Remarks at a UN Security Council Debate on Afghanistan

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Ambassador Michele J. Sison
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York City
December 21, 2015


Let me begin by again welcoming Ambassador Saikal to the Council and to New York. We look forward to working with you and partners across the Afghan government. Special Representative Haysom, thank you for your informative briefing, and for the critically important efforts of the entire UNAMA team to support the Afghan people.

As we meet today, the Government of Afghanistan continues to face significant challenges in delivering the security, good governance, and economic opportunity that its citizens yearn for. Today, I wish to speak to some of these enduring challenges, and what the international community can do to help the Afghan government succeed in its efforts to overcome them.

As we all know, the Taliban and other anti-government groups continue to pose a serious security threat. We all watched in horror the Taliban attacks of recent weeks – including the attack earlier today on a patrol near Bagram Air Base. This follows the December 9th raid on Kandahar airport and the December 12th attack in Kabul, which targeted a guest house attached to the Spanish Embassy. Scores of innocent Afghan civilians have been killed and wounded in these and other attacks, including two Spanish police officers killed in the December 12th attack – for whose deaths I extend our deepest condolences to the Permanent Representative.

The United States is committed to continuing to help the Afghan people confront this security threat. In October, President Obama announced plans to maintain the current level of 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan through most of 2016. These forces will remain engaged – together with our allies and partners in the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission – in training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces; and we will continue to support counterterrorism operations to destroy the remnants of al Qaeda.

We also continue to support and invest in Afghanistan’s relations with its neighbors. In this regard, the recent Heart of Asia ministerial on December 8th in Islamabad was a step in the right direction. We welcome the renewed commitments made at the conference to support Afghan-led efforts to enter into negotiations with the Afghan Taliban, and we will continue to work with all countries in the region – including China and Pakistan – to create the conditions necessary for a peace and reconciliation process between the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban, including elements like the Haqqani Network. The choice facing the Taliban is clear: engage in good faith negotiations for peace, or continue to fight a war they cannot win and face the consequences. We urge all members of this Council to come together in sending this clear message.

Beyond the region, the international community should continue to provide robust political, financial, and security support for Afghanistan. The progress the country has made is real – but it also is fragile – and the Afghan government and people continue to warrant our robust support. Two major conferences in 2016 – the NATO Warsaw Summit in July and the Afghanistan Development Conference in Brussels in October – provide important opportunities for Member States to renew and extend such support.

As we continue to work to degrade and destroy Afghanistan’s violent extremist groups, all parties – including the United States – must ensure they are doing everything they can to minimize harm to civilians. To that end, I would like to repeat President Obama’s heartfelt apology and condolences to the staff and patients who were killed and injured when a U.S. military airstrike mistakenly struck a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz. When others flee conflict and disaster areas, MSF charges in, and the work its staff does is – quite literally – life-saving. We in the Council have been briefed repeatedly by MSF on crises around the world where the group’s staff and volunteers serve with professionalism and courage.

No nation does more than the United States to avoid civilian casualties, but in this case we failed to live up to our standards. President Obama has insisted on a transparent, thorough, and objective accounting of the facts and circumstances of the incident, as a critical step toward ensuring full accountability. And the United States is committed to helping MSF rebuild the hospital and to making payments to those affected.

Immeasurable as the pain inflicted by that airstrike, it is important to distinguish this mistaken strike from the deliberate and deplorable targeting of civilians by the Taliban and other violent extremist groups. Our message to these forces is clear – there is only one path to peace, security, and stability in Afghanistan. And that path is not through military action – but through an Afghan-led reconciliation that builds upon the democratic and human rights gains the country has made since 2001. The Taliban’s attacks harm the Afghan people, destabilize the country, and betray the group’s disregard for the lives of the Afghan people. They must stop.

As we all know, the efforts of the Afghan government to build greater security and stability cannot be built on military efforts alone. Good governance and economic development are critically important to shore up Afghan citizens’ support for the government. In 2014, more than seven million Afghans cast their vote in elections, including millions of women, marking the country’s first democratic transfer of power in its history. The unity government formed by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah reflects the genuine will of the people for a peaceful transition. Since that time, the government has made meaningful progress toward building more transparent, accountable institutions that can deliver basic services to the Afghan people. The government has also committed to making progress on electoral reform, which is critically important to strengthening public trust in democratic processes. The recent recommendations announced by the Special Electoral Reform Commission are a welcome step; now it is up to the Afghan government to implement those pledges.

We have also seen the unity government undertake important efforts to lay the foundation for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. To give just a few examples: The recent agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan allowing construction to begin on the CASA-1000 electricity project will bring much-needed Central Asian energy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Self-Reliance for Mutual Accountability Framework – which the National Unity Government adopted in September, outlining 39 reforms and a roadmap for cooperation between international donors and the Afghan government – could boost crucial support to the country’s development. If implemented, these and other efforts will help foster greater opportunities for the Afghan people, and thereby lock in broader support for the country’s democratic future.

Let me close by reminding everyone why it’s so important that these efforts succeed. As you all know, on September 28ththe Taliban seized the city of Kunduz, which it held parts of until it was fully expelled by pro-Government forces on October 13th. The group’s treatment of the local population during that time provides a window into how it would rule were it able to retake control of more of Afghanistan.

According to a UN report, shortly after taking control of the city, the Taliban carried out “house-to-house searches using prepared lists containing the names and addresses of human rights defenders, and in particular women, women active in public life, NGO workers, United Nations staff, journalists and government officials, including lawyers, judges, and prosecutors.” The persecution of women was particularly harrowing: the Taliban looted or burned down three radio stations run by women, a girls’ high school, and multiple women’s NGOs.

One of its targets was a women’s shelter run by the NGO Women for Women, whose residents the Taliban called “runaway sluts and immoral girls.” The office, a news report said, “appeared to have been attacked with sledgehammers, the windows shattered, the walls and door frames smashed.” Of the shelter’s director, Hassina Sarwari, who managed to escape Kunduz before the Taliban could capture her, the local Taliban commander said, “If we had captured her, she would be hanged in the main circle of Kunduz City.” Even the city’s only woman civil engineer, whose job it was to help restore roads, was persecuted and run out of town.

Like so many of the women’s rights advocates and professionals who fled Kunduz and received death threats, Hassina is too afraid to return.

Yet the head of Hassina’s organization – a woman named Manizha Naderi – said they would find a way to open a new women’s shelter in Kunduz. She said it would be hard to find women willing to go, but said, “People need us, so we will have to come up with a plan. If we stop working, it’s a big victory for the Taliban.”

Groups like Women for Women are not willing to give the Taliban the victory that would come with abandoning Afghans in need. We cannot either. Thank you.

Source: U.S Department of State


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