Thank you Madam President and I’m very grateful to Special Representative Haysom for his briefing and for all his hard work in Afghanistan leading UNAMA. I join others in welcoming Ambassador Saikal to the Council in his new role and look forward to working together.
I want to begin by welcoming the unanimous adoption of resolution 2255 today. By renewing the Taliban sanctions regime for another 18 months shows that we mean it when we say there will be no weakening of our resolve, and no let up in our efforts, to disrupt the finances and activities of the Taliban.
Sadly, the continued need for this sanctions regime shows that Council support for Afghanistan remains vital, that our job is not yet done. UNAMA is a vital part of that support. I applaud UNAMA’s determination to continue fulfilling their mandate, often under difficult circumstances.
The reasons for our continued role are clear. Together we want to build a secure and stable Afghanistan; an Afghanistan that no longer exports insecurity, an Afghanistan where people can thrive, prosper and live in peace. These are aims that all should share: in Afghanistan, its neighbours in the region and the international community.
I believe there are two things at the heart of securing this future: security and the economy.
On the first Madam President, this year’s fighting season has shown, making security a reality for all is exceptionally tough. The Afghan security forces and all of us face an unrelenting foe in the Taliban. I want to pay tribute to all the international service men and women who have lost their lives. And in particular I offer my condolences to the families of the six soldiers killed near Bagram today.
I also join others in praising the bravery and resilience of the Afghan security forces. There have been many sacrifices and many challenges this year, particularly in Helmand. But the Afghan forces are showing that they can overcome these challenges; by holding and retaking district centres from Taliban control. The Taliban’s continued attacks against civilians, including women and children near Kandahar as well as the Spanish Embassy compound in Kabul, undermine any pretence that they are fighting for religious ideals.
In response to such threats, the Afghan security forces will need to sustain this effort. That’s why the UK supports the Afghan National Army Officer Academy and gives $110 million in annual funding for security. It’s why we have extended our military presence, as announced in October. I hope Member States will all continue their vital assistance.
But to guarantee long term security in Afghanistan, a peace process is the only long term solution. So I warmly welcome the progress made at the Heart of Asia meeting and the associated meetings in Islamabad. I pay tribute to the commitment and determination shown by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah in pursuing improved relations with the region and in starting peace talks. Let us all urge Pakistan and Afghanistan to meet their commitments, to pursue peace with those willing to negotiate and to take concerted action against those unwilling to do so.
So the United Kingdom strongly supports the call of the Heart of Asia conference for peace talks to begin urgently.
In addition to the Taliban threat, we share concern at the emergence of small groups of former Afghan and Pakistani Taliban claiming allegiance to Daesh. As we showed in this chamber last week, this Council is united in its opposition to Daesh and its affiliates. Let us give our full support to the National Unity Government in Afghanistan in combating such groups.
Turning to my second point, Madam President, economic growth is vital if Afghans are going to remain committed to Afghanistan’s future. Afghanistan’s potential is significant. The inauguration of the TAPI gas pipeline this month shows that this potential can be realised. I congratulate Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India, as well as Afghanistan for all their support for this project. TAPI, like CASA 1000 and other major regional projects, can have huge benefits for all the countries in the wider region.
Afghanistan’s potential is also seen in its people; people like Negina, an 18 year old young woman studying at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music in Kabul. Negina once said and I quote that she “did not have any hopes of being recognised for any talents”, and yet today she has a chance to realise her ambitions to become the best pianist in the country. Students like Negina are not just continuing Afghanistan’s rich musical heritage, they are also showing that Afghanistan can retain its brightest and best; it’s most talented. For ultimately, it’s the people of Afghanistan that are the country’s greatest asset. It’s thanks to their talent, skill and hard work that economic growth will be secured.
Let me close by restating the UK’s enduring commitment to the government of Afghanistan, both financially and politically. I’m proud to reiterate our strong support for the work of the National Unity Government and I urge all Afghans and the international community to continue their backing for President Ghani and CEO Abdullah. Together, we can help them address the major economic, security and governance challenges that Afghanistan faces.