Distinguished Members of the Council,
This is an important year for Afghanistan, as the population marks the 100th year of its independence. As the Deputy Secretary-General has just highlighted, the country is at a pivotal juncture with an unprecedented opportunity for peace. While a number of initiatives are ongoing, presidential elections are just nine weeks away.
Allow me to update you briefly on political developments since the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Mr. Tadamichi Yamamoto, briefed the Council on 19 June.
I will first turn to elections.
Our message to the Afghan people is the need for the upcoming presidential election, scheduled for 28 September, to be credible and held on time. We are pleased to once again provide technical assistance for the conduct of this election.
I am pleased to report that the Independent Electoral Commission, or IEC, has made steady progress to prepare for the voting. I met with IEC members as well as with members of the Electoral Complaints Commission, or ECC, during our recent visit to receive an update on their plans and learn of the challenges they still face. In addition to a large technical support team imbedded with both electoral bodies, the United Nations has also deployed two non-voting members to each Commission. They are experienced former electoral commissioners from Bulgaria, Ghana, Kenya, and Nepal appointed to provide advice to the commissions. The Afghan commissioners were appointed through a consultative process that included political parties, civil society and presidential candidates.
Regarding the progress made, a USD 149 million election budget has been finalized. The Government has committed to cover a significant portion - USD 90 million. The international community has pledged to finance the remaining USD 59 million.
The voter registration update exercise was just concluded. Over half a million more Afghans have registered, of which some 36 per cent are women. This is the first time that citizens were given an opportunity to review and make corrections to the 2018 voters list. The IEC announced a preliminary figure of 9.6 million registered voters for the upcoming election.
The IEC is also working to implement Biometric Voter Verification and Electronic Results Transmission technology. If successfully implemented, they will introduce an additional layer of fraud mitigation and address specific post-election challenges observed in 2018.
The security assessment of over 5,000 polling centers has been completed. Security arrangements for the campaign period are also being put in place. Security, however, has been a consistent concern for Afghan elections, often infringing on the right to vote, particularly of women and of those living in very insecure areas. We encourage the Afghan Government and the IEC to pay attention to the security of all voters, including women during this process.
Ahead of the campaign, starting this weekend, the IEC also issued accreditation letters for presidential candidates’ agents. There are 18 presidential candidates; three of the candidates have women as vice presidential candidates on their slates.
Despite the progress, challenges remain. Recruitment of thousands of polling staff has to be finalized, training of those staff as well as observers and candidates' agents is extremely important, the necessary equipment and materials shall need to be in place to complete all preparations in a timely fashion and deliver the upcoming election in a credible and transparent manner. With only nine weeks remaining to the polling and with the Commissions working against the clock, there is no room for delays of technical or political nature. Close collaboration among all actors is critical to ensure the remaining steps are completed according to the set electoral calendar.
But successful elections are not determined by technical matters only. Maintaining a level playing field amongst all candidates is key for credible elections. The United Nations urges all actors to exercise restraint and show respect for the independence of the IEC and the ECC. We also encourage both Commissions to regularly engage with a broad range of stakeholders and ensure that the public is kept fully informed during the process.
Similarly, we expect the candidates and other stakeholders to assume their important responsibility for the credibility of the electoral process. The overriding responsibility for a successful election lies with the political leaders themselves.
Credible presidential elections are vital to give the newly elected president the authority needed to bring the country together in the peace process.
Let me now turn to the peace process. As the Deputy Secretary-General has stated, all Afghans we met made clear their desire for peace now and view recent events as an unprecedented opportunity to achieve peace after so many decades of conflict.
Direct talks between the United States and the Taliban continue. The first intra-Afghan Peace Conference co-hosted by Germany and Qatar took place from 7 to 8 July in Doha.
While delegates, including government officials participated in their individual capacities, this was an important step forward towards one common objective: to start formal negotiations between the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban to reach a sustainable peace agreement. Additional intra-Afghan conferences are being planned.
Regional engagement to support an Afghan peace process has also intensified. From 10 to 11 July, representatives of China, Russia, and the United States held their third consultation on the Afghan peace process in Beijing. Pakistan joined the consultation. On 19 July, the fifth round of the China-Afghanistan-Pakistan Practical Cooperation Dialogue took place in Islamabad.
Our interlocutors stressed that peace cannot come at any cost, particularly the democratic gains of the last 18 years. I was heartened to see women, as delegates, participating in the dialogue in Doha. As the Deputy Secretary-General has stressed earlier, women need to fully, effectively and directly participate in peace talks and negotiations for a peace process to be sustainable.
A political solution to the conflict in Afghanistan remains more relevant than ever, as civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. All too often, civilians are either injured or killed, including when caught in the cross fire, struck by explosive weapons, or deliberately targeted. We call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, to ensure access for humanitarian agencies to provide life-saving assistance and to distinguish between combatants and civilian targets to protect civilians from hostilities.
Afghans deserve peace and the right to choose their representatives. The United Nations remains committed to assist Afghanistan in its efforts for peace, stability and prosperity. And as the Deputy-Secretary General said, we urge this Council to do the same.
Thank you, Mr. President.