Statement to the UN General Assembly regarding the situation in Afghanistan
UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The Situation in Afghanistan
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Australia welcomes the opportunity to again co-sponsor the General Assembly's resolution on Afghanistan.
We strongly support the pledge contained in the resolution that the United Nations community will continue to support the efforts of the Government and people of Afghanistan as they rebuild a stable, self-sufficient state, free of terrorism. We recognise and support the growing Afghan ownership of reconstruction and development efforts and welcome the resolution's endorsement of the Afghan Government's objective for the Afghan National Security Forces to take over lead security responsibility for Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
As the Australian Prime Minister has said on a number of occasions – most recently in a statement on Afghanistan to the Australian Parliament yesterday (21 November) – Australia will remain engaged in Afghanistan through this decade at least. Following the conclusion of transition in 2014, we will continue to provide civilian and development assistance, and training and other defence cooperation as part of an international strategy designed to ensure that a functioning Afghan state is able to assume responsibility for preventing the country from again being a safe haven for terrorists.
Since last October's resolution we have seen real progress in the implementation of the transition process. We welcome the resolution's highlighting of the significance of that process, but also its recognition of the important work that remains to be done by the international community and the Afghan Government in supporting responsible transition.
In March this year, President Karzai announced the first tranche of Afghan districts and provinces to start transition to Afghan-led security responsibility. As security conditions improve, 2012 will see Afghan authorities take on lead responsibility in more provinces and districts. The Afghan government is expected to announce the second tranche of provinces and districts for transition soon. By the time transition in the second tranche is completed, Afghan national security forces will have lead security responsibility for around half of the country's people. Australia will continue its mission of support for training and transition as this process unfolds.
In recent months, Australian Prime Minister Gillard, Defence Minister Smith, and the Chief of our Defence Force, have all visited Afghanistan. Their visits, which focussed on Australia's area of engagement in Uruzgan province where over two thirds of our military force of 1550 troops are located, reconfirmed the Australian Government's view that the international community is basically on track to achieve nation-wide transition of security-led responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces by the end of 2014. For this, security conditions on the ground obviously remain critical. And for our own part Australia will keep under consideration a continued Australian Special Forces presence beyond 2014 to assist Afghanistan's own lead forces, if that is what the Afghan Government wants. We commend the Afghan Government for its leadership and pledge our continued support for a sustainable, credible and irreversible transition process.
The international community will shortly come together for the International Afghanistan Conference in Bonn, at which the Afghan Government will outline its vision for the future of Afghanistan. We welcome the resolution's recognition of the importance of this meeting to further define the key issues of the civilian aspects of transition, serious long-term commitment by the international community, and support of the political process.
In Bonn, we need to demonstrate a robust and coordinated approach to building a stable, and secure Afghanistan with positive economic opportunities. As security transition proceeds, now is the time for Afghanistan's supporters – all of us – to identify the ways in which we will provide practical, long-term support after the conclusion of transition in 2014. A clear commitment by the international community to supporting Afghanistan's security and development beyond 2014 would represent a powerful message of solidarity with the Government and people of Afghanistan. And we call on all participants at the Bonn conference to work towards this outcome.
The Australian Government welcomes the resolution's recognition of the commitment made by Heart of Asia participants at the recent Istanbul Conference to promote regional security and cooperation through confidence building measures.
Constructive engagement by Afghanistan's neighbours is critical to the prospect of a secure, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, and is indispensible in turn for the broader region.
We value Turkey's own contribution. The effectiveness of the Istanbul Conference delivering real security and cooperation gains for Afghanistan and its neighbours will depend on the continued commitment of those involved. We urge all Heart of Asia partners to build upon this positive basis, and look forward to an update on progress at the Ministerial meeting in Kabul in mid-2012.
Amidst this progress Australia also welcomes the resolution's clear-eyed statement of the many challenges that remain ahead for the Afghan Government and its people.
One of these key challenges is obviously improving standards of governance and development. This year Australia's total development assistance to Afghanistan will be approximately $165 million, a 34 per cent increase over the previous year. Afghanistan is now the fourth largest recipient of Australia aid, and a significant level of assistance will continue.
The goal of our assistance program is to strengthen the capacity of Afghan institutions to govern effectively and provide basic services. We are pleased to note the slow but steady improvement in standards of governance and development, including through our efforts in Uruzgan province, where Australia leads the Provincial Reconstruction Team. A key part of our strategy is to build stronger linkages between the provincial government in Uruzgan and the national government – an essential means of ensuring the modest gains in governance standards become entrenched and then advanced as transition continues.
Good governance depends upon the capacity of the women and men charged with the responsibility of building Afghanistan's future. To build this capacity, Australia provides targeted training and support, including scholarships, to key ministries – including Agriculture, Health, Education and Rural Rehabilitation and Development. This has included an innovative program where Australia enabled sixty Afghan master teacher trainers to train in Malaysia.
We are encouraged by the progress which Afghanistan has made. To take just one example, school enrolments are up from around one million in 2002 to over seven million today, including over two and a half million girls. But, of course, much more remains to be done to realise the Afghan people's development aspirations – Australia will stand with the Afghan people in pursuing these goals. Improving the effective participation of women across all aspects of community and public life remains vital.
We also look forward to the Afghan Government's continued efforts to combat corruption and improve governance, including at the sub-national level.
We recognize that the conflict in Afghanistan cannot be resolved by military means alone – although guaranteeing security, of course, remains fundamental.
We welcome the resolution's call to all relevant states and international organisations to remain engaged in the Afghan-led peace process. The assassination of Professor Rabbani, Chair of the Afghan High Peace Council was part of a terror campaign which is very worrying, and has been deliberately designed to derail the transition. We must not let it do so. Australia takes this opportunity to reaffirm our ongoing support for the Afghan-led peace and reconciliation process and for the successful reintegration of former fighters into Afghan society.
Supporting Afghanistan's fledgling democracy will also be a critical element of Afghanistan's successful transition. The next Presidential elections in 2014 will be a test of Afghanistan's democratic institutions and processes. It is important that the role of the Independent Electoral Commission has been consolidated but continued electoral reform is vital. Australia will give increased priority to working with the Afghan government and international partners to continue electoral reform and support successful and transparent presidential elections in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2015. This will include training of local Afghan female election observers, in order to increase women's participation in the electoral process.
The Australian Government welcomes the resolution's recognition of the key role of UN agencies in coordinating humanitarian and development assistance in Afghanistan. Fragmentation of effort remains a problem and Australia supports UNAMA's efforts to improve aid coherence among the international community, and to encourage longer-term commitment to development in Afghanistan.
We ourselves are committed to working closely with donors and the Afghan Government to improve the productive capacity of the Afghan economy. This includes support for capacity building in the mining and agriculture sectors.
In concluding, I would like to express the Australia's appreciation for the ongoing leadership demonstrated by the Secretary-General's Special Representative Staffan de Mistura, and the dedication and sacrifice of UNAMA personnel working in Afghanistan. Australia supports all efforts to ensure that those who work in support of Afghanistan's future are able to do so with the necessary security to complete their difficult – but indispensable – tasks. And we will continue to work with the Secretary-General and Member states to ensure that the transition to Afghan security leadership is durable, credible and irreversible.