Thank you Mr President, and thank you Special Representative Haysom and Ambassador Saikal and welcome back to the Council. I will also stick to the five minute rule particularly as we enforced it rigidly when we were President.
The extension of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan today is a welcome sign of this Council’s continued commitment to Afghanistan. It’s a commitment to stand by the people and the government of Afghanistan so that together they can forge the safe, stable and prosperous country that all Afghans deserve.
As we have just heard from the Special Representative, the road ahead will be difficult at times. But together with the international community’s assistance and the support of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, I’m confident that Afghanistan can successfully navigate the path ahead. UNAMA will play a vital role in that effort.
I see three priorities for the coming months.
First, economic growth needs to be the lynchpin of Afghanistan’s development. A growing economy will be the engine of opportunity for all Afghans… opportunity for men and women tired of years of violence… opportunity for the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators…. and of course, opportunity that will help Afghans choose a future inside Afghanistan, rather than risk fleeing to find an uncertain future abroad.
So I congratulate Afghanistan on its recent accession to the World Trade Organisation, and for its progress on the IMF programme. These are vital steps towards creating opportunity, steps that will integrate Afghanistan into lucrative international and regional trade networks. But major challenges remain, and a clear strategy on economic reform will be needed by the National Unity Government if long-term growth is to be secured. I hope that Afghanistan’s leaders will seize on this recent momentum to make this a reality.
Turning to my second point, it is clear that an economy cannot flourish without security. Long-term growth needs long-term stability. As the my Foreign Secretary made clear during his visit to Afghanistan last week, the United Kingdom fully supports the crucial work of the National Unity Government and the Quadrilateral Contact Group on the peace process. Let me take this opportunity to welcome the new leadership of the High Peace Council, who will also have an important role to play in these efforts.
But it isn’t just those within Afghanistan or the Quadrilateral who can assist this process. The international community and the region all can provide valuable support. So let us all make clear this Council’s united support for the peace process, our united call on the Taleban to come to the negotiating table, and our united encouragement for Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate even more closely, so that they combat the shared threat posed to them by extremism.
The UNAMA report paints a clear picture of the consequences of such extremism. We wholly condemn the Taleban’s continuing attacks, especially those against civilian targets. The violence must stop. The people of Afghanistan have paid too high a price for far too long.
I’d like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the Afghan national security forces in their efforts to halt the violence. And I welcome their robust actions, supported by their international allies, including to combat the emerging threat of Daesh affiliates in the east of the country as SRSG Haysom refered to in his remarks.
My final point, Mr President, is about the National Unity Government. While a strong economy may require security, both can only really succeed with strong governance.
The United Kingdom is a strong supporter of the National Unity Government and I hope we can all show our support today for President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah as they work together in pursuit of stability and prosperity.
The Brussels Conference in October is the moment for the National Unity Government to demonstrate its own commitment to the three priorities I’ve just outlined. It’s the chance for them to showcase the reforms they’ve made so far, and the reforms ahead that will lead the country toward self reliance in the coming years.
This will need to include concrete action to combat corruption; a coherent plan for economic growth; and a plan for reforming and strengthening the electoral system, one that builds on the Special Electoral Reform Commission. We support the work of UNAMA on this.
Let me close with this final point. Though the onus is on the National Unity Government, the Brussels Conference is also a moment for us, the international community, to match our words with action. It is the moment to set the parameters for the international community’s future engagement in Afghanistan and really demonstrate what our commitment means. To step away now would not only damage the three priorities I’ve just outlined, but would also send the wrong signal to the people and the government of Afghanistan.