UN Security Council Quarterly Debate on Afghanistan

  • Murray McCully
Foreign Affairs

I thank Special Representative Yamamoto for his briefing. Sir, you have assumed your role at pivotal moment for Afghanistan.  

Afghanistan has been at war for far too long. Indeed, most Afghan people have no memory of anything but war.

New Zealand speaks today as a country that has supported Afghanistan in its pursuit of peace and stability over many decades, stretching back to the withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989.

Since 2001 more than 3,500 New Zealanders have served in Afghanistan. Some lost their lives there. We have invested millions of dollars towards supporting Afghanistan’s economic development and strengthening its security forces. And we are still there.

New Zealand’s contribution is only a small part of the enormous investment made by the international community in Afghanistan’s future over the past fifteen years.

But as we have heard today, sustainable peace remains a distant prospect. The Taliban and other extremist groups continue to pose an existential threat to the Afghan state and to conduct horrific attacks against civilians.

The people of Afghanistan will require the support of international partners until this cycle of war and terror is brought to an end.

That is why New Zealand joined others in Warsaw in July to reaffirm our support for the security and stability of Afghanistan. We extended the provision of military mentors to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy and funding to the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces.

To take any other course would be to concede to the terrorists and accept the failure of the Afghan state.

At the same time, experience has also taught us that no amount of international support can, by itself, bring Afghanistan peace.

It is time for an honest conversation about why peace is proving so elusive - and what needs to change.

The future of Afghanistan ultimately lies in the hands of its Government and its people.

Over the past 35 years Afghanistan has been plagued by poor governance. Too often its leaders have prioritised group and personal interests over the welfare of their people, and resorted to graft and the use of force to achieve their goals.

The formation of the National Unity Government two years ago, with its reform agenda, was cause for new hope. It offered an opportunity for the country’s leaders to put aside their differences and create a government free from self-interest and corruption.

But what do we see today?

A President and Chief Executive whose relationship is dysfunctional.

A failure to undertake the necessary electoral reforms to enable parliamentary elections to be held, undermining the legitimacy of the current Government and sowing the seeds of future electoral disputes and instability.

A Government that, two years into its existence, has yet to fill senior positions.

And a host of promised reforms for improving governance and tackling corruption that are yet to be even seriously discussed, let alone implemented.

These failings are profoundly concerning. Continued division and dysfunction within the National Unity Government threatens the progress we have made together in the past 15 years.

So, at a time when the international community is renewing its commitment to Afghanistan, we reiterate our expectations of the Government in return.

First, we expect President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to overcome their differences and work together for the good of their people. How can a government that does not talk to itself hold peace talks with others?

We expect promised reforms to be implemented, and serious efforts to be made to tackle corruption.

We expect credible efforts to enact electoral reform, and elections to be held in a timely manner.

And, while prospects for a resumption of peace talks may be constrained in the short-term, New Zealand urges the Government to prepare for engagement on peace and reconciliation with all parties.

As unpalatable as it may be, achieving a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is ultimately dependent on achieving some form of reconciliation with elements of the armed opposition.

We also call on Afghanistan’s neighbours and international partners to display genuine commitment to this process.  The Taliban sanctions regime should be used to create, not obstruct, an environment in which talks can take place. The Afghan Government needs to take more ownership of this process, which, if properly used, could provideleverage in its negotiations with the armed opposition.

These expectations of the National Unity Government are conveyed in the spirit of friendship and partnership that has underpinned New Zealand’s support for Afghanistan over the past 35 years.

We remain determined to honour our commitments; but this will only truly benefit the people of Afghanistan if the National Unity Government does the same.