We congratulate the people of Afghanistan for successfully conducting two rounds of Presidential elections. These landmark elections should deepen democracy, bring the first ever democratic transfer of power and move the country towards peace and stability.
This is a defining moment for Afghanistan and the region.
Afghanistan's political continuity and national reconciliation, as well as security and economic transitions, clearly hinge on a smooth democratic transition.
Afghan institutions have now a historic obligation to take the electoral process towards its logical end. This is a time to build trust, finish the task at hand and usher in a new era in the history of Afghanistan. We believe that Afghan elections are an internal affair, with Afghan institutions in the lead. It is the aspiration of the Afghan people to resolve differences within the framework of the Afghan constitution and laws. We agree with SRSG Kubis that this indeed is a time for engagement and statesmanship.
For its part, Pakistan took a series of steps to support a free, peaceful and secure electoral process in Afghanistan. We bolstered security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border by deploying additional troops, enhancing communication, vigilance, and aerial surveillance, and increasing patrolling.
Pakistan has no favourites. Afghans are a proud people and they are masters of their destiny. We respect the democratic choice of the people of Afghanistan and look forward to working with the next leader.
The people of Afghanistan realize that the political transition will not deliver full dividends until a lasting political settlement is worked out through an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned reconciliation process. Pakistan is committed to facilitating that process.
Both the Secretary General and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), while acknowledging the professional strengths the Afghan National Security Force has been gathering over the years, have warned that it would need support beyond 2014 to ensure its viability and sustainability.
The ongoing security, political and economic transitions in Afghanistan must not be thwarted or derailed. The projected drawdowns should be prudent and responsible. They should not leave any security vacuums behind; nor should anyone harbor ambitions to fill such vacuums. The world had to pay a heavy price for the precipitous withdrawals in the 1990s. A repeat of that precedent would be costlier for peace and security.
There are forecasts for an economic downturn as the war economy hopefully morphs into a peace economy. The Secretary General has cautioned that decrease in physical presence of foreign troops should not lead to decrease in development assistance. The misperception that Afghanistan was “being abandoned” must be rectified.
The international community has a responsibility to avert a large-scale economic recession in Afghanistan that would lead to unemployment, displacement and reliance on illicit economy. The reconstruction efforts must focus on policies that would stimulate growth and investment, create jobs, and facilitate rehabilitation of refugees.
Pakistan continues to host 3 million registered and unregistered Afghan refugees. We have been bearing the burden of even greater number of refugees for the past thirty four years. The registered 1.6 million refugees alone, according to the Secretary General, constitute the world’s largest protracted refugee population. In April this year, Pakistan and the UNHCR launched a Solutions Strategy to work on sustainable return and reintegration of Afghan refugees. Recently, there has been a sharp decrease, by about 64 per cent, in the return of refugees. The international community must step forward to help quicken the pace of repatriation of Afghan refugees; and the United Nations should assist the Afghan government in creating “pull" factors.
Pakistan is one of the victims of the opiates trafficked from Afghanistan. We are glad that the Afghan Government has intensified counter-narcotics campaign by conducting targeted operations, dismantling laboratories, seizing illicit drugs, and eradicating opium poppy cultivation on hundreds of hectares of land. And yet we realize that the overall pace has slowed down and we have a long way to go. Pakistan, in collaboration with Afghanistan and Iran, as part of the Trilateral Initiative, will continue to work for more stringent drug control and border management.
Peace in Afghanistan has a direct bearing on regional economic cooperation. In order to enhance regional connectivity as well as trade and energy flows, Pakistan is supporting Trans-regional projects, including CASA-1000, TAPI gas pipeline and infrastructure development. Their success would obviously depend on stability in Afghanistan.
Pakistan-Afghan relations continue to be marked by highest-level contacts and communication.
President Mamnoon Hussain, who visited Kabul last March, along with President Karzai underlined that the people of our two countries would tap the vast potential for progress and prosperity. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has met President Karzai four times in the past year, is pursuing his vision of a peaceful neighborhood and stable and cooperative relations with Afghanistan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan agree that terrorism and violent extremism pose a grave threat to our two countries. We must fight this scourge together. In this context, border management and border security are an abiding concern and priority. Our Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, visited Kabul to discuss security situation in Afghanistan, ISAF drawdown, and ways to enhance bilateralism, with particular emphasis on better coordination along the Pak-Afghan border.
Pakistan and Afghanistan must not allow non-state actors to influence our relationship. Because of the fluid situation along the border, it is important to have more frequent and real time communication between military and intelligence agencies to address mutual concerns and build trust. Allegations made by Kabul against cross-border shelling from Pakistani side are exaggerated and misinformed. When our forces come under heavy attack by terrorists from across the border, we act in self-defense.
We have launched a comprehensive operation – Zarb-i-Azab – to deliver a fatal blow to foreign and local terrorists hiding in our tribal areas. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif while addressing the Parliament on June 16 said that we have started this operation to make Pakistan a land of peace. Through these operations we would purge selected areas of militants and terrorists; dismantle terrorist entities and networks; and establish full writ of the state. The operations in North Waziristan should not be a cause of concern, but a source of strength for the government of Afghanistan.
We express our deepest condolences to the families of the victims of recent flash floods and landslides. Pakistan sent three planes-load of relief for the people stricken by the massive landslide on May 2 in Badakhshan. Afghanistan continues to remain vulnerable to recurrent sudden and slow-onset disasters, as pointed out by the Secretary General. The United Nations should help Afghanistan develop a risk reduction and risk management strategy.
We admire and commend the Special Representative of the Secretary General Jan Kubis for his effective, sensitive and result-oriented leadership of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. I also thank the UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov for his briefing.
Finally, I thank Ambassador Zahir Tanin for his insightful, forward-looking and constructive statement this morning.
I thank you, Mr. President.