UNITED NATIONS - Representatives of the United Nations and Pakistan have voiced hope for the peace process in Afghanistan amid improving Islamabad-Kabul ties as the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN mission in Afghanistan for another year.

By a resolution adopted unanimously by the 15-member Council, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) will remain in the country until 17 March 2016 to lead and coordinate international civilian efforts there. The Council took that action while taking into account the completion of the transition process in Afghanistan and the initiation of the Transformation Decade 2015-2024.

The resolution stressed the role of UNAMA in supporting an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of peace and reconciliation, while continuing to assess its human rights and gender implications. It also urged the international community to assist the Afghan Government’s efforts in that regard, including through continued support to the Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund.

Condemning all attacks targeting civilians and Afghan and international forces, the Council expressed strong concern about the recruitment and use of civilians by the Taliban and other violent and extremist groups.

Briefing the Council before the adoption, Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of UNAMA, said a number of developments had brought “renewed hope” for an active peace process in the country. The National Unity Government was taking shape, with the nomination and approval of various ministers.

Pakistan and Afghanistan had conducted an “increasingly constructive dialogue” focused on peace, trade and security, achievements that testified to the efforts of President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, whose collaborative leadership would be essential for peace talks to advance, electoral reforms to take hold and the implementation of changes required to reinvigorate the economy, he said.

Pakistan’s Ambassador in the UN, Maleeha Lodhi shared UN envoy’s hope of peace in the war-torn country. At a time when Afghanistan faced a defining moment, she said, the strategic shift in Pakistan-Afghan ties has created an optimistic regional scenario. The Pakistani envoy called the present juncture as a moment of hope for the Afghan people and for the entire region.

In the ensuing debate, more than 20 speakers lauded the gains Afghans had made in the political sphere, while underscoring the threats continuing extremist violence, the narcotics trade and sluggish economic growth posed to enduring peace and stability. In his briefing to the Council, Haysom, the head of UNAMA, urged Afghan political leaders to conclude the appointment of senior government officials and to strengthen efforts to reinforce the rule of law and the fight against corruption. He also noted the recent reports of possible peace talks between the government and the Taliban.  

“There is currently an alignment of circumstances that could be conducive to build a level of trust that will allow them to establish common ground,” he said, hoping parties can “come to the realisation that peace is the only viable option for Afghanistan, and that a military victory is neither likely, nor optimal for a lasting national social compact.”

The peace process was likely to remain “fragile and vulnerable to external destabilisation,” he warned. Mr. Haysom called for coherent and coordinated international support while pointing to the continued “frank dialogue” between UNAMA and the Taliban on humanitarian access and on human rights, notably the protection of civilians. A key part of the political agreement that led to formation of the National Unity Government was the pledge to establish an Electoral Reform Commission, and he welcomed President Ghani’s commitment to comprehensive reforms, which he said were essential to restoring the faith of the Afghan people in the democratic process and strengthening political stability.

Haysom also underlined the importance of regional cooperation and of proper intra-Afghan peace dialogue, which he said would require strong regional backing, and noted that the country’s economy remained a “significant concern,” with support needed for implementation of the government’s self-reliance agenda. He re-stated concerns about civilian casualties and noted persistent high levels of torture and ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees in government detention facilities but added that recent military operations in Helmand and Kunar provinces demonstrated that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) had improved their planning and operational capacity.

“They are now in a position to conduct large-scale operations without direct combat assistance from international military forces,” he said. “This development is encouraging even though we expect to see an intensification of combat in the upcoming fighting season as insurgents seek to test the ANSF capacity to hold ground on their own.” In her speech, Ambassador Lodhi told the Security Council that the talks between the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif last November had overcome in three days the accumulated challenges of 13years and produced a “strategic shift” in relations. The leaders shared a vision of partnership, built on common security and economic interests. She said the two leaders were committed to preventing their territories from being used against each other. Pakistan was working to strengthen its border control, with its Zarb-e-Azb military operation targeting all terrorist groups “without distinction”. The Taliban would test the Afghan National Security Forces. At the same time, there were “encouraging” signs they might negotiate with the National Unity Government. She expressed hope they would join the reconciliation process and urged international support for it. Welcoming China’s closer engagement in promoting reconciliation and economic development, Ambassador Lodhi said Afghan parties and the international community alike should exercise strategic patience. Short-term measures for economic revival must be accompanied by steps to lay the foundation for self-sustained growth, she said, citing the importance of road, rail and regional energy project.

Welcoming the renewal of the mandate, Zahir Tanin, Afghanistan’s Permanent Representative, said the resolution was a testament to the continuing partnership between his country and the international community. The Council’s call for a full examination of the role, structure and activities of all United Nations entities in Afghanistan, in full consultation and engagement with the government and key stakeholders, sent a clear message of dedication to long-term, effective support to Afghanistan.