Delivered by: H.E. Lana Nusseibeh, Ambassador and Permanent Representative
At the outset, I would like to thank Russia for requesting this timely meeting to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. I also thank our briefers USG Griffiths, Deputy Special Representative Potzel, and Dr. Morgan Edwards for their briefings.
A full year has passed since the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s capture of Kabul. During that time, we have seen the conditions for ordinary Afghans deteriorate, with a growing number of people facing starvation and lacking access to many basic services, including health care. Over the past year, we have heard heart-wrenching accounts of the catastrophic humanitarian situation. Afghanistan is now the only country on the planet where girls cannot attend high school and where the fundamentals of a dignified life are systematically denied to women.
At the same time, the international community and the Afghan people were promised that Afghanistan would be placed on a path to stability and peace. This has not been the case thus far, as confirmed by the presence of Al-Qaeda’s most recent leader, killed last month in Kabul, and a series of attacks by Da’esh-Khorasan. The alarming security situation appears to be worsening rather than stabilizing.
Of course, challenges in Afghanistan existed before the onset of the worst food security crisis the world has seen in a generation, which is hitting the already vulnerable Afghan population very hard – with more than 90% of the population struggling to meet basic food needs.
UNAMA has been and will continue to be a crucial partner in addressing these critical challenges and in managing the international community’s relationship with the Taliban. We are therefore concerned that more than two months have passed without an appointment of a successor to Special Representative Lyons and we commend her tireless efforts in that role. We urge a swift appointment and the Council’s full engagement with the UNAMA Mission.
I want to elaborate further on the worsening situation of women and girls in Afghanistan, which remains profoundly troubling. Our fears about the Taliban reversing the gains made in women’s and girls’ empowerment over the past two decades have materialized. On this issue, there is full agreement around this Council table: we have all rejected the restrictions imposed on women and girls, and the erosion of their access to equal opportunity. This is not a question of competing priorities or cultural or religious norms. Ensuring women and girls can participate fully, equally, and meaningfully in all aspects of life is part and parcel of what is required if Afghanistan is to progress into the 21st century, and that must remain a mainstay of the Council’s demands.
The security situation also continues to be fragile and countering extremism and terrorism remains a top challenge. Reports by the Secretary-General and the Monitoring Team clearly state that the threats posed by Al-Qaida and Da’esh-Khorasan remain of concern. We recall the Council’s clear and repeated demand that the territory of Afghanistan not be used to shelter or train terrorists. The UAE calls on the Taliban to live up to their commitments to combat terrorism and for the Council to use the full tools at its disposal to ensure that this is the case.
The UAE is also concerned that the economy of Afghanistan continues to be in freefall. The economy has shrunk by twenty to thirty per cent in the past year, according to World Bank estimates, and the humanitarian indicators continue to worsen. Although the humanitarian carve-out from the 1988 sanctions regime, which the Council agreed to was necessary to relieve some of the pressure, it did not and could not address the desperate need for liquidity, access to banking services and the Central Bank’s core functions. These are all building blocks that need to be in place to incentivize economic activity and lead to recovery. We recognize that there are difficult and significant policy issues and constraints at play here. But we urge a redoubling of efforts by all those involved to come to an agreement to restore the essential operation of Afghanistan’s economy. The UAE is ready to play its part to contribute to such efforts.
The UAE has been clear-eyed about these challenges for the past year. The basic question of how we move things forward, however, remains unanswered. The international response cannot be the isolation of Afghanistan. Calibrated engagement with the Taliban needs to be maintained. Shutting off communication channels with the de facto authorities will not yield results in any of the areas where the international community would like to see progress. But we need a coordinated strategy, and that is alarmingly absent from our deliberations today.
We also want to highlight that Islamic countries have a special role, in relation to engagement with the Taliban, to help promote religious and cultural dialogue, respect for diversity and the elimination of discrimination. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, alongside other regional organizations, has been playing an important role in this respect. The UAE, as a member of the OIC, stands ready to contribute to a renewed effort for stability and prosperity in Afghanistan, and for its people, as we have done for over the last five decades with over two billion dollars in humanitarian aid.
Since August of last year, we have witnessed the emergence of seismic global political and economic challenges to our international system. We cannot let ordinary Afghans pay the price of increasing global polarization. In the case of Afghanistan, identifying our common ground and speaking with a single voice should not be beyond the countries in the chamber. The UAE will continue to work with all Council members to ensure a constructive and pragmatic approach to the challenges facing Afghanistan in the coming period. We need to keep our focus on this goal.