H.E. Mahmoud Saikal
Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations
Security Council Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan
(check against delivery)
19 December 2016
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
Thank you Mr. President. Let me congratulate Spain on its successful leadership of the Council this month. We wish to thank Ambassador Roman Oyarzun and his team at the Spanish Mission for their dedicated efforts as penholder on Afghanistan during the past two years, and welcome Japan’s assumption of this important task. I thank the outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his recent report on the situation in Afghanistan. We are grateful to Ambassador Tadamichi Yamamoto, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of UNAMA, for his comprehensive briefing, and outstanding leadership of the UN’s work in Afghanistan.
Two years after the three-pronged transition, with focus on reforms and renewed international commitments, Afghanistan has defied odds by standing on its own and managing complex challenges, notwithstanding a high price in lost lives and denied opportunities. From the perspective of security, in recent months, our armed forces have proven their strength by repulsing unprecedented waves of attacks in various provinces. Economically, Afghanistan’s regional connectivity has been growing fast. And politically, our vibrant course of democratization continues with electoral reform on track. However, with a high rate of return of refugees, coupled with increased IDPs resulting from terrorist attacks, this winter and beyond we have fresh humanitarian challenges ahead of us.
In 2016, parallel to the challenges, we witnessed significant developments that emphasized strong international military and civilian support for Afghanistan. In July, our international partners at the NATO Warsaw Summit pledged continued assistance towards the sustainability of our security forces; in September, this noble Council reaffirmed its full support to Afghanistan through a Presidential Statement; in October, the Brussels conference on Afghanistan renewed the partnership for prosperity and peace between our country and the international community; and in November, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution titled “The Situation in Afghanistan”, which reiterated the commitment of the international community for a stable Afghanistan. These represent clear consolidation of international consensus on Afghanistan, for which we are deeply grateful. On behalf of my Government and people, let me thank all member states, due to their positive contributions for Afghanistan’s stability and progress. In particular, we are grateful to the United States, Germany, United Kingdom and Turkey for forging the Warsaw Summit consensus on Afghanistan and the European Union (EU) for galvanizing renewed international development commitments for our country.
Effective counter-terrorism requires settled regional and global security architecture and constructive engagement among the relevant stakeholders. For too long, terror has found a comfort zone in the occasional tectonic shifts and grinds of security fault lines, along with negative rivalries of regional and global powers. Scattered, fragmented and slow counter-terrorism measures have been exploited by terrorists to maneuver, spread violence, and create discord among people. In the face of growing terrorism worldwide, we must improve trust, collaboration and coordination among relevant member states for a comprehensive response based on rule of law and established international norms.
In that context, any kind of outside contact with the Taliban, or other such groups, without the prior knowledge and approval of the Government of Afghanistan, is seen as legitimization of terror, a direct breach of our sovereignty and in a clear contravention of the UN sanctions regimes and Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which will not be tolerated. Fighting terror with terror, no matter what the justification, is a sign of weakness of the “civilized world” and a return to impasse and stagnation. Certainly, our people will suffer most from this irrational and reckless policy.
In the campaign against terrorism, Afghanistan ought to be a symbol of international cooperation. We welcome regional and global convergence of legitimate interests in our security, political stability, and development. The surest way to protect these interests in Afghanistan is to desist from ill-conceived attempts at regional orchestration of Afghanistan’s insecurity, enhance official state-to-state cooperation and support our national security forces.
At the peak of international military presence in 2012, the casualty rate of coalition forces was over 400, and the approximate cost of war in financial terms amounted to around $110 billion; in 2016, the casualty rate has dropped to 16, and financial costs are estimated to be less than one eleventh of that figure. Hence, today our forces are primarily at the forefront of countering terrorism on behalf of the world, and need to be supported across all counts.
It must be noted that in October and November, various provinces of Afghanistan became the target of unprecedented terrorist attacks in the modern history of our country. The enemy intention was to establish a parallel geography for the Taliban, but the commitment and bravery of our security forces prevented terrorists from realizing their wicked ambitions.
Given its sensitive geo-strategic location, Afghanistan firmly believes in regionalism and multilateral diplomacy. The 6th Ministerial Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Conference held in Amritsar two weeks ago “acknowledged the support that terrorism derives in our region” and called for “dismantling of regional terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens.” Further, it “called upon all states to take action against these terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy.” The Conference welcomed and supported Afghanistan’s initiative in taking the lead in exploring a regional counter-terror strategy, in accordance with the UN charter.
At Amritsar, President Ghani proposed an Asian and international mechanism to verify cross-frontier activities and terrorist operations. Verification of nefarious activities would present our neighbor hard evidence to undercut their ‘plausible deniability’ and blame games, and shift the focus to where it should be—a unified response to countering terrorism.
At the UN level, consideration of new three-tier measures for a more effective counter-terrorism strategy is needed. At debate level, we ought to address the impact of negative state rivalries and state use of violence in pursuit of political objectives on the growth of terrorism. At operational level, we need to refine and enrich relevant existing resolutions or adopt new resolutions to target the drivers of such policies within state structures. At implementation level, effectively enforcing the counter-terrorism resolutions, including the sanctions regimes on the Taliban, Al-Qaida and Daesh, and those who use state apparatus in nurturing them, can have a significant impact on war and peace in Afghanistan. We want the timely inclusion of select irreconcilable Taliban leaders in the sanctions list and a review of those delisted so far. There is an urgent need for increased and more meaningful interaction between the UN counter terrorism bodies and Afghan security agencies. We welcome the November visit of the Sanctions Committee to Afghanistan, where relevant issues were discussed with the senior leadership.
Winter is about to start in Afghanistan. In the calendar of the Taliban and that of their supporters in our neighborhood, this usually marks the “official” end of their so-called “fighting season.” Most Taliban militiamen return to the warmth of madrasas in Pakistan for an R&R (rest and recuperation) and to refuel for the next “fighting season.” Often, around this time of the year, the regional orchestrator of violence in our country reverts to the notion of peace talks. Thus their seasonality and tactical use of war and peace continues, leaving little room for genuine peace efforts. Nevertheless, we once again urge all Afghan Taliban groups and their foreign supporters to enter into genuine peace talks with the Government of Afghanistan. In this endeavor we recognize the importance of the role of neighboring countries, in particular Pakistan, and other regional partners.
We have made some progress towards the implementation of the peace agreement signed with Hizb-i-Islami (Hekmatyar) on 29 September. The cessation of violence with former belligerent members of the group has held for nearly three months. Their disarmament and reintegration require careful planning. The agreement presents an opportunity to put the future together, not justify the past. Making the agreement work necessitates collective and careful efforts from all stakeholders, across domestic and international spectrums. Those who want to take advantage of this historic opportunity should refrain from all derogatory, divisive and xenophobic activities. The Government pardon is not a justification of their past violent activities and should neither be misused nor abused. It is noteworthy; the people of Afghanistan have the full right to seek justice, in accordance with their fundamental rights. We expect the implementation of the agreement to improve security, strengthen political stability and national unity of the Afghan people and set a good precedence in the peace process.
Recently, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have displayed a renewed level of consensus in the work of the National Unity Government, in particular in relation to the appointment of new commissioners at the electoral bodies, which marks a decisive step forward to strengthening the credibility, transparency and integrity of our future elections. We expect the Independent Election Commission to announce the date of our up-coming parliamentary and district council elections in the near future. Talks on other subjects are still on-going to strengthen our political stability and democratic process.
Afghanistan has progressed steadily on the path of economic cooperation, through regional connectivity and tangible development projects. The recent inauguration of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan railway, following the arrival of a cargo train from China and construction of the Iran-Afghanistan railway, together with forthcoming cargo air corridor between Afghanistan and India, are reviving centuries old trade routes that will help revitalize regional economy. However, insecurity presents a primary obstacle to our economic reform and infrastructure building agenda.
The Taliban’s recent statement of support for major development projects has no genuine basis. As mentioned, insecurity created by the Taliban undercuts economic development in the country and challenges regional connectivity. On December 17, the Taliban targeted five female personnel of Kandahar Airport. This is their real nature. Any expression of support will only be deemed legitimate when expressed through deeds such as immediate cessation of violence and their genuine joining of the peace process.
Compared to previous years, the rate of civilian casualties has gone down marginally in Afghanistan. However, terrorists continue to attack soft targets mercilessly, as manifested by the rising percentage of child casualties this year. The recent targeting of religious gatherings was aimed at stoking ethnic and sectarian tensions among our people. But, let me reiterate that Afghans stand united in the face of such divisive strategies.
The Government of Afghanistan, in collaboration with the UN and other international partners, continue to work on creating equal opportunities for women in accordance with UNSC Resolution 1325. We have also improved workplace conditions for women and strengthened the legal framework for their physical protection. In this regard, the recently revised penal code is but among our other recent achievements.
We are highly determined to bring all human rights violators to justice, including those in the highest positions in the Government. It is important that national and international stakeholders further strengthen the independence of Afghan judiciary without politicizing or ethnicizing the course of justice.
Over the past 10 months, Afghanistan has witnessed the return of nearly one million of its nationals. Increased policing and uncertainty over their status in Pakistan, including the fear of eviction, has led to a huge surge of returnees. This, along with internal displacements resulting from conflict, might exacerbate the already difficult humanitarian crisis as winter approaches. We invite the international community to support the UN OCHA flash appeal to provide for the immediate life-saving assistance, while we continue to work on a comprehensive solution.
Recently we have initiated a string of consultations with relevant line ministries, UN agencies and other related stakeholders to provide immediate response packages during the winter season to needy returnees and IDPs. In the broader context, we are seeking long-term and viable solutions for these problems. In this context, further assistance by the international community remains of vital importance.
Our efforts to curb the menace of narcotics and break its link with criminality are ongoing. In October, the Ministry of Counter-narcotics, along with UNODC, released the executive summary of the “Opium Survey Report in Afghanistan”, which noted an increase in poppy production. However, our counter narcotics operations continue unabated with recent unprecedented seizures. One thing is clear; insecurity creates fertile ground for drug production. We maintain the view that a viable solution to narcotics problem must be based on the principal of shared responsibility. A verification regime of cultivation, production, trafficking and demand would probably prove that Afghanistan is the least beneficiary of the drug profits.
We have reached the end of an eventful year, with key developments, which signify an enormous leap forward for Afghanistan. The regional and international consensus has reached new heights, as reflected in the Warsaw NATO Summit; the Brussels and Heart of Asia Conferences; and the unanimous adoption of the General Assembly resolution on Afghanistan. Together, these events have established a firm foundation to enhance our strategic cooperation into the New Year. This Council and the international community are well aware that terrorism remains a constant threat to the security of all peoples and societies. That said; let us approach the coming year with a new confidence and commitment to secure a stable and self-reliant Afghanistan. We must not forget that our joint partnership is, in fact, a strategic investment for a more safe and prosperous world order.
I Thank You.