Secretary-General Tells Security Council Afghanistan at 'Critical Juncture', Appeals for Unified Political Effort on Key Priorities in Coming Months

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Security Council
6255th Meeting (AM)

Outgoing Special Representative Says Civilian Aspects of Transition Strategy – Building Institutions, Economy - Must Be as Important as Military, or 'We Will Fail'

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council today that Afghanistan had reached a "critical juncture" after a challenging year of difficult elections, a deteriorating security situation and doubts about the strategies of the Government and the international community.

Opening the Council's debate, and prior to a briefing by outgoing Special Representative Kai Eide, the Secretary-General said that last year's election had been problematic, to say the least, but the result had ultimately been accepted. Further, the inaugural address of President Karzai had been encouraging, as it addressed the real needs of the Afghan people: security; good governance; corruption; national unity; and the need to expand cooperation with the country's neighbours to combat drug trafficking. He had also made an explicit commitment to measurable achievements, allowing for the start of a gradual transfer of responsibilities from international actors to Afghan institutions, particularly in security.

That was particularly important given the further deterioration of security, he said. While the violence was driven by an insurgency, it had also been exploited by criminal groups and there had been increased civilian casualties and greater risks for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). That insecurity remained the single biggest impediment to progress. The vulnerability of civilians was a serious issue, with great implications for the standing of the Government and its partners in steering the country towards stability and peace.

All the key players ‑‑ Afghan and international ‑‑ had drawn important lessons from controversial experiences and missed opportunities, he said. He appealed to both the Government and the international community to make the best possible use of the next few months, including through the upcoming conference in London. The sharpened strategies of the international community demonstrated a clear understanding that continued pursuit of the same policies would not lead to success, but for them to be successful the new Government must fulfil its far-reaching pledges.

He also welcomed the new approach by United States President Barack Obama, which sought an optimal balance between military and civilian efforts and that would strengthen cooperation with the United Nations. "It is clear that there is a need for broader and more effective civilian efforts, which will require much better international coordination," he said. He also welcomed a search for new structures to accomplish that and added that the United Nations remained fully committed to playing its role in that coordination, despite attacks that had cost the lives of its personnel. At the same time, he affirmed his commitment to ensuring the safety and security of all staff.

In his last briefing to the 15-member body, Mr. Eide said that, since the United Nations undertook to engage in the post-Taliban Afghanistan nine years ago, it had achieved much in the areas of education, health, and institution-building. However, he was today worried about negative trends; growing impatience among the donor community and troop-contributing countries; increasing frustration among the Afghan public; and difficulties in putting the insurgency on the defensive. Unless those negative trends were reversed soon, there was a great risk that the situation would become unmanageable.

He said that the upcoming international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London was an opportunity to set the assistance agenda straight, not only in the area of security, but also in the critical area of institution-building to allow Afghans to build their own State, which had been supported previously through words and not in deeds, resulting in parallel structures. In that light, he offered an outline for a political strategy that prioritized a systematic approach to civilian institution-building. "If we do not take these civilian components of the transition strategy as seriously as the military component, then we will fail," he said.

Also taking the floor before Council members began their discussion, the representative of Afghanistan assured the Council that the newly formed Government shared the same ultimate goal as the international community: to prepare and empower Afghans to take charge of their own destinies.

In the next five years, he said, the central goal of the Government would be preparing for the transition to full Afghan rule by strengthening sovereignty and national ownership. He called upon the international community to ensure that every action taken in the country was in support of those efforts. Following President Karzai's outlining of commitments and formation of a new Government, the next priority would be to forge a compact between the international community and Afghanistan that clearly defined the strategies and responsibilities of each.

He objected to suggestions to postpone upcoming elections in order to redress flaws that had marred last years' polls because ignoring the constitutional requirements would damage the integrity of the process, and he stressed that a true partnership between the international community and Afghanistan required realism ‑‑ about timing, resources and abilities, and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities.

In the discussion that followed, most speakers agreed that international efforts must be refocused to prioritize Afghan institution-building in the security sector, as well as in such areas of service delivery and local governance. The representative of the United States, noting the commitment of an additional 30,000 troops to the country, stressed that the troop increase must be matched by a stronger civilian effort, integrated with more responsible Government institutions and a clear strategy to turn over responsibilities to the Afghans.

Most also agreed that UNAMA should be pivotal in better coordinating international efforts, and that the Mission should receive the resources it needed for that purpose. Many speakers supported, in addition, UNAMA's plans to extend its presence to more parts of the country, but France's representative, for one, called for a re-examination of such deployment in light of the security situation.

Pakistan's representative, in addition, while recognizing the need for international assistance in many areas for Afghanistan, recalled the lessons of history as a warning to those who would try to control the country's internal affairs. Reiterating his cautions about the perils of external involvement, he recalled that, prior to the first Afghan war, the British envoy William McNaughton "signalled the Governor of Calcutta, 'all is well'. He was murdered the next day".

Also today, as this was the first public meeting of 2010, continuing Council Members welcomed new members Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria, all of whom took the floor for the first time today.

Also speaking were the representatives of Turkey, Austria, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Uganda, Japan, Mexico, China, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Norway.

The Acting Head of the delegation of the European Union to the United Nations also spoke.

The meeting began at 10:20 a.m. and closed at 1:35 p.m.