Remarks by Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia at Arria-formula meeting of UNSC members "Preventing economic collapse and exploring prospects for recovery and development in Afghanistan"
We are glad to welcome you at this Arria meeting of Security Council members that is dedicated to preventing economic collapse and exploring prospects for recovery and development in Afghanistan. This issue remains in focus of attention of a broad range of UN member states.
The year 2021 marked a turning point in Afghanistan’s history. On 15 August 2021, after the hasty flight of former president A.Ghani and the foreign troops from the country, the Taliban movement again came to power. Unfortunately, the Talibs themselves, due to the lack of relevant expertise and potential, turned out not ready either for the lasting problems that the previous authorities had left unaddressed for decades, or for new serious challenges.
Shutdown of the channels of donor financing, liquidity crisis and sanctions contributed to rapid degradation at the humanitarian and socio-economic tracks. So the country which had been dependent on the international financial assistance for 20 years, was left one on one with those problems. Quality of life indicators plummeted by one third. Afghanistan plunged in the depths of hunger, poverty, and unemployment. The Afghans became exposed to one of the fastest evolving humanitarian crises in the world and had to struggle for survival. In those new circumstances, the most vulnerable social groups suffered the most – women, children, the elderly, people with disabilities.
Against this backdrop, the efforts of humanitarian agencies are worth the highest praise. For all those months, humanitarians worked on the ground literally to the point of exhaustion. We point out selfless engagement of the UN OCHA, ICRC, UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, and their contribution to providing assistance to Afghanistan. We also note the input of the UN humanitarian sector under the coordinating role of Deputy Head of UNAMA, Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov and the assistance program for the Afghans, including women. Unfortunately, these measures are still not enough to ensure a steady improvement of people’s life. In December 2021, UNSC adopted resolution 2615 which was meant to open a window of opportunity to boost urgent humanitarian assistance via all possible channels. Its provisions offer responses to the most frequent questions as to ways to direct assistance to Afghanistan without impediments given the effective 1988 sanctions regime. However we see that some states still interpret 2615 loosely, while justifying the unilateral restrictions.
Against the backdrop of a complete collapse of the Afghan economy and the paralysis of the banking system, the lack of any tangible progress in 12 months with “unfreezing” of the Afghan assets and returning the money to its rightful owner, the people of Afghanistan, raises concern. Attempts of some states to use all available pretexts to link this issue to addressing their specific national tasks appear outrageous. Such actions raise questions as to whether our colleagues truly mean it when they claim committed to stabilization in Afghanistan and turning it into a developed, self-sufficient, and independent state.
The issue of further recovery and development of Afghanistan remains open. Unfortunately, many our colleagues, in particular from the West, would rather pretend that these problems have nothing to do with them and must be solved by the Afghans themselves and their regional neighbors. They even reject discussing this topic. And if they agree to talk about it, they put forward pre-conditions to the Taliban which they believe the Talibs need to meet first. Only then do they agree to proceed with further prospective cooperation. This happened despite the fact that it is them who bear the main responsibility for the current dire situation in Afghanistan and the consequences of their irresponsible flight after 20 years of presence.
We repeatedly stressed the need to consider the situation in Afghanistan in a comprehensive manner and take into account all relevant factors. By all means, issues of terrorist and drug threats, forming of a truly inclusive government that should represent interests of all major ethno-political groups of the country, observance of human rights of all Afghans, including women and girls, and equal access to justice and education, have and will remain the central topics for dialogue with the de facto authorities. Prompt resolution of these issues is an imperative for us all. These points were addressed in detail at the recent meeting of the Moscow Format that was held on 16 November (with Türkiye, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia taking part as guests) and also came to be reflected in the joint statement that was adopted at the meeting. We proceed from the assumption that progress at these tracks should not influence the readiness to provide assistance to Afghanistan and help it resolve the humanitarian and economic problems, as well as build up potential for further independent development. Against this backdrop, high-sounding calls to the Talibs to ensure access to education for the Afghan girls and boys appear rather hypocritical if we recall that in most Afghan provinces there simply are no schools or they are in dire need of improvement.
We look forward to hearing some fresh ideas and practical proposals during our today’s discussion.
I will not dare to do a comprehensive sum-up of the discussion that we had today for obvious reasons. Today we struggled in between the appeals and the absence of any visible solution that could be within our reach any time soon, because these are very complex issues indeed.
We had excellent briefers today, who provided a sobering picture of the situation in Afghanistan and the multitude of issues, problems, and challenges that the country is facing. Our discussion was meant to focus on recovery and development of Afghanistan. Of course, we could not avoid addressing the dire humanitarian situation that the country finds itself in. But there is one question that is existential for Afghanistan now. How to achieve this [recovery and development] and how to prevent what we might soon see developing in Afghanistan? On what conditions to do it? What to prioritize? I think that no one either in or out of this room questions the importance of ensuring and observing human rights in Afghanistan, in particular for women and girls. We all understand there will be consequences with their exclusion from education and economy. In fact, there are consequences already, as we heard today.
But how should we ensure this? Being realistic, we understand that simply putting forward conditions to de facto authorities does not work. It is true that they did not deliver on what they promised initially. There is no disagreement on that. But simply putting conditions – this does not work. Besides, if this looming economic and humanitarian disaster happens in Afghanistan (God forbid), it will first and foremost tell on those women and girls whom we try to protect collectively.
Point is that there are no easy solutions or easy answers. What is important (and our Afghani colleagues just mentioned it) is that Afghanistan needs the position of the international community to be united. Though we agree on most of the issues, the problem of the international community is that a part of it prioritizes one set of issues in relation to Afghanistan, while others say otherwise. We do not have coherence – the outside coherence – which Afghanistan needs.
Today we heard (in particular from regional countries) that issues that they are facing directly with the current situation in Afghanistan constitute a threat to regional security. If the situation worsens, it may lead to massive flows of refugees. Then of course it will entail a further rise of terrorism and extremism, and many other consequences.
Many regional countries that border on Afghanistan, in particular Pakistan (Ambassador Akram was very vocal on this today) say that nobody denies the need to demand from de facto authorities that they comply with the commitments that were made initially. At the same time, there is a need for coordinated efforts of the international community and pragmatic dialogue with de facto authorities.
The Moscow Format that convened just yesterday was offered to establish an international (though nobody knows the details of the initiative) negotiating group on Afghanistan, perhaps under the UN auspices. Well, there were many proliferating formats on the Afghan settlement before, but definitely the international community needs to coordinate its efforts related to assisting Afghanistan. We spoke about how we see it and who should be on the frontline bearing the primary responsibility for the recovery of the Afghan economy. I will not be repeating it here. Of course, the most pressing need is humanitarian assistance. But it will not replace recovery and development of Afghanistan. We all need a stable and self-sustained Afghanistan that observes its obligations. For that, we need to be united, as our Afghani colleague said today.