Thank you, Mr. President.
Special Representative Kubis, thank you for your informative briefing. I also want to thank you, and your entire team at the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, for your steadfast and professional work supporting the Afghan people and their government at this critically important juncture. Executive Director Fedotov, welcome to the council today and thank you very much for your briefing. And, once again, thank you Ambassador Tanin for your presence and for your remarks.
Mr. President, we are meeting at an historic time for Afghanistan. Millions of Afghans have gone out to vote not once, but twice in recent months, in an election that will eventually determine the first democratic transfer of power the country has ever seen. This has been an act of immense courage on the part of Afghan voters, who have braved real threats to assert their most basic democratic right. And – I would argue – there are reasons to be optimistic beyond the ink on millions of people’s fingers.
Many of the Afghan institutions that have developed over the last decade played a key role in the electoral process. Presidential candidates engaged in vigorous televised debates, which raised public awareness of their positions. Their campaigns were covered by a maturing and independent national press. Nearly 70 Afghan organizations fielded more than 18,000 observers to increase transparency. And Afghan security forces provided security throughout the process.
Perhaps no one has seen a bigger change than Afghanistan’s women. Under Taliban rule, Afghan women were completely excluded from public life. This year, more than two and a half million women cast ballots in the first round of voting. But that’s not all. Female election observers monitored polling stations. And women ran for – and won – seats on provincial councils. The Afghan people can be proud of this progress.
Mr. President, even as we recognize steps forward, we are mindful of the challenges that remain. One of those challenges is evaluating allegations of electoral fraud. To that end, we urge both candidates to remain engaged with Afghanistan’s electoral institutions – the Independent Election Commission and the Independent Electoral Complaints Commission – and to present them with any evidence of fraud. We call on these institutions to ensure that all allegations they receive are given prompt, thorough, and impartial review and adjudication. And we call on all stakeholders to refrain from violence, and to condemn violent acts if and when they occur. Further, we believe UNAMA can play a critically important role in facilitating this process, and maintaining the dialogue between the candidates and Afghan electoral bodies.
Regardless of who emerges as the victor, the United States is committed to working with the next president of Afghanistan to help the Afghan people build a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous country. That is why President Obama announced last month that we are ready to keep approximately 9,800 U.S. service members in Afghanistan at the start of 2015. These troops will help train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces as part of the NATO Resolute Support Mission, and pursue the remnants of al-Qaeda. This support depends on the conclusion of the Bilateral Security Agreement, which both Afghan candidates have committed to sign.
Mr. President, international assistance will remain vital to ensuring Afghanistan’s future stability. The Afghan people can be confident that the United States will do its part to provide long-term, multi-faceted support. This will include financial assistance for sustaining and professionalizing the Afghan national security forces; humanitarian aid to tackle endemic problems, such as the country’s massive displaced population; and key investments in Afghan institutional and economic development. This support is critical to shoring up the gains made over the last decade.
Afghanistan will also need the help of its neighbors. Just as a more stable Afghanistan is essential to security in the region, so is the region’s enduring engagement in building peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is important that regional partners continue to promote Afghanistan’s development through initiatives such as the Istanbul Process. In this regard, we recognize China’s leadership in hosting the forthcoming Heart of Asia meeting in August.
Afghanistan’s progress will also depend on continued international support for a robust UNAMA mission, so that the United Nations can continue to work on crucial issues ranging from coordinating humanitarian aid to fostering regional diplomacy, from monitoring human rights practices, to supporting the development of key institutions like the justice system. We look forward to discussing the future of this mission with the new Afghan government and Security Council colleagues.
Mr. President, let me be clear – outside support alone cannot guarantee that Afghanistan realizes its full potential. Ultimately the hardest choices about the country’s future will fall on the shoulders of its leaders, who will need to build upon the important gains made over the past decade.
As the bravery and determination of the Afghan people in the recent election has shown – Afghans are willing to take great risks to build a more stable, peaceful, and prosperous country. We must continue to support them. Thank you.
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