SRSG Deborah Lyons at the Senior Officials Meeting

29 Jul 2020

SRSG Deborah Lyons at the Senior Officials Meeting

KABUL - The following is a transcript of the opening remarks delivered by the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, at the Senior Officials Meeting.


Opening remarks by the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons at Senior Officials Meeting

[as delivered ]

Kabul, July 28, 2020

His Excellency President Ghani and Mr. Arghandiwal, other ministers with us today excellencies and cherished colleagues. I'm very pleased to be here. Actually, I'm thrilled to be back in this room after an absence of a few years. It brings back wonderful memories. But it is very wonderful to be here now as the co-chair of today’s senior officials meeting together with my distinguished colleague, acting Minister Arghandwal and Mr. Talaas.

This meeting today is held at a critical juncture with hope for a more peaceful horizon. Afghanistan has the unique opportunity to turn the corner to a more stable future after four decades of war, even as the covid-19 pandemic casts a large shadow. But precisely because we are at such a critical moment for the people of Afghanistan, this is not the time to continue with business as usual. As development partners, we are all proud that we supported the government to achieve the important progress that the government and the people of Afghanistan have made. The living conditions for many Afghans increased dramatically over the past 19 years, and women and young people to name important members of the population enjoy  new economic and social opportunities. With the upcoming peace talks, setting a shift for the development landscape, I believe we all believe it is now time to take a step back, consider carefully and examine the lessons of the past. And consider how we take the right approach to pursue development games into this new era of peace.

So, this is a time of an honest assessment to critically reflect on our Development Partnership, and to use this opportunity to draw those important lessons from the past and to apply them as we go forward. This requires us to be tough, tough learners, tough on one another, toughest donors and also with our various partners. We must learn from the past to guide new approaches for development and very constructive partnerships. We will not always get it right. No one does. But we know that we can do better. To this end, a lessons learnt workshop will be organized in the coming days, which will feed into the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework, ANPDF 2.

Additionally, in the coming months we'll be having robust discussion on how we adjust and improve our working relationships, to ensure that we are building for the people in Afghanistan, more committed and productive partnerships. The Afghan people deserve nothing less from us. So with this in mind, I really truly want to thank the government for its latest draft of the ANPDF2 and I congratulate President Ghani and the team at the Ministry of Finance, for providing the vision and the strategy for the next five years through this document. I applaud the government's intention to include a results framework in future iterations of the document. And effective monitoring system will go a long way to build confidence of the people of Afghanistan, parliament and the development partners. Monitoring systems, those boring systems of government, have sustained bureaucracies and protect us from ourselves.

Similarly, the ANPDF 2 will be a more balanced and richer document if challenges in the respective sectors are also included. Corruption remains as has been said by my colleagues, a major concern for development partners and for the government alike, and I appreciate greatly the government's commitment to keep the fight against corruption front and center. Additionally, the progress on anti-corruption is crucial as donors consider their future commitments in this awful time of COVID and great fiscal constraints. So, I encourage the government to continue to concentrate on concrete anti-corruption measures that deliver visible results.

I was very fortunate in being in this room yesterday as the moderator of one of the side events on development and peace. A very lively discussion on this critical topic, clearly brought out the mutually reinforcing nature of development and peace. Development creates the foundations for sustainable peace. And a peaceful country can accelerate and reduce the cost of development, a relationship that donors must remember at this critical time as we consider our commitment to Afghanistan. During the discussion, a number of very key points were raised by the many participants both in the room and online. And I'll just reflect a few of them for you now. When asked at the very end, what would be the one critical, critical advice that they would give to development partners in the government? These were the key comments that they reflected first, strong political cohesive will, secondly, a strong attention to anti-corruption on the part of the government and the development partners. Thirdly, the need to focus and prioritize. Fourthly, listen to the people throughout the country, in the remote areas, in the rural areas, make sure that the peace talks and the development efforts are echoing the voice of the people. And particularly to that end, ensure that we are engaging women. And do not forget the neighbors ensure that development efforts and peace efforts are incorporating a strong focus on regional cooperation.

So from all of this, and from what we all know from the thinking and the discussions we've had, as we move into this important moment, we should not shy away from resetting development so that the people of Afghanistan remain confident in us in our plans and in our programs. We know that this confidence is crucial to an enduring and sustainable peace. Discussions also made clear that we still have a long way to go. At a time when both the government and the Taliban are meant to be coming to the negotiating table, we continue to see incredible harm done to civilians. In UNAMA’s report on the protection of civilians that was released yesterday, it identified some 3,500 civilian casualties in the last six months alone.

So therefore, we all in this room and online, urge all parties to do what they can to ensure that the inter Afghan negotiations start as soon as possible. And it is also time for all to lower the level of violence, most particularly as we move into this incredible Eid holiday, the period ahead as we all know will, without doubt, be full of challenge. We know from experience in other countries that peace negotiations test the very fabric of a society. They are an opportunity to clarify the country's values and the country's identity. This again underlines the need for a cohesive political leadership, which is accountable and committed to the delivery of services to all clients and to all citizens.

In addition to the importance of the government partnership with the donors, we also have to recognize the incredible civil society that Afghanistan continues to host and is, without question, one of the strengths of this incredible country. So, with the simultaneous challenges right now of conflict and COVID-19 never has the work of the Non-Governmental Organizations been more important in reducing suffering. For this life saving work to continue, there must also be an operating environment where NGOs can continue to work impartially and independently, in line with humanitarian principles that are applied everywhere around the world. And of course, they must work in required cooperation with all relevant partners. Finally, we are meeting at a time of a rapidly changing global context impacted by the horrible COVID-19 pandemic.

The severe financial constraints force us all to be more realistic about key priorities. And in this regard, again, I would stress the need for more prioritization and sequencing between and within the National Priority Programs, the NPPs. As we've already had discussions with the government, done this with the ministry, and I look forward to those discussions going forward in the coming months. Many donors are facing increasing demands, as their economic and social needs back home deepen, securing sufficient levels of funding for Afghanistan will be a challenge, but it is essential for sustainable peace. And I am convinced that the government's clear vision and commitment to good governance and the increased prioritization will go a long way in reaffirming the commitment of donors to Afghanistan.

This is not the time for us to weaken in our resolve. This is a time when Afghanistan is turning the corner toward peace. If there has ever been a time when donors needed to continue to walk with the people of Afghans it is in this coming year.

So, in conclusion, I am confident we are on the path towards self-reliance, stability and prosperity. But much work still needs to be done before the pledging conference. And greater assurance is required on all sides. But I can assure President Ghani and the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of the international community, of our continued unshakeable commitment to the welfare and the prosperity of Afghanistan and have a peaceful and stable future. Thank you so much, and I look forward to the discussions today.

Thank you very much.