President Ghani's Statement at SAARC

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Statement by His Excellency Mohammed Ashraf Ghani

President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

At the 18th SAARC Summit
Kathmandu, 26 November 2014

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

Excellency Prime Minister Sushil Koirala,
Distinguished Heads of State and Government
Foreign Ministers,
Ladies and Gentleman,

I am delighted to be here in Nepal, where peace through democratic consensus is being established and where regional cooperation is being practiced. I express our deep appreciation to the Government and people of Nepal for the excellent arrangements and the warm hospitality. I wish to join my other distinguished colleagues, Prime Minister Koirala, on your election as the Chairperson of SAARC. We look forward to your energetic leadership of our organization. I assure you of Afghanistan’s full support and cooperation.

I wish to thank His Excellency the President of Maldives for his excellent leadership of SAARC as the outgoing Chairman. I also commend our Secretary-General and his team for their commitment and tireless efforts.

Deeper integration for peace and prosperity, our theme, is an imperative. Threats to our daily routines and national security come from networks of violence without passports. And constraints and opportunities conditioning the life chances of our citizens are defined by the ability of leaders in government, business and civil society to shape the regional and global environment for collaboration and cooperation. The test of leadership is, therefore, to change the rules of the game and the playing field among the nations from confrontation to cooperation.

I lead a country marked by recurrent acts of terror against the innocent. The tragedy of Yahya Khel on Sunday, where 57 of our citizens were murdered in cold blood during a game of volleyball is a reminders, as is the earlier tragedy of Wagah in Pakistan. To hold wounded children in one’s arms in a hospital, as I was late Sunday evening, is to feel the depth of our fall from our sense of shared humanity and the values of our great religions.

Firms, networks, and states provide the connecting tissues of our interconnected world. While functioning states enable legitimate firms and virtuous networks to thrive, collapse or failure of states results in emergence of ungoverned spaces that provide the breeding ground for criminal enterprises and networks of violence to form symbiotic relations. The relation becomes lethal when state actors embrace and sponsor these non-state actors, providing them with resources and sanctuaries, and use them as proxies in their competition against other states.

Regardless of the rationale for the genesis of the symbiotic relations that produced reliance on non-state actors by states as lethal instruments of competition, it should be clear that such measures have blow back effects, destabilizing the state system as such. Deeper integration within SAARC, therefore, requires honesty in facing the various degrees of of hostility, now covert and now overt, between and among our countries and making genuine commitment to address the root causes of violence within and across our countries and forging instruments of cooperation to bring lasting peace to our people and societies. The humane and tolerant values of our civilizations and religions should enable us to articulate visions of inclusion and participation to the poor and the excluded from within our cultural discourses to heal the wounds of conflict.
Deeper integration for peace also requires acknowledgment of failures of governance, such as corruption, exclusion, and injustice on the part of the rich and powerful. Legitimate use of force and the quest for claiming legitimate monopoly of force by the states requires that political disagreements must be dealt with politically. Every problem must not be viewed as a nail to be hit with the hammer of force. Pursuit of peace through political means is, therefore, the other side of our determination to confront terrorism.

Deeper integration for prosperity is an even more of an imperative for our countries. India’s steady growth, followed by others, has shown that we have the capability not to be home to the largest number of the poor and the least economically integrated region on earth. Yet we have been unable to muster the sense of urgency to translate the discourse of cooperation into reality. The constraint is in political will and in perceived interests of certain segments of our economic and political elites, requiring different ways of seeing to move to walking the talk.

An Asian continental economy is in the process of emerging. But whether the energy resources of the Caspian basin and Central Asia – estimated at 600 trillion cubic meters of gas tens of thousands of megawatts of electricity, will power SAARC’s transformation from factor driven growth to efficiency and innovation driven growth depends on our collective will. As we speak, Europe is planning and investing in the smart grids to connect to the Caspian and Central Asia. As time does not stand still, each country is forced to make decisions on regional and global outreach that will create path dependencies. It will not be geography or history but economic ties that will determine the orientation, life chances and, therefore, the sense of identification of our young people with Southeast or West Asia.

Located as we are in the heart of Asia, we, in Afghanistan, register and are affected by the movements and tremors of all parts of Asia. Driven by the vision of t becoming the Asian Roundabout, where goods, ideas and people will flow in all directions -- as was the case for two millennia -- we are determined to bring peace, stability and prosperity to the region and ourselves. We offer platforms of cooperation for the five intersecting sectors of our foreign relations: our neighbors; the Islamic world; North America, Australia, Europe, and Japan; Asia; and development organizations, regional and global firms, and regional and global civil society networks.

Having completed the first democratic transfer of authority from one elected president to another, we eschewed the prevalent practice of winner take all and formed a Government of National Unity, from all of whose members and President Karzai I bring greetings to all of you distinguished leaders and colleagues. As bringing peace to our country is our top priority, we are steadily creating the national, regional and global enabling environment for it.

We have moved CASA 1000 – the first, we hope, of many projects to bring energy from Central Asia to SAARC – by breaking the deadlock over the tariff. We are determined to make TAPI a reality. To translate our latent assets – location, water and land, mineral and hydrocarbon, money and entrepreneurial energies of our people—into wellbeing for our people, we are determined to create systems of accountabilities that will result into a compact between citizens and the state and the state and our international partners.

Looking at Afghanistan as a fulcrum point within a regional network rather than as a national economy in isolation, we can see the prospects of a new kind of regional economy. To the north there are pipelines that extend deep into Central Asia. To the west is access to oil and employment. To the south we can extend transport and improve transit. Seeing Asia as a single region opens up entire horizons for re-thinking our strategies for growth and development.

Looking south, we see areas where focus on early wins could open up the prospects for deepening and broadening regional cooperation. Generation, transmission and trading in power --- building on CASA- are an obvious first. Gas and oil pipelines, telecom and fiber optics networks, and railways and highways will follow. The breakthrough, however, will not be in ensuring connectivity but in innovations in designing, financing, building and using, and operating and maintaining the infrastructure that will be the precondition and result of our cooperation. The construction industry – a significant driver of growth in efficiency and innovation driven economies – has been having erratic growth in our region.

Were SAARC to form a Commission on Infrastructure and Connectivity to explore and demonstrate the advantages of regional cooperation to key groups of stakeholders and the public at large, we might be able to align vision and delivery. Embarking on Afghanistan’s National Infrastructure Plan, we invite innovators from the region to join us in creating world-class facilities.

Having been plunged into conflict in 1978, we are determined to create a virtuous circle of peace, stability and prosperity. As the President of Afghanistan, I am committing our country to deeper integration for peace and prosperity.