Reporting on promising developments in peace talks between the Government of Afghanistan and its Taliban opposition, the top United Nations official for the country warned the Security Council during a 17 December videoconference meeting that future progress is imperilled by a relentless upsurge in violence which requires urgent international attention.
“I ask all countries to continue to pressure the parties to the conflict to bring about a sustained reduction in violence and expect that this will be a top priority in the negotiations,” Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said as she opened the meeting. She thanked Qatar for hosting the talks and the United States and the host country support group — Germany, Indonesia, Norway and Uzbekistan — for their diplomatic efforts thus far.
Ms. Lyons said that, before agreeing on a 22-day recess in the talks earlier this week, the parties agreed to rules and procedures for negotiations, formed a working committee to discuss the agenda and presented initial topics for discussion. “These developments are an early but positive sign that both sides are willing and able to compromise when needed,” she said, expressing hope that the break will allow both sides to consult internally and externally and to resume negotiating with renewed commitment on 5 January 2021.
She reported, however, that, meanwhile, violence has skyrocketed in the country. In the last few months, improvised explosive devices caused over 60 per cent more civilian casualties and child casualties rose 25 per cent over previous periods. In addition, the ongoing security transition and the emerging reality of international troop withdrawals, have added to the deep anxieties felt by the population.
Stressing that any sustainable peace will need to be owned by Afghanistan’s diverse society, she said that achieving it will only be possible if security anxieties are addressed and the process is inclusive from the outset, with meaningful participation by women, youth, minorities, victims of conflict and religious leaders. She welcomed the recent formation of the High Council for National Reconciliation in that light. The Taliban, too, must expand their consultations with Afghan constituencies, she emphasized.
Regional cooperation will also be essential as peace unfolds, she added, including in the areas of trade, connectivity and counternarcotics efforts. She said that she noted a strong commitment among regional partners to such cooperation in recent visits and talks. UNAMA convened three high-level meetings in Geneva on regional cooperation the peace-security-development-humanitarian nexus, and the role of the Afghan private sector in peace and self-reliance.
At the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, in addition, she reported that the international community came together to reaffirm its financial support to Afghanistan. The generous pledges will enable Afghanistan to pursue its core development priorities and to deliver vital services to its people. The Conference also sent a clear message to people that the international community remains committed to peace, development and democracy in Afghanistan, a message echoed at the subsequent Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) meeting in Niger.
She cautioned, however, that donors have made clear that their financial assistance comes with expectations of tangible improvements on peace, governance, rule of law, anti-corruption and human rights, especially women’s rights and protection of civilians and civil society leaders and media workers. At the same time, as the country is now facing a new wave of COVID-19, she encouraged the international community to continue their generous assistance for the pandemic.
She stressed that 2021 will be a pivotal year for Afghanistan, given the critical stage of peace negotiations and security transitions along with the socioeconomic challenges of COVID-19. “Clearly Afghanistan will continue to move forward; but equally will continue to need the dedicated support of this Council,” she said.
Dian Triansyah Djani (Indonesia), Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011), noted that the Committee’s main goal is to deter the Taliban from continuing to support Al-Qaida and its affiliates, as well as to deter Taliban attacks against the Afghanistan Government through the use of its sanction measures. The ongoing Afghanistan peace negotiations in Doha are encouraging, he said, expressing hope that the work of the 1988 Committee can support the creation of an environment conducive for lasting, sustainable peace. However, he also urged all States to conduct national reviews while remaining mindful that Taliban action — or the lack thereof — to further reduce violence, make sustained efforts to advance intra-Afghan negotiations, and otherwise cease to support activities threatening peace will affect the review. In its May report, the monitoring team noted that relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaida remain close. As such, securing the counter-terrorism gains to which the Taliban have committed will represent a challenge, as it would require them to deny groups, including Al‑Qaida, the use of Afghan territory as a source of international threats.
He went on to report that the Taliban’s ongoing profiting from narcotics will continue to pose a challenge, according to the team’s report. The scale of the problem has been further complicated by a boom in methamphetamine production and trafficking. Moreover, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan suffered setbacks and was nearly eradicated from its main Afghan base in Nangarhar Province in November 2019. It also incurred further losses in its new refuge in neighbouring Kunar in early 2020. Taliban forces played a significant part in inflicting those defeats, as did the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and their international allies. However, attacks throughout the year in Afghanistan’s provinces constitute stark reminders that the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant-Khorasan remains a threat, he observed.
Moreover, he noted that Afghanistan’s people still endure an active and deadly military campaign by the Taliban, as highlighted by the recent fighting in Helmand Province. As such, the overall effectiveness of the 1988 sanctions measures relies heavily on close coordination with the Afghanistan Government and regional Member States. In early 2020, the Committee’s monitoring team travelled the region to discuss the implementation of 1988 sanctions measures, as well as to conduct threat assessments. The team also met virtually with the National Security Advisor of Afghanistan in November to discuss the 1988 Committee mandate, he recalled.
Shkula Zadran, Afghan Youth Representative to the United Nations, recalling how she became a child refugee in Pakistan after her family left Afghanistan during the civil war in Kabul, said she is representing a generation born and raised in violence and conflict — one whose “dreams are being buried every day”. Speaking on behalf of those lost, she said that terrorists are afraid of Afghan youth and target educational institutions because they know that an educated and informed generation will never allow terrorism and extremism to grow in their country. She said her message to terrorists and those that support them is clear: “You tried to bury us; you didn’t know that we were seeds.”
Ms. Zadran, noting that most Afghan youth support the end of war through peace negotiations, cautioned that this peace must constitute more than just an immediate ceasefire — it must also ensure increased access to education, improved health‑care systems, vibrant civil society and leadership space for Afghan women. She said that, since the signing of the peace agreement between the Taliban and the United States, tension and conflict have increased, civilians are being killed and youth are targeted. Questioning why the Taliban is destroying public infrastructure if it wants a peaceful and prosperous country, she urged the Taliban not to destroy Afghanistan for the sake of others’ interests.
She stressed, however, that the Taliban is not the only party responsible for war crimes. International forces in Afghanistan with a mandate to maintain law and order and protect human rights and democracy have also committed such crimes — bombarding villages and homes instead of targeting terrorist training centres in Pakistan. She called on the international community to accept its mistakes, apologize to the Afghan people and avoid such inhumane acts in the future, before detailing measures demanded by Afghan youth to bring peace and maintain stability and order in Afghanistan. Calling on all leaders to trust the youth of Afghanistan, she said this group is “the patriot generation that you will never regret investing in and counting on”.
After those briefings, representatives of Council members took the floor, welcoming the progress made in talks between the Taliban and the Government in Afghanistan and urging that they continue. At the same time, they called strongly for an end to the rising violence, troubled by both the devastation caused to civilians and the threat to negotiations. Most speakers also stressed the need for significant participation of women and youth in the peace process, with many emphasizing that gains made in women’s rights should be strengthened and not weakened in the talks. Among other concerns voiced, speakers also pointed to the need to protect media workers, fight corruption and ensure adequate security reform during the transition of forces. Following Council members, the representatives of Afghanistan and Iran also made statements.
Germany’s representative echoed the view that 2020 brought about profound shifts in Afghanistan with the peace process gaining traction in Doha. However, violence in the country has reached new highs, making Afghanistan the least peaceful country in the world, he said, calling on the Council to form a united front to advance the peace process. Noting procedural developments within peace talks, he said all parties to the talks must use the coming month to identify avenues that can accelerate deliberations. He lamented that the Taliban continues conducting attacks while also engaging in the peace process and called for a comprehensive ceasefire, stressing that UNAMA must continue to safeguard the rights of victims in the country to foster sustainable development. He told the Council that at present the conditions needed to lift sanctions imposed on the Taliban do not exist.
The representative of Indonesia, speaking in his national capacity, told the Council that immediate action is needed to curb high levels of violence across the country and the mounting threats posed by Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh). To that end, all parties must pursue a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire and engage in an inclusive political process. The effectiveness of such measures hinges on ensuring the participation of all segments of Afghan society, he said, underscoring that women and young people play an indispensable role in fostering stability. Sustainable peace and a regionally connected Afghanistan will yield greater economic integration and security, which will benefit everyone. He concluded by noting UNAMA’s tangible contributions on the ground to promote the peace process, reconciliation, protection of civilians and respect for human rights.
The speaker for France highlighted the need for inter-Afghan negotiations, recalling the importance of the women, peace and security agenda for lasting peace. The fight against terrorism must remain a priority, and as such, France condemns terrorist attacks on journalists which threaten freedom of expression in Afghanistan. The conflict has led to too many civilian victims and an immediate ceasefire is urgent in this regard. Moreover, the fight against drugs is also important, and drug production must be eradicated to guarantee lasting peace in Afghanistan. No progress towards peace will be possible unless the conflicting parties commit to negotiations, she emphasized, noting that the Taliban’s commitment in this regard remains to be demonstrated. Revisions to sanctions can only be considered if the Taliban renounces its activities that threaten peace, stability and security. She recalled the €1.2 billion pledge made by the European Union in November that will support modernization and development in Afghanistan over a four-year period, including in terms of the fight against corruption. However, this support is not unconditional, she pointed out, calling for respect for democratic gains made.
China’s representative said the Afghan peace and reconciliation process has entered a crucial period and welcomed the intra-Afghan talks launched in Doha. The next stage will feature substantive discussions and both sides must show more political wisdom and resolve. Afghan issues can only be resolved by political means, and as such, he expressed hope that both sides will consolidate and preserve the positive momentum during negotiations. Moreover, the international community should fully respect the will of the Afghan people and ensure an Afghan‑owned and Afghan-led process. Recalling that the 1988 Committee has played an important role contributing to peace and reconciliation, he expressed support for the renewal of its monitoring team’s mandate. He also noted that the number of violent incidents in October was the highest reported since 2007, and as such, called on all parties to respond positively to the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. As well, the withdrawal of foreign troops should be orderly and responsible in order to avoid leaving a security vacuum. Durable peace cannot be possible without economic and social development, he observed, describing a number of China-supported projects for youth in Afghanistan. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, China has also sent medical teams and equipment and will continue to provide support in this context.
Belgium’s representative expressed hope that the intra-Afghan negotiations will bring peace to the Afghan people, but underscored that progress achieved over the last two decades must be maintained — particularly on human rights and strengthening the position of women in the country. Turning to the issue of sanctions against the Taliban, she said that “nothing is automatic” and that delisting is contingent on satisfying the conditions of Council resolution 2513 (2020), including progress in negotiations and decreased violence. She condemned the high degree of violence against human rights defenders, journalists and civilians — particularly children — and welcomed UNAMA’s work on victim-centered justice. Affirming Belgium’s commitment to Afghan peace and prosperity, she added that Brussels has earmarked $8.4 million for acquiring vaccines and medical equipment for the Afghan army.
The speaker for the Russian Federation said that UNAMA plays an important role in coordinating international humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan. Noting that intra-Afghan negotiations have been delayed to 5 January 2021, she expressed hope that this pause will not halt progress between the parties. Turning to the security situation in Afghanistan, she said that the country is regularly shaken by terrorist attacks that have become an everyday occurrence for the Afghan people. ISIL/Da’esh is behind many such large-scale attacks, which is evidence that its Afghan wing continues to maintain its ability to commit terrorist acts throughout Central Asia. On the issue of sanctions, she said that extending the mandate of the monitoring team assisting the 1988 Committee will allow the team to continue providing the Committee with necessary assistance, but that resolving the issue of sanctions review should be discussed separately.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines expressed concern about the continuing high level of violence in Afghanistan, particularly in the country’s southern areas. The primary goal should be the prevention of violence and condemnation of terrorist attacks, she said, stressing that it is critical that the Afghan Government and the Taliban enhance their cooperation and negotiation efforts. In addition, climate fragility risks must be considered in the creation and implementation of policies, including those aimed at creating peace and stability in Afghanistan. Calling on international donors to honour their commitments in the country, she said improved development cooperation, enhanced trade and investment, and expanded economic opportunities for all Afghans are vital for lasting peace.
The speaker for Viet Nam said the continued support of UNAMA, regional countries and other international partners will be crucial to maintaining the momentum of peace talks in Afghanistan. He urged all parties to fully respect international humanitarian law, immediately stop targeting civilians and allow unhindered access to humanitarian services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Strengthened efforts are also needed to combat the increasing presence of terrorist groups in the country, he said, emphasizing that long-term peace and stability require robust development and sustainable livelihoods for the people. In that regard, the Afghan Government and international partners should continue to work together in promoting economic development and reconstruction. He went on to express concern that 11.15 million people, more than one third of the country’s population, are facing high levels of food insecurity, and that number could increase to 13.15 million during the approaching cold‑weather months.
The representative of Niger, expressing concern over the increase of violence in Afghanistan, encouraged all stakeholders in the country to commit themselves to non-violence so that the critical peace process can make progress. Civil society, women, young people and journalists must be enabled to participate in that process to give it a firm basis. It is also crucial for the country to tackle security reform, corruption and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to lay the groundwork for a stable and peaceful country, he emphasized.
The Dominican Republic’s representative, reaffirming support for the intra‑Afghan talks, said that dialogue must continue between the parties with input from all sectors of society. He stressed that women must participate fully, fairly and significantly at all stages of the peace process; their rights are not negotiable. Young people must also be included in shaping their future. Noting recent devastating attacks against civilians, he firmly condemned them, calling for those responsible to be brought to justice. He also called for a humanitarian ceasefire. Child protection, in addition, must be strengthened, and the Taliban must break their links with international terrorist organizations. Increased cooperation is needed by all stakeholders, including international partners, to face the humanitarian and peacebuilding challenges in Afghanistan and afford the negotiation process a chance to succeed.
Tunisia’s representative expressed deep concern about the continuing high level of violence and the security situation in Afghanistan. Recent attacks attributed to the Taliban, resulting in numerous casualties among Afghan forces, including 13 police officers on Wednesday, and the civilian population could seriously complicate negotiations. All parties must take necessary measures to prevent civilian casualties, he stressed, underlining the need to investigate violations of international humanitarian and international human rights law and hold perpetrators accountable. He expressed particular concern over the targeting of civil society and media organizations, the latest being the murder of journalist, as well as women and children’s rights defender, Malalai Maiwand, earlier this month. The Afghan National Defence and Security Forces should continue to be fully supported and more efforts should be made to fight drug trafficking, which continues to fuel the illicit economy and finance terrorist groups. The Taliban should end their attacks, honour their counterterrorism commitments and negotiate in good faith with the Government of Afghanistan, she said.
The speaker for the United States said that the people of Afghanistan continue to face terrible violence and strongly condemned attacks on human rights leaders, journalists, Government officials and others. “This violence must stop,” she stressed, calling for a comprehensive ceasefire. The two sides are capable of tackling difficult topics as they demonstrated in recent talks. That momentum must be maintained, and the parties must resume talks in January. Recalling the United States-Taliban agreement, she said United States force reductions remain condition-based and will continue to be implemented in consultation with North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies and partners. Through support to security forces and delivery of critical aid, the United States has pledged $300 million in civilian assistance for 2021, she reported, noting that another $300 million may be available depending on progress made during the peace process. As such, she called on Afghanistan to follow through on plans for the return of refugees, recalling that the United States has provided $277 million in humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons and returnees. Noting that nearly half of Afghan children face acute malnutrition, she added that the international community must increase funding for humanitarian aid. As such, the United States has provided more than $33 million towards the COVID-19 response in Afghanistan.
The representative of the United Kingdom recalled that Afghans took a significant step towards peace on 12 September with the start of negotiations in Doha. “It is vital that negotiations resume swiftly in January,” she said, noting that a challenging process lies ahead. A successful outcome will require a long process of building trust, finding common ground and compromise. However, appalling levels of violence continue in Afghanistan, with the Taliban responsible for most of it. “The Taliban claims to want a part in Afghanistan’s future,” she said, adding that this requires an end to violence, as well as a permanent break from terrorism, including from Al-Qaida. The outcome of the peace negotiations is for Afghans to decide, she pointed out, noting that the parties must recognize that Afghanistan is not the place it was 20 years ago. A peace settlement must be inclusive and preserve the rights and freedoms of all Afghans, including women, youth and minorities. As well, to maintain international support, the new Afghanistan must adhere to treaty obligations, including those regarding human rights. She also reported that, in November, the United Kingdom pledged $207 million in development assistance for Afghanistan for 2021.
Estonia’s representative noted a 38 per cent increase in armed clashes in Afghanistan over the past year, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. As such, UNAMA must be given the resources to ensure the perpetrators of attacks on civilians are brought to justice and that children who suffer from the conflict receive all necessary assistance. All parties to the conflict must incorporate a victim-centered approach to the political process, he said, adding that the number of people in Afghanistan requiring humanitarian assistance has climbed to 18.4 million. “We reiterate our call for an immediate, permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” he stated, underscoring to the Council that 2021 presents a momentous opportunity for Afghanistan to move closer to long‑awaited peace and stability.
The representative of South Africa, Council President for December, speaking in his national capacity, welcomed the launch of the Afghan peace negotiations in September and the ongoing discussions, and urged all parties to continue building on this momentum towards a just, durable and inclusive peace. Moreover, the peace process must be Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and inclusive of all Afghans and the progress and gains made in women and girl’s rights must be preserved. On the security situation, he expressed regret about the soaring rates of violence and related high civilian casualties, stressing that hostilities by all parties must be brought to an end. In order for the Afghan peace talks to be effective, a cessation of violence and hostilities is necessary to create an environment conducive for meaningful progress. In particular, all those responsible for acts of grave violations, particularly against children, women and the most vulnerable in Afghanistan, should be brought to justice and held accountable. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the long conflict have all contributed to a dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, he pointed out.
Afghanistan’s representative, recalling the General Assembly’s recent adoption of a resolution on the situation in her country, said that this landmark document underlined the immediate need for a permanent ceasefire and supported the long-lasting peace, stability and prosperity that every Afghan desires. She cautioned against changing existing sanctions’ mechanisms for the Taliban, stressing that such mechanisms should not be considered incentives for peace; rather, they are reflections of reality. The security situation in Afghanistan remains highly volatile for civilians, and the Taliban is engaging in targeted killings, attacks against public infrastructure and the use of human shields. Adding that 18.4 million Afghans urgently require humanitarian assistance, she asked the international community to fully fund the $1.3 billion humanitarian response plan for her country.
She then thanked the Security Council for extending the mandate of the monitoring team assisting the 1988 Committee, but expressed regret that Afghanistan’s concerns and reservations were not fully considered on this matter. Nevertheless, any leniency regarding sanctions against the Taliban — without real progress and reciprocity from that — will be counterproductive and detrimental to peace negotiations. Noting that intra-Afghan negotiations will resume on 5 January 2021, she said that the Government is ready to begin discussing agenda items that will pave the way for a dignified, sustainable peace and pointed to several Government initiatives aimed at protecting and promoting the human rights of the Afghan people.
The representative of Iran, emphasizing the bonds between his country and Afghanistan, stated that: “We consider Afghanistan’s stability as our own stability”. In that context, he affirmed the importance of a comprehensive, Afghan-led peace process involving all factions, including the Taliban, supported by neighbouring, regional and international partners. He also called for more engagement of the United Nations in the process and signalled his country’s readiness to further contribute in that context. The process must build on all past achievements and continue the commitment to fight terrorism, he added. It will not progress, however, until the Taliban halts its attacks against Afghan security forces. Maintaining that the presence of foreign forces is another source of Afghanistan’s instability, he cautioned, however, that their withdrawal must be done responsibly in concert with the strengthening of the National Afghan Defence and Security Forces. Effective assistance must also be extended to Afghanistan in combating the illicit production and trafficking of narcotic drugs and improving economic conditions. For its part, despite what he called “a savage [United States] economic war”, his country is hosting millions of Afghan refugees and pursuing economic cooperation with the country, most recently with the inauguration of the Khaf-Herat railway, and is committed to further enhancing mutual relations.