Thank you very much Mr. President, and I want to thank all three briefers for their presentations today, and Special Representative Yamamoto, we commend your continued hard work on the ground in Afghanistan.
The United States welcomed President Ghani’s announcement of an extension of the temporary ceasefire with the Taliban after the Eid al-Fitr holiday. This was a bold gesture. President Ghani’s announcement showed the government’s commitment to peace as both a national and a religious responsibility. Once again, we see that President Ghani is making serious efforts to find a way to end the conflict.
Sadly, the Taliban have refused to extend the ceasefire further. We condemn the Taliban’s unwillingness to support this offer.
During Eid, we witnessed Afghan soldiers and police sitting with Taliban fighters side by side in prayer. If Afghans can pray together, their leaders can talk together and ultimately resolve their differences. The people of Afghanistan deserve a reprieve from the Taliban’s campaign of violence, one that lasts longer than a weekend. We urge the Taliban to respond to the call for peace from the Afghan people, reciprocate the Government’s ceasefire in full, and enter into peace talks without preconditions.
The United States stands ready to work with the Afghan government, the Taliban, and the people of Afghanistan to reach a peace agreement that brings a permanent end to this war. It is also incumbent upon those parties who maintain close ties with the Taliban to use their influence to bring the group to the negotiating table. Those who provide the Taliban and other armed insurgents with weapons, money, or political support are fueling the conflict. This must stop.
As we continue to support the peace process, we have not lost sight of the critical work being done to prepare for Afghanistan’s upcoming elections. The United States fully supports timely, credible, and transparent parliamentary elections in 2018, with presidential elections in 2019.
Preparations for these elections are at a critical stage, and UNAMA plays an essential role in supporting Afghanistan’s electoral commissions. We urge the United Nations to ensure it remains fully staffed throughout the entire election cycle to continue this vital support. We also appeal to all donors to make a concerted and generous effort in support of these elections with the view to prevent further political instability that could frustrate efforts to advance the peace process. We have contributed tens of billions of dollars to Afghanistan, including hundreds of millions in support of Afghan elections. We would urge our international partners to do all they can to join us in this effort.
These remain difficult times in Afghanistan. The back-to-back terrorist attacks last week, which killed more than 40 people, show the challenges that the Afghan people continue to face.
But despite these obstacles, the ceasefire during Eid gave us a small vision of how life in Afghanistan could change for the better. One Taliban fighter told a reporter that during the ceasefire, “The people were very happy with the peace. Nothing comes of fighting. It’s all loss.” A police officer, who was able to visit his family in a Taliban-controlled village for the first time in years, recalled that “one of my cousins pinched me. He said, ‘Is this you, or am I dreaming?’”
These stories, and many others like them, show what is possible when the Afghan people come together in support of peace. The all too brief ceasefire during Eid should encourage all of us to think about what could be within reach. The ceasefire shows that peace is possible. The question is not if we can achieve peace, but how. We must redouble our work to help the Afghan people achieve a peace that can endure.
Thank you very much Mr. President.