UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Afghanistan's national unity government faces five hurdles in 2016 and failure to overcome any one of them could spell disaster, the top U.N. envoy in the country warned Tuesday.
Nicholas Haysom told the U.N. Security Council that "survival cannot mean inaction, or merely 'treading water.'"
He said the government must tackle a contracting economy with low growth and high unemployment, an intensifying insurgency and "an increasingly fractious and divided political environment." It must also secure significant international financial support and make "progress towards a sustainable peace," he said.
The Taliban have been battling the government for 15 years and after the U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014 the emboldened insurgents have been testing Afghan forces and spreading their footprint across the country. Afghanistan is also confronting extremists from the Islamic State group.
Corruption is rampant in the impoverished country and thousands of Afghans have fled to Europe to escape the conflict and worsening economy.
Haysom said Afghanistan can't afford to fail in addressing any of the five challenges.
If there was a serious failure in tackling any one of the challenges, "it would have severe political and other consequences throughout the country," he said.
For example, Afghanistan relies on external funding for 69 percent of government expenditures and the failure to get commitments from international donors "will have a devastating impact," he said.
Haysom forecast "a difficult fighting season" ahead, with the Tabliban testing Afghan forces. This is the first year that Afghan forces have independent command, and on a positive note he said they have "largely held their own in the face of continuing high rates of attrition."
Last year, Taliban fighters stormed the provincial capital of Kunduz province and held it for three days. Haysom warned that the loss of a provincial capital, even temporarily, "would have significant repercussions for the national unity government's political standing."
The Taliban issued a statement earlier this month saying they would not participate in a peace process with the government until foreign forces stop attacking their positions and leave the country.
Haysom told the council that he met the Taliban Political Commission again last week to press for an intra-Afghan dialogue but the confirmed "they were not yet ready to engage directly with the government."
He expressed appreciation to Pakistan for its role in trying to reinvigorate efforts to put a peace process on track.
Afghanistan's U.N. Ambassador Mahmoud Saikal said the Quadrilateral Coordination Group — Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States — has met four times in two months in Islamabad and Kabul, "and succeeded in finalizing a road map for the next steps forward."
Haysom said the U.N. will keep pressing direct talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution during the meeting to extend the U.N. political mission in Afghanistan that Haysom heads until March 17, 2017.