Thank you Mr President,
I thank the Secretary-General for his latest report and for supplying this Council with the report of the Tripartite Review Commission. And I welcome the briefings from Special Representative Haysom and Executive Director Fedetov.
I’d also like to pay tribute to Ambassador Tanin at his final debate. Zahir, you have represented your country admirably through a period of great transition. And you leave as Afghanistan enters its transformation decade with full ownership of its national affairs. I wish you every success in your new role.
I’d like share the words of a teacher, caught up in a suicide bombing in Jalalabad; one that claimed 32 lives. Recovering in a hospital bed, the teacher said: “Death does not frighten me, but if I die, what will happen to my children?”.
These words are from an UN interview in April. They could have come from any parent, anywhere in the world. They echo a shared fear, a fear that our children won’t grow up safe, healthy or happy.
Sadly, as the UN’s report on the protection of civilians shows, this fear has yet to be eradicated for everyone in Afghanistan. Between January and the end of June this year, over 1,500 civilians were killed in Afghanistan. A fifth of them were children.
This violence is setting back Afghanistan’s prospects for prosperity and better opportunities for all. It is damaging children’s education, setting back the rights of women and girls. And it is making it harder to secure the political settlement so desperately needed for a stable and secure Afghanistan.
So, what can we do as a Council to support the Afghan government and the work of UNAMA? We should maintain our focus on Afghanistan and concentrate on three things: security, politics and people.
First, we must maintain our support for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. As current fighting in Helmand shows, the challenge that they are facing is intensifying. But they are also showing that they are capable of meeting it and more. I pay tribute to their bravery and sacrifice.
To support the continued efforts of the Afghan security institutions, the United Kingdom is contributing $110 million each year until at least 2017. And we are proud of our commitment to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, which graduated its first female officers over the summer. I urge Member States to continue their vital support to the Afghan National Forces.
However, Mr President, security will count for little without a strong political settlement underpinning it. We welcome President Ghani’s commitment to peace, and the commitment made by Pakistan and others in the region to reaching a political settlement. The Murree talks in July were an important step towards that goal. So let us urge all the parties to return to the negotiating table. A peace process is the only route to a secure and stable Afghanistan. And this Council should give its full support.
We should also take this chance to welcome the progress of the National Unity Government during its first year of office. The government set out its achievements at the Senior Officials Meeting earlier this month; these included agreeing, and sticking to, a macro-economic reform plan with the IMF; tackling impunity by re-opening the Kabul Bank fraud cases; and agreeing major new investments in power transmission.
All of this has been done in the face of challenging circumstances. There is much now to do. So let us show our support to the National Unity Government, and help it deliver its ambitious agenda. There are important benchmarks to measure next year, such as creating jobs, including for women, improving fiscal stability and providing better education and health services. These will all help Afghanistan make its case for continued international support at next year’s Ministerial meetings; and more importantly, show that it is keeping its promises to its people.
Afghanistan’s neighbours also have a clear interest in supporting the National Unity Government. Economic cooperation, including on trade, energy and infrastructure, is vital to the prosperity of Afghanistan and the region. The UK will be there to support the process, but this transformation can only be achieved if others match Afghanistan’s ambition for a productive Eurasian partnership.
It is with the people of Afghanistan that I wish to conclude. For so long now, stories like those of the teacher in Jalalabad, have come to typify our impressions of Afghanistan. But for every victim, there are countless others whose stories we do not hear.
Like Mahjabeen from Herat, who at the age of 41, with no formal education, opened her first business. She is now putting her daughter through university. Or Sohila, who thanks to Save the Children, is going to school for the first time, like countless other Afghan girls. Or Aqeela Asifi, who just this week was recognised by the UNHCR for her tireless pursuit of education for refugees.
It is these stories from these people of Afghanistan that underline why progress on security and a political settlement are so important. If we are to hear more of them, we must do all we can to support Afghanistan. We cannot allow them to be silenced.