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Human Concern above National Interests
H.E. President Hamid Karzai


Commencement Speech By

His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
At Boston University Commencement

Human Concern above National Interests

Boston, USA
22 May 2005

President Chobanian,
Senator Kerry and Fellow Honourees,
Distinguished Guests, and
Dear Graduates,

I am delighted to be sharing this special day with all of you. Boston University has a well-earned global reputation and it is my great privilege to be receiving an honourary degree from this fine institution. For those of you who felt that four years was a long time to wait for your degree, well it took me 47 years to get mine from Boston University! But then, looking at our campus here, and speaking with members of the faculty and administration earlier, I can say it was well worth the wait! I congratulate you all very warmly for your accomplishment today.

Your Commencement today is indeed the celebration of some of the best years of your lives. It is also your stepping stone to the future. With the knowledge you have gained, today you are ready to embark on a new journey - a journey that will not only shape your own lives, but will also lead you to affect the lives of others. You are going to become the future leaders of the United States, a country of unparalleled power and influence in the world today. And you are going to assume the responsibility that comes with that power.

Dear Graduates,

My own commencement, some 23 years ago, was also a stepping-stone, but to a different future.
After my graduation, I had no home to return to because my home country had been invaded by the Soviet Union. From university, I was ushered into the life of a refugee in a neighbouring country, where I joined with my people in the struggle to liberate our country and build a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.

A lot has changed in the world since I was your age, but regrettably, the world is still beset by conflict, by poverty and human suffering, by injustice that violate the basic values of humanity.

You are the class that began in September 2001, and as such, you have been provoked, perhaps more so than others, to reflect on one of the gravest dangers facing our world today - terrorism that is. I believe for most of you the dreadful memory of that ominous day will never fade - when thousands of innocent people in your country were indiscriminately attacked by the messengers of hatred and doom. Indeed, the events of 9/11 shocked the whole world as much as it shocked you here in America.

However, terrorism in the world was not born on 9/11. In fact, for many years before September 2001, the peril of terrorism that came to Afghanistan on the heels of invasion, interference and violence, took the lives of thousands of Afghans.

Regrettably, the United States and other countries that had the power - and hence the responsibility - did not see it compatible with their ‘national interests’ to address the plight of the Afghan people then. Afghanistan was, thus, left vulnerable to the interference of other countries in our region who, in turn, saw their ‘national interests’ in establishing control over Afghanistan at whatever cost.

Dear Graduates,

During your years here at Boston, you have sought knowledge, but you have also learned significant lessons from examining the events of the world around you. I expect that you will use your education - and your values - to question some of the established concepts and wisdoms. In particular, I urge you to question the notion of ‘national interests’, especially when it is narrowly defined and pursued at the expense of other people, where it justifies the inflicting of pain on others, and where it allows the neglect of human suffering. I urge you to discover how moral imperative must also drive our actions even when there are no economic or political motives.

I believe a redefinition of the prevailing notion of ‘national interests’ on the basis of a fundamental moral premise is the way forward to our common future. After all, it is our humanity that ultimately brings us together, while the pursuit of narrow interests divides us.

My appeal to you as the leaders of tomorrow, as people who will be in positions to make decisions of consequence, is to allow morality and a sense of fundamental concern for humanity guide your decisions. When you see on the news, or read in the newspaper, that so many people were killed in places far away, do not let these numbers become mere abstractions to you. These are real people, like you and I, with families and friends, with real feelings of grief and pain.
We must not turn away when we hear cries of the hungry. We must not stand by when we see the killing and terrorising of the innocent. We should not wait until hundreds and thousands of our fellow human beings have died - as occurred in Afghanistan - before we act. Every time we ignore the suffering of others or stand by and watch, we not only act against our own interests, but we violate a part of our humanity.

And we do not have to wait for our governments to save people from misery because it may be just too late for many. As individuals we can make a difference as well. Not too long ago, I watched a documentary film by the British artist, Bob Geldof, which told the story of the famine in Ethiopia two decades ago.

One can feel but a sense of utter despair as a human being when one sees human misery at an appalling scale. Bob Geldof was one individual whose concern for humanity saved thousands of children in Ethiopia.
His benevolence was not simply an act of charity, but a fundamental step to draw people from corners of the world for the common cause of humanity.

In a different context, the coming together of the world is demonstrated in Afghanistan today, where people from more than 50 countries with different cultures and faiths are working together to rebuild our country and uproot terrorism.
This remarkable convergence of civilizations in Afghanistan has rekindled our hopes, secured our lives and unleashed our energies to rebuild our war shattered country.

Thanks to that help and our people’s determination, today Afghanistan is a free country, taking steady steps towards a stable, prosperous and progressive society. After decades of trouble, we have an enlightened and progressive constitution, we have an elected government and are looking forward to electing our parliament in September.
After decades of stagnation, our civil society is once again vibrant, our economy is growing fast and we are becoming a hub of trade in the region.

Of course, challenges like the drug economy, remnants of terrorism and crime threaten to reverse our successes. However, these will not surmount our resolve and the international commitment to succeed.

Over the past three years, through our experiences in what has been a truly global effort to rebuild Afghanistan, we have demonstrated what the future of the world could hold. Afghanistan today represents a model of partnership in the world - a co-operation of civilizations in fact.

Dear Graduates,

I say again that your values must continue to guide your actions as you embark on your new journey, and assume greater responsibility.
Our world will remain stratified and divided by exclusive narrowly-defined interests, unless YOU seek to build bridges of understanding and co-operation? Suffering in other parts of the world will continue to undermine your security and prosperity, unless YOU seek to address it? Moral obligations to others will continue to be an after-thought, unless YOU decide to reinvigorate our common humanity across all our divisions. And finally, your generation will also be judged on indifference to hunger, poverty and misery in the world, unless YOU seize opportunities to make a difference?

As you commence a new beginning today, take with you my warmest congratulations.

And I urge you to make the right decisions - decisions that will lead to the building of bridges, to prevailing of our common humanity across our divisions, and to a difference in a world that is still faced with challenges.

Thank you.

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