New York

10 May 2013

The Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at NYU Center on International Cooperation Meeting on the Future of International Engagement in Afghanistan

I am delighted to be here.  I thank Ambassador Tanin, Ambassador Staur and the Center on International Cooperation for bringing us together.  I am especially grateful that Senior Minister Arsala will be sharing his expertise with us today.

I apologize that I will not have time to stay for all of your discussions – but I look forward to the outcome.  I see many of my United Nations colleagues from both New York and Kabul.  I am confident that they will represent our Organization well, and use the ideas generated here in their work.

For decades, Afghanistan has been at the top of the global agenda.

I have seen this from different perspectives in my life as UN Emergency Relief Coordinator in the 1990s, as Swedish Ambassador to Washington during the post-9/11 period and as President of the General Assembly in 2005.  Then, too, I reaffirmed the importance of the United Nations in mobilizing the international community to achieve security, development and respect for human rights across the country.

Now we are approaching a critical moment.  Our conversation today should be part of other dialogues – in capitals and amongst grassroots groups – on how to proceed.

At all times, we must consider how best to benefit, first and foremost, the Afghan people.

This is an uncertain time in Afghanistan.  Many of its citizens have profound concerns about the future of their country.  This climate is shaping how individuals and groups act and prepare for future scenarios.

Thus, we should frame our discussions around how – not if – we will engage.  We must convince Afghans that they will not be abandoned.  We must demonstrate our resolve to help them achieve normalization.  The international community, and certainly the United Nations, shall continue to assist Afghanistan.  We have made a huge investment, in human and material terms, in the future of Afghanistan.

At the same time, we have to accept the prevailing reality.  Uncertainty restricts our ability to map out all of the details of our future engagement.  No country launches new policies a year before elections.  No country elaborates a detailed development agenda in a matter of months.  The Government is right in pointing out that Afghanistan is littered with debris from initiatives that failed.  They never got off the ground because they were developed too quickly or with too little consultation across Afghan society.

We have to focus our attention and clarify the objectives of our partnership.  We have to identify priorities for assistance – and meet them.  We have to integrate our efforts.

There are three areas that demand focus.

First: elections.  An inclusive and credible process is essential.  Afghans must recognize the outcome as legitimate.  Without this, Afghanistan will lack foundations for stability and development.

The conduct and of elections and the quality of the process will also shape international confidence in Afghanistan.

I welcome the fact that elections for the President are being led and managed by Afghans. Our role as partners is to support a participatory and sound technical process.  The international community should speak clearly.  Together with the Afghan Government we should reinforce efforts to build robust electoral institutions and mechanisms.

Second: transition. Afghanistan is now undergoing many transitions.  The international community has built a partnership around three tracks: security, political and economic.  We have to ensure that these three separate areas are not in competition with one another.  Our aim is to contribute to an Afghanistan that is sovereign and self-reliant.

The Government needs assistance that will enable it to generate revenue.  In that way, it can gradually assume responsibility for the salary and operational costs of the security forces.

Parallel to this, there should be efforts to build public trust and confidence in the security forces and other state institutions.

Third: sustainable development. To be self-reliant, Afghanistan needs a cost-efficient model for development. We have to support this, including by re-orienting our aid if necessary.

In all this, we must listen to the people of Afghanistan. The success of our partnership will rest on their perceptions. We have a tendency to isolate ourselves in conference rooms in capitals.  Conferences have their place – but we have to reach out more to Afghan legislative institutions, civil society groups and media organizations.

UNAMA’s support to a civil society-led people’s dialogue is a good example of how to proceed. I also welcome the partnerships between community-based organizations and UN humanitarian aid and development actors.
Ladies and gentlemen,

Multilateral frameworks have the potential to improve the transparency and accountability on the part of Afghan and international partners. They can help sustain international attention on Afghanistan. We should consider the contribution that each organization can make to a coherent international effort.  

The United Nations is one of the few organizations in Afghanistan that is present across the country.  That makes us well-placed to support Afghan authorities in ensuring the participation of all Afghans in political, governance and development processes.

It is especially critical to empower and engage women. We must protect Afghanistan’s women and girls from violence, discrimination and roll-back of rights.  If we allow them to unleash their potential, contribute their ideas and make decisions, the women of Afghanistan can steer the country in a positive direction.

Our humanitarian efforts will continue to focus on those in the greatest need.  On the development side, we will help Afghans to define a model for sustainable development andbuild its capacities.

Ultimately, stability and development will rest on a future Afghan political settlement.  The United Nations stands ready to support at every step of the way.  I call on the Afghan people and its leadership to re-commit to build the country.

I look forward to hearing and learning about your ideas about how we can best advance.

Thank you.