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Thank you, Mr. President. I would like to thank you for your leadership of the Council for the month of December. I take this moment also to welcome the report of the Secretary General on the Situation in Afghanistan, and to thank our dear friend Special Representative Kubiš for his presence today, and his able leadership of UNAMA.
Our gathering here in December – 12 years to the month since leaders of Afghanistan’s political parties signed the Bonn Agreement – is a lucid reminder of progress in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime. December evokes the hopeful atmosphere of Bonn that winter of 2001, when unity was in sight, when an emergence from the shadow of violence and fanaticism seemed possible, and when the vision of an Afghanistan as a home for all, a home for tolerance and moderation, was taking shape.
We have made significant progress since those days, and have seen many of our objectives come to fruition. Over 6 million Afghan refugees have returned to the country after being forced to live outside their homes for years due to war and conflict; our state is now based on a democratic constitution; millions of Afghans have access to education and healthcare; and the Afghan people enjoy more freedom and rights than they have for decades. Although we face challenges, and although we continue to engage those who seek to reverse our progress, we are advancing apace to stand independently, take command of our future, and realize a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.
This year, in particular, has been pivotal to the advancement of our goals and the solidification of our achievements. 2013 marks the culmination of Transition, paving the way for Afghanistan to embark on the Transformation decade. Since June of this year, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) have assumed full security responsibility nationwide, proving themselves evermore capable of defending the country, and doing so with confidence and determination.
As 2013 comes to a close, Afghans look ahead to the Transformation Decade. This milestone signifies Afghanistan’s progress towards sustainable peace, and also marks the start of a new phase of cooperation with the international community. In the past year, we renewed our international partnerships, signing a number of strategic partnership agreements with several countries, including the United States. In May of last year, President Karzai and President Obama signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement. This was followed by 15 months of comprehensive negotiations on, and then the completion of, the text of the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA). Last month in Kabul, 2500 Afghan representatives endorsed the BSA in a consultative Loya Jirga. The resolution adopted at the end of the Jirga reaffirmed that the agreement should ensure Afghanistan’s peace, security and development, and should be accompanied by visible steps taken on specific issues in the lead up to the signing of the agreement. These entail, as reiterated by the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, assurances for measures to end the military raids on Afghan homes, and the launching of negotiations between the Afghan High Peace Council and the Taliban.
We are certain that the BSA will be signed in a timely manner. As a next step, Afghanistan is ready to begin formal negotiations on a Status of Forces Agreement for the post-2014 NATO presence in Afghanistan, which will continue our enduring security and defense partnership with NATO.
We are preparing for our next milestone: Presidential and Provincial Council elections. The timely holding of transparent, free and fair elections is a reflection of strong national consensus about the future direction of Afghanistan and its status as a democratic, peaceful and prosperous nation. To this end, technical and logistical preparations are proceeding with momentum. The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has announced the final list of eleven presidential candidates and their running mates. Over three million new voters have registered for elections, of which one third are women, and this number is expected to increase in the lead-up to elections. As we move towards the final stage of preparations, Afghan national security institutions have put a comprehensive strategy in place to ensure security on Election Day.
Afghanistan’s peaceful future requires a political solution to the conflict. Reaching out to the armed opposition, building confidence, and engaging in peace talks remains central to our efforts towards peace and stability. In spite of some setbacks, we are working to renew momentum in the peace process. In this regard, the government has been continually involved at a regional level, launching a new phase of dialogue between Afghanistan’s and Pakistan’s leadership through bilateral and trilateral meetings in London, Kabul and Islamabad. We are fully committed to the success of reconciliation, and we are conscious that further progress relies not only on the dedicated efforts of all stakeholders but also on the opposition’s united voice for peace.
Alongside security and political transition, and in light of the withdrawal of international forces at the end of 2014, we are strengthening regional understanding and cooperation to ensure the success of Afghanistan’s Transition. In recent months, we have ramped up efforts to increase contact with neighbors and countries in the region. President Karzai engaged with regional leaders to enhance development and security cooperation, focusing on Transition and beyond, in New Delhi, Islamabad, Beijing, Dushanbe, and Tehran and at the Shanghai Cooperation Summit in Bishkek. These leaders agree that they have a strategic stake in Afghanistan, and that peace and stability in the country is essential to the peace and stability in the region. As we move forward, we will benefit from all forms of cooperation, particularly the Istanbul Process.
As we proceed steadily towards the Transformation decade, it is essential that the successes of the past twelve years be maintained. Progress depends on preserving the rights of all Afghans, particularly women and girls, upholding the rule of law, and furthering economic transition. Our continuing partnership with the international community is critical to success in these areas, as reflected in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework (TMAF). We are determined to meet our related commitments, and hope the international community will be similarly steadfast in its promises to Afghanistan.
Speaking today at this December council, mindful of our recent and future milestones, and of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, I again recall the spirit of Bonn. We knew in that month of December, 12 years ago, that the challenges in front of us were great. But we were also aware of the tremendous potential for change, for the establishment of a stable, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. So as we arrive at 2014, we ground our progress firmly in the constitutional foundations established 12 years ago, in the spirit of hope and optimism that was alive in Bonn, and with commitment to build upon and maintain the great achievements of the last decade.
I thank you.