The results of the 28 September presidential election in Afghanistan must be accepted by all stakeholders, especially the candidates, if it is to move forward along a path to sustainable peace, the top United Nations official in that country told the Security Council today.
“Whatever the outcome of the presidential election may be, peace will be the issue of paramount importance to the new Administration,” added Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), during the Council’s quarterly meeting on the situation in the country.
For Afghanistan to successfully address the key issues of peace, development, poverty reduction, human rights and accountability, credible election results must be delivered that reflect the genuine will of the Afghan people and which are accepted by all stakeholders, particularly the candidates, he stressed.
In the three months since the election, peace efforts have continued, he said, pointing to intra-Afghan dialogue as well as talks in Qatar between the United States and the Taliban. Peace will have wide-ranging implications, he added, including on international efforts to counter Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) and other terrorist groups.
He also underscored the human cost of the conflict, with the third quarter of 2019 seeing the most civilian casualties since UNAMA began keeping a tally in 2009. On the humanitarian front, the United Nations and its partners expect to reach 7.1 million people by the end of 2019 — and that $733 million will be needed to reach a like number of Afghans in 2020.
Also briefing the Council, Aisha Khurram, Afghanistan’s youth delegate to the United Nations, said the key to sustainable peace and reconciliation is ensuring that the voices of young people from both sides of the conflict are taken on board. Emphasizing that 63 per cent of Afghans are under the age of 25, she said the conflict’s greatest price is paid not by politicians and battlefield elites, but by Afghan children and youth.
Almost a year after peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States began, Afghan youth want a transparent mechanism protecting their rights and achievements in any peace deal, she said. The Council should play an active role in guaranteeing the rights of youth in such a deal, committing itself to peace and an end to suicide bombing, air strikes and night raids, she added.
In the ensuing debate, delegates voiced their concern over ongoing terrorist attacks and civilian fatalities, as well as the gravity of the humanitarian situation, while also emphasizing the urgent need for reconciliation and for the peace process to remain Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
Afghanistan’s delegate said the holding of the presidential elections represented a rejection of extremism. As the results are methodically counted, all parties must allow the process to unfold according to the election law. She thanked international partners, particularly the United States, for building an environment for Afghan-owned talks between the Taliban and the Government. She reiterated, however, that a willingness to move forward can only come in the form of an immediate Taliban ceasefire, and that the gains of the past 18 years, particularly by Afghan women, must be protected and expanded.
The representative of the United States, noting that Afghans are ready for a peaceful and democratic future, said the goal of her country’s efforts in the peace process are to enable direct negotiations among Afghan stakeholders and ensure that Afghanistan is never again a platform for international terrorism.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, describing Afghanistan as “a long-suffering land”, said ISIL’s presence is a threat to the south of his country as well as the wider region. All peace initiatives should aim at unification with the inclusion of all Afghans alongside close regional cooperation, he added.
Germany’s representative, noting that his country is the second-largest international donor to Afghanistan, said the electoral process must be completed if uncertainty is to end. He welcomed efforts to strengthen rule of law, services and institutions and looked forward to a new Government being formed to make progress in those areas.
Kuwait’s delegate said the Council must help create a conducive environment for peace talks to take place. The increase in attacks on civilians and other security incidents demonstrate the need to achieve a peace agreement despite all the challenges faced, he added.
Also speaking today were representatives of Indonesia, China, United Kingdom, Equatorial Guinea, Poland, France, Dominican Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Peru, Belgium and South Africa.
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 5:11 p.m.
TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), presenting the Secretary-General’s report on the situation in that country and its implications for international peace and security (document S/2019/935), recalled that when he last briefed the Council, the people of Afghanistan were preparing to vote in its fourth presidential election since 2001. Turnout was modest, dampened by security threats and low voter mobilization in many areas, and preliminary results — originally scheduled for release on 19 October — have yet to be announced. The primary reason for the delay is to ensure that the electoral process is as credible as possible, he said, adding that from a technical perspective, the election was an improvement on previous polls, with much greater transparency. The use of biometric voter verification devices helped to detect and deter fraud, and candidates and others had far greater access to information. The Electoral Complaints Commission adjudicated more than 4,000 complaints. Preliminary results are expected soon, however, after recounts and audits resumed in seven provinces. He urged all candidates and their supporters to accept the outcome of the election, once complaints have been adjudicated in accordance with the law, adding that when the process is completed with credibility, it will be a milestone in the history of establishing a representative political system in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the war is continuing to take an appalling toll on civilians, he said, stating that the third quarter of 2019 saw the highest number of civilian casualties since the Mission began systematic recording 10 years ago. Expressing particular concern at ongoing deliberate attacks on civilians, he said escalating violence to attain a position of strength in peace negotiations is unacceptable. Greater efforts to reduce civilian casualties are required by all parties. He also expressed alarm at increased threats to aid workers — including an Organization staff member, Anil Raj, killed in Kabul while travelling in a United Nations vehicle — and growing threats and attacks against human rights defenders.
“Whatever the outcome of the presidential election may be, peace will be the issue of paramount importance to the new administration,” he said, noting that peace efforts have continued even as the outcome of the election remains pending. Talks between the United States and the Taliban have resumed, efforts are under way to continue with intra-Afghan dialogue, and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani outlined his thoughts on peace at the Eighth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process earlier in December. Some key issues have emerged, including a reduction of violence, implementing a ceasefire and finding ways to build on gains in the areas of human rights, justice and governance. Emphasizing that the peace process must be Afghan-owned, he said the new Government must establish inclusive mechanisms through which the views and interests of all Afghans, including women and youth, are justly reflected.
Peace in Afghanistan will have wide-ranging implications, including on international efforts to counter Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant–Khorasan Province (ISIL-KP) and other terrorist groups, he said. Peace will also create opportunities for accelerated development and enhanced connectivity, providing common benefits for the region’s countries and peoples. The strategy for peace must therefore have a broad base of support, he said, emphasizing that all peace efforts should be closely coordinated in a way that creates synergy. He went on to emphasize the importance of women’s participation in all aspects of Afghan society and incorporated the voices of young people. Going forward, he said Afghanistan will need to keep relying on external donors for immediate humanitarian needs and longer-term economic development. A ministerial-level international pledging conference, expected to take place in 2020, will likely be the last of its kind for the remainder of the transformation decade that ends in 2024, but meaningful progress will require tangible steps by Afghanistan on corruption and accountability.
On the humanitarian front, he said, the United Nations and its partners expect to reach 7.1 million people by the end of 2019 in 371 out of 401 districts, exceeding the annual target due to a massive drought response. Hopefully, it will be possible to raise $733 million to reach as many people in 2020. He concluded by saying that as Afghanistan awaits a new Government, it has an opportunity, with its international partners, to address key challenges and promote rightful causes to shape a better future. For the country to successfully address the key issues of peace, development, poverty reduction, human rights and accountability, credible election results must be delivered — results that reflect the genuine will of the Afghan people and which are accepted by all stakeholders, particularly the candidates, he said.
AISHA KHURRAM, Afghan Youth Delegate to the United Nations, said violence across her country underscores the urgent need to end its conflict through a negotiated settlement. The war is an imposition upon Afghanistan’s people, who are dragged into it through no will of their own and made its primary victims, she emphasized, noting that 18 years of ground and aerial operations have failed to bring an end to it. Adding that 63 per cent of the country’s population is under 25 years old, she said the conflict’s greatest price is paid not by politicians and battlefield elites, but by Afghan children and youth.
Continuing, she said reconciliation and peace are the highest priorities in Afghanistan, emphasizing that the key to ensuring these are sustainable is ensuring the voices of youth from both sides of the conflict are considered in the peace process. Almost a year after peace negotiations between the Taliban and the United States began in Doha, Qatar, Afghan youth want a transparent mechanism protecting their rights and achievements in any peace deal. The Council should play an active role in guaranteeing the rights of youth in this deal, committing itself to peace and an end to suicide bombing, air strikes and night raids. The future will be forged by deeds rather than simply words, she said, stressing that efforts and persistent actions are needed to bring peace and stability back to Afghanistan.
ADELA RAZ (Afghanistan) commended Mr. Yamamoto’s guidance of UNAMA at what he called an important crossroads in the history of Afghanistan. She stressed the importance, when speaking about her country, of showing the full picture, one that goes beyond the threats but also includes the achievements made over years of hard work and sacrifice. Ms. Khurram, for example, is part of what she called the new generation of Afghan women playing an active and influential role both domestically and at the international level. “It is truly a testament to the evolution of a new Afghanistan”, she said. Recounting progress since 2002 in the pursuit of democracy and strengthening of national institutions, she described the current quest for self-reliance in what she called “the transformation decade 2015 to 2024”. That transformation has required the development of the legal and governance foundation for the benefit of the people, with over 400 pieces of legislation passed in that effort. The success of those reforms is shown by the growth of internal revenues of over 90 per cent since 2015. Legislation for strengthening the judiciary and tackling corruption has also been enacted, she added.
Last September, the holding of elections represented a rejection of extremism, she said. It was safeguarded by the heroism of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. As the results are methodically counted, she called on all parties to allow the process to unfold according to the election law. President Ghani, she added, has placed peace at the top of the national agenda. She thanked international partners, particularly the United States, for building an environment for Afghan-owned talks between the Taliban and the Government. The next step in the process has been announced as a seven-point peace and stability plan to build consensus on drivers of conflict and create mechanisms to move forward, credible means to verify agreements and methods to deal with transnational terrorist networks and criminal organizations. It also addresses the need for development, reform, anti-corruption efforts and addressing post-conflict grievances. The hosting of mini-jirgas and holding of additional intra-Afghan dialogues are included in the plan. She looked forward to the cooperation and inputs of the country’s international friends and partners in the effort. She reiterated, however, that willingness to move the process forward could only come in the form of an immediate ceasefire by the Taliban. The gains of the past 18 years, particularly those made by women, must be protected and expanded further.
The Government, she said, is also focused on protection against all terrorist threats, including those posed by the Taliban, Al-Qaida and Da’esh. As the Taliban remains the umbrella organization for them all to launch attacks, the country continues to fight them. Meanwhile, she described a recent successful operation against Da’esh. She expressed appreciation for the support of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in security. The focus looking forward must also encompass battling extremist ideologies and ending financing through the illegal narcotics trade. In regard to the latter a truly comprehensive regional approach is needed, she stressed. Paying tribute to the work of Dr. Tetsu Nakamura and Anil Raj, who were killed recently while working to assist the country, she said that Afghanistan’s people are still mourning their losses. It is now time to redouble efforts to achieve a secure, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, she stated. “We are determined to move this unfinished mission forward and to continue working to make Afghanistan a self-reliant, prosperous and peaceful country.”
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), affirming the importance of UNAMA’s role in Afghanistan, said that the electoral process must be completed there to end the period of uncertainty. Expressing deep concern over civilian casualties and attacks on aid workers, he reiterated condemnation of them. He noted that his country is the second-largest donor and troop contributor to Afghanistan and is ready to engage in further intra-Afghan dialogues. He underlined that women must be included in all such talks. An inclusive, Afghan-owned political settlement is necessary to end the fighting, however. Welcoming efforts to strengthen rule of law, services and institutions as described by the representative of Afghanistan, he looked forward to the awaited formation of the new Government for such efforts to make progress.
DIAN TRIANSYAH DJANI (Indonesia), expressing appreciation for UNAMA, noted the continuous high number of casualties, particularly of civilians. Conflict in Afghanistan remains the world’s deadliest for children, he said, calling on all parties to end the violence. Further, an enduring peace in Afghanistan will be elusive without the increased participation of Afghan women and youth. While all stakeholders should resume an intra-Afghan dialogue with an immediate nation-wide ceasefire, the international community must also contribute effectively to help the country tackle its challenges, he stressed.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that ISIL’s continued presence, which represents a threat to Afghanistan’s neighbours and the southern part of the Russian Federation, was of great concern. He noted his country’s readiness to support collective efforts to combat illicit drugs, a major source of terrorist funding, including practical efforts by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Describing Afghanistan as “a long-suffering land”, he said the Russian Federation supports negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. Turning to the outcome of the elections, he expressed regret that complications and delays in announcing the results have led to instability. The expression of the popular will should lead to unity, not division. All peace initiatives should aim at unification with the inclusion of all Afghans alongside close regional cooperation.
ZHANG JUN (China), stressing that support and assistance to Afghanistan must continue, underlined the need for the international community to respect the choice of the Afghan people; for foreign troops to be withdrawn; and for Afghan political parties to engage in dialogue leading to a smooth transfer of power. He drew attention to China’s efforts aimed at building regional consensus and a favourable environment for peace and reconciliation. Tangible assistance is needed to promote socioeconomic development, improve the humanitarian situation and encourage Afghanistan’s participation at the regional level. He also expressed concern about worsening poverty, underscoring that UNAMA must play an active role in that regard. To boost economic growth, China will give priority to those areas that relate to people’s lives, he said, pointing to the scholarships it gives to Afghan students and the medical care it provides to Afghan children with congenital heart problems.
KAREN PIERCE (United Kingdom), expressing support to UNAMA and condemning attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan, called on the Taliban to end such attacks and allow a stable and just peace to come into being. Only a political process can deliver that. For that to succeed, the Taliban must end its violence. In addition, she underscored that women must participate fully in any talks. Calling on all stakeholders to respect the result of elections and adding her support for UNAMA’s role in the electoral process, she said she hoped that the process will move forward expeditiously and transparently. She also said she supported the holding of an international partnership conference to fill financial gaps in development needs, as well.
ANATOLIO NDONG MBA (Equatorial Guinea) expressed his regret regarding the low turnout in elections in Afghanistan due to the fear of violence. He called for a credible follow-through on the remainder of the process so that the results will be respected. Continuing talks on a peace process for the country must be Afghan-owned, he stressed, welcoming multilateral forums being held to form a regional consensus on that process. Underlining that women’s advances must be protected and expanded, he also shared deep concern over attacks on civilians in the country. The parties must observe international law on protection of civilians. Paying tribute to UNAMA’s role in promoting lasting peace in Afghanistan, he also called on the Government to continue its cooperation with the Mission.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) paid tribute to Tetsu Nakamura, a respected physician who was head of the Peace Japan Medical Services and who died in an ambush earlier this month, adding that the recent Presidential election proves that Afghan people value democratic principles. Calling all stakeholders and political leaders to respect the verdict of the constitutional bodies, she also condemned all terrorist activity targeting innocent civilians and public facilities, including the recent attack in Bagram. The peace process must continue, she emphasized, expressing support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process with due consideration for women’s and minorities rights.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), commending UNAMA for its role in Afghanistan, congratulated the people and Government of the country for holding successful elections and defying threats in doing so. National reconciliation is now necessary, for which sincere dialogue towards the end of armed confrontation is needed. Therefore, the Council must help create a conducive environment for talks to take place. The increase in attacks on civilians and other security incidents demonstrate the need to achieve a peace agreement despite all the challenges faced. Welcoming Government action to end illicit trade in drugs and renew regional cooperation, he reaffirmed his country’s solidarity with the people of Afghanistan in their efforts to achieve peace and prosperity.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the road to peace in Afghanistan will need support from the international community, personified by UNAMA. Regarding the election, the credibility of the selected candidate will depend on acceptance of the results by all stakeholders. There must be a transparent, open and systematic vote count to build trust. That will be the best guarantee of success for the next Government. It is vital that justice and essential freedoms are respected, especially for women, in ensuring lasting peace. The Government must also continue its efforts to improve governance, eliminate corruption and combat drug trafficking as well as terrorism.
JOSÉ MANUEL TRULLOLS YABRA (Dominican Republic) said that dialogue and direct negotiations between the Government and Taliban are the best way to bring an end to the conflict and bring about sustainable development in Afghanistan. Expressing concern over the high number of victims to current hostilities as well as continued attacks, he said the parties must respect international humanitarian law and refrain from attacking innocent civilians. Noting that the conflict continues to be the deadliest one for children worldwide, he condemned such violations and abuses, stressing that Afghanistan must comply with peace initiatives aimed at a permanent ceasefire. Also observing that the Government continues to make progress in eliminating violence against women and girls, he said women must be involved in all aspects of the peace process.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (Côte d’Ivoire) welcomed the holding of presidential elections in Afghanistan despite the threats, but also noted his regret regarding the delays in counting votes. He stressed the importance of peacebuilding efforts, particularly dialogue, welcoming recent talks and calling on the Taliban to enter in good faith into direct talks with the Government. Expressing concern over the high death toll among civilians and security personnel, he called on the international community to support efforts to end the violence. He applauded what he called the remarkable work of the United Nations in providing humanitarian aid and called on donors to maintain their contributions. Condemning attacks on humanitarian workers, he called for further security improvements in security arrangements. He assured UNAMA of his country’s full support for its efforts.
LUIS UGARELLI (Peru) noted with deep concern the suffering of people in many parts of Afghanistan, condemning the recent attack on a UNAMA vehicle. He called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. A framework for negotiations is urgently needed in that context, along with inter-Afghan dialogue. Talks should be accompanied by the Council to encourage their success. Regretting the uncertainty caused by the delay of competing elections, he said that all tasks must be quickly finished. Political processes could then make progress. The participation of women and young people is crucial in that regard, he stressed. He also underlined the importance of the work being done by the Monitoring Committee for Afghanistan sanctions and commended the work of UNAMA.
KAREN VAN VLIERBERGE (Belgium) welcomed the holding of elections and UNAMA’s role in the electoral process. She called on all parties to act with restraint when the results are announced. She also strongly supported the central role of the Government in peace talks with the Taliban and stressed that women’s rights must be protected and expanded in any peace process. Calling the level of violence against civilians totally unacceptable, she expressed readiness to work on a Council text on children’s rights in Afghanistan. In addition, she called for more work to be done to counter the effects of mines and improvised devices on civilians, calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Such principles must be part of the accepted framework of peace talks. She pledged her country’s continued support to Afghanistan through the European Union, the United Nations and contributions to the trust fund.
MARTHINUS VAN SHALKWYK (South Africa) encouraged all stakeholders to renew their efforts to work towards Afghan peace and reconciliation, emphasizing that the only way to achieve this is through a comprehensive, negotiated, Afghan-led process. All sectors of the Government and society, including women, must be included in this process to ensure lasting and sustainable peace. Noting that the continuing high levels of violence perpetrated against women and children will undermine the political process, he urged the perpetrators to respect international humanitarian law. With regard to the election, he expressed hope that results acceptable to all will be announced soon.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States), Council President for December, speaking in her national capacity, called for continued support of Afghanistan’s electoral bodies as the vote count continues, urging all candidates to file complaints through legal channels and to avoid any actions that will create tensions. Expressing concern about the sexual abuse against boys in several schools in the country, she said the Government must hold the perpetrators accountable and take measures to ensure the protection of innocent civilians. She strongly supported the role of women in the country’s political, economic and social advancement, emphasizing the need to enhance their participation in building an Afghanistan that works for all. Noting that Afghan citizens are ready for a peaceful and democratic future, she said the goal of her country’s efforts in the peace process is to enable direct negotiations among Afghani stakeholders and ensure that Afghanistan is never again a platform for international terrorism.