Direct talks essential for Afghanistan to remain on path to peace – UN envoy

19 Jun 2019

Direct talks essential for Afghanistan to remain on path to peace – UN envoy

NEW YORK - The UN’s top envoy in Afghanistan insisted on the need to start formal negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to reach a peace agreement.

Tadamichi Yamamoto told the Security Council on Wednesday that since last year’s unprecedented three-day Eid ceasefire, which was not replicated this year, the road to peace has proven arduous, but also said that the foundations laid over the last year remain in place.

But before speaking about that progress, the UN envoy, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, turned to the 28 September presidential elections.

“The presidential election scheduled for 28 September will be a key moment to reaffirm the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democratic political structure,” said the envoy, who went on to describe how the electoral management bodies, state institutions, political leaders, candidates and international partners owe it to the citizens of Afghanistan to deliver credible and timely elections, and to accept the outcome.

Yamamoto, head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said the decision of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to prioritize the holding of presidential election on 28 September gave much-needed clarity to the electoral calendar, but he cautioned that timelines remain tight.

“Significant operational and technical challenges need to be overcome in order to deliver credible elections as scheduled,” he stressed, noting how the political stakes remain high and underlining how the elections must be contested on what he called a level playing field.

“As my predecessors in this forum have stressed, ahead of previous elections, all candidates must have equal access to state resources,” Yamamoto. “Similarly, government officials must respect the principle of non-interference and refrain from using their position or resources to support a particular candidate.”

Yamamoto reminded all candidates – and their supporters – of the code of conduct they signed when submitting their nomination papers and urge all actors to exercise restraint and to show respect for state institutions, most importantly for the IEC and the Electoral Complaints Commission.

“Afghanistan cannot afford a contentious and protracted post-election crisis which could result in a president with brittle democratic domestic legitimacy,” said Yamamoto. “This would also harm the new president’s ability to bring the Afghan people together in a meaningful and representative peace process.”

Turning back to peace, the UN diplomat described how the minds of the Afghan people and their international partners are more focused than ever on the need to reach a negotiated settlement.

“This momentum must not be lost,” he stressed, noting that talks with the Taliban continue with broad international support, and describing how Afghanistan and some of its international partners are preparing for dialogue that would bring together voices across Afghan society.

“All these efforts need to be directed towards one common objective: to start formal negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to reach a peace agreement,” he said. “The common message to the Taliban is clear: come to the table and negotiate directly with the Afghan Government.”

Yamamoto called upon those countries with direct contacts and with influence over the Taliban to intensify their efforts towards this goal. “Ultimately,” he said, “there is no substitute for the Afghan people taking ownership and advancing their inclusive dialogue towards a peace process.”

Government and political leaders, he went on to say, must foster consensus and create arrangements to represent the interests of all Afghan people.

“The pursuit of peace is at the forefront of the work by the United Nations in Afghanistan,” he said. “We work on a broad spectrum of initiatives to help create the conditions for peace, ranging from support to Afghan grassroots organizations, dialogue with all parties concerned including the Taliban, to convening discussions on behalf of the international community.”

UNAMA has been working with local communities to support and strengthen their own mediation mechanisms so that they can themselves resolve their conflicts. Yamamoto described those initiatives as a vital counterpart to global and regional efforts, where the UN’s impartiality can play a key role.

“Only an inclusive peace process which involves all those affected by the conflict – including women, youth, victims, business and religious leaders – can lead to sustainable peace,” he said. “Much is at stake: the preservation of gains over the past 18 years; the role of women; questions of accountability; and how to reintegrate those who carried arms.”

The United Nations, Yamamoto said, stands ready to support Afghans as they tackle these fundamental issues. “Afghanistan’s people have the most to win from an end to the conflict,” said Yamamoto. “But they are also the ones who are still losing the most.”

In his briefing to the Security Council, Yamamoto touched on several other pressing issues, including the continuing high numbers of civilian casualties, endemic poverty, internal displacements and “extremely precarious conditions marked by climate change and war.”

In closing, the envoy said that Afghanistan has vast economic potential that remains untapped because of the conflict. He said the state has made progress in anti-corruption and public sector reforms and noted that development partners have started to explore ways to enhance assistance in anticipation of a possible peace deal.

“But this important work can only bear fruit if a settlement is achieved,” he stressed. “The road to peace is still long, but with our united support for Afghanistan’s full ownership of the peace process, I am cautiously optimistic that we are moving in the right direction.”