Allow me to congratulate you, Mr. President, on your assumption of the Presidency of this Council for the month of March, and thank you for holding this debate. I would also like to thank the Secretary General for his latest report on the situation in Afghanistan. In addition, I am grateful to my friend Mr. Kai Eide for his statement here today, and for his leadership of UNAMA’s work for Afghanistan.
The Security Council is discussing Afghanistan at a defining moment. In two days, the people of Afghanistan will celebrate our New Year. So we begin today from a new perspective of hope.
The preparation for our Presidential and provincial elections provides the chance to strengthen legitimacy and national unity. The continuing and troubling insecurity in parts of the country threatens those objectives but also gives us a clear goal in the coming months. There has been a welcome increase in international focus on Afghanistan. Afghans are pleased to note the many recent strategic reviews and recommendations, including the upcoming conference in The Hague on 31 March. We hope this new spirit of engagement will help us proceed in a constructive, unified and coordinated way.
The international community should join Afghanistan in this spirit.
In the last eight years, Afghanistan has made progress. We can continue to progress. Afghans are fully invested in a legitimate, inclusive democratic process, and we see this in the strong engagement in national debate surrounding the upcoming elections. Afghans want to ensure that their country’s future is a continuation of the peaceful modernization that began in the early 20th century.
Afghans are eager to work with the international community to eliminate the threat of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. The Taliban is not an organic part of Afghan society. It is a product of violence, cross-border madrassas and foreign indoctrination that disrupted our stable society. Today, a mere 4% of Afghans want to see the Taliban in power.
The international community should also be encouraged by the reminder that Afghans supported the US-led intervention in 2001. Afghans welcomed the defeat of the terrorists and extremists who had invaded and corrupted our homeland. As long as the international forces provide safety, security, and the promise of a democratic future, Afghans will continue to be staunch allies.
But Mr. President,
Afghans are simultaneously driven by urgency to keep the dark days securely behind us. The devastation of the Taliban is a constant reminder of the effects of neglecting the destruction of war. The greatest blunder of our time is forgetting that the ruins of war breed angry, desperate and radicalized people.
The world has an obligation to act so that the Taliban and al-Qaeda do not return to power. This obligation is both moral and practical. Morally, the horrific abuse of civilians anywhere, particularly of children and women, is a threat to freedom everywhere. Practically, terrorism knows no border. Attacks by the same groups in New York, London, Mumbai, and Kabul show that the threat in Afghanistan is, indeed, a global threat. Global action is the answer to global threat.
Afghans have seen the significance of our partnership with the international community. Our biggest accomplishments-our constitution, the elections, the improvements in the Afghan National Army, infrastructure, education, and health-are the projects that have received the strongest international commitment. International dedication bears fruit.
But we have only begun. In the areas where Afghans received less international attention-the Afghan National Police, governance, corruption, judiciary reform-we have not achieved all we should. After the Bonn Conference in 2001, the international community’s “light footprint” approach brought minimal engagement in Afghanistan. We have only recently re-focused so we cannot expect results immediately. It takes time to build a stable, prosperous, democratic society after more than 30 years of war. Progress is a process, completed only over time.
Thus we must stay the course. There is still important work to be done.
This work should focus on the priority of a self-sustaining, functioning state that serves Afghans. For a functioning state is the strongest bulwark against terrorism. Only a democratic, stable Afghanistan stops terror and destruction. Democracy should be strengthened, not weakened.
In strengthening the Afghan state, we must have a comprehensive strategy. Today, I would like to highlight a few areas of focus.
First, we should ensure that there are free, fair, and transparent elections in August. This process should encourage a protective, inclusive debate that strengthens the legitimacy of the institutions we have already created through the Bonn process.
Second, Afghan ownership must continue to be the lynchpin of international efforts. We understand that the ultimate responsibility for our country lies in our own hands. We will do our own work.
Therefore economic development should continue to be implemented through the framework of the Afghan National Development Strategy and the Paris priorities. We must ensure that aid and expertise is available promptly and delivered effectively, efficiently and transparently. Every penny in Afghanistan should be delivered to Afghans.
We should also continue to build the Afghan army and police so that Afghans take a stronger role in the fight on terror. There should be greater Afghan oversight over joint operations with our international partners, and an increased focus on preventing civilian casualties.
We want to stress, too, that reconciliation can take place only under the leadership of the Afghan government. The Government of Afghanistan recognizes the importance of a political solution. We negotiate with those elements of the Taliban who are willing to be reconciled. But any talks must be held with full respect for the Constitution of Afghanistan, and must be conducted from a position of strength.
Third, Afghans appreciate the new regional focus on our challenges that protects the sovereignty of our state. We welcome the new trilateral US/Afghanistan/Pakistan process that started recently in Washington DC, and we look forward to a future of increased cooperation. Our neighbors will be the first to benefit from a stable Afghanistan: decreased refugees, decreased narcotics, increased trade.
Today, Afghans hope this august council will continue its efforts, newly developed and re-focused, to help us regain our footing after decades of war. Afghans still look with great hope to the international community and fully approves the extension of UNAMA’s mandate in support of the Government of Afghanistan.
Despite the continued challenges of terrorism and violence, despite the critics, despite the resignation, despite the doubts– we know our better history. Afghanistan began its journey towards modernization in the 1900s. Our first constitution in 1924 made a modern education available for all. By the 1960s, we guaranteed equal rights for men and women. Afghans then survived and persevered through three decades of foreign intervention, a bloody civil war and the brutal rule of the Taliban. If we can do all of this, we can succeed in Afghanistan today. For Afghanistan has been, can be, and will be again, a peaceful, democratic crossroads in our region and a contributing member of the world community.
We start the New Year in this spirit of hope.
Thank you Mr. President.