Ms. Lyons spoke of the “profound shift” brought about by developments during 2020, which include an agreement between the United States and the Taliban, the start of intra-Afghan peace negotiations, and a major donor conference.
“By all accounts this was a big year. But a bigger year lies ahead”, she said. “Clearly Afghanistan will continue to move forward in this New Year, but equally will continue to need the dedicated support of this Council.”
A ‘momentous’ year
Ms. Lyons, who also heads the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), described 2020 as “one of the most momentous years that Afghans have endured”.
Some three months of uninterrupted talks between the Government and the Taliban have yielded “incremental but genuine progress”, she said, though this week the parties agreed a three-week recess.
The international community also reaffirmed its financial support for the country during a donor conference in Geneva last month.
Countries pledged more than $3 billion annually over the next four years, though sustained funding will require improvements in areas such as peace, governance, the rule of law, anti-corruption and women’s rights.
‘Unrelenting violence’ still a threat
However, the “unrelenting violence” in Afghanistan continues to put lasting peace at risk, Ms Lyons said.
Preliminary statistics reveal a rise in civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices, assaults on schools, rocket attacks, and targeted killings by anti-government groups.
“It is no surprise then that the Global Peace Index for 2020 ranked Afghanistan as the least peaceful country in the world for the second year in row”, she said. “Such a ranking illustrates the psychological impact of the violence.”
Afghanistan is also among the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist, with six reporters losing their lives in 2020, she added. Eleven human rights defenders also were killed this year, while many others were injured or threatened.
Moving forward on security
Ms. Lyons expects violence will be a top priority when the peace talks resume in early January.
“The ongoing security transition, coupled with the emerging reality of international troop withdrawals, have obviously added to the anxieties felt by the Afghan population”, she said.
“In the coming months, I anticipate that this larger security transition will become a central topic in the dialogue amongst Afghan officials, regional countries, and the larger international community.”
Afghanistan is now facing a second wave of COVID-19 infections, resulting in increased hunger and malnutrition. The UN has scaled-up assistance, and Ms. Lyons encouraged countries to generously support humanitarian operations.
Amplify youth voices
As regional cooperation is critical to peace in Afghanistan, Ms. Lyons highlighted the need to support efforts to fight drug trafficking and transnational organized crime throughout Central and South Asia.
But she warned that sustainable peace will only be possible if it is inclusive from the outset, with meaningful participation of women, minorities, victims of conflict, religious leaders, and others.
Afghanistan’s youth are another key constituency as two-thirds of the population are under 25 years old, she said, adding this generation is the most educated in the nation’s history.
“Young Afghans have clear views on the future of their country, and we must do all we can to amplify their voices”, she stated.
‘We are being killed’, dreams buried
The Security Council heard directly from one of those voices: Shkula Zadran, Afghanistan’s Youth Representative, who spent her childhood as a refugee in Pakistan due to the conflict back home.
“I am representing a generation who have been the main victims of this proxy war”, she told ambassadors. “We are being killed. Our dreams are being buried every day.”
Ms. Zadran said the majority of young Afghans support the peace talks but unfortunately they have not been a part of the process.
“I call upon all leaders across the world to trust the Afghan youth. We are resilient and eager to live in peace and harmony. We are the patriot generation that you will never regret investing and counting on.”