Security concerns, regional cooperation and Afghan sovereignty all featured prominently this Thursday morning in the United Nations Security Council’s quarterly debate on the Situation in Afghanistan. As Head of Afghanistan’s delegation at the 66th United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, addressed the Council. The underlying message from H.E. Dr. Rassoul can be summed up in his quote from President Karzai’s statement to the General Assembly last week, highlighting the goal of “a sovereign Afghanistan that is self-reliant, and the peaceful home of all Afghans; an Afghanistan that is at peace, and lives in peace with the rest of the world.”
Preceding the statement, the Security Council heard a briefing from Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Mr. Staffan de Mistura. The SRSG presented the findings of the Secretary General’s report on Afghanistan, released earlier this week.
Today’s Security Council debate comes in the wake of the tragic assassination of the Chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, former President Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, in Kabul last Tuesday (20 September). This brutal attack drew widespread condemnation from all speakers in the debate, as well as an outpouring of condolences and praise for Prof. Rabbani’s work, with India for instance saying that “Tragically, the forces of terror and hatred have silenced yet another powerful voice of reason and peace in Afghanistan.”
“Despite this national loss, our reconciliation process will continue,” H.E. Dr. Rassoul said, reaffirming Afghanistan’s commitment to the peace, reconciliation and reintegration process which is the cornerstone of the political solution to the conflict.
The assassination also put the spotlight on the security situation in Afghanistan and especially in Kabul. States expressed concerns over the growing numbers of civilian casualties, and H.E. Dr. Rassoul and many others stressed the urgent need to address the problem of terrorist sanctuaries and safe-havens beyond Afghanistan’s borders. However, despite these concerns and the spate of recent high-profile attacks and assassinations, most states also praised the growing capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces. “In spite of all these incidents,” as the SRSG succinctly put it, “transition goes forward.”
Speakers underscored the importance of the upcoming conference in Bonn scheduled for December, as well as the comprehensive UNAMA mandate review, for all aspects of the transition process. Speakers stressed the need for Afghan leadership and ownership not just of security responsibilities, but also of socio-economic development efforts, at national and sub-national levels.
“Only then will the right services be delivered to the right people in the right way,” explained the European Union’s representative, H.E. Mr. Pedro Serrano. In this light, the Afghan-led New Silk Road initiative and other regional cooperation endeavours received praise from the USA, Russia and others. Commenting on the upcoming ‘Heart of Asia’ conference in Istanbul in November, the SRSG stressed that “Afghanistan should be the catalyst, not the subject, at this conference”.
In addition to H.E. Dr. Rassoul and the SRSG, the Security Council heard statements from all fifteen members as well as Canada, Turkey, Australia, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and the European Union. Overall, the mood of the debate was one of cautious optimism and praise for progress thus far, along with determination to see the transition process successfully through, to 2014 and beyond. In H.E. Dr. Rassoul’s words, “We are still not completely out of the woods… [but] together with the support of the international community, we will succeed.”