Distinguished Ministers and Representatives,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I thank the government of the United Kingdom for hosting this important meeting, and extend my thanks to all present here, for reaffirming their commitment to supporting a strong, independent and forward-looking Afghanistan.
I warmly welcome President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, CEO Abdullah and the Afghan delegation to this meeting, recognising the central role that reform has played in the President’s first months in office.
While it is true that many challenges lay ahead for Afghanistan on its road to stability and peace, we should first recognise the peaceful transfer of political power from one democratically elected leader to another in Afghanistan in September which marked a key milestone in the political rebirth of the nation.
However, the economic situation in Afghanistan remains fragile. Endemic poverty, hunger and malnutrition, faltering growth, diminishing revenue and a burgeoning illicit economy continue to diminish opportunities for Afghan communities, and inherently leave open space for those who seek to exploit such fragility for their own ends. Similarly, corruption, weak rule of law and lack of respect for human rights including women’s rights remain widespread, exercising a deeply corrosive influence on both the capacity of government to deliver results and the faith that Afghans and the international community can place in government itself.
These are issues of which President Ghani and CEO Abdullah are keenly aware and engaged, and I commend the National Unity Government on its ambitious and focused proposal for reform and renewal outlined in the conference paper “Realising Self-Reliance”. I also note the Government’s commitment to develop detailed action plans once this meeting has concluded, and the United Nations recommits itself to supporting our Afghan partners in this work.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is apt, at this historic moment of political and security transition that the international community reconvene to review, update, assess and renew the commitments made two years ago in Tokyo, together with its Afghan partners. This is, above all a meeting about partnership.
This is an opportunity to forge a strong, sustainable and accountable partnership between the nations and organisations present here today, and through that union, lay the foundation for a more secure and more prosperous Afghanistan. The United Nations remains a committed partner with Afghanistan and the rest of the international community in building that foundation.
Building sustainable economic growth and development cannot be the realm of government alone – either domestic or foreign. Improved governance, revitalised markets and strengthened institutions can only take place with the assistance, commitment and input of the community, civil society, the private sector and regional partners. Only through such broad engagement can the conditions in which greater stability, increased peace and growth in opportunity prosper.
I commend the Afghan Government’s direct commitment to address the impacts of economic fragility in conjunction with bolstering the rule of law framework. A commitment on all sides to accountability and transparency is the clearest path toward renewed and sustainable governance and institutional capacity. The United Nations remains engaged closely in these issues as the next tranche of reform commences.
The continued empowerment of women in all aspects of Afghan life and further strengthening of safeguards in the protection of women remain important issues. No community, no economy and no country can be truly prosperous and genuinely strong if half of its citizens do not enjoy the same protections, respect and economic and educational opportunities as the other.
The scope of the humanitarian crisis effecting Afghanistan should also not be underestimated, and is a United Nations priority. There remains an acute need for humanitarian support and funding to protect communities at risk and assist effected communities recover. Similarly, the human cost of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan remains deeply concerning. Rising civilian casualties, conflict-related displaced persons and acute societal disruption all adversely affect the capacity of communities and government to function and provide the basic necessities as a direct result of conflict.
Ladies and gentlemen, the security situation in Afghanistan is deeply troubling. The horrific attack in Paktika which killed at least 62 individuals – mostly civilians – and injured more than 100 others, is a clear but sadly not isolated example of the terrible toll this conflict continues to take upon the Afghan people. Despite the drawdown in international military forces, the international community must remain engaged in combating the devastating effects on civilians of this conflict.
It is timely as well to acknowledge that “business as usual”, including for the United Nations, is not enough. The Afghan government has already indicated that it is seeking to refresh the form and function of aid and partnership with the United Nations and international community, and I see this is a clear opportunity for us all. Genuine partnership requires both honesty and commitment on both sides, and I acknowledge that rethinking our approach to development in this context is an opportune discussion, and one rich in potential rewards for how we all progress a sustainable reform agenda.
Our commitment to Afghan partnership must remain unshakeably linked to the principles of international aid effectiveness, focus on the priorities identified by Afghanistan, and must recognise the primacy of Afghan leadership in shaping the development agenda and implementation. This is a grave responsibility for all present, and I reaffirm the United Nation’s ongoing assurance of support and action.