by William M. Reilly
UNITED NATIONS, March 19 (Xinhua) -- The UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously renewed for another year the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) while dozens of nations voiced support for Kabul taking responsibility in 2014 for most of its own security, governance and development.
Most of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force ( ISAF) troops were expected to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of next year.
Nonetheless, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged that the UN must continue its strong support to the Afghan government, now led by President Hamid Karzai, even after it resumes its own responsibility.
"Let us work as hard as possible to ensure that this transition leads to the stable, prosperous and safe future that the country's people deserve," he said. "We should continue providing good offices, including support for elections. We should maintain our work for reconciliation and regional cooperation. We must stand firm for human rights. And we must advance development."
Humanitarian action was also necessary in the world organization's future role, considering Afghanistan's "chronic vulnerability" and the impact of transition as ISAF and others withdraw most of the troops, he told the council.
The secretary-general said that since Afghanistan politics would be dominated by the 2014 elections, broad participation was essential in a credible process, leading to a widely accepted leadership transition. He also expressed concern over a UN report last month of about 20 percent increase in civilian casualties among women and girls last year.
He noted two statements from the Taliban perhaps indicating a willingness to engage and encouraged a meaningful dialogue to reduce an intolerable, continuing death toll.
"In just two days, the Afghan New Year will begin, a year in which transition to full Afghan responsibility is central to our efforts, a year that will take us to the next elections, a year to bring an end to war and a year of building confidence and resilience," said Ambassador Zahir Tanin of Afghanistan.
"Since the adoption of UNAMA's mandate last year, Afghanistan and the international community undertook a new focus on the needs of the transition period, which involves strengthening peace and security and the realization of national priorities," he said. " With the international community, we developed the parameters of future cooperation to ensure building a peaceful, stable, prosperous Afghanistan that is able to stand on its own feet."
"More will need to be done to crystallize all aspects of cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community, including the shaping of our relations with the region," Tanin said.
Ambassador Masood Khan, of Pakistan, Afghanistan's neighbor to the east, said Islamabad's "commitment to this process stems from our strong conviction that peace and stability in Afghanistan are essential for peace and stability in the entire region. Afghanistan is on the cusp of three concurrent security, political and economic transitions up to 2014 and into the Decade of Transformation."
"If these transitions are managed responsibly and skillfully, Afghanistan will see a dawn of security and stability; and so would the region," he said. "We are glad that this time there would be no precipitous disengagement of the international forces from Afghanistan. The drawdown is phased and well-planned; and bilateral and regional mechanisms will be in place to help with the transition."
China, another neighbor to the east, was represented by Ambassador Li Baodong, who said, "A stable and prosperous Afghanistan where all ethnic groups live together harmoniously requires long-standing efforts on the part of Afghan government and people as well as sustained support and assistance by the international community."
"China is in favor of providing adequate resources to the mission to implement its mandate," he said. "During the transitional period, Afghan national institution-building and capacity for self-governing will keep increasing. China hopes that UNAMA will continue to engage in full consultations with the Afghan government on implementation of the Security Council mandate."
"China has always been committed to good, neighborly relations with Afghanistan," Li said. "We will continue to provide assistance to Afghanistan within our capacity and play a constructive role for the early realization of peace, stability and development of Afghanistan."
China and Pakistan were the only two of Afghanistan's six neighbors to speak at the meeting.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr of Australia, sponsor of the resolution, said, "This year's UNAMA mandate will cover a crucial period."
He urged the Afghan government to "work to address the economic and fiscal impact of transition; intensify its preparations for the presidential election in 2014; lead progress in the reconciliation process; and take lead responsibility for security. "
"Afghanistan, through the leadership of its government, determination of its people and support of the international community, has come a long way," said Carr. "Large parts of the country have been made significantly safer. Afghan people now live much longer. Nearly 8 million people are enrolled in schools today, including more than 2.7 million girls. Around 85 percent of the population has access to health care. The Afghan economy is growing at over 8 percent a year."
Gains in security "have ensured that Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for international terrorism," he said. " Development and governance gains have helped ensure the international community has a stable partner. I am confident that the years ahead will see the Afghan government protect these gains. "