Thursday, November 23, 2017

United Nations Security Council Debate on the Situation in Afghanistan

STATEMENT BY 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

June 21, 2017

NEW YORK

(check against delivery)

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

Mr. President,

Let me begin by congratulating you on Bolivia’s assumption of the Council’s Presidency in June. We thank you for convening today’s open debate on the Situation in Afghanistan to take stock of the overall situation in our country.  I am pleased at the presence of Special Representative of the Secretary-General Ambassador Yamamoto among us and we thank him for the comprehensive briefing.

We meet at a time when Afghanistan is undergoing another phase in our test to overcome adversity. Much has happened since the Council’s March deliberation on Afghanistan. 

I will focus my remarks on some of the most pressing issues of Afghanistan’s security and stability as well as regional and international cooperation.

Mr. President,

After almost four decades of imposed conflict with hundreds of thousands of casualties and millions of displaced people, I do wish to emphasize on millions of displaced people, our country continues to remain under almost constant attack.

Earlier this year, given the effective measures taken by our security forces and their preemptive strikes, the so-called Taliban spring offensive came later than expected and faced heavy blows in different parts of the country. Unable to confront our forces directly, the orchestrators of our insecurity resorted to desperate urban terrorist attacks on soft targets and attempts to sow discord among our people.

During the recent months we have seen attacks of an unprecedented nature across Afghanistan, on streets, hospitals, cemeteries, mosques, diplomatic missions and political institutions. Since the start of 2017, major terrorist attacks in urban centers have caused significant loss of lives and property- over 500 killed and over 1100 wounded in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Kandahar, Lashkar-gha, Khost, and Herat.  The most recent barbarous attack took place last week when worshippers were offering evening prayers in a Kabul mosque. 

While all attacks are equally condemnable, the sheer carnage of the 31st May was unprecedented in its kind in the history of Afghanistan. The truck-bombing in the heart of Kabul was by all accounts a crime against humanity and Islamic values, spreading horror instead of peace and piety during the holy month of Ramadan. More than 150 innocent souls were lost, including women, children, and journalists. Several disappeared without a trace from the impact of the explosion. Many were burnt beyond recognition; their identities still to be verified. Hundreds were left severely maimed and wounded – their lives changed forever. In fact, this morning I was watching television and I saw one mother searching for her husband and children, no one knows what happened to them. The nation went in deep mourning. The attack reaffirmed the obvious – that the enemies of Afghanistan know no limit in their brutality to break our pride and prevent peace and stability from taking root in our society.  Beyond the human tragedy, the local economy lost millions of dollars and several diplomatic missions suffered damages.

The attack triggered the culmination of social frustration and a wave of angry protests seeking security reform, which unfortunately has been leaving more death and injury, including a triple terrorist attack at one of the slain protester’s funeral. We firmly believe in the constitutional right of people to protest and know that if the door of dialogue is shut down between Government and protestors, violence will increase. No element of Afghan security forces, supported by national and international taxpayers, should ever inflict unnecessary harm upon civilians. Given recent events, the commander of Kabul garrison and police chief have been suspended and the incidents are being investigated. We remain committed to reassuring our people that our security forces are there to protect all Afghans and are at their disposal and service. In short, what transpired on that dreadful Wednesday morning was an attack on our people, our democracy, our economy, and on our partnership with the international community.

While Afghanistan continues to bleed, we witnessed increased terrorist attacks in United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Mali, Russia, Sweden, and Egypt, that prove that terrorism has no boundaries and continue to threaten people everywhere.

It is important that the civilized world, in its modern meaning, stands united in defiance of terror and secure peace and prosperity for current and future generations. We Afghans will do so in a spirit of national and global unity which has enabled us to overcome difficult moments in our nation’s life.

Mr. President,

Reversing the tide against terror is contingent on eliminating support centers beyond our frontiers that produce, nurture, and empower terrorists operating in Afghanistan. The recently released outcome of a joint investigation by Afghanistan, United Arab Emirates and United States clearly established that the January 10 Kandahar attack was planned in Quetta, Pakistan. Similarly, early investigations verified the link between the Kabul truck bombing of May 31 and the Haqqani Network based in Pakistan. A joint Afghan-German comprehensive investigation on the attack is currently underway. We shall release the outcome in due course.  

The other external threat to Afghan sovereignty is the number of cross frontier violations, which have increased dramatically – almost four-fold – since my last March presentation to this Council.  These violations, ranging from firing of artillery shells, air-space violations, construction of military posts and barriers, to digging of deep ditches – all of which exacerbate the current situation, if left unaddressed will undoubtedly continue to undermine peace and security in our region.

In this Council, we have heard from a known neighboring state that our Government “should not externalize its internal problems and blame others for its own failures.” It is the same state that has been highly determined to do everything possible at its disposal to weaken and destabilize our country while accusing us of weakness. Let me remind everyone that those who want to attribute Afghanistan’s security and other challenges solely to internal issues are doing so to detract focus and attention on their long-standing policy of propagating violence and disorder in our country. 

Mr. President,

In dealing with the situation, we have been pursuing a three-pronged strategy: 1) strengthening global counter-terrorism consensus with a focus on engaging Pakistan in genuine cooperation, ending cross-frontier violations and facilitating the peace process; 2) strengthening our security and defensive capabilities; and 3) improving national unity, governance and service delivery to our people. Given the nature of the conflict, the success of our strategy depends on collaborative and sustained work at national, regional and global levels.  

Despite the enormous violence imposed on us over nearly four decades, especially this year, we remain firmly committed to the goal of sustaining peace. In that light, the June 6 Kabul Process conference marked the resumption of an important initiative for stability in Afghanistan.  The Conference brought together regional countries, key international partners, and relevant international institutions to focus on two imperatives: 1) garnering a new level of commitment in support of our peace agenda; and 2) identifying a common approach to end the cycle of terror and violence in the country.

We are pleased with the outcome of that Conference, which reinstated cooperation mechanisms to promote peace and security.  Naturally, Pakistan has an important role to play in ending violent extremism and promoting peace.  We hope it will seize the opportunity for the benefit of its own citizens and stability in the region.  Meeting on the margins of the recent SCO Summit in Astana, President Ghani and Prime Minister Sharif agreed to hold a bilateral working group meeting in Kabul in the near future on confronting terrorism.  Moreover, we also look forward to additional discussion within the framework of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), with the participation of China and the United States.

Despite the difficult situation in the country, our security forces stand vigilant, protecting our people and infrastructure, and preventing terrorists from capturing and establishing a presence in different provinces. They have responded robustly despite various logistical constraints in terms of resources, heavy weaponry, and air-capability. Let me pay tribute to the commitment and professionalism of those police officers who sacrificed their lives to prevent both the truck bomber of May 31 and last week’s Kabul mosque attackers from reaching their intended targets and causing maximum casualties. The enemy is doing its best to stage so called “Green on Blue” attacks in order to undermine international training programs and support of our security forces. Also, through selective targeting and careful allocation of responsibility claims for terrorist attacks, the handlers of terrorism in the neighborhood seek to create discord and distrust between our people and security forces. We will leave no room for any possible enemy infiltrators in our security forces.

The Government of National Unity is currently in the process of a national dialogue to strengthen consensus on relevant issues and address political grievances. We believe good governance can only flourish in an environment free of any particular ethnic or linguistic consideration.  We will continue to focus on the greater task at hand – working towards economic self sufficiency, tackling corruption, and humanitarian relief for our people.  Increasing economic development opportunities, with a focus on alleviating poverty and creating jobs, remain our key priority. Recent projects such as the Afghanistan-India air cargo corridor, inauguration of public transport infrastructure in Kabul, and the World Bank’s $500 million financing for various development sector investments are few examples.

Mr. President,

Today, the world faces an enemy united in its sole desire to bring death and destruction, dismantle state institutions, and create chaos. Hence, it is imperative that the UN acts decisively on its mandate – to maintain international peace and security. Last week, Secretary-General Guterres paid a visit to Kabul to express his solidarity with and support for the people and government of Afghanistan. This was a strong sign of his personal commitment to peace and security in our country, for which we are deeply grateful.  In the broader context, his visit reaffirmed that the UN would remain beside us over the coming years as we continue our journey towards prosperity. We welcome the creation of the UN Office for Counter Terrorism and hope that its activities and mandate will help bring real and tangible change in counter terrorism efforts in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In the past two years, we have reiterated time and again two key concerns for Afghanistan: 1) concrete action against regional safe havens and logistical support to terrorists; and 2) cross frontier violations, which I referred to before.  On both issues, we have provided full briefings to the Secretary General and the UNSC. The UNSC is yet to take necessary and appropriate actions to address these two concerning issues. In our view, had it done so in the past, the situation would be different today. Another outstanding issue for the Council to act upon is the strict enforcement and strengthening of the Sanctions regimes. Further, the irreconcilable Taliban should be recognized as a terrorist group after their failure to engage meaningfully in the peace talks. Also, the UN must specify concrete criteria to clearly define state sponsorship of terrorism.

I take this opportunity to thank the Security Council for initiating a review of UNAMA’s structure, resources, and activities. We consider it a necessary initiative for ensuring a more efficient and effective UN support role in the country. During the review process, we highlighted the imperative of One UN and an adjusted assistance role that would be in conformity with the principles of Afghan ownership and leadership, as well as the priority needs of Afghanistan. We wholeheartedly thank Under Secretary-General Jan Kubis for leading the review process in the most able manner and also the UN team on the ground for their contributions to the process.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, despite all challenges, our people are looking to the future with confidence. They have made enormous sacrifices to come so far. As such, failure is not an option.  That said, the support of the international community, including this body will be critically important for our success. 

I would like to reiterate our gratitude for this Council’s expression of firm support for the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. Today, as we stand at a cross-road in our stabilization efforts, we look up to you to help us overcome our security challenges by confronting the source of the ongoing conflict and not dealing with the consequences.  In this connection, the need of an appropriate response by this Council to the task at hand cannot be overstated. We hope this is realized so that our people are able to meet their basic aspiration of living in peace and security – free of terror, violence and destruction.

I Thank You.

 

H.E. Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmai Rassoul meets with H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations

Today, H.E. Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmai Rassoul of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan met with H.E. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.  The Foreign Minister was accompanied by Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations and other members of Afghanistan’s official Delegation to the 68th General Assembly.  Issues discussed included the role of the United Nations, Afghanistan’s upcoming elections, the transition, and reconciliation.  The Secretary-General emphasized his support for   an Afghan-led political solution and the importance of credible Afghan led elections.

Briefing by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Jan Kubis to Security Council, 19 September 2013

Mr President, Esteemed Members of the Security Council,

Last week Afghanistan’s first international football victory triggered exuberant celebrations of an historic achievement. In a display of national unity and national pride the streets filled with dancing, flag-waving crowds. Following decades of war which devastated the country’s institutional and social fabric, the South Asian Football Federation Championship win was a welcome sign of Afghanistan’s gradual return to normalcy and success on the international stage.

The three month since I last appeared before you have seen progress in Afghanistan’s political and security transitions. Considerable challenges remain and the situation is volatile, but efforts are on track.

In this period I personally have had a particular focus on regional issues. This recognizes the vital importance of the neighbours, and near neighbours, support for – and engagement with – Afghanistan. The stability and ultimate sustainability of transition processes depend upon it.

I travelled with the Secretary-General to Islamabad to meet with Pakistan’s new leadership. I represented the Secretary-General at the inauguration of Iran’s new President and at the council of the heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Kyrgyzstan. I also undertook working visits to Tajikistan, Russia, India and China.

Mr President,

Tranche Five, the final tranche, of the security transition was announced just the day before my last briefing.

Since then security incidents have increased on 2012 – but not to the record levels of 2011. A campaign of bloodshed by anti-Government elements has targeted mostly Afghans – both in uniform and civilians – including in previously calmer districts. They have however failed to achieve a significant military victory. The majority of violence takes places away from populated areas.

The Afghan army and police have shown courage and increased capability in rising to the challenge of security transition. They increasingly trust themselves and work to earn the trust of the population despite heavy casualties in the ranks. We are requested to trust them as well.

In recent meetings with senior Afghan military personnel I was pleased to hear that instilling public trust in the army’s capacity and cohesion is recognized as an institutional priority.

Yet, Afghan security forces capabilities are not yet fully developed nor completely sustainable. ISAF Commander General Dunford recently stated that international support will be required for at least the next five years in enabling entirely independent operations.

I welcome the numerous bilateral partnership agreements that now underlay multilateral commitments from Chicago. These are a demonstration of the seriousness and long-term nature of international support.

Mr President,

The 2014 elections remain at the forefront of political life in Afghanistan. More broadly, a stable leadership transition through timely elections in accordance with the Constitution is central to everything else to be achieved.

President Karzai recently again emphasized that polls will be held, recognizing that “retaining power without elections will raise questions about the systems’ legitimacy”.

The last three months have seen significant progress in technical preparations. This includes passage of two key laws, appointments to the two independent electoral management bodies, and rollout of the district-level voter registration update. A six-week extension of the registration effort will help ensure maximum participation, including that of women.

An acceleration in registration since Ramadan means that more than one million new voter cards have been issued, nearly 30 per cent of these to women. Numbers continue to grow steadily.

I welcome the attention Afghan authorities are giving to securing the elections. Improved coordination of security institutions; robust security assessments; planning and implementing risk mitigation measures; and instilling greater confidence through public awareness are necessary now.

Again, President Karzai has recognized that “any election is better than no election. We cannot delay elections for security considerations.”

With the launch of candidate registration earlier this week, the political contest is formally underway. Clear visions for the future of Afghanistan need to be articulated to allow voters to make their choices. Direct or indirect appeals to narrow ethnic or factional interests must be avoided. Democratic transfer of political authority should contribute to national unity.

A level playing field, including equal access to state resources as well as balance in media coverage will be important aspects of a fair process and help ensure a widely accepted result.

There is increasing concern over the slow progress in creating an appropriate legal framework for the media, especially in this election period. The legislation on the right to information and the media law have both been delayed while violence against journalists is seen to be on the rise. Press freedom is one of the success stories in Afghanistan and must be protected.

 

Mr President,

Across the region there is growing recognition of the need for constructive bilateral and multilateral engagement with Afghanistan. The transnational nature of challenges – including instability, terrorism, population displacement, and narcotics – as well as the opportunities – in trade, infrastructure and connectivity – seems to be understood.

I welcome the positive initial signals and engagements from the new leaderships in Iran and Pakistan.

President Karzai’s visit to Islamabad was of particular significance. A new tone in relations seems to be emerging, narrowing the trust deficit.

This was confirmed by statements of Sartaj Aziz, the Pakistan Prime Minister’s adviser, where he emphasized genuine efforts to facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. He stated that Pakistan has no favourites in Afghanistan and that the policy is one of “non-interference”.

Afghan officials are also “reasonably hopeful” of better cooperation with the new Government of Pakistan.

Confidence building measures including in the area of economic development can help build trust through shared interests and prosperity.

The Istanbul Process remains a valuable regional effort, placing Afghanistan at the very “Heart of Asia”. I look forward to the meeting here in New York on Monday to hear about progress since Almaty. And I welcome the People’s Republic of China’s preparations to host the 2014 ministerial. Beijing’ seriousness of intent was highlighted during my recent visit.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is also positioning itself to play an increasing role in support of Afghanistan. At this month’s heads of state summit there was clear interest in moving beyond anxiety and expressions of concern about the situation post-2014. The emphasis was rather on shared responsibilities, with Afghanistan and the broader international community, in ensuring durable solutions, including through the increased engagement of regional countries.

Indeed, throughout my regional travels, it was clearly understood that political solutions will be the key to sustainable peace, security and economic prosperity in Afghanistan and the region. Most immediately for Afghanistan this means elections resulting in a legitimate and peaceful transfer of power. More broadly this must include early dialogue on peace and reconciliation.

The United Nations continues to support the need for dialogue. We hope that new, mutually accepted, modalities can be swiftly agreed.

Mr President,

Narcotics remain a key problem in Afghanistan and beyond. The annual Ministry of Counter Narcotics and UNODC survey found there was a reduction in cannabis cultivation in 2012 – although higher yields still saw increased production. I am extremely concerned at assessments that this year will see a significant rise – yet again – in opium cultivation and a continuing drop in “poppy-free” provinces.

Afghanistan is already by far the largest centre of opium production in the world. This is not an issue that can be compartmentalized. Narcotics are a source and symptom of violence and institutional weakness and threaten ever sphere: political, economic and security.

Farmers choose what they plant based on food security, access to markets and access to non-farm income. It is essential that counter-narcotics be main-streamed into agricultural policy.

Further up the value chain, narcotics trafficking engenders corruption, black markets and insecurity which risks undermining the very foundations of the state. Renewed attention to mainstreaming counter-narcotics efforts in every sector is essential. This is ultimately a matter of political will – by Afghan authorities, regional partners and international donors.

Mr President,

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, was in Kabul this week meeting with President Karzai and senior officials as well as civil society representatives and human rights activists.

Ms Pillay noted commendable progress in some areas of human rights and the commitment of President Karzai. However she stated her concern that momentum of improvements in human rights may not only have peaked but is even waning. She urged additional efforts by the President and the Government to ensure that justice and human rights – in particular women’s rights – be preserved and consolidated rather than undermined or sacrificed to political expediency.

Issues of human rights and accountability need to be mainstreamed across all lines of effort – political, developmental and security related.

The rise in civilian casualties is of deep concern, the vast majority of these being at the hands of anti-Government elements and rogue or criminal armed groups. Targeted killings of civilians and the use of improvised explosive devices are increasingly frequent tactics.

Deaths during this period include the head of the Kunduz appellate court, the chief electoral officer in Kunduz, a district education head in Parwan, and a young woman taking part in vaccination campaigns in Jawzjan. Indeed, increasing attacks on women are of major concern. Only last Monday a courageous female police officer in Helmand, Lieutenant Nigara, was gunned down as was her predecessor Islam Bibi earlier this year.

A renegade Taliban militia brutally killed Sushmita Bannerjee – a well- known social worker and author of Indian origin married to an Afghan.

The Taliban movement continues to assert in its public statements that anyone associated with the Government, or seen to support it, constitutes a target. This includes educators, judicial official and civil servants in clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Mr President,

A further effect of heightened uncertainty and violence has been increased population displacement. The changing nature of conflict to more ground engagements has a concomitant impact on civilians. There are now half a million individuals internally displaced, over 100,000 of these during the first seven months of the year. At the same time, the number of refugees returning to Afghanistan decreased by 41 per cent compared to the same period in 2012.

This year’s humanitarian appeal has seen far higher levels of funding. Increasing humanitarian needs will however require more stable and flexible funding that will allow a rapid response to humanitarian crises. I am happy to note that there is now agreement and commitment from the international donor community to support a Common Humanitarian Fund for Afghanistan which should become operational in early 2014.

Mr President,

As Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson has already briefed you following his visit in this period, the key message from the people of Afghanistan is a desire for peace, justice, prosperity, and stability and the need to protect the gains made over the last decade. We are rightly requested to help.

Under-Secretary General Ray Kennedy of the Department of Safety and Security has also been to Afghanistan to see for himself the reality of a complex and volatile security situation and the implications for United Nations activities. The safety of personnel is a top priority in determining the means to stay and deliver.

There is clear progress in vital elements underpinning Afghanistan’s transition processes. At the same time challenges persist in the security and narcotics sectors in particular.

More needs to be done in meeting mutual commitments under the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. A focus on election preparations must not draw attention away from issues like combatting corruption, the rule of law, and economic growth. This is what will ensure Afghanistan’s ultimate institutional and financial sustainability.

I welcome the signals of positive support of the region and ongoing commitment of the international community in ensuring continued momentum in strengthening Afghan institutions, Afghan sovereignty, and Afghan solutions.

Permanent Mission of Afghanistan