DSRSG Knudsen remarks at Central Asia Ministerial Meeting on “The Afghan Peace Process and impact of withdrawal of International Forces"
I welcome today’s ministerial level meeting on Afghanistan, as a clear signal of the sense of urgency that the region feels in light of the rapidly developing situation across Afghanistan. As the Head of UNAMA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General Deborah Lyons stated before the United Nations Security Council in late June, “the relentless spirit of the Afghans and their incredible resilience is being severely tested.” Over the past weeks, Afghans have witnessed a significant deterioration in the security situation amidst a stalled peace process, increasing economic hardship exacerbated by severe drought, and a worsening humanitarian emergency, further compounded by the impact of the third wave of COVID-19.
The February 2020 Doha agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban generated hope that it would create space for Afghans to come together and negotiate a path to peace. Today, with the announced withdrawal of international forces well advanced, actions on the battlefield have outpaced efforts at the peace negotiation table. Since 1 May, many district centers have come under Taliban influence. There are indicators suggesting a focus on provincial capitals, movement corridors and key transportation axes between regions. At the same time, in many parts of the country, political and former jihadi leaders and local communities have mobilized to defend their areas.
It cannot be overstated -- the pursuit of a military solution will only increase the suffering of the Afghan people. It will destroy much of what has been achieved over the past two decades, it will deprive Afghanistan’s young generation of a future they have been hoping to build through education and hard work to contribute to the country’s development.
Meanwhile, across the country, we have heard the voices of many Afghans, young and old, women and men across all ethnic and political affiliations, appealing to the parties to the conflict to cease fighting. Afghan leaders, with the support of the region and the international community, must heed and answer these calls.
Regional countries have all expressed grave concerns about an extended and fragmented conflict in Afghanistan. These concerns include refugee flows, migrant movement, increased drug smuggling, terrorism, and lost opportunities for economic connectivity and mutually beneficial trade.
The launch of the Afghanistan peace negotiations last year and the renewed emphasis on regional political cooperation and economic diplomacy created an opportune moment, to build on existing regional political platforms. This momentum must be maintained. The existing regional formats, such as the Troika Plus, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Heart of Asia-Istanbul process and others, should all be further galvanized to reinforce a political and peaceful pathway for Afghanistan.
Regional countries have a vital role to play in helping Afghanistan to stabilize and integrate more fully into the region. A stable and secure Afghanistan will have immense benefits for trade and transit cooperation in Central and South Asia, while closer links with the region will foster the necessary socio-economic conditions for the consolidation of peace in Afghanistan. This will also promote confidence among Afghanistan’s development partners with respect to their ongoing investment in the country’s future.
Supporting regional cooperation is distinctly enshrined in the mandate of UNAMA. In addition, the United Nations Secretary-General has appointed a Personal Envoy on Afghanistan and Regional Issues, a veteran diplomat and former head of UNAMA, Jean Arnault, to support United Nations efforts to foster a regional consensus in support of the peace talks and implementation of an eventual political agreement.
We can all agree that Afghanistan will need, now more than ever, regional and international engagement and support. Certainly, every effort must be made by all of us to avoid the country going down the path of more bloodshed and suffering. There is only one acceptable direction for Afghanistan – away from the battlefield and back to the negotiating table. Now is the time for the region to forge a renewed consensus and agree on joint action in support of peace in Afghanistan. Jointly, we must do all we can to support the parties to return to the path of peace, stability and economic prosperity.