Thank you and welcome on behalf of the United Nations. Let me recognize and thank Ambassador Koch and Germany as chair for convening today’s meeting.
I also want to extend a special welcome to our Afghan colleagues, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmadi.
You have a full agenda today that I trust will encourage productive dialogue which will be enriched my many including my good friends Jan Kubis and Antonio Guterres.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is no doubt that Afghanistan’s transition and support for the country beyond 2014 is of critical importance. Your participation and engagement here today reflects that crucial understanding.
This meeting also underscores the long-standing partnership between Afghanistan and the UN.
Afghanistan is a founding Member of the United Nations. The UN, in turn, has worked closely in support of the people of Afghanistan through some of its darkest days and over the last twelve years of change.
My recent visit to Afghanistan was a rich opportunity to hear and learn from many Afghans of their vision, hopes and concerns for the future. Again and again, I heard the need to preserve the gains of the last decade.
Allow me to very briefly highlight a few key issues and observations.
First, elections are at the top of the agenda.
It is impossible to overstate the significance of Afghan-led and Afghan-managed elections held in conformity with the Constitution. This is fundamental to ensuring legitimacy and a democratic political transition.
A representative and inclusive process will be a testament to the progress that Afghanistan has made over the past decade. It will be crucial for continued international assistance after 2014.
Above all, credible elections will give Afghans confidence in the future of their country, and help lay the foundations for further progress for security, reconciliation and development.
I congratulate our Afghan colleagues for the progress they have achieved so far.
Technical preparations are further advanced than in the past. The Independent Electoral Complaints Commission has been appointed. The candidate nomination process started earlier in the week. The focus is now turning to potential candidates and their teams.
I urge all Afghan stakeholders to uphold electoral procedures and to engage in inclusive and sustained dialogue with voters. I call on electoral bodies and all Afghan institutions to continue to provide impartial support to technical preparations, including the provision of security.
Security is a dominant backdrop to all your discussions.
We must be clear-eyed about progress and challenges.
Afghan security forces are now in the lead for security countrywide. But significant challenges remain and the continued development of Afghan security forces is essential.
Predictable and sustained international support well beyond 2014 is critical.
The elections in 2014 will be a major test of the capability of Afghan forces to plan and provide inclusive countrywide security during this crucial period.
Afghanistan’s international and regional partners must support this Afghan-led effort, including by engaging key players and supporting enhanced border management to prevent illicit movement of criminal elements.
Reconciliation is also crucial.
Ultimately, Afghanistan’s future depends on an inclusive Afghan-led political settlement. The battleground will not yield peace.
The UN welcomes recent agreements between Afghanistan and Pakistan on steps in this direction. These are important and must be encouraged. The UN fully supports them.
Parallel progress in other key areas such as humanitarian access, protection of civilians or refugees, can build further public confidence.
Progress toward a political settlement will take time. It will require patience and commitment on all sides. Sustaining the gains in human rights, particularly women’s rights, is critical.
Elections can contribute to creating the conditions for progress. This can be done by fostering nation-wide, inclusive dialogue on the scope and the content of reconciliation and producing a new leadership that will carry this process forward.
Before I conclude, let me address the future role of the UN in Afghanistan.
In a period of uncertainty, the Afghans must know that they will not be abandoned or forgotten by the international community. Predictable and sustained support will send that important signal.
The UN is committed to a long-term partnership with Afghanistan in line with the wishes of the Government and the people of Afghanistan.
How our partnership evolves to best meet Afghanistan’s priorities and needs is the subject of our ongoing dialogue.
The UN remains guided by three principles:
First, the foundation of our partnership is a commitment to the people of Afghanistan, to their rights and their development;
Second, our partnership must be mutual and based on our recognition of our roles, responsibilities and capacities in peace and security, development and human rights.
Third and finally, engagement and advocacy with all Afghanistan’s partners is essential to sustaining the support and commitments to Afghanistan.
I thank you for your participation and engagement in the International Contact Group. I wish you a successful meeting.