UNITED NATIONS - The top United Nations official in Afghanistan told members of the Security Council Thursday that the country’s path to stability and self-reliance cannot be taken for granted, and that support from the international community continues to be crucial.

“The current refugee exodus reflects the despondency of many Afghans,” Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said. “A clear signal of continued international support will mitigate the uncertainty fuelling this exodus.”

Haysom, who heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), noted that shortly after his last briefing in June, many points of friction emerged within the National Unity Government, and between the Government and elements of the political elite, driven in part by deteriorating security and economic conditions. “Although neither of these were of the Government’s making, charges of inaction and miscalculation surfaced in the media,” he stated. “Since then, there have been a number of positive developments, including signs of progress in the functioning of the National Unity Government.”

He informed the Council that with a few exceptions, all senior-level national posts have now been filled and both the Council of Ministers and Cabinet are active.

The Government has also made progress in addressing the issue of electoral reforms by establishing the Special Electoral Reform Commission, one of its key commitments. In addition, Haysom reported that a Senior Officials Meeting (SOM) held in Kabul earlier this month proved to be an important element of the bridge between past donor commitments and future pledges to meet Afghanistan’s need for ongoing support.

“The SOM provided an opportunity for the whole of Government to establish its commitment to a credible reform agenda. This is necessary to give confidence to the donors ahead of critical meetings in Warsaw and Brussels in 2016 at which donor commitments are expected to be renewed.” At the same time, the UN envoy warned that conflict continues to take a horrid toll on Afghan civilians. In the first eight months of 2015, UNAMA documented the highest level of civilian casualties since it began records.

“Anti-Government elements continue to cause the majority of civilian deaths and injuries although casualties caused by Afghan security forces continue to rise. UNAMA is encouraged by recent statements made by President Ashraf Ghani to take official steps to reduce civilian casualties.” He further noted that UNAMA anticipates the intensification of violence to continue, underscoring the importance of renewing a viable peace process, including formal talks between the Taliban and a Government delegation.

“I reiterate my call for direct engagement between the Taliban and the Government. A war-weary Afghan population is clamouring for peace and they deserve it,” he insisted, adding that UNAMA will continue to engage, in the background, with the Government, the Taliban, neighbouring countries, and the international community to promote a process that will allow Afghans to find an arrangement by which they can live in peace. Also briefing the Council was the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) who said it is important to acknowledge the positive steps that have been taken by Afghanistan to counter the narcotics trade that is undermining the country’s development and fuelling terrorism.

Last year, Afghanistan accounted for an estimated 85 per cent of global opium production and 77 per cent of global heroin production. “Illicit drugs are supporting instability, insurgency, corruption and organized crime, while weakening state institutions and Afghanistan’s overall ability to promote peace and good governance,” Yury Fedotov told the Council. “If we want to achieve sustainable progress, we need the steadfast commitment and engagement of the Afghan authorities and the international community,” he added. UNODC will soon present the full results of the 2015 Afghanistan opium survey. Mr. Fedotov said he can confirm that figures available at this stage clearly indicate a decrease in cultivation.