As Afghanistan Elections Approach, People’s Demands for Peace Must Not Be Ignored, Special Representative Tells Security Council
Speakers Take Note of Government, Taliban Unilateral Ceasefire
There were unprecedented opportunities for Afghanistan to seek peace and consolidate its political foundation, the Special Representative for that country told the Security Council today, pressing the international community to seize that critical opening to adjust how it supported the war-torn nation in bringing about democracy and self-reliance.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, who is also Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), presented the Secretary-General’s latest report (document A/72/888–S/2018/539), describing “extraordinary” events that spoke to both possibilities and enduring structural obstacles. Among them was Afghanistan President Asraf Ghani’s 7 June declaration of a unilateral ceasefire from 12 to 19 June, echoed days later by the Taliban in its own ceasefire from 15 to 17 June.
The three overlapping days of calm marked the first time in 17 years that both sides had honoured their truce, he said. While the Taliban had not accepted the President’s proposal to extend it, the offer for peace talks without preconditions had created a new reality: Afghans in 20 of the country’s 34 provinces protesting for peace, 2,000 religious scholars declaring that suicide bombings were against the teachings of Islam and a 500-kilometre march from Helmand to Kabul to demand an end to the conflict.
“The Afghan people’s genuine demand for peace, coming from the bottom of their hearts, must not be ignored,” he said. With preparations under way for parliamentary elections in October, and presidential elections next spring, 7 million people had registered to vote since mid-April — the first time since 2003 that a complete voter registration would be carried out for both polls. The evolving development needs, and the strategies to address them, were being re-evaluated ahead of the Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan on 28 November.
Yury Fedotov, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said global opium production was up 65 per cent in 2017, reaching 10,500 tonnes. Most of that product had originated in Afghanistan. Global attention had shifted away from counter-narcotics. “We cannot afford such inattention” he said, pressing the Council to keep the focus on that threat posed to Afghanistan, the region and beyond.
Vladimir Ivanovich Voronkov, the Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, said deadly violence continued across Afghanistan, with 5,675 security incidents between 15 February and 15 May. In two days, the Secretary-General would host the first ever High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies, providing a platform for long-overdue discussion on how to boost global cooperation.
In the ensuing debate, delegates stressed the importance of Afghan‑owned, Afghan‑led efforts to build a resilient country that could eventually provide for its own security needs, with the United States delegate urging the United Nations to ensure that UNAMA was fully staffed throughout the electoral period.
Several decried the Taliban’s rejection of the offer for an extended ceasefire. Pakistan’s delegate called the idea for direct talks without preconditions one not to be missed, stressing that his country would do its utmost to assist the process. Uzbekistan’s delegate, meanwhile, offered to host the talks. Meetings had been held with the Afghanistan Government, among others, he said, as well as with the Taliban, where the prospects for dialogue had been discussed.
Iran’s delegate said special attention should be given to combating the production of and trade in narcotic drugs as a major source of income for terrorist, extremist and illegal armed groups. India’s delegate similarly recalled that terrorism in Afghanistan was not a local problem. The Council must better tackle transnational drug, terrorism and criminal networks, as some continued to provide sanctuary to the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, ISIL, Al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad.
Ultimately, said Afghanistan’s delegate, success hinged on strengthening Afghan unity, keeping people involved, managing future ceasefires and negotiations, ensuring genuine implementation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan action plan for peace and solidarity, and improving consensus on international efforts in the country.
“It is imperative that our zeal for peace should be based on political, social and diplomatic efforts, coupled with security considerations, which should only aim to strengthen our unity and stability,” he said. Opportunities must be seized, not lost. His Government was looking ahead to the Ministerial Conference, where it would present its progress made against benchmarks set at the 2016 Brussels Conference.
Also speaking today were representatives of the Netherlands, Peru, China, France, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Sweden, Côte d'Ivoire, Poland, Kuwait, Ethiopia, Bolivia, United Kingdom, Russian Federation, Turkey, Italy, Germany, Canada, Japan, Australia and Belgium, as well as the European Union.
The meeting began at 10:06 a.m. and ended at 1:40 p.m.
TADAMICHI YAMAMOTO, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said that country was experiencing a politically dynamic period amid an extraordinary series of events that had demonstrated both the possibilities for peace and the enduring structural obstacles. On 7 June, Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani declared a unilateral ceasefire for 12 through 19 June to commemorate the Eid festivities to conclude the month of Ramadan. Two days later, the Taliban announced their own unilateral ceasefire, covering 15 to 17 June, during which both sides honoured their respective ceasefires for the first time in the last 17 years of conflict.
He said many reacted with jubilation, with local authorities inviting the Taliban to lay down their arms and enter cities to visit their families, and Afghan soldiers visiting Taliban-controlled areas. But when the President proposed extending its ceasefire, the Taliban did not take up the opportunity. More broadly, he said the National Unity Government’s offer for peace talks without preconditions, made on 28 February, had created a new reality, and while the Taliban did not respond to the offer, several other events reinforced it, notably an unprecedented grassroots movement of Afghans who had set up tents around 20 provinces protesting for peace. In early June, 2,000 religious scholars had met in Kabul to declare suicide bombings to be against Islam and call for a ceasefire and for peace talks to begin.
Through those events, he said one could see the Government and Taliban had command and control over their troops. Afghans, including Taliban fighters, wanted peace and the President had taken courageous steps to see peace through talks. For how to respond, in returning to the battlefield, the Taliban insisted that their goal was to end the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan and thus shunned talks. However, any future political settlement must consider the concerns of all: Afghans must talk amongst themselves to end the conflict. Noting that preparations were under way for parliamentary elections in October, and presidential elections for next spring, he said that since mid-April, some 7 million people had registered to vote, marking the first time since 2003 that the country would conduct a complete voter registration for both polls. The goal was to have a single national voter register.
Describing concerns, he said that in six provinces, less than 35 per cent of estimated eligible voters were registered, and registration within provinces was uneven. Each Commissioner in the Independent Election Commission must become aware of their duty to strengthen the democratic political process and demonstrate the country was ready to bring about an independent sovereign State. Political parties and leaders, for their part, must be engaged to make the elections truly Afghan-owned. “We will do everything possible, in cooperation with the international community, to assist the Afghan efforts to bring about transparent, inclusive and credible Afghan-owned elections,” he said. The Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan, hosted by the United Nations, would take place in Geneva on 28 November and focus on the extent to which the country was advancing towards self-reliance, the challenges remaining, and the link between short-term humanitarian action and development cooperation.
Turning to women’s rights, he said he was greatly disturbed by a recent UNAMA report that had found mediation had been used to resolve most criminal cases of violence against women, rather than prosecution according to criminal laws. “Women were left to suffer,” he said, stressing that Afghanistan’s evolving development needs, and the strategies to address them, were being re-evaluated as part of preparations for the Ministerial Conference.
YURY FEDOTOV, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), speaking ahead of the launch of the 2018 World Drug Report, said total global opium production was up 65 per cent in 2017, reaching 10,500 tonnes — the highest level since UNODC started monitoring. Most of that opium originated in Afghanistan, where its cultivation and production had reached unprecedented highs. “The situation obviously has a high destabilizing potential for the country, the wider region and the international community,” he said, drawing attention to a recent UNODC socioeconomic study that underlined the multiple challenges posed by opium to sustainable development, peace and security, as well as its connection with terrorism and other crimes.
While there had been some positive momentum since December, when he last briefed the Security Council, many formidable challenges remained, he said, highlighting the importance of shared responsibility and international cooperation. Unfortunately, international attention had shifted away from the priority of counter-narcotics in recent years, he said, emphasizing that “we cannot afford such inattention” as well as the need for sustained resources.
Reviewing the Office’s efforts to renew awareness and reinforce regional and interregional dialogue, he said UNODC was focusing on the need for a revitalized and strong Afghan lead in counter-narcotics action, as well as the importance of a comprehensive and balanced approach. UNODC was also focusing on the need to target the nexus between drugs, crime and terrorism, as well as the need to support Member States — especially in Central and West Asia — to establish mechanisms that would help prevent opium-related conflict and destabilization. UNODC’s strategy also sought to plug into existing coordination and governance mechanisms, he said.
Emphasizing that UNODC remained fully engaged in supporting Afghanistan and neighbouring countries to pursue comprehensive counter-narcotics action, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2016 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs, he said the Geneva Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan would provide an opportunity to highlight counter-narcotics responses. “I hope we can count on the assistance of this Council to bring attention to the many threats posed by opiates, to Afghanistan, the wider region and beyond, and the need for urgent and determined international action,” he said.
VLADIMIR IVANOVICH VORONKOV, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism, said deadly violence continued across Afghanistan, with 5,675 security incidents between 15 February and 15 May alone. The use of improvised explosive devices had caused 1,018 civilian casualties, comprising 45 per cent of all such deaths. In two days, the Secretary-General would host the first ever High-level Conference of Heads of Counter-Terrorism Agencies of Member States to boost international cooperation. There was a solid foundation on which to build, with global and regional counter-terrorism conventions and protocols, Council resolutions and the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which States were currently reviewing for the sixth time.
Against that backdrop, he advocated a greater focus on implementation backed by strong political will and financial resources, stressing that Afghanistan continued to request legal technical assistance and capacity-building to bolster its criminal justice framework to combat terrorism. A mission to the country by the Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate in early 2017 had identified 24 priority areas where Afghanistan would benefit from technical assistance: legal matters, international cooperation, countering terrorism financing, law enforcement and border security, and countering radicalization. His Office had discussed with Afghan authorities how best to support the country’s needs at both national and regional levels, based on the Directorate’s recommendations.
Further, he said that in May, his Office and the Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia had launched the third phase of the joint action plan on the implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and he expressed hope that Afghan counterparts would participate in upcoming trainings on border security, countering Internet use for propaganda and recruitment by terrorists, and tackling drug trafficking. The Counter-Terrorism Centre also had launched a “victims of terrorism” programme to raise awareness about their needs, stressing that his Office would continue to work with Afghanistan and other States to support victims of terrorism.
MAHMOUD SAIKAL (Afghanistan), reviewing recent developments in his country, emphasized his nation’s firm desire to end senseless violence that was claiming scores of innocent lives every day. The Eid-al-Fitr ceasefire with the Taliban, announced unilaterally by the National Unity Government in early June, demonstrated a willingness to make difficult and selfless decisions towards peace for Afghans. Regrettably, the Taliban carried out several terrorist attacks after the ceasefire was extended for 10 days. Meanwhile, Afghan security forces continued operations against foreign terrorist groups, including Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) and Al-Qaida, he said, adding that the elimination of Mullah Fazlullah, chief of the Pakistani Taliban, marked an important development.
Success in the peace process depended on several factors, he said. Those included strengthening Afghan unity, keeping people informed and involved at all stages, effective management of future ceasefires and potential negotiations, ensuring genuine implementation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity, and working to improve regional and global consensus on the international effort in Afghanistan. “It is imperative that our zeal for peace should be based on political, social and diplomatic efforts, coupled with security considerations, which should only aim to strengthen our unity and stability,” he said. Opportunities for peace must be seized, not lost, and that would only be possible by ensuring that the overall outcome aligned with the wishes and expectations of all Afghans. To that end, transparency at all stages of the peace process was important, alongside the consolidation of democracy, preserving fundamental human rights, particularly of women, and ensuring justice for victims.
Turning to regional cooperation, he drew attention to the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan, saying it had the potential to promote greater trust, confidence and cooperation between the two countries. Afghanistan was committed to the letter and spirit of that bilateral agreement and it expected Pakistan to do the same. He said his country had also expanded dialogue for cooperation with several States, including those in its region and Central Asian partners, with the Afghanistan President recently participating in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in China. “We wish to reaffirm our overriding commitment to ensuring Afghanistan’s centrality as a platform for cordiality and win-win cooperation for all,” he emphasized.
Preparations were under way for Parliamentary and district council elections to be held in four months, he said, with more than 7.3 million citizens registered to vote, demonstrating their firm conviction that democracy, pluralism and the rule of law were the bedrock of Afghanistan’s future. The elections would be transparent, credible and inclusive, in line with the demands of the Afghan people. Several young talented figures had stepped up as candidates. Comprehensive security arrangements had been put in place for the elections, he said, adding that successful elections were vitally important for Afghanistan’s unity and political stability. Looking ahead to the Ministerial Conference, he said his Government would present the highlights of progress made against key benchmarks set at the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan. He said his country was looking to its international partners to recommit their support at a time when regional and international consensus on Afghanistan was at its highest point since 2001.
On other pressing priorities, he said the prospect of drought displacing 500,000 people warranted immediate global attention, and called on the international community to fully fund the country’s 2018-2021 Humanitarian Response Plan. Afghanistan was also engaged in implementing a national strategy to address narcotics in all its aspects, working on multiple fronts, including eradication, law enforcement and alternative livelihood measures. In the first six months of 2018, more than 112,500 tonnes of illicit drugs had been seized and a significant number of drug processing laboratories destroyed. Progress going forward depended on greater cooperation among regional and international actors. Concluding, he said his country was looking to the future with a degree of optimism considering its peace efforts, a possible shift in regional dynamics, economic integration and institutional reforms. Solidifying the gains made would best be done in an atmosphere in which all partners worked together, he stated.
KAREL JAN GUSTAAF VAN OOSTEROM (Netherlands), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, said Afghans’ call for peace had not been heeded, as the Taliban had not reciprocated the Government’s extension of the ceasefire and Islamic State in the Khorasan Province continued to carry out terrorist acts. Outlining the collective responsibility for an Afghan-owned peace process, he said the Netherlands had reassured President Ghani last week of its strong support and neighbouring countries should contribute to such momentum. The Taliban should accept he Government’s offer for peace talks without preconditions. Noting that the Netherlands would substantially increase the number of military and police officers for the Resolute Support Mission and extend the contingent’s mandate until the end of 2021, he said it was important that the Council pronounce itself on election preparations, as the Government and Independent Election Commission would need to step up their efforts. Any issues arising around its credibility must be addressed transparently, quickly and effectively, he said, and women’s participation in the polls was crucial. The Government should also continue to address the nexus between organized crime and violent extremism.
PAUL DUCLOS (Peru) expressed alarm over Afghanistan’s turbulent security situation, condemning suicide attacks by Da’esh and the Taliban, but also hailing efforts by Afghans to press ahead with election preparations. He echoed the Secretary-General’s call for political groups to “speak and act as one” in tackling those threats. The Taliban’s refusal contrasted with Afghans’ mass mobilization in the “March for Peace”, a symbol of people’s support for a lasting ceasefire. He also expressed support for the Kabul Process from the belief that intra-Afghan dialogue, backed by regional countries, was the only path to sustainable peace, citing the Government’s goal to increase the number of women in the public sector. He expressed concern over the increase in child recruitment to violence, calling on the Government to curb that practice and provide for the rehabilitation of victims. Peru also backed the Secretary-General’s call for funds so that humanitarian assistance could reach the 2 million people affected by drought.
MA ZHAOXU (China), noting that recent terrorist attacks had caused many civilian casualties and that the security situation remained severe, welcomed the President’s recent ceasefire. The international community should continue to support the capacity-building of the national security forces, strengthen Afghanistan’s self-defence capacities and work to address terrorism, transnational crime and drug trafficking. Noting that Afghan affairs should be determined by that country’s citizens, he pressed political parties to resolve differences through dialogue, and the international community to respect the Afghan people’s right to choose their political system and path to development. He expressed support for Afghan-led and -owned reconciliation, including the role played by the Kabul Process, stressing that the Taliban should respond to the Government’s peace initiative. For its part, China had always supported Afghanistan in achieving peace, he said, citing a December 2017 meeting of the foreign ministers of China, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and its hosting in May of the deputy-foreign ministers of those countries.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), associating herself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, expressed concern about the “very unstable” security situation in Afghanistan. More must be done to protect women and children, who were particularly vulnerable when tensions grew, she said, noting that in 2017, nearly one victim in three in Afghanistan was a child. Care must be taken to ensure that foreign terrorist fighters who fled Iraq and Syria did not find refuge in Afghanistan. France called on the Afghan authorities to redouble their efforts vis-à-vis drug trafficking, a crucial issue that should be raised during the upcoming Ministerial Conference. Emphasizing the importance of the Kabul Process for peace and security cooperation in Afghanistan, she urged the Taliban to engage in direct negotiations with the Government and to renounce violence. Turning to the upcoming elections, she noted the lack of candidates in some provinces and underscored the role to be played by women as both candidates and voters. She also paid tribute to UNAMA staff, who were working in particularly difficult conditions.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan) commended efforts to launch an intra-Afghan political dialogue to stabilize the situation, improve public administration, reform the legal sphere, and prepare for the upcoming parliamentary elections in October. Those elections should be free, fair, transparent and trustworthy. Regarding security, he noted that despite the effective measures that had been taken by the international community and the Government of Afghanistan, the situation continued to be complicated. He hoped that the brief ceasefire announced by the Government and the armed opposition would be the first step towards national reconciliation. ISIL remained combat capable and continued to step up its presence in various provinces. The increased activity of terrorists in north Afghanistan was of particular concern, and in that regard the implementation of the third phase of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia was important.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) said that despite Kabul’s efforts, peace and security — and therefore stability and prosperity — remained a distant dream for the Afghan people. Expressing concern at the growing recruitment and use of child soldiers, she urged the Government to establish mechanisms for the referral and rehabilitation of such young people. Underscoring the connection between drugs and terrorism, she said close cooperation between the Government and regional organizations was crucial for tackling opium trafficking. On the forthcoming elections, she said it was vital that the Independent Electoral Commission and political parties pool their efforts to ensure that the polls took place on time in a transparent and credible way. The United Nations had a key role to play in free and fair elections, she said, urging UNAMA to support the Government in ensuring the voter registration was completed on time. She noted that the only effective way to guarantee the long-term security and stability of Afghanistan was through a political process led and owned by its people, with the international community standing alongside Afghanistan as it rose to confront its many challenges.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden) said that there was no military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The only viable option was an inclusive Afghan-owned process that would lead to a politically negotiated settlement. He welcomed the steps taken by the Afghanistan Government in its pursuit of peace, noting that its temporary unilateral ceasefire was commendable. The Taliban should respond to the plea for peace expressed by the Afghan people and engage in a dialogue with the Government to achieve that end. It was imperative that the planned elections took place in 2018 and 2019 according to schedule, and that they were conducted in an inclusive, credible and transparent manner. He urged all stakeholders to act on their stated support for a political solution.
ALCIDE DJEDJE (Côte d’Ivoire) condemned the violence in Afghanistan, called on the Council to play close attention to the security situation, and urged the Taliban to extend the ceasefire put forward by the President and become engaged in the Kabul process. An inclusive political process, leading to credible elections, was vital to ending the crisis, and he welcomed advances in the dialogue among Afghan political actors. He encouraged stakeholders to continue such momentum through the conduct of peaceful and inclusive elections, stressing that the kidnapping of election officers and harassment of registered voters were among the actions that required the Council’s attention. Moreover, drought had led to the threat of famine and forced displacement, potentially affecting 2 million in two thirds of the country, with 1.4 million requiring emergency food and water. He expressed regret over restrictions that had prevented humanitarian agencies from accessing the vulnerable, urging the global community to respond to the Humanitarian Appeal. More broadly, he welcomed the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan to fight terrorism, reduce violence, repatriate refugees and work towards joint economic development, underscoring the need for better coordination between UNODC and Afghanistan in efforts to cut terrorist financing.
MARIUSZ LEWICKI (Poland) called the Afghanistan President’s unprecedented proposal an important step forward, expressing hope that his offer would lead to the establishment of a genuine peace process. The Taliban should respond positively to the offer for peace talks, he said, stressing that good governance and institution-building required adherence to rules that enabled all citizens to participate in the democratic process. The election process faced challenges, however, notably the recruitment of staff to electoral bodies and providing security for polling stations, which must be overcome by authorities. He expressed hope the new Parliament would create a strong legislative foundation for the country’s sustainable development, encouraging UNAMA to provide technical support at the request of Afghan authorities. Also, almost half of Afghan children were denied education due to poverty, discrimination and a lack of security, a situation that the Government must address, with support by the international community and civil society. He underscored the importance of strengthening Afghan security and defence institutions and that Poland would continue to support training and advisory activities within the Resolute Support Mission.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait) welcomed the announcement of 20 October parliamentary elections, commending progress in their preparation, notwithstanding destabilizing incidents in some provinces. For the first time since 2003, voters had been registered, a process conducted within a national election campaign that featured the distribution of smart national identity cards and voting lists that were linked to polling stations — efforts that demonstrated a genuine desire to achieve “something tangible”. He hoped the elections would allow political parties and chieftains to create coalitions that reduced tensions. Expressing concern over the 5,675 security incidents between 15 February and 15 May, he said such acts sought to delay the elections and he pressed authorities to continue to fight those elements. Some 75,000 people had been displaced due to armed conflict in 2018 and he expressed concern over 11 attacks against schools and the unabated Taliban violence that had led to many school closings. Urging all parties to participate in a diplomatic solution, the only way to achieve peace and security, he also welcomed the joint Afghanistan-Pakistan action plan for peace and solidarity, encouraging more regional cooperation in that context.
MAHLET HAILU GUADEY (Ethiopia) said she appreciated the proposal by President Ghani for direct negotiations with the Taliban, noting it had also received strong support from Afghans and the international community. The long-term security and stability of Afghanistan could only be ensured through a comprehensive and inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process. In that regard, the renewed call made by the Government for unconditional peace talks with the Taliban and the outlining of a framework for peace was encouraging. She hoped that the Taliban would respond positively and engage in direct talks with the Government with a view to achieving a political settlement. The holding of peaceful elections within the set timeframe was important and progress had been made in the preparation for those elections, she said.
Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz (Bolivia) expressed shock and sorrow over the loss of civilian lives in Afghanistan since the start of 2018. A multifaceted wave of violence was making preparations for inclusive elections on 20 October more difficult. He condemned the Taliban’s announcement of a spring offensive, expressed regret at its refusal to participate in a ceasefire extension and decried “with every fibre of our being” violence directed at electoral venues. The Security Council must call on all parties to respect the Constitutional rights of the Afghan people, he said. He went on to condemn the recruitment of child soldiers by armed groups, adding that Bolivia rejected any acts which undermined the lives and dignity of children. He also called for greater cooperation regarding displaced persons, who must not be sent back to their places of origin if their security could not be guaranteed.
AMY NOEL TACHCO (United States) welcomed the Afghanistan President’s “serious efforts” to end the conflict, but condemned the Taliban’s refusal to accept an extended ceasefire. Recalling the Eid-al-Fitr ceasefire, she said that if Afghans could pray together, they deserved a respite from Taliban violence that was longer than a weekend. She called on the Taliban to enter into peace talks without preconditions, adding that it was incumbent on those parties with close ties to that group to use their influence to bring it to the negotiating table. The United States fully supported timely and credible parliamentary elections in 2018 followed by presidential elections in 2019, and in that regard it urged the United Nations to ensure that UNAMA was fully staffed throughout the electoral period. She said her country had contributed tens of billions of dollars to Afghanistan and it urged its international partners to join that effort. Those were difficult times for Afghanistan, she said, but the Eid-al-Fitr ceasefire provided a vision of how life could take a turn for the better. The question now was how to achieve peace.
JONATHAN ALLEN (United Kingdom) said “this feels like a moment of opportunity” for Afghanistan, with recent events — including the Eid-al-Fitr ceasefire and preparations for the October elections — giving cause for cautious optimism. The Taliban needed to decide if they wanted to be part of Afghanistan’s future, he said, adding that its leadership must show courage and work for peace. Welcoming progress on electoral reforms, he noted that the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, who was in Kabul on 25 June, had encouraged UNAMA to keep up the pressure to ensure credible, inclusive and timely elections. Expressing his country’s concern that key positions in the Independent Electoral Commission remained unfilled, he said the upcoming Ministerial Conference would give donor countries and the Government an opportunity to take stock of progress and consider the future of international support beyond 2020. He went on to say that women’s rights were a priority for the Foreign Secretary, but that there was still some ways to go towards achieving the goal of 12 years of quality education for Afghan girls. Concluding, he urged Council members to stand beside their Afghan partners and the Afghan people as they determined their own future.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said the Taliban controlled a “sizable chunk” of territory and continued their attacks, a sign of how ready they were to start peace talks. It was erroneous to think the situation could be resolved through force. One factor in the deteriorating situation was ISIL, whose 10,000 fighters were active in 9 of the country’s 34 provinces, organizing terrorist attacks and consolidating its positions in the north, turning it into a springboard for its expansion into Central Asia. He had heard claims that the Russian Federation was supporting the Taliban, without any substance, the goal of which was to divert attention from the mistakes made over 17 years. The military assistance to Afghanistan provided by its partners had instead been stolen, and in the end, supported the insurgency, a fact pointed out by Western military experts.
He said the Russian Federation expected a report on air space controlled by those partners, and more broadly, called for greater efforts to remove terrorists from the north, especially as their presence was linked to the drug issue. Drawing attention to the Collective Security Treaty Organization’s “Channel Operation” to combat the drug threat, he said Afghans themselves must play a central role in such efforts. He welcomed the President’s extension of a temporary ceasefire, noting that it did not apply to ISIL and expressing hope it would help end the fratricidal war in Afghanistan and launch a national dialogue and reconciliation process. He urged the Taliban to reciprocate. He also expressed support for existing reconciliation formats, as well as the conduct of timely, inclusive parliamentary and presidential elections, an issue that could be helped by wide regional and international cooperation.
FERIDUN HADI SINIRLIOĞLU (Turkey) welcomed that the unprecedented temporary ceasefire had been respected and called for an end to the violence, stressing that Turkey was ready to contribute to an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation effort. The successful holding of elections was important for helping Afghanistan achieve stability and prosperity; however, low and uneven voter registration turnout was concerning. He joined the Secretary-General’s call on all political actors to join efforts for the holding of elections and advancing the peace process, stressing that greater regional cooperation was crucial. Turkey was co-chair of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, where countries had recently highlighted the need to review implementation of confidence-building measures. He also expressed hope that the Afghanistan-Pakistan joint action plan for peace and solidarity would help overcome challenges.
ANDREA BIAGINI (Italy) said international support through the Resolution Support mission led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in which his country participated, remained necessary in the face of Afghanistan’s complex security challenges. However, there had been some encouraging developments in Afghanistan, including President Ghani’s courageous peace offer and the unilateral ceasefire that was initially reciprocated by the Taliban for the first time since 2001. Going forward, Italy encouraged all actors and stakeholders to act with prudence, without losing sight of the hope for a peaceful future. Expressing hope that the Taliban would respond positively to the President’s peace offer, he said there was a window of opportunity that could gain momentum if all parties worked together constructively to remove the remaining obstacles to peace.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), associating himself with the statement to be delivered by the European Union, said that the Government of Afghanistan’s announcement of a ceasefire that had been partially reciprocated by the Taliban showed that a meaningful reduction of violence was possible. He also welcomed President Ghani’s offer to enter into talks with the Taliban without preconditions. That offer contained all the important elements for success, such as political inclusion, constitutional review, prisoner releases, removal from sanctions lists and reintegration. Now it was up to the Taliban to seize the opportunity. He also urged the Government of Afghanistan to continue the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement with Hizb-e Islami.
MICHAEL BONSER (Canada) said that his country was committed to advancing gender equality and empowering women and girls in Afghanistan and welcomed the work of that country’s Government to ensure the full implementation of the 2009 Elimination of Violence against Women law. However, there was much work to be done to enable the full participation of women and girls in social and political affairs. He supported the meaningful inclusion of women as both candidates and voters in the upcoming October elections, and was concerned by the security situation and the effect it might have on the ability of citizens to exercise their democratic rights. The credibility of the elections was dependent on the ability of voters and candidates, regardless of gender, to participate without being subjected to violence and harassment.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) welcomed the Secretary-General’s strategic review, endorsed through resolution 2405 (2018), which charted a path forward for UNAMA to help create a stable future in Afghanistan. Japan looked forward to participating in the Geneva Ministerial Conference where that strategy would be discussed. Also welcoming the Afghanistan President’s ceasefire announcement, he expressed support for the Government’s offer to the Taliban for peace talks without preconditions. Regrettably, there had been no steps towards such talks. He pressed the global community to continue urging both sides to extend their ceasefires and engage on starting a more formal process, calling the October parliamentary and district council elections a critical test for the Government to ensure they were Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.
MALEEHA LODHI (Pakistan) said that the Secretary-General’s report noted that Afghanistan continued to face political and security challenges, and the humanitarian situation had continued to deteriorate. It had also underscored the risks to the upcoming elections, which faced declining public confidence. However, there had been a ray of peace, with a three-day ceasefire that had resulted in an unprecedented pause in a war that had raged for almost 17 years. It marked a moment of hope and opportunity. Eid had seen scenes of reconciliation between those who for years had fought a bloody war, she said. Pakistan had advocated for a negotiated settlement, which was the only viable solution to end the conflict. She welcomed President Ghani’s offer to speak to the Taliban without preconditions. The opportunity that had opened up should be seized to help promote a durable peace. The onus rested on the parties directly involved, but Pakistan for its part would do all that it could to assist the process, she said.
GERARDUS VAN DEN AKKER, speaking for the European Union, said that UNAMA and all the United Nations agencies played a crucial role in supporting the people of Afghanistan, encouraging peace, promoting human rights and coordinating the international community’s assistance. He supported President Ghani’s peace offer to the Taliban and noted that the historic ceasefires had given the Afghan people respite from years of conflict. Enduring peace in the country required continuous and inclusive dialogue, and the Union stood ready to accompany that process.
He noted that the upcoming Ministerial Conference would provide an important opportunity to highlight linkages between a future reconciliation process and broader political, economic and social challenges. The Conference would also take stock of the implementation of the Government of Afghanistan’s reform package, which was committed to at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan in October 2016.
GILLIAN BIRD (Australia) expressed disappointment at the Taliban’s failure to match President Ghani’s “bold thinking” regarding direct negotiations and an extended ceasefire. Voicing regret at ongoing violence and attacks carried out by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, she said Australia, alongside its allies and partners in the Resolute Support Mission, remained committed to supporting Afghan security forces. Emphasizing that the October polls would be crucial for political credibility, she encouraged the Government to keep up its efforts to hold inclusive elections. She also welcomed the United Nations commitment to support electoral preparations. She went on to note Afghanistan’s imminent drought crisis, which could affect two thirds of the country, stating that an estimated 1.4 million people would likely require emergency food and nutrition assistance. Australia would help respond to that challenge, she said.
GHOLAMALI KHOSHROO (Iran) said security remained Afghanistan’s major challenge, and enhancing it was one of the main requirements for long-term stability and socioeconomic development. To respond to the challenge, the National Unity Government needed robust and sustained support from the international community. That was of utmost importance in establishing lasting peace and stability. Iran’s support for the Government was unrelenting, and he welcomed any achievements of an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. His country continued to participate in the Kabul process, as well as similar processes, to help bring peace and security to Afghanistan. As elections approached, improved security conditions were more relevant and essential, he said. Special attention should be paid to combating the interlinked sources of insecurity and instability in Afghanistan, particularly the production of and trade in narcotic drugs as a major source of income for terrorist, extremist and illegal armed groups. The international community must support the relevant projects and initiatives to fight that menace.
SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) said the Taliban’s spring offensive, planned and launched from safe havens in the neighbourhood of Afghanistan, had taken many lives. “Those supporting the terrorists targeting Afghanistan have not been deterred,” he said, adding that despite international efforts, there remained those who were providing sanctuaries to terrorist organizations such as the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, ISIL, Al-Qaida, Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. The same safe havens that sheltered Mullah Omar had also sheltered Osama bin Laden, he said, emphasizing that terrorism in Afghanistan was not a local problem and that the country required strong and steady international support to eliminate that threat to global peace and security. On the Taliban’s involvement in the opium trade, he said the Security Council must consider better utilization of the tools it had available to deal with transnational drug, terrorism and criminal networks. He underscored improving trade and investment relations, as well as Afghanistan’s qualification for the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Afghan cricketers had made India their home base, but his nation looked forward to the day when it could play them on their own soil, he said.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), associating himself with the European Union, said that during the most recent debate on Afghanistan in the Security Council his country had welcomed the historic peace offer made by President Ghani. Another step towards peace was made on 14 May with the signing of an agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He noted with satisfaction the announcement of parliamentary and district council elections planned for 20 October, and it was important that the date be met. He also underscored the efforts made by the Government in that regard, as well as the courage of the people of Afghanistan as they registered to vote. Women should be able to participate in the elections, both as voters and as candidates, he said, and the process leading up to the vote should be transparent, inclusive and credible. He welcomed the strengthening of the law on violence against women in Afghanistan and encouraged the Government to redouble its efforts to combat impunity.
Bakhtiyor Ibragimov (Uzbekistan) said prospects for sustainable development in Central Asia were closely linked with the achievement of durable peace in Afghanistan. In that regard, Uzbekistan hosted an international conference on 27 March that produced a declaration which, among other things, reflected a consolidated regional and global position on the need for direct talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban without preconditions. That same declaration included a paragraph devoted to regional economic cooperation. For its part, he said, Uzbekistan stood ready to host direct talks between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban on its territory. Consultative meetings had been held in that regard with the Government of Afghanistan, among other countries, while Uzbekistan had held working meetings with the Taliban during which prospects for dialogue were discussed. He emphasized the need for regional consensus on Afghanistan, as well as efforts at the global level to ensure that country’s socioeconomic rehabilitation. A special international fund for supporting education in Afghanistan, proposed by the President of Uzbekistan, would help that country offer professional education and provide scholarships to talented students and young scientists.