Thursday, December 18, 2014

Security Council debate on the Situation in Afghanistan

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin

Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations

At the Security Council debate on the Situation in Afghanistan

Mr. President,

Allow me to begin by congratulating you on your assumption of the Presidency of the Council for the month of March, and expressing appreciation for convening this important meeting on the situation in Afghanistan.

Today’s meeting, which takes place just less than a week after the appointment of a new Special Representative of the Secretary General to Afghanistan, and days prior to the Council’s extension of UNAMA’s mandate, offers a good opportunity to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. We congratulate Mr. Kai Eide on his recent appointment and wish him every success in fulfilling the task entrusted to him. We look forward to working closely with him.

We are thankful to the Secretary General for his recent report on the situation in Afghanistan. His report is comprehensive, covering a wide-range of issues, including key political developments, the security and humanitarian situation, and the future activities of UNAMA.

Mr. President,

Increased terrorist attacks by the enemies of Afghanistan have led to some ill-judged and misguided perceptions about the situation in the Afghanistan. Recent remarks of government control or even failure in Afghanistan are products of premature assumptions which have the potential to undermine public support for efforts to achieve lasting peace and security in the country. We should stay the course with firm determination, and prevent security nuances from weakening our resolve to achieve our shared goals.

Let us not forget that we, Afghanistan and our international partners, have made undeniable gains towards a strong, stable and democratic Afghanistan. By all standards, the achievements made thus far reflect tremendous success in Afghanistan. Today a greater part of Afghanistan is secure from terrorism and violence. The fight against terrorists and extremists continues. Thanks to the support of our international partners, our security forces have become stronger and more effective. The Afghan national army has reached 58,000 and assumed a greater role in the fight against terrorists seeking to destabilize Afghanistan and the region. With the support of our international partners we have dismantled more than 120 terrorist bases of operations and apprehended 1,000 terrorists, including foreigners. Among the captured are elite commanders of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda’s rank and file, as well as the culprits of recent terrorist attacks. They include terrorists who carried out the attack on the Serena Hotel on the 14th of January, and the suicide bombings in Kandahar which took place last month.

Mr. President,

In spite of our achievements, significant challenges remain. Providing security for our people is not only our main objective, but also our primary challenge. Terrorists have increased attacks against civilians, schools, religious figures, security forces and international partners. They have also broadened the scope of their activities in the region. New violent fronts have been opened. Attacks which have come by “hit and run” tactics should not be seen as a sign of the enemy’s strength, but rather of their frustration resulting from the inability to engage in direct battles. As it was stated in paragraph 19 of the Secretary General’s report, [and I quote] “The superiority of Afghan and international forces in conventional battles has forced opposing groups to adopt small-scale asymmetric tactics largely aimed at Afghan National Security Forces, and in some cases, civilians: improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, assassinations, and abductions” [end of quote].

The government of Afghanistan will spare no effort to improve security for its people. In this regard, we continue to maintain a comprehensive strategy which contains both military and political dimensions. While the military campaign remains the center-piece of our efforts to defeat terrorists and consolidate security, we are according greater attention to political outreach and furthering the national reconciliation process. We reiterate our call to individuals with past grievances to reject violence, abide by the constitution, and join their fellow compatriots in rebuilding their country. In this connection, we welcome UNAMA’s readiness to extend its good offices to support reconciliation efforts, at the request of the Afghan government.

Mr. President,

The interconnected challenges facing Afghanistan requires mutually reinforcing efforts to consolidate gains in the areas of security, governance, development and counter-narcotics. Strengthening governance and combating corruption and narcotics remain among our top priorities. We have initiated new measures to improve governance at the provincial and local levels. As indicated in the report of the Secretary General, the Independent Directorate for Local Governance (IDLG) has strengthened the connection of the provincial administrations to the central government.  It has also led to progress in a variety of areas at the provincial and district levels, including sustainable delivery of basic services to local communities, disbandment of

illegal armed groups, police reform and counter-narcotics.

The Government of Afghanistan has taken numerous measures to combat corruption. These include the creation of an Inter-Institutional Commission, headed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, to address corruption in the public sector; development of the draft of our National Anti-Corruption Strategy, and the signing of the UN Convention against Corruption in August 2007. Nevertheless, the challenge of fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law requires time and resources. We welcome UNAMA’s new emphasis in support of our efforts to strengthen the governance and the rule of law.

Mr. President,

As the report of the Secretary General asserts, our counter narcotics efforts have gained momentum. Following the increase in cultivation and production of opium in 2007, we have taken a series of additional measures to expedite the implementation of our National Drug Control Strategy. In the recent meeting of the JCMB in Tokyo, we reached consensus with our international partners on areas where immediate action should be taken. We prioritized countering narcotics as a key pillar of our Policy Advisory Group, which aims to improve security in six provinces with the highest level of violence. In October of last year, we designated 50,000 hectares as the national eradication target for 2008. In addition, to address the reinforcing

link between terrorism and narcotics, we will provide force protection for eradication operations. Among other measures taken for a more effective counter-narcotics effort, our National Assembly confirmed the candidate for the post of Minister of Counter-Narcotics just two weeks ago.

Mr. President,

Despite our challenges, Afghanistan is continuing its reconstruction and social and economic development. Today, more than 85 percent of the population is covered with basic package of health services. Progress in the education sector has enabled nearly six million children access to education. Our legal economy has grown by an average of 12 percent over the past four years, and our GDP per capita has approximately doubled. Five million Afghans have returned home in hope of a promising future, and more than 1,471 kilometers of roads have been built and 737 kilometers remain under construction. In the area of human rights, our constitution has enabled our citizens to enjoy unprecedented rights. In accordance with our National Action Plan for Women (NAPWA), Afghan women continue to assume a greater role in the social, political and economic life of the country. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the challenges in various sectors, and remain committed to address them resolutely.

To consolidate and advance our gains, we will finalize the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) in the weeks to come. We welcome the up-coming Paris Conference in June 2008, at which we will launch the ANDS, review the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact and discuss the way forward with our international partners. We are working closely with the government of France in preparation of the Conference.

Mr. President,

The people of Afghanistan continue to live under difficult humanitarian conditions. The situation has exacerbated with the onset of the harshest winter conditions in more than thirty years, which caused more than 900 fatalities, while hundreds of people suffered from severe frostbite. The severe weather also devastated our livestock, which is the main source of livelihood for vulnerable families in remote parts of Afghanistan. While expressing gratitude to the humanitarian community for providing emergency aid in the worst-affected provinces, we appeal for urgent delivery of additional humanitarian assistance.

The recent winter catastrophe illustrates the need for greater coordination of international humanitarian assistance to better address the humanitarian needs of our people. In this connection, we welcome UNAMA’s continued coordinating role to ensure timely and effective delivery of humanitarian assistance, as well as its readiness to assist the government of Afghanistan to create conditions conducive for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of our fellow Afghans from abroad.

Mr. President,

The role of the United Nations remains vital for the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact. We look forward to the adoption of the resolution that will extend the mandate of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) in the coming days. The extension of the mandate will reflect the continuing commitment of the UN and the international community to Afghanistan. We are hopeful that it will also mark the beginning of a strengthened, structured and more effective UN role in Afghanistan. The need for greater coordination of the international community’s reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan is ever more evident. In this regard, we underscore the importance of an enhanced coordinating role by the UN to combine the international community’s assistance to Afghanistan into a cross-alliance effort. Such coordination is necessary to improve the effectiveness, and efficiency of international assistance to Afghanistan.

Before concluding, I would like to express my appreciation to the United Nations and the international community for its commitment to achieve lasting peace, security and stability in Afghanistan. Together, we have come a long way, but our mission has yet to be accomplished. With greater coordination and closer cooperation, we will successfully conclude the journey which we jointly embarked upon six years ago.

Thank you Mr. President.

Afghan medical college struggles to rise from the ashes

KABUL (Reuters) – The gutted, hollow shell of the Ali Abad training hospital in Kabul is a symbol of the state of Afghanistan’s medical system, battered by decades of war.

Ali Abad, Afghanistan’s oldest hospital, was reduced to rubble when civil war tore Kabul apart in the 1990s.

Though classes stayed open, many doctors who taught at the teaching hospital fled, medical equipment and drugs were scarce and female students were forced to stay at home due to Taliban restrictions against women.

“We lost many senior professors and qualified teachers, they emigrated to other countries, like the United States and they are not coming back,” said Professor Obaidullah, chancellor of the Kabul Medical University. “It’s a disaster for us.”

Reconstruction of the teaching hospital, built 70 years ago, began in 2005 and a motley collection of squat buildings now stand in place of the rubble.

“Ali Abad was completely destroyed. We built two buildings recently but they are empty, we don’t have the equipment for the new Ali Abad hospital,” said Obaidullah.

He hopes to open a 600 bed facility in the new hospital within the next five months but there is still a shortfall of $1.5 million to pay for equipment. The medical school also badly needs doctors to teach.

“We need specialists in oncology, modern anesthesiology, biochemistry and histopathology. We have some, but not enough. The key is to get good teachers, increase their knowledge, allow them to go overseas and learn. We accept young teachers, those who want to learn more. We welcome foreigners,” he said.

AMBITIOUS PLANS

Afghanistan’s healthcare system is widely believed to be one of the country’s success stories since reconstruction began after the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-led and Afghan forces in 2001. The Islamist movement came to power in 1996 after a civil war.

While many daunting problems linger, such as not enough doctors, nurses, midwives and equipment, the provision of primary healthcare has improved in some parts of Afghanistan due to help from donor nations and NGOs.

Female patients were excluded from healthcare for many years because they were banned from consulting male doctors, but they are now getting improved access to treatment.

Afghanistan’s maternal mortality rate is among the highest in the world, although the government has ambitious plans to cut the rate to 400 from 1,600 for every 100,000 live births by 2020. It also plans to train more female doctors and nurses.

Even today, Afghanistan is suffering the after-effects of Taliban rule as it does not have enough women doctors, nurses and midwives for its female population.

“Female students have come back … Now they make up 40 percent of our 2,100 students,” Obaidullah said. “During the Taliban era, there were zero girls.”

Apart from Ali Abad, Kabul Medical University has three other teaching hospitals, among them the French Medical Institute for Children, considered one of the country’s better equipped hospitals.

Unlike many doctors, Obaidullah and a handful of colleagues never left Afghanistan, not even during its most difficult times, such as during the 1992 to 1996 civil war.

“One day in 1994, I had just finished a surgery and was going home. That day a lot of rockets fell on Kabul city. I didn’t have a car and I ran 10 kilometers all the way home,” said A H Shafaq, an ear, nose and throat specialist who teaches at the university.

“That day, it was as if the rockets were chasing me, they were falling around me,” he said.

The university rebuilt almost its entire grounds over the past three years. But it left standing an external wall covered with the scars of rocket fire and bullets.

“These are all the memories of war,” said Shafaq, pointing to the wall.

(Editing by Megan Goldin)

Taliban leader orders cease-fire in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A top Taliban leader in Pakistan with links to al-Qaida has ordered a cease-fire as part of a deal being negotiated with the country’s new government, according to Taliban and Pakistani officials.

Baitullah Mehsud, leader of one of Pakistan’s largest extremist forces, issued a pamphlet directing his fighters to end attacks on Pakistani security forces in the country’s troubled tribal areas and North-West Frontier Province, according to a spokesman for Mehsud’s Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud, who has been accused of masterminding the plot to kill former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, ordered the halt to extremist activities as part of an agreement that calls for prisoner exchanges and a withdrawal of Pakistani military forces from areas near the Afghan border.

“We have reached a final stage of an agreement with the Pakistani authorities for a peace deal,” said Maulvi Omar, spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban.

Pakistani officials familiar with the terms of the deal said, however, negotiations with extremists are ongoing.

Omar said Pakistani security forces have begun to withdraw from the restive tribal areas of North and South Waziristan as part of the accord. But Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, chief spokesman for the Pakistani military, denied that troops had moved out of the region. “We have not received pullout orders from the government as yet. When they are received, we will follow the government’s order,” Abbas said.

A Pakistani official in Islamabad said the negotiations with Mehsud and other pro-Taliban fighters were handled by provincial government officials in the North-West Frontier in consultation with two of Pakistan’s top political leaders, Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif.

The move by Pakistan, a key ally of the United States in its anti-terrorism efforts, has been received cautiously by U.S. officials here and has provoked skepticism from the White House. Under the leadership of President Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan has previously brokered peace deals with extremists, but those deals have collapsed. Critics of the deals say they allowed Taliban and al-Qaida fighters to recruit and lead guerrilla operations across the Afghan border from safe havens in the remote tribal regions of North and South Waziristan. Last year, a 10-month cease-fire brokered by the Pakistani military collapsed after extremists launched an attack that killed 44 people in North Waziristan.

“We have been concerned about these types of approaches because we don’t think they work,” White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters Wednesday in Washington.

CIA Director Michael Hayden has said his agency has concluded that pro-Taliban allies of Mehsud and al-Qaida were behind the suicide bombing that killed Bhutto in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in December. In March, Pakistani authorities filed formal charges against Mehsud and four other men accused of planning Bhutto’s killing. Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement.

Omar, the spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, said the newly formed coalition government in Pakistan has accepted several of the extremists’ demands, including withdrawal of Pakistani security forces from the country’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, and an exchange of prisoners. The agreement also calls for compensation for the families of people killed in military operations in the region and a promise to cease arresting tribesmen suspected of ties to the Taliban or al-Qaida, Omar said.

“Everything has been decided, and now it’s a matter of few days and everybody will see the agreement very soon,” the Taliban spokesman said.

Omar vowed, however, to continue fighting U.S.-led NATO forces in Afghanistan. “The presence of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is the mother of all ill and there will be no peace until their presence in the region has ended,” he said.

Pakistani officials in Islamabad have shied away from speaking publicly about the agreement with Mehsud or other extremists. But several officials acknowledged Thursday that talks were underway with Mehsud.

“We have formed different teams for talking with militants, including Baitullah Mehsud,” said Arshad Abdullah, provincial minister of law in the North-West Frontier.

Provincial government officials in the country’s North-West Frontier said the negotiations started several months before the secular Awami National Party was swept into power in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections on a promise to quell the violence that has rocked the region.

“We are not the architect of this agreement because it started months before our coming into power,” said Afrasiab Khattak, provincial head of the Awami National Party. “We are in touch with all and a peace deal is possible.”

Earlier this week, Pakistani authorities released another pro-Taliban leader as part of the broad deal reached between officials in the North-West Frontier and Islamic extremists in the region. Maulana Sufi Mohammed, the founder of one of Pakistan’s most extreme religious groups, was captured after leading fighters against U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001.

Mohammed is the founder of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammedi, also known as the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law, which has recently fought the Pakistani military in the Swat Valley, which is about 100 miles north of Peshawar. The group is under the leadership of Mohammad’s son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah.

While Mohammed has pledged to encourage his fighters to lay down their arms, Fazlullah this week vowed to continue attacks on government forces and to push for the enforcement of Islamic law in Swat.