Thank you, Mr. President.
Special Representative de Mistura, welcome back to the Council, and thank you for your briefing today. We commend your strong leadership of UNAMA. I hope you will convey our deep appreciation to the Mission’s staff for the work that they do on behalf of all of us to help build a stronger Afghanistan.
Also, a special welcome to Ambassador Tanin for once again addressing the Council. I wish to underscore our support for strengthening Afghan leadership and sovereignty which Ambassador Tanin discussed earlier. The transition to an Afghan security lead, the beginning of U.S. troop reductions in July, and the ongoing efforts to establish a new U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership Declaration are all important aspects to restoring Afghan ownership.
Mr. President, let me touch on three issues this morning.
First, the process of transferring security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces is beginning. At their March 11 meeting in Brussels, NATO and ISAF Defense Ministers endorsed the recommendations of the Joint Afghan-NATO Inteqal Board to begin the transition to Afghan-led security responsibility. In the coming days, we expect that President Karzai will announce which areas of Afghanistan will first undergo this transition. This decision will be based on a thorough assessment of conditions on the ground, performed jointly by the Afghan government and ISAF in the months since Lisbon. The transition process will be gradual and will further bolster Afghan capacity.
Although this transition will be largely security-focused, it will also have an important civilian role. We were pleased that the Secretary-General’s report identified several areas where the United Nations can play a valuable role in this process, including mediation, conflict resolution, human rights, Afghan capacity-building, and supporting Afghan coordination of international assistance. We encourage continued strong cooperation between UNAMA and ISAF as the transition gets underway.
Second, we welcome the conclusion of last year’s legislative elections with the January 26 inauguration of the Wolesi Jirga. The Secretary-General concluded that, despite significant flaws in the elections, Afghanistan’s electoral institutions performed admirably under extremely challenging circumstances. We concur.
We understand that the Special Court has begun a recount of elections in several provinces. We remain concerned about any actions that could undermine the electoral process’ integrity, and we urge all Afghan institutions to act within their clearly defined areas of competence, in accordance with the relevant Afghan laws and the Constitution. We look forward to having the UN continue its partnership with the different branches of the Afghan government as they carry out their respective functions under Afghan law, including the electoral-reform process.
Third, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted in her remarks at the Asia Society last month, the year 2011 will see the confluence of three “surges”: a joint Afghan and international military offensive against al-Qaida and the Taliban; a civilian campaign to bolster the Afghan government, economy, and civil society; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and secure future for the region. The security and governance gains produced by the Afghan and international military and civilian surges have, as Secretary Clinton put it, “created an opportunity to get serious about a responsible reconciliation process, led by Afghans and supported by intense regional diplomacy and strong U.S. backing.”
Under Afghan leadership and ownership, important efforts are already underway to begin a national discussion on reconciliation. President Karzai has formed the High Peace Council, which includes representatives from across Afghanistan. Council leaders are holding meetings in key provinces throughout the country with tribal leaders, civil society, including women, and villagers to hear their hopes and concerns. They are working to form local councils to begin engaging the insurgents and the broader community. We fully support this Afghan effort. We also applaud UNAMA’s efforts to support the High Peace Council through the Salaam Support Group.
Over the past two years, the Government of Afghanistan and the international community have laid out clear conditions for insurgents who wish to abandon the fight and rejoin Afghan society: they must renounce violence, cut all ties with al-Qaida, and abide by the Afghan Constitution, including its provisions protecting the rights of women and minorities. Insurgents who choose the path of peace will find a willing partner in the United States.
Reconciliation will require the support of Afghanistan’s neighbors, including, most importantly, Pakistan. Pakistan has legitimate concerns that the Afghan government must acknowledge. But Pakistan also has important responsibilities, including taking firm action to prevent the Afghan Taliban from using Pakistani territory as a safe haven to continue its insurgency. Pressure from Pakistan will help push the Taliban toward the negotiating table and away from al-Qaida.
Mr. President, let me also comment briefly on recent civilian casualties. Our principal goal remains to protect the Afghan people. We deeply regret the unintended injury or death of any civilian in the course of military action. The United States and international forces have made extraordinary efforts to reduce civilian casualties and have seen some success, although there is more work to be done. Insurgents, on the other hand, are responsible for at least 75 percent of civilian casualties, and they use innocent civilians as human shields, extort them for support, take them as hostages, and tax their harvests.
Mr. President, we believe this year holds great promise for Afghanistan and the wider region. We are committed to continued support for the government and people of Afghanistan as they move beyond the current conflict toward a brighter future.
Finally, the U.S. delegation supports the extension of the UNAMA mandate for a further twelve months and thanks the German Mission for their leadership of these negotiations.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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