Just hours after the Taliban carried out a coordinated attack on the Afghan Parliament, U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told the United Nation’s Security Council that foreign fighters from northern neighboring countries posed a particular challenge to the country and that there remains considerable concern that Daesh is seeking to establish a foothold in the war-ravaged country.
Briefing the 15-member council on Monday, as part of its regular session, Haysom reported on the situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security. In addition, he also gave a summary of key political and security developments and regional and international events related to Afghanistan.
He said the formation of the National Unity Government was nearly complete and stated the appointment of almost all the ministers, the formalization of the Office of the Chief Executive and the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers are important achievements made.
He noted that the development and implementation of 100-day action plans for each ministry, now under way, should help realize national objectives but said it was “imperative that the government accelerate its reform agenda”.
“The creation of the Special Commission on Electoral Reform demonstrates the commitment of the National Unity Government to electoral reforms, as provided for in the 21 September 2014 agreement,” he said adding that comprehensive electoral reforms will be crucial for restoring the faith of the Afghan people in the democratic process.
He urged government to launch the electoral reform process and determine the electoral calendar but said the United Nations looks forward to engaging with the commission and stands ready to provide advice.
On the issue of security, he said the intensification of the conflict across the country hampered progress across a range of issues and exacted a terrible toll on the civilian population.
“I am deeply concerned by the dramatic increase in civilian casualties, despite public commitments by the parties to protect civilians. Attacks deliberately targeting civilians are strictly prohibited under international humanitarian law.”
“During the (three month) reporting period anti-Government elements repeatedly attacked civilians working in the justice system, a deplorable targeting of civilian personnel. The conflict continues to displace significant numbers of civilians, in addition to those in Afghanistan displaced by military operations in Pakistan,” he said.
However, he acknowledge Afghanistan’s move to resolve the refugee issue and said: “I am encouraged by the constructive dialogue between the Governments of Afghanistan and host countries on the formulation of comprehensive return and reintegration strategies for Afghan refugees.”
“With the growing issue of internal displacement in Afghanistan, however, there will be a need to ensure national capacities to manage the volume of returns. The support of Member States to address the immediate and long-term needs of returnees will be necessary.”
But he warned that if fighting intensifies, the humanitarian situation will deteriorate further.
“In order for relief efforts to succeed, the safety of humanitarian workers and access to vulnerable individuals remain of critical importance. All parties to the conflict must respect their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws.”
He noted though that generous contributions by member states had supported efforts to prevent and alleviate the suffering of thousands of ordinary Afghans.
“Nevertheless, I note with concern that humanitarian funding is currently lower than it was at the time in 2014, while the needs are significantly higher and continue to increase.”
He also voiced his concerns over other issues including that of violence against women and the management of such cases by the criminal justice system.
In addition he spoke on Afghanistan’s continued efforts to strengthen regional relations. “The increased engagement [in the past three months] between the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan, including public declarations stating their commitment to work together for peace and prosperity, is encouraging.”
“Visits by President Ashraf Ghani to India and Iran pointed to the importance accorded by his government to those key partners as well,” he said adding that during his own planned visit to Central Asia, he will underline the importance of strengthening trade ties with Afghanistan in order to boost shared economic growth and regional stability.
In conclusion he said that Afghans desperately want respite from the ever-present violence – and that the people continue to express their desire for peace and its realization through dialogue.
He said the government has stated its commitment to engage in talks with the Taliban, who have indicated their interest in a political process. “An essential element that is missing, however, is the willingness of the armed opposition to meet the government in direct talks,” he said.
“Without that engagement, no meaningful progress towards a peace negotiation will be possible.”
He added however, that the UN will continue to provide support in this regard – in close consultation with the government.