Mr. Reinsalu, the Foreign Minister of Estonia,
Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the State of Qatar,
Mr. Maas, Foreign Minister of Germany,
Mr. Haavisto, Foreign Minister of Finland,
Her Excellencies Eriksen & Marsudi, the Foreign Ministers of Norway & Indonesia,
Distinguished Members of the UN Security Council,
Distinguished Briefers—SRSG Lyons, Ms. Gailani, and Ms. Miller,
Ladies & Gentlemen; and Friends of Afghanistan,
As Minister Atmar har thanked everyone in detail I will not repeat that and focus directly on my remarks
Today’s Arria Formula Meeting on the Peace Process in Afghanistan shows once again the Council’s reaffirmation of its strong commitment to helping ensure Afghanistan achieves peace and stability. Afghanistan has been on the front lines of the global threat of terrorism. Together, we have fought to defeat terrorism in the region, and with it, the threat that emanates from it across the globe. So too, the fight for peace is something we can only achieve if we all stand together.
Peace is the priority of the Afghan people, and the focus of my presidency. In February 2018, I made an unconditional offer to the Taliban, introducing the urgency of peace into the national and international dialogue. The Afghan people had not dared not think of peace as a possibility until the unprecedented 3-day ceasefire of June 2018. In 2019, the Loya Jirga on Peace created a framework and a mandate for negotiations, and this August, we hosted another Loya Jirga which allowed our people to decide the future of the 400 contested Taliban prisoners.
Over the past two years, Afghans have created a national consensus on the need to achieve an enduring peace via a political settlement with the Taliban, a peace that is in line with the values of our Constitution and with the UN Declaration of Human Rights. We have shown commitment, courage and conviction.
But we have also come to understand that peace will cost us. We have maintained our defensive positions on the battlefield, even in the face of a surge in violence against our people since February 2020. We agreed to the release of over 5,500 Taliban prisoners most of them guilty of serious crimes against humanity. We have made sacrifices over and over again—there is not a single Afghan home which has not felt the pain of loss. Yet our negotiating team remains steadfast in their commitment to talks in Doha, where the Taliban have insisted on beginning with divisive issues first.
In light of these developments, today’s conversation could not be more timely. Together with our international partners and friends, we have paid a heavy cost for peace, and taken serious risks, but we have seen, unfortunately, no dividends yet.
For dividends to actualize, the process needs certainty and predictability from our partners and allies. Over the course of our 20 year journey out of war, the Security Council has been a constant source of stable support to Afghanistan. I would like to thank each one of you for your continuity of attention, effort and clarity and consistency of resolutions that you have passed.
Today, the international community has reached an agreed-upon end state for a political settlement in Afghanistan: that is, “a sovereign, unified, democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself, the region and world, capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the past two decades.”
The Security Council has been articulating, reaffirming and emphasizing its commitment to this end-state long before the rest of us as an international community were able to articulate it. This is evidenced in the many resolutions this council has passed since the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001.
The Security Council resolutions have:
• Reaffirmed strong commitment to the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Afghanistan;
• Stressed the inalienable right of the Afghan people to freely determine our own political future;
• Pledged determination in helping the Afghan people end the conflict, promote national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights, as well as ensure that Afghanistan is never again used as a base and launching ground for terrorism;
• And reiterated the international community’s support to a sovereign, independent, and unified Afghanistan, and support to our national defense and security forces in our shared fight against terrorism.
Consistency in resolutions has not only been important in reaffirming our rights, values and goals for an end-state, but also clearly set boundaries and established a precedent for what absolutely is and is not acceptable for Afghanistan:
• that the sole legitimate government of Afghanistan is the Islamic Republic;
• And that an Islamic Emirate is not recognized by the UN and the UN does not support the restoration of an Islamic Emirate.
The Security Council has done another service for the international community in identifying threats—these are threats which emanate from the region, and often manifest themselves in Afghanistan due to the conflict, but which equally threaten the security of all countries worldwide. Those include the threat of narcotics and arms trafficking; criminality; transnational crime, and terrorism.
In identifying these threats, you have also created mechanisms to curb them, by placing a robust sanctions regime on the Taliban and associated terrorist organizations and drug dealers, including sanctions against their property.
The Security Council was also the critical platform in creating the required international consensus around the deployment of international forces to Afghanistan, first by authorizing the ISAF mission, then the ISAF and enduring freedom mission, then Resolute Support in 2014 based on our Bilateral Security Agreement and Strategic Partnership Agreement with the United States and the Status of Forces Agreement with NATO. The critical mission of international forces now is to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as we continue to grow and mature into a self-reliant force capable of taking control of 100% of operations. Today our security forces are at the helm of 98% of all operations conducted against terrorist forces, I thank our national security adviser Dr. Mohib and our other colleagues for this brilliant job —we ask the Council to continue to place importance on supporting our ANDSF.
I also thank you for sharing our vision of a sustainable peace via a political settlement with a condition that women’s right and human rights are protected. The Security Council recognized the Joint Declaration we signed with the United States and NATO on February 29th, as well as the US-Taliban agreement signed also at this time, but these agreements are starting points, not end points. We thank you for your commitment to the principles of a sustainable, inclusive peace, one that includes women and minorities, and adheres to international values of human rights and justice, one that builds on our gains of the past 20 years, and one that carries the promise of prosperity for all Afghans. This type of real peace takes time; it takes commitment; it takes continuity. We thank you for that.
Your consistency in support, and long-term adherence to stated goals and principles over the past 20 years—what has this allowed us to achieve in Afghanistan?
Afghanistan’s story is often told via the international media as a culmination of failures—yours and ours. But there is always another side to the coin. The amount of progress and growth that has taken place in the country over the past several years has been nothing short of a generational transformation, one that has positively impacted women and youth more than any other segment of the society.
Today, women make up 50% of our rural development councils across all 34 provinces of Afghanistan, a benchmark we set for ourselves which no one thought possible. I would not dare to tell the woman who sits on her local council in her village in Herat or Paktia that she has failed.
Women occupy 28% of seats in parliament, a higher percentage than in the United States. 53% of our industrial works are women. 37% of students in primary school are girls. Women’s literacy rates have doubled in the past 20 years. We have women in the Cabinet, women as deputy ministers, women in our police and army – these numbers are steadily increasing. I have met young women who have gotten up from their hospital beds after being injured in a Taliban attack at their university, and gone back to class, full of courage and conviction—I would not dare to tell her that she has failed. Can anyone judge our capable Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Raz, to be a failure or tell her generation to go back to illiteracy and not work?
Tomorrow, the National Statistics and Information Authority for Afghanistan will release its annual population survey. It shows us that 48.5% of our population is under the age of 15 and 74% of the population is under the age of 30. Imagine—almost half of our entire population has been born and raised in a young democracy, one that embraces freedom of expression, electoral democracy, equality, and possibility.
We have made efforts across the board to reflect the youthful reality of our country in those who hold decision-making power in our halls of government. People speak of a new Afghanistan emerging over the past decade—what has emerged with it is an entirely new set of expectations from our citizens. What has emerged with it is a vibrant grass-roots civil society across the provinces, hundreds of volunteer associations across Afghanistan, in all provinces, individuals and communities actively participating in our democratic give and take.
Thus, it should be no surprise to you that today, only about 3 to 4% of the population still has any sympathy left for the Taliban.
I would not dare to tell you—our partners—that we together had failed the Afghan people over these past 20 years. We have to confront hard questions to achieve peace with the failures along the way, but they do not cancel out the successes we have had, the progress we have made. If we stop now, then we will have failed. And failure is an option that none of us here around this table can afford, because it is a joint journey we have started together, our shared investment and now our shared achievement.
Despite progress, threats still loom large, and they too are evolving, growing and progressing, thriving from the continued violence.
The threat of terrorism has not been eliminated. As recently as May of this year, the UN issued a report providing evidence that despite assurances from the Taliban to the United States, Al Qaeda is still present and active in Afghanistan, harbored by the Taliban. Drug production has changed from opium and heroin now to amphetamines, threatening every child in Afghanistan, in the region, and the world. Violence is continuously used without any restraint, and radicalism is not contained. Though the latest figures from our statistics office show that poverty has declined 4% during the last 4 years, Afghanistan is still a fundamentally poor and food-insecure country. Furthermore, the peace process has not resulted in the hope for ceasefire. The processes have been productive and demonstrated to the Taliban that they are facing a united negotiating team of the Islamic Republic in discussions and in Afghanistan national defense security force capable of defeating them in the battlefield in Helmand, Kandahar, in all other provinces in the country.
In light of these realities, I want to ask for your support—not for anything new, but for the same continuity and consistency in the support you have steadfastly given Afghanistan over the past 20 years. Now more than ever in our recent history, your support, guided by principles of the UN Charter, and not by political expediency, are absolutely critical in ensuring we achieve peace in Afghanistan.
Our most urgent need and priority is peace. We need to reenergize the peace process now at the critical point in Doha and develop a roadmap from today to the end-state through structured discussion that would ensure that achievement of that end-state. You have a critical role to play in this.
First, I request the UN Security Council to reiterate the call for a ceasefire, which was already expressed in Resolutions 2532 & 2513. A comprehensive ceasefire has been demanded by the Afghan government, by the Afghan people, by the international community and by the UN Secretary-General. A ceasefire is not only a critical first step to peace, but will also mitigate the precarious humanitarian situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing us to reach people in conflict areas as a second wave of the virus hits, which unfortunately is upon us.
Second, there is also a role for the UN to play in helping us design a process that gets us to the defined end-state. There are so many lessons learned from other peace processes that can be drawn from the UN bank of knowledge, and help inform a realistic roadmap for achieving sustainable peace.
Third, I would request the Council to stress the effective and thorough implementation of sanctions regimes as a key instrument for the success of the negotiations with Taliban. The Taliban has yet to fulfill conditions set. Sanctions can only be effective if implemented by all and any changes to current mechanisms should only be considered following tangible progress in the peace process and its outcome, which we have yet to see, and also Taliban’s commitment to an Afghanistan where women’s constitutional rights are protected, and minorities are not discriminated against.
Fourth, I would also request the Council view terrorism as an ecosystem and not a series of isolated organizations. The Security Council is uniquely placed to provide global leadership in defining and classifying terrorism as a global threat that is growing. We need a UNSC-backed strategy to counter terrorism.
Fifth, I would also request the Council to consider the systemic role of narcotics in perpetuating and feeding the threat of terrorism. The two are inextricably linked now. We need a wider approach that addresses the links between terrorist networks and criminal organizations.
Sixth, I would like to highlight that the importance of regional consensus in creating sustainable peace in Afghanistan. I have consistently prioritized the issue of regional connectivity during my presidency, not only for matters of economic development and energy production, but because I have recognized its essential value in creating consensus around peace and other mutual benefits for the region. Many of our neighbors stands to gain 1 to 2 % GDP growth annually if we achieve peace in Afghanistan. Regional connectivity is a path not only to poverty reduction in the region, but also peace. We request the Security Council to consider this and work with us on helping create a strong regional consensus for a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
Next week, we will gather virtually for the 2020 Geneva Conference on Afghanistan. The outcomes of this pledging conference will heavily influence the country’s future development and our path towards self-reliance and peace. For our part, we are pushing for accountability and to continue to expand the relationship between Afghanistan and the international community, based on mutual priorities. I would like to thank all participating countries, but particularly Finland for their leadership on this important conference.
In closing, I want to stress that today, we have an opportunity to create the ground for a real, strategic discussion. Why has the conflict in and around Afghanistan persisted so tragically for 40 years? Perhaps because we as an international community have been applying salve to the wound, instead of addressing the roots of the disease. We need to have a strategic discussion, on multiple fronts. The outcomes will not only mean a sustainable peace for Afghanistan that allows us to continue progressing and advancing our gains, but also the eradication of the threat of global terrorism which blights us all.
Once again, I thank you for your principled engagement and I thank you in advance for its continuation.
I wish you a very productive and constructive discussion.