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
Allow me to begin by congratulating you on your assumption of the Presidency of this Council for this month of October. We wish you every success. We also extend our appreciation for the convening of today’s important debate and welcome the Secretary General’s report on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. We are also grateful for Mr. Kai Eide, Special Representative of the Secretary General, for his insightful briefings this morning.
Seven years ago this month, an unprecedented war was launched-a war not against a country, not against a state, but against the amorphous scourge of terrorism that was threatening to undermine security in all reaches of the world. This war was unavoidable, inevitable, and absolutely necessary.
Now, in 2008, despite hard work on the part of international coalition forces and Afghans alike, terrorism appears to be on the rise again. The Taliban burn down schools, stamp out reconstruction, and butcher civilians. They attack roads and regions around Kabul, hampering international humanitarian relief. Ordinary people are increasingly their targets. Their belligerence against true progress and security in Afghanistan is continuous, boundless and cruel. To push back against this scourge, we must first understand the changes in the sources and the strategy of the threat since 2001.
The Government of Afghanistan, first, recognizes that the Taliban is a heterogeneous group, some members of which may be willing to participate in the peace process. Our government will keep the door open for these members.
Second, the Government of Afghanistan acknowledges the evolving strategy of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. While the world’s attention was focused within the borders of Afghanistan, the Taliban and al-Qaeda intensified operations in the FATA border regions of Pakistan. They now hope to use the timing of the elections in the United States and Afghanistan to force a change in international commitment in Afghanistan.
Third, the Taliban are fighting a war of perception. They seek to instill uncertainty about prospects for peace in Afghanistan by launching attacks of a spectacular nature-attacks that the media and the news can easily seize and broadcast.
We must also recognize that security is not confined to military security. Real security is established by improvement in the day-to-day lives of Afghans: measured by improvement in humanitarian efforts, in governance and rule of law, in counter-narcotics, in the upcoming elections, in a strong army and police, and in a strong and sustainable economy.
First, the humanitarian situation regarding the food shortage in Afghanistan needs immediate attention from the international community, especially as winter approaches. This crisis is the first topic discussed and pursued in every Afghanistan cabinet meeting this year. Our government hopes that the world heeds the UN’s call for increased international relief efforts.
Secondly, three days ago, our government took a crucial step toward improving governance and eliminating corruption: H.E. President Karzai announced the reshuffling of the cabinet, including the appointment of a new interior minister. This key move accompanies the creation of High Office of Oversight for Anti-Corruption and special anti-corruption police and prosecutors. We are also strengthening local governance through new appointments, trainings of local administrators, and new incentives for accountability.
Third, counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan are seeing the beginning of a breakthrough. More than half of provinces are poppy-free. The few remaining centers of poppy cultivation are in the insecure areas of Afghanistan, where international and government efforts have been unable to put down real roots. The Government of Afghanistan applauds NATO ISAF forces’ recent decision to target opium factories for the first time.
Fourth, our government understands the tremendous importance of secure, transparent, timely and credible presidential elections in the summer of 2009. There is no alternative to elections in ensuring the legitimacy of the peace process in Afghanistan. To this end, we have drafted legislation on the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and held our first day of registration last week. However, our government also cautions that the elections require a process of sustained long-term efforts, and hopes that that we ensure that the political process acts as a unifying, rather than a divisive, force for Afghanistan.
Fifth, the Afghan National Army has accomplished significant improvements in control and command, and plans are in place to increase its numbers from 75,000 to 134,000 by 2010. The Afghan National Police has also increased its activity and is the focus of rank and pay reform. Sixth, the Government of Afghanistan is strongly dedicated to improving the economic livelihood of every Afghan. We are building roads, schools and clinics in more than 2/3 of villages through the National Solidarity Program. As a testament to our efforts, the GDP has tripled since 2001.
In short, the Government of Afghanistan is making progress on many fronts. However, our goals are so ambitious as to need strong and sustained international support to be fully realized.
The way forward in Afghanistan is to recognize that abandonment and failure are not options. We must stop engaging in the wrong debate of whether or not we will fail-we must instead focus on the right debate, on how we can succeed. This right debate acknowledges the absolute necessity for the following four items: a regional solution, sustained international commitment, appropriate strategies in this war of perceptions, and lastly, a consideration of all components important to a successful political solution to Afghanistan’s challenges.
First, it is now clear that the Taliban is a regional threat. Its base of operations is no longer in Afghanistan, but in the border regions of FATA. We have found in the new President of Pakistan, H.E. Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, a friend and trusted leader to address terrorism together. Our Foreign Minister, H.E. Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, will visit Pakistan on October 22nd to further this collaboration and discuss long-term strategic relations between two countries. However, the international community also has the responsibility to continue this momentum between the elected government of Pakistan and Afghanistan by boosting joint efforts to eradicate the threat of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.
Second, the Government of Afghanistan applauds the international community for its reinvigorated attention on Afghanistan. We commend Mr. Kai Eide’s leadership to coordinate the efforts of the international community. Only six months into his term, we are seeing positive results from the stronger collaboration between our government and the UN. In addition, the Bucharest summit and Paris conference produced a strong consensus that the international community will stay engaged in Afghanistan as long as is necessary, verifying international aid pledges that totaled more than $20 billion. In the seven years since international forces first entered Afghanistan, international attention has often flagged. But, this new relationship with the UN, the Bucharest consensus and the Paris momentum are all indications that international attention is refocused. Let us sustain this attention and not lose focus again.
The third important aspect of the way forward is a full consideration of how to wage a smarter war of perception. Three things need to be done:
1. We should be careful with what we say about Afghanistan. Media outlets move with astonishing speed in Afghanistan and word of mouth carries any pessimistic news quickly to the Afghan people. The Taliban have used some recent statements and reports as a powerful weapon to convince the Afghan people that the international community’s resolve is wavering. This is undeniably harmful for our operations and efforts forward in Afghanistan.
2. We must not underestimate our successes. The GDP of Afghanistan has tripled since 2001. In two-thirds of Afghanistan, there is no conflict and millions of Afghans work and live their lives peacefully. The international community must not under-report the many success stories in Afghanistan.
3. Our assessment and reports must be stronger in reporting destruction and brutality caused by the Taliban. We build a school in six months; they burn it down in six minutes. The Taliban are, in fact, responsible for the majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan this year.
The last aspect of the way forward is in regards to the Secretary General’s “political surge” in Afghanistan. Such political surge must consider all these components to be successful:
1. Reconciliation efforts must be better framed both inside and outside of Afghanistan. Currently, these reconciliation efforts are portrayed as an “alternative” to the efforts of the last seven years. In fact, reconciliation is but another tool in our arsenal to ensure progress is continued towards a stable Afghanistan. From members of the Ulama to tribal leaders, strong forces desire peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan. Thus, important steps have been taken in recent months to begin this reconciliation process.
2. A “political surge” includes not only reconciliation with interested parties, but also a strengthening of relationships with Afghan communities themselves. This outreach of the Government of Afghanistan will be extended to both communities under Taliban influence and those in secure, peaceful regions.
3. A political surge cannot afford to neglect the importance of military action. Afghanistan must be able to negotiate from a position of strength, which depends on the strong backing of international troops and the Afghan National Army. An increase in international troops is an essential and necessary first step to counter terrorist activities. However, these troops must also be willing to face enemies and conduct operations thoroughly. They should address responsibly the issue of civilian casualties that is a challenge to our goal of winning the Afghan people’s hearts and minds.
We face at this time a critical opportunity to turn the tide against forces of insecurity and instability in Afghanistan. The Government of Afghanistan will devote itself fully and completely to the quest for security and peace. In turn, we hope that this venerated council will continue to generate the right debate, a debate that acknowledges the importance of a regional solution as well as sustained international commitment; a debate that assembles, with urgency, appropriate strategies to fight effectively in this war of perceptions; and a debate that considers all of the components important to a successful “political surge.”
Thank you for your attention.