Full Transcript of President Ghani's Speech at the Heart of Asia Conference

Photo: heart of asia 2
Photo: Heart of Asia

Islamabad, Pakistan

Let me, at the beginning, thank the governments of: Turkey, Kazakhstan, and China, the previous chairs and conveners of this conference, and to thank the government of Pakistan for their excellent arrangements and the hospitality offered to us. Let me also thank the people of Pakistan for having hosted millions of Afghan refugees over decades. Our bonds are deep, people-to-people sets of relationships. Unfortunately, recent events in Pakistan have forced us to host close to 350,000 to 500,000 of Pakistani refugees on our soil. The refugee issue is a common issue, like other issues that confront us. I had began with Allama Iqbal’s poem, so instead of reading it in English, I will need to read it in Dari. ***Reads poem***

As the Prime Minister earlier said, Asia is a body of water on Earth, of which the Afghan nation is the heart. From the discord of the heart, Asia’s disorder; from the concord of the heart, Asia’s accord. What is the status of discord and accord in the heart and what is Asia’s impact on it? Last year, in Beijing, I spoke of four transitions: the political transition, the security transition, the economic transition, and most significantly a transition to turn the culture of the state to being citizen-focused. In terms of the two main themes of this conference, let me take very quick stock, first, of what we’ve been able to do during 2015 to establish regional cooperation.

Afghanistan is becoming firmly anchored in Central Asia. I want to express our gratitude to the government of Turkmenistan for having taken a cluster approach to the development of infrastructure and linkages. Turkmen railways, transmission lines, highways, gas pipelines, and oil pipelines are reaching Afghanistan and imminently, we are going to inaugurate the TAPI pipeline in Turkmenistan. This is a very significant transformational event and hopefully also with H.E the Prime Minister, we will sign a 500 KV transmission line from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan, which will significantly change the energy picture in both of our countries. With Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan on the one side and Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan on the other sides, two major other transmission lines, respectively called CASA 1000 and TUTAP are moving from ideas to implementation. We are also extremely pleased that the Port of Chabahar, jointly invested by Iran and India is moving from conception to implementation and the related railway structures. Also with China, the five-nation agreements on railways and related sets of connectivities is rapidly moving. In short, Afghanistan is rapidly moving towards regional integration towards Central Asia, East Asia, and West Asia. By contrast, our ambitious projects of cooperation for transit and for linkages through Pakistan have still remained at the level of conception and aspiration. I hope that this conference would result in significant movement on this too.

We have nine airports that were built with tens of billions of dollars, though courtesy of NATO/ISAF. We have moved to a project of creating in every single one of these airports, a special economic zone. The initial estimates are that between 2016 and 2032, we will be able to earn the revenue of 32 billion dollars from these airports. Afghanistan also, in terms of generation of energy, is finally moving from talking about our immense natural resources to the actual realization. The first hydro dam called India-Afghanistan Friendship Dam at Salma is going reach fruition next spring and we thank our partners. Next year, we are going to be able to generate 240 MW of power all from renewable, 42 from hydro, 100 from natural gas, and a 100 from solar. Our highway program will create the possibility in our railways for Herat to become the second city in Afghanistan to be linked to the Iranian system and then on to the Turkmenistan system. And, completion of the ring road will open the way for Iran to Tajikistan direct contact and on to China. These set of possibilities speak of the potential that is there but also, what I’d like to respectfully bring and ask for studies is lost opportunities. 36% of our people live below poverty line, $1.25; if the line were $2 a day, almost 70% of our people. Poverty elimination is our most significant goal and I’m convinced that regional cooperation could allow us to have the types of rates of growth that allow us to tackle the most fundamental weakness, which is the poverty and exclusion of three majorities: women, youth, and the poor. So, I urge the Secretariat of the Istanbul Process to actually document the costs of forgone opportunities in regional cooperation and the advantages that accrue from this.

In terms of the four transitions, very briefly, and then I come to main issue, which is regional security. Political transition in Afghanistan, we took the unusual step of forming the Government of National Unity. Let me assure, on behalf of Dr. Abdullah, the Vice Presidents, and the members of the Cabinet, that the Government of National Unity is an enduring phenomenon. We’ve learned from 300 years of discord that politics must become a win-win formula not a lose-lose proposition. And, that is an important part of the new political culture and as part of this, I strongly reiterate our commitment to a lasting and just peace, within which all movements that resort to arms covert themselves into political parties and participate in the political process legitimately. They need to reduce and renounce violence because violence is not the way in a democratic society and culture. Last year in Beijing, I brought your attention that we’re facing one the hardest economic transition any country has seen. We inherited a deep recession bordering on a depression but we’ve imposed an austerity program and met all our agreements with IMF, including for the first time all the revenue agreements. This is creating the ground for launching a stimulus package and a through growth series of programs that would ensure that Afghanistan’s economy moves out of an aid-dependent entity into a self-reliance system, and as part of that, our location, our natural wealth, our water, our land, and entrepreneurial energies of our people will be harnessed. In terms of change of the culture of the state, there have been significant changes. Our first thing is our willingness to confront corruption. Kabul Bank had become the symbol of the failure of will. I’m very pleased to share with you that out of the $800 million that they stole from the public purse, we’ve realized fully $450 million to the legal process and are determined to realize the rest. But, let me come to security issue. On December 31st, 2014, the NATO/ISAF forces ended their combat role. I want to thank President Obama and the leaders of framework nations of Turkey, Italy, and our other colleagues from 14 nations that committed themselves to the Resolute Support Mission.

On security, our key goal was to generate peace. I’ve had to become a war president because an all-out war has been imposed us. We’ve gone through seven phases of a war, each more intense than the previous one but I’m extremely proud, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Afghan forces, to share that the main objective our enemies that was to divide Afghanistan into two political geographies has not been realized. Our people have paid an immense price. Our children have been murdered while playing in fields. Our women have been murdered while going shopping or attending schools. Our mosques have been attacked, hospitals have been attacked. All civilian spaces, all spaces of public gatherings have been viciously attacked but our will and our resilience, I hope, has been demonstrated. Our will is strong and the Afghan Security and Defense Forces, contrary to the predictions of skeptics, have not only held together, they are learning fast and no vacuums have been created. Here, let me again thank the Commander of Resolute Support Mission, John Campbell, for his very able role in assisting and supporting us. I would also like to indicate our gratitude, first to President Obama for his very principle decision to extend the mission of the Resolute Support Mission, as well as leaders in Europe—Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Renzi, Prime Minister of Sweden, and UK Prime Minister Cameron, and leaders of 14 nations that have again joined us in supporting this mission. International forces will not have a combat role. Let me repeat, Afghan forces are fully assuming the responsibility, but our true friends have come to help us and we express gratitude for this international solidarity. Let me also thank all governments that have financially supported in addition to the governments that I have named, government of Canada, governments of Australia, Japan, and many other nations are supported our security forces and this again is an act of international solidarity for which, on behalf of people and the government of Afghanistan, I say thank you.

Let me shift to the drivers of conflict. What is driving the conflict? Is it an insurgency or are we dealing with a much larger conflict, because to formulate a plan of an action along the line H.E the Prime Minister has suggested for regional cooperation, it is important that we name the problems. The first driver of the conflict is regional, international terror groups, Al Qaeda, Daesh and terrorists from China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, the Middle East are all, unfortunately, present on our soil. The courageous decision of Prime Minister Sharif to launch the military actions in Pakistan has created unintended consequences, bringing about the displacement of a significant number of these groups onto our soil.

What I bring to your attention is there is no historical precedent for solving this problem because the quarrel of these people is not with the government and people of Afghanistan. We are fighting on behalf of all of you but we are the ones, who are daily suffering some of the worst atrocities, including the butchering of our young children and our elderly, totally innocent, totally unharmful, but theater has become a part of this. The second issue is, unfortunately, these terrorists groups are not going to be a short-term challenge. I want to pay tribute to all the victims of terrorists, particularly in the recent events, Istanbul, Paris, Sharm-el-Sheik—the Russian plane—Mali, San Bernardino, it goes on. We do have a problem, it’s a global and a regional problem and it requires us to focus on it systematically and coherently.

The second issue is, Taliban began as an Afghan phenomenon, became a regional phenomenon. Tehrik-i-Taliban of Pakistan launched a vicious attack on children in Peshawar to which very robustly, H.E. the Prime Minister, and the people and government of Pakistan responded. But, that very response has brought them on to our country. Until now, we have launched 40 operations by our special forces against them but the question that this raises is what is the nature of the Taliban and how do we deal it because that question needs exploration? Can we have two standards, one standard, how do we differentiate between reconcilables and the irreconcilables? What are the networks that enable these people, devoted to violence rather than political dialogue, to continue? How do we coordinate regionally in order to deal with this phenomenon? And, it’s important, I think, in this regard to create a mechanism of verification, a mechanism of regional cooperation, in seeing how the networks of terror coordinate, who finances them, what is their linkage with the criminal economy, the drug economy particularly, but the rest of the criminal economy? How is radicalism shaping and maligning our holy religion and our opportunities for global engagement and dialogue?

On the third issue, I will be brief, because H.E. Prime Minister just stated something very significant which we welcome. In Afghanistan, there was considerable uncertainty, whether Pakistan would truly acknowledge a sovereign Afghanistan state, with its legitimate government and its legitimate Constitution? Your words today have gone a very long way to assure us in this regard and that opens up the possibility of a sustained dialogue among us.

Given the threat of terrorism, we need to recognize that terrorism, while morally an aberration, has become a sociological system. It has a distinctive ecology of competition and cooperation. It’s a regional, national and global phenomenon. It has a morphology, meaning it is changing its form very rapidly ─ If Al Qaeda was version one, Daesh is version six ─ and the worst feature of it is its pathology. Now it has directed at violence for the sake of violence, in order to make news and in order to put fear in the hearts of people. Given this threat, what is our response? So, I would like to highlight some issues.

First, Afghanistan has been a platform for international cooperation, we continue in this regard, and very much welcome the engagement of China and our other neighbors near and far, from India to Azerbaijan in the common quest for containing terrorism. States of the region must face the common threat that is the second issue. Without rules of the game where states respect the rights and obligations of mutual sovereignty and cooperate in the state to state sets of relationships, we will have enormous difficulty containing terrorism. In the past, there have been occasions, where there has been a temptation to use non-state actors as instruments of policy, whatever the justification of those behaviors in the past, in the current threat environment; we must distance ourselves from malign non-state actors because the word of state is a word of predictability and key to prosperity.

In this regard, we suggest that the Istanbul Process in association with regional mechanisms of security cooperation, convene a meeting regarding regional cooperation precisely what H.E. suggesting to give it concrete shape and movement forward. Our relations with Pakistan, first again let me state as H.E. stated, millennia of relationship bind us to South Asia. Afghans, Tagore famously give us a brand that a millions of dollars of advertisements could not do through a short story of Kabuli Wala, have been on the move. We have been entrepreneurs, we have connections, and there are millions of refugees in Pakistan and in Iran. The dignified return of these refugees is absolutely central to regional cooperation and that requires coordination in the elimination of the threats that currently haunt us. With regional cooperation, I’m confident that we could generate double-digit growths that ensure poverty elimination. But, our central issue is state to state cooperation and that again is multi-dimensional, political to political, military to military, economy to economy, and finally intelligence to intelligence. We need to create the framework for comprehensive cooperation so that, in the light of the drivers of conflict, we can fashion solutions that are going to be lasting. Peace, therefore, is not equivalent to reconciliation. Peace requires dealing with all the drivers of conflict so that a multi-dimensional peace that truly will ensure that all of us live in harmony, that all of us can count on each other for enforcing an agreed set of rules of the game is as such. As part of this, because H.E. the Prime Minister and I both do not believe in blame games, we would like to suggest mechanisms of verification. Again, Istanbul Process and association, with regional and international security organizations should reach agreement on a mechanism of verification, as to what type of actors threaten our common interests because with a proper regime of verifications, we could fashion the instruments of cooperation.

Let me again, in conclusion, thank H.E. the Prime Minister for hosting us, for inaugurating the meeting. You’ve honored me by coming to the airport, a rare privilege Mr. Prime Minister. On behalf of the Afghan people and the government and myself, let me thank you. And, let me again thank Mr. Sartaj Aziz for the excellence of the arrangements. I’m sure that the proceedings of the meeting will be very productive and we can count on 2016 being very different than 2015. In 2015, Afghanistan was forced to fight for its survival. I hope that with this meeting, 2016 would be a year, where we embark on a path of true stability and prosperity in coordination and cooperation with our neighbors, near and far.

Thank you.