Statement of Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Foreign Minister of Afghanistan at the UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Ten years ago member states gathered in this distinguished assembly to take an unprecedented step: through the adoption the Millennium Declaration, we asserted our shared responsibility to humanity, and committed to making tangible progress in improving the lives of human beings around the world. In addition to being a moral imperative, this Declaration also recognized the crucial link between the wellbeing of individuals and the stability and health of societies and of states. Through the Millennium Development Goals, we committed to addressing some of the world’s most difficult and pressing development issues, including poverty, hunger, disease, environmental degradation, and the promotion of gender equality, education and health. Ten years later, these are still the main challenges facing our people and our countries.
At the time of the Millennium Declaration’s adoption in 2000, Afghanistan was cut off, isolated from the international community by the abhorrent Taliban regime, which denied Afghan people even the most fundamental human rights and allowed terrorists to use Afghan soil to launch attacks around the world. In 2001, with the overthrow of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan slowly began to rebuild its shattered political, economic and social structures, and to regain its rightful place in the community of nations. Our country undertook a series of policies aimed at a comprehensive reconstruction and stabilization of the political and economic situation both nationally and regionally. These policies centered around the urgent need to bring the Afghan people out of grinding poverty and provide them with the basic human rights, opportunities and services that had been denied them for decades.
Afghanistan has made enormous strides in the past decade, emerging from the ruins of war to build a more functioning government, a more prosperous economy, and a more healthy society.
Just three days ago, Afghanistan held its second parliamentary election. Millions of Afghans from all walks of life braved a challenging security situation, and cast their votes to elect representatives of the National Assembly. The unprecedented number of women candidates, voters and elected representatives is a clear demonstration of how far Afghan women have come in regaining their proactive role in Afghan society.
These elections reaffirmed the steadfast commitment of the Afghan people to democracy and self-determination. Our leadership will continue to focus on good governance and to introduce institutional reforms that will make us more responsive to the needs and concerns of the vibrant Afghan civil society and population.
Economically, 80% of Afghans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, and so along with other agricultural reforms we have undertaken comprehensive efforts to rebuild and repair irrigation systems, and have constructed over 10,000km of roads. These changes improved productivity in the agricultural and trade sectors, which boosted GDP growth in the country to achieve record highs at 22.5 percent this year (2009/2010). The average income has quadrupled since 2001. Government revenue this year surpassed a billion dollars for the first time. The recent discovery of enormous mineral resources, combined with the potential trade and transit opportunities with our neighbors, provides a chance to bring the Afghan people out of poverty, and offers a sound basis for future prosperity.
Afghanistan’s health and education sectors have also developed significantly, thanks in large part to the assistance of our international partners, including this Organization. We have established hundreds of clinics and hospitals across the country, expanding basic health coverage from 9% of the population in 2003 to close to 90% this year. Our national immunization campaign is in full swing, reaching out to millions of children under the age of five to protect them against polio and other deadly diseases. We have made substantial improvements in reducing infant and under five mortality rates. In addition, we have a 71% school enrollment rate of Afghan boys and girls. As part of our national agenda to promote primary, secondary and higher education, we have constructed close to 4,000 school buildings over the past nine years; and we are on track to build an additional 4,900 by end of 2013.
We are also building a complex social safety net, geared towards finding work for those willing and able, and supporting those who are unable to care for themselves.
We must keep in mind the backdrop of severe fragility and conflict when assessing the success of Afghanistan in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Security is the bedrock for socio-economic development, and in Afghanistan the difficult security situation has challenged our ability to sustain progress. The enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan are still active, orchestrating well-planned attacks against schools, clinics, teachers, doctors, government employees and even young children, particularly school girls. Unfortunately, similar attacks continue against humanitarian aid organizations and their personnel, who are working under difficult conditions to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans. In recognition of the crucial role of security in providing space for development, I would like to emphasize our addition of security on Afghanistan’s list of MDGs. Improvements in security over the past year include substantial progress in clearing land mines and reducing poppy cultivation.
While we have made significant improvements, Afghanistan remains the lowest income country in the region, with 40% of its population unemployed and 36% living in poverty. We still face a gender gap in literacy and education. For such reasons more than ever we realize the importance of our international partners in supporting our country. Our budget for development is entirely financed by aid, and we hope to continue the transition toward streamlining aid more effectively through the government of Afghanistan with a view toward sustainability and capacity building. We have designed an extensive plan for MDG goals and targets over the next decade.
While we know the path ahead is a difficult one, we are determined to forge on with a view toward reaching our commitments for MDGs. Our number one priority as a government is to bring an end to conflict: the Afghan people are thirsty for peace. The Afghan National Army and Police are being trained and equipped to take responsibility for the Afghan people. The Afghan government is simultaneously undertaking a broad political outreach initiative to offer a new beginning to former combatants and others willing to lay down arms and embrace a peaceful life.
In addition, in order to focus on the most pressing issues, the Afghan government has recently identified five key areas in the ANDS that will require intense attention. These include agriculture development and rural rehabilitation; human resources development; economic and infrastructure development, governance and security.
Our recent Kabul conference was a milestone in greater Afghan leadership, particularly security, governance and development. At the Kabul Conference, we presented our comprehensive development agenda, aimed at implementing tangible improvements in the lives of our citizens. Over the coming years, our government will push for a transition to greater Afghan responsibility and leadership in security, social and economic development, and governance.
We are aware of the challenges we face. More than three billion people worldwide live on less than $2.50 a day, and far too many are denied access to food, shelter, water and other necessities of life. But Afghanistan is well aware, perhaps more than many, of exactly how much we can accomplish when working together. Our responsibility, as world leaders and as human beings, is to persevere in our quest to improve the lives of our fellows. I am convinced that, with commitment and focus, we will succeed.
I thank you.
H.E. Ambassador Zahir Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, today addressed the UN Security Council on the topic of “protection of civilians in armed conflict.”
The meeting, which was opened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, heard briefings from Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes; and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay.
In his opening remarks Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon noted that events around the world showed that the protection of civilians in armed conflict remained a common challenge world-wide. He said the Security Council made important progress in protection of civilians, but more needed to be done. In that regard, he underscored maximizing the effectiveness of “peace-keeping operations through increased Council support, and enhanced training of troop and police contributors.
In his statement, Ambassador Tanin alluded to the situation in Afghanistan, and said the increased awareness of the need to re-engage the Afghan people in the reconstruction and stabilization of their country, has helped enable the government of Afghanistan and its international partners to “focus on finding ways to meet the needs and expectations of the Afghan people.”
He however asserted that civilians continued to “pay a staggering price in the ongoing conflict” in the country. He said over six thousand Afghans, including women; children and the elderly were killed and injured in just last year. In that regard, he said the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and their terrorist allies continue to show complete disregard for human life, embracing assassinations and executions in an effort to control the population through terror.
He said the cost of the conflict was not limited to just Afghanistan, but also international partners countries. He highlighted increased terrorist attacks on UN staff and members of humanitarian organizations who work in various fields, including health and education. In that regard, Ambassador Tanin expressed gratitude to UN staff and other partners “who continue to work under difficult circumstances for the sake of the Afghan people, and in pursuit of international peace and security.”
Moreover, he welcomed the increased measures by former ISAF former commander, General McCrystal, aimed at better protecting the lives of civilians. He expressed confidence that civilian protection would continue to receive due consideration from ISAF’s new commander, General Patraeus.
He nevertheless noted that civilian casualties remained a concern to Afghanistan, and undermined the people’s confidence in the good-will of the international community. He emphasized increased efforts at the national level “for building an efficient, effective and responsible army and police force dedicated to the protection of Afghans and maintenance of security and the rule of law.”
Ambassador Tanin also said the safety of the Afghan people should remain a priority, and it was necessary to enhance collaboration for strengthening the trust and confidence of Afghans in future efforts.
New York, July 7, 2010