.  All participants in the electoral process must also work together to ensure that the elections go as planned.

JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) commended current efforts to enhance dialogue, including bilateral talks between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Urging the Taliban and the Government of Afghanistan to take steps towards further talks, he pointed out gains made, including achievements in including women in the process.  However, he called for further action to ensure their inclusion in all aspects of society.  Raising concerns about illegal activities, he noted the high levels of opium production and trade.  At the same time, vulnerable groups need urgent assistance to mitigate scarce food resources, which is constrained by restrictions on limited access for humanitarian workers.  In this regard, he urged all parties to ensure such access to help the population.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation), Council President for September, spoke in his national capacity, expressing support for UNAMA.  However, security conditions remain serious, including targeted attacks on civilians.  The situation is compounded by ISIS in Afghanistan, filling their ranks with foreign terrorist fighters that have gained experience in Iraq and Syria as well as a proliferation of sleeper cells.  International efforts must be boosted to counter this scourge.  The Russian Federation will continue to engage with Afghanistan to fight against terrorism and narcotic traffickers with a view to achieving lasting peace.  Moscow continues to take steps in this direction, including during recent consultations with stakeholders.  National reconciliation hinges on dialogue with all relevant actors.  Recognizing the regional context of harnessing progress, he said national reconciliation should be the result of fruitful inclusive dialogue.  While the path to peace will be thorny, it rests on cooperation among all stakeholders.  Regretting to note the suspension of talks between the Taliban and the United States, he said the discussions could have paved the way to such fruitful dialogue.  As such, he called on the parties to sit at the negotiating table, noting that the Russian Federation supported hammering out an agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, as well as with other States in the region.

FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) said with a short time ahead of elections, Taliban attacks have increased, and weak security conditions are likely to derail the electoral process.  He expected all parties to act responsibly, he said, adding that Turkey will be closely following information stemming from the Doha talks and the recent announcement by United States President Donald J. Trump with regard to calling off negotiations with the Taliban.  Sustainable peace hinges on a genuine reconciliation among all segments of Afghan society.  Meanwhile, regional cooperation and commitment are of utmost importance at this critical time, he said, highlighting the momentum achieved through the Heart of Asia‑Istanbul Process.  Negotiating the renewal of UNAMA is also critically important as the international community’s continuing support remains vital for a peaceful, stable Afghanistan.

LUDOVICO SERRA (Italy) said the current uncertainties must not cloud the many achievements seen over the last years.  As such, UNAMA remains an essential point of reference for the prospects of stability and development in Afghanistan.  Regretting to note the recent Taliban attacks, he expressed hope that this current phase constitutes an inevitable but necessary moment for the parties to reflect and develop a shared awareness of the deeper significance that lies behind a negotiated peace.  It is cynical and unacceptable for the Taliban to resort to indiscriminate violence against civilians as a tool to gain leverage.  Instead, what negotiations need to do is to reassure all stakeholders that the cycle of violence can be reversed.  Peace is the only guarantee for a stable and prosperous future for Afghanistan, he said, lending his delegation’s support for processes that will lead to that end.  The coming elections must provide Afghanistan’s people with a tangible demonstration of the progress made towards democratic maturity and a framework for further strengthening the country’s political institutions.

KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) said the forthcoming elections will be crucial, profoundly impacting the dynamics and prospects of Afghanistan’s development.  Welcoming various efforts to engage stakeholders in the peace process, he said only successful direct dialogue between the Government and the Taliban can ensure a long-term viable settlement of the devastating conflict.  Raising other concerns, he said violence against women and children must end, efforts must be made to combat narcotic trafficking and donors must boost their contributions to foster peace and development.  Kazakhstan is continuing to work under United Nations auspices to establish Almaty as a regional hub for the Sustainable Development Goals, with a view that the structure can contribute to coordinated support for Afghanistan and other countries in the region.  Pleased with the close partnership among Kabul, UNAMA and the international community, he said Kazakhstan will continue to support Afghanistan in fulfilling its people’s aspirations for peace, prosperity and security.

MARC-ANDRÉ BLANCHARD (Canada) welcomed the fact that Afghan women were able to attend the Doha talks, calling on Afghanistan’s leaders to formally include women in any future negotiating teams and intra-Afghan peace talks.  “An agreement that does not bring peace to all members of society — men and women, all ethnicities and all religions — is not a durable peace,” he added.  Men need to stand in solidarity with women to reach a settlement that benefits all of Afghanistan’s people.  Canada is working together with likeminded partners to build the capacity of women’s organizations to ensure that they take their seat at the table and engage meaningfully in peacebuilding and peace talks.  Through the Women’s Voice and Leadership project, Canada is providing $8.4 million to help women’s organizations strengthen their networks.  Turning to the upcoming elections, he said providing security so that women are able to safely participate is a critical step to ensuring their voices are a permanent part of Afghan political life.  “A durable peace can only thrive when there is investment in a country and its people,” he emphasized.

KORO BESSHO (Japan) commended the dedication of Afghanistan’s international partners for their efforts to promote an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.  With the presidential elections coming up on 28 September, Japan welcomes the news that relevant preparations are on track, including the full voter registration process that took place in Ghazni Province, where the 2018 parliamentary elections were not held due to political tensions and insecurity.  “It is important that the people of Afghanistan are able to cast their vote and decide their own future,” he stressed, emphasizing the critical role of UNAMA in the electoral process.  The participation of women in Afghanistan is fundamental, he said, expressing deep concern for the continuing terrorist attacks aimed at disrupting peace efforts and electoral preparations.

MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that nine rounds of direct talks between the United States and the Taliban had brightened prospects to put in place the first significant foundation of a settlement.  “Apart from Afghanistan itself, there is no country that has suffered more than Pakistan from the four decades of war and foreign interventions in Afghanistan,” she added.  In June, the leadership of the two countries committed to adopt a forward-looking approach and move away from the distrust of the past.  Pakistan has hosted millions of Afghan refugees for four decades, “opening our homes and hearts to our brothers and sisters”.  At the regional level, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan just concluded the third round of the Trilateral Foreign Ministers’ Dialogue in Islamabad this past weekend.  The ministers reiterated their support for a politically negotiated settlement of the conflict — one that is Afghan-owned and Afghan-led.

BAKHTIYOR IBRAGIMOV (Uzbekistan) said prospects for regional development are inextricably linked to achieving peace in Afghanistan.  As such, Uzbekistan continues to support Kabul through the bonds of friendship and mutual respect, with a view to returning Afghanistan to peaceful development.  To assist the peace process, Uzbekistan has held important negotiations with the Government in Kabul and representatives of the leading political forces, including the Taliban.  The ultimate goal is facilitating the achievement of a general stabilization of the current situation.  An intra-Afghan political process must advance.  Equally crucial is maintaining State institutions in the negotiation process, which reflect gains made since 2001.  Turning to economic recovery efforts, Uzbekistan has supported projects in transport, energy, trade and education and will host the eighth Conference of Regional Economic Cooperation on Afghanistan later in 2019 with a view to further forging a partnership with neighbouring countries and Kabul.

MOHAMED FATHI AHMED EDREES (Egypt) said Afghanistan must be helped so it can move out of decades of war and into a new era of development.  The interests and parameters for stability for the region and the Middle East are linked, he said, expressing hope that peace talks would resume between the Taliban and the United States.  More broadly, Egypt supports Afghanistan’s authorities in their efforts to establish peace, security and development for all citizens.  Countering terrorism and extremist ideology, including ISIS, remains at the heart of security challenges, reflected by a recent increase in terrorist attacks.  Combating opium trafficking is also critical, and must be included in counter-terrorist measures, as this illegal activity funds terrorist groups.  Underlining the importance of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan, he said Egypt will continue to boost growth and strengthen national institutions.  As such, he called on the international community to meet its commitments.  Efforts must also help Afghanistan to pave the way to national dialogue and peace.  Regarding UNAMA, efforts must be made to shore up support for this critical Mission, he said, also noting the important role played by regional and subregional organizations.

DAVID GREGORY YARDLEY (Australia), recalling significant diplomatic investments to end the long-running conflict, called on the Taliban to halt violence against civilians and agree to a ceasefire as the basis for intra-Afghan negotiations.  Women’s inclusion in peace talks is an important step, as they have a right to speak for themselves at home and in international forums, including in peace discussions.  Ensuring their representation in negotiations would be the beginning of a truly inclusive peace process.  Welcoming achievements made since 2001 — including a 10‑fold increase in school enrolment, a 20‑year addition to life expectancy and a rise in gross domestic product (GDP) — he said “we must work together to protect these gains.”

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said Afghanistan stands at a juncture, with elections ahead that the international community must support.  Despite challenges, the journey ahead may neither be easy nor predictable, but there are opportunities for peace and reconciliation.  However, this cannot happen amid an atmosphere of terror and Afghanistan needs the international community’s continued support, particularly in light of the important gains since 2001.  Even at the most difficult times, the famed Afghan resilience and strength of character shines through, and their hard-won achievements must be nurtured, not nullified.  For its part, India supports Afghanistan, he said, expressing hope that the Council and its various instruments can do right by the people of Afghanistan.

SILVIO GONZATO (European Union) said that nothing could demonstrate Afghan ownership more than achieving a nationwide ceasefire that would put an end to violence by the time inter-Afghan reconciliation talks are launched.  The Union is ready to play an active role in supporting the peace efforts and facilitating consultation processes that will contribute to inclusivity by involving all segments of civil society.  It will continue to provide support to address some of the technical difficulties of the previous elections in October 2018.  It also stands ready to continue its long-term commitment to Afghanistan after a peace agreement has been signed.  As progress continues towards a political settlement, the coordination among development, security and political actors is crucial.  The bloc continues its close cooperation with key international partners and will continue its dialogue with Afghanistan under the Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development.

“We encourage the Afghan authorities to continue to implement the relevant legislation, with particular focus on areas such as:  the elimination of violence against women, implementation of the national Action Plan 1325, protection of children and the prevention of torture and ill treatment,” he said.  Promoting rule of law and ending impunity for corruption is core for a sustainable peace.  The European Union remains deeply concerned about the high-level of civilian casualties and the increasing number of displaced people and reiterates the need to protect civilians, especially women and children.  The democratization of Afghanistan should continue along with better protection of the rights of all its people and safeguarding the country’s democratic institutions.

MAJID TAKHT RAVANCHI (Iran) called on the United Nations and the international community to support the coming elections.  However, efforts must address the spate of recent attacks by Da’esh.  After almost two decades of invasion in Afghanistan, it was clear that the United States must leave the country; the sooner, the better.  The timebound and responsible withdrawal of all foreign forces is a strong national demand of the people of Afghanistan, he said, urging Kabul and all Afghan parties to be vigilant and cooperate to overcome the current security situation.  Neither Afghanistan nor countries in the region can afford a new round of conflict.  He called on regional and international actors to work towards a peace agreement that reflects the desires of Afghans themselves.  Any peace process must preserve achievements made at the International Conference on Afghanistan, held in Bonn in 2001.  No country has the right to decide for the future of Afghanistan and any peace negotiation in the absence of Afghanistan’s Government and political factions or in a unilateral, exclusive and non‑transparent manner is doomed to fail.  For its part, Iran stands ready to enter consultations and negotiations and facilitate the conclusion of a durable peace agreement.

For information media. Not an official record.