SRSG Deborah Lyons Opening Remarks at the Special Joint Coordination & Monitoring Board

28 Jul 2021

SRSG Deborah Lyons Opening Remarks at the Special Joint Coordination & Monitoring Board

28 July 2021

[As delivered]

Mr. President and Dr. Abdullah,

Distinguished ambassadors and members of the international community,

Honored guests,

The unprecedented set of circumstances that we face today make this JCMB perhaps the most important one since we started to meet in this format some 15 years ago. The issue on our agenda of preserving the gains has never been more urgent nor indeed more challenging. Our job today is to set a course to the Senior Officials Meeting in November, as Dr. Fauzi mentioned, that will lead to renewed support for the Afghan state. But let us be frank, with one another, today: while the partnership is strong and the commitment from both sides – Government and the International Community - remains sincere, the transformational effort that is underway is itself is in crisis. Donors in particular will seek to be reassured from the government today that it recognizes the nature of the crisis and that it has a strategic outlook that addresses the current, worrying circumstances.

For now, I am not talking primarily about the recent Taliban advances. They are cause for concern, as we all know, and which I will address later. For now, however, I am talking about the one number that concerns us the most. That number is 18 million. Eighteen million Afghans today are facing dire humanitarian needs. That is twice the number of the same category last year. It represents half the country. As we sit in this room today, we must have foremost on our minds these 18 million Afghans, who in the height of a hot summer, endure a fourth wave of COVID (like so many other countries around the world) endure a persistent drought, and intensified fighting that has killed among the highest number Afghans ever —as reported in our recent UNAMA Mid-term review on Protection of Civilians. And, as well outlined in the report, this year’s civilian casualty figure presents an increase of nearly fifty percent, compared to the same period last year, with the Taliban responsible for more civilian casualties than any other party. Of the total casualties, half were made up of women and children. In other words, in a year when everyone had committed themselves to focusing on peace talks, projections show that unless violence abates more Afghan civilians will this year perish than we have ever before recorded in a single year.  And at a time when we were hoping to discuss progress made in building a more peaceful landscape, - and we know this is also what the Government wants - more civilians risk dying from drought, disease, hunger, or displacement. And in spite of our hopes after Geneva, - for this peaceful landscape to emerge - we see risking more civilians dying in a conflict where Afghans are now killing Afghans.  

Even Afghans who don’t face those immediate threats to their livelihoods, have over recent months begun to live in fear that the Afghan state will not be able to defend them; that a possibly repressive Taliban regime will emerge and roll back the basic human rights that they have enjoyed and that are part of the norms of the international community, and the norms that the Government in Afghanistan has been attempting to uphold. Every diplomatic representative, every government representative, every CSO and the media  present here today, have spent an extraordinary amount of our time recently listening to the growing anxieties of many Afghans.

Let us bear these unprecedented factors in mind as we chart a course to November. We cannot ignore that this meeting takes place under extraordinary circumstances—circumstances that are rather different from those hoped for when we met in Geneva last November, bolstered as we were by the start of peace talks just two months prior. The Afghanistan Partnership Framework that we agreed to in Geneva is being severely tested by the Taliban offensive.

Of particular concern in terms of the present relevance of the Afghan Partnership Framework is the loss of control by the government of border posts. The border posts that are currently under Taliban control last year yielded substantial income in government revenue, amounting to about a third of the revenue raised by the government in Afghanistan. Assuming that the Taliban remain in control of these posts, this means, first, that the percentage of international funding as a share of total government revenue increases, setting back what had previously been indeed a major achievement by the state and the Government of Afghanistan. But more importantly, the total revenues available to the government declines, which will surely impact service delivery as well as add to the economic losses that were already significant as a result of COVID. The loss of control of border areas also calls into doubt Afghanistan’s ambitions to quite rightly transform itself by becoming a regional node of connectivity. It challenges many of the premises of the APF.

So, what is the way forward? Today I believe that we need to address first the immediate humanitarian crisis, as well as come up with a medium-term strategy that restores Afghanistan to its original positive pathway towards sustainability and self-reliance, that everyone in this room has worked so hard to create. In both of these discussions the reality must be faced: With the territory they have taken the Taliban have inherited responsibilities. The world is watching closely how they are acting, especially towards civilian populations, women, and minorities. The Taliban have gained a certain legitimacy in recent years through their negotiations in Doha, but this legitimacy is premised on their commitment to a political negotiation with the Government of Afghanistan, a commitment which their battle-focused strategy casts into doubt. If there is no movement at the negotiating table, and instead human rights abuses and worse still atrocities occur in districts they control, the Taliban will not be seen as a viable partner for the international community. Under the values of any civilization, not least that of Islam, the impending crisis – humanitarian crisis, drought, CIVID, food insecurity, displacement, - any dimension of this impending crisis should be a cause for unity, peace, and sister and brotherhood.

As noted earlier, the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance almost doubled this year compared to 2020 due to conflict and drought. Our humanitarian partners are here, and they are here to deliver. But three critical things are needed for this life-saving work: One, an immediate and lasting end to the violence is necessary, and humanitarian access must be unimpeded so that all areas of the country, all Afghans in need, can be reached. Two, we need more funding – and for this I will to the international community – we need more funding to scale up the response. We thank those countries who have already responded to the Joint Humanitarian Appeal of about 1.2 billion dollars and we appeal to others to please do so quickly. And three, an enabling operating environment for humanitarian partners is essential so that they can quickly deliver services, along with the Government, to those most in need without interference. I therefore welcome the Government’s recent decision to remove the ban on NGOs MoUs. Thank you for that, an excellent step forward. And we will continue that discussion.

To address Afghanistan’s longer term issues peace negotiations must proceed in earnest and with real sincerity so that a sustainable, inclusive, and equitable peace can be reached. The world has now recognized that the Taliban must be a partner in Afghanistan’s transition to self-reliance. International donors have signaled their willingness to continue to support Afghanistan after a peace agreement is reached. But no major donor will finance the repression of women, let me say that again, no major donor will finance the repression of women, nor any major donor will finance the discrimination of minorities, the denying of education to girls, or the decrees of an authoritarian government. They cannot do so, not only because these are against the norms of the United Nations and international community, but because a society built on these restrictions cannot and will not function for its citizens. Whatever Government of the day, Afghanistan is, and will remain part of the international community, and so, bound by the existing international human rights obligations of the treaties that it has ratified.

And so, a key priority for this meeting is to ensure the continuity and improvement of existing state institutions – which many of you here represent -, especially those that are providing essential services to the Afghan population. We are well aware of the challenge at hand: providing services to all Afghans, even if not all Afghans are living directly under Government authority; and improving and reforming especially those institutions that can most quickly deliver the essential services to the citizens, and those institutions that can have the biggest impact. We know that this has been the goal of the cabinet and the many ministries, and of th palace, and we will continue to work with you.

The Afghan Partnership Framework will remain an important guiding document as we chart our way through the rough waters ahead. But we must focus more on its principles and results than on processes. For the sake of all Afghans, we must be on track to modify the targets that we need to modify and then meet the targets of the APF, particularly as the country faces this very severe existential crisis. Perhaps the most important discussion we will have today is on conditionality. In other words, on how the APF might need to be updated so that it remains a useful metric of performance, and how its targets more closely align with whether or not the needs of the people are being met in this dramatically changing and challenging environment.

As we prepare for the November Senior Officials Meeting and then a biennial ministerial meeting in 2022 to further review progress, I look forward to a frank and open policy dialogue here today. The November meeting in particular will provide an important moment for the international partners to assess and reflect on the changed context and the overall progress. This will then inform decisions for future assistance, as outlined in the APF. Afghanistan remains a highly aid-dependent country, and the importance of positive joint reviews are essential to support the development of Afghanistan’s future and continue our dynamic partnership. We appreciate the very hard work of the government, especially the ministers, members of the cabinet Administrative Office of the President our hard working colleagues in the Ministry of Finance, and of course here in the palace, working in partnership with donors in implementing the APF. We also acknowledge that security challenges and COVID set back some of our best efforts to implement development priorities.

Friends and colleagues,

At a moment when half of Afghanistan’s population faces the most dire of circumstances and potentially dramatic changes to their daily lives, Afghan leaders with us need to decide whether to subject Afghanistan to further generations of war, or to reach political compromises that will allow the country to breathe again, to rest, and to rebuild. We all need to rethink hardened political positions we may have. What is the point of politics, and diplomacy, of all of our benchmarks and priorities and plans, if in the end they still leave the people vulnerable, hungry, and hurting. We are all better than this, and the Afghan people deserve more from us. We have much hard work ahead of us today. UNAMA is very happy to be here in partnership with the Government and members international community to chart the course from this day forward, for the next four months, to the meeting November to achieve the positive outcome that the people of Afghanistan deserve.

Thank you very much.