Friday, August 29, 2014

Statement By H.E. Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmai Rassoul at The NATO-ISAF Foreign Ministers Meeting

Secretary General Rasmussen,

Excellencies, ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to begin by expressing my sincere appreciations for being invited to attend today’s important meeting.  Thank you Secretary General Rasmussen for this initiative, and for your leadership in driving NATO’s critical mission in Afghanistan.  I also thank my colleague, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, for hosting all of us today in this beautiful city of Berlin.

It is my second time to have the honour of addressing NATO in my capacity as Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, a country where you are all engaged in a truly historical effort to help build a stable and democratic country.  We Afghans value the contributions that NATO, as well as each of its individual member states, have made to this common effort, and we honour the common sacrifices that have been made.  We do realize, as I am sure you do, that together we have been through some hard times and have had to overcome difficult challenges.  However, together we have also achieved tremendous successes, and we in Afghanistan look forward to sustaining and expanding our friendship and collaboration into the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With President Hamid Karzai’s announcement of 22 March 2011, Afghanistan is now officially in the Transition process, a process that is marked by important benchmarks and crucial deadlines.  As per agreements at last year’s Lisbon Summit, as well as principles set out in the Kabul Conference, the Transition process will see the gradual transfer of lead responsibility in the security sector from NATO to Afghan Security Forces starting this summer.  At the heart of the Transition process is an Afghan determination to assume responsibility and leadership, as well as a commitment by our international partners to support this goal.  The Transition agenda is undoubtedly ambitious and it will require extraordinary effort from both Afghans and our partners in the international community to succeed.  However, in the minds of us Afghans, there is absolutely no alternative.  There is a strong, unshakable consensus among all Afghans that we must stand on our own feet and take our destiny in our own hands, and to do so sooner rather than later.

In addition to our mutual moral commitments, the success of the Transition agenda will depend on the implementation of the roadmap we have together prepared.  Thanks to some hard work done by Afghan and international entities concerned in the security effort, under the overall supervision of the Inteqal, or Transition, Commission, seven provinces and districts have been identified for the first handover phase.  These include the provinces of Panjsher, Bamiyan, and Kabul, the cities of Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, Laskhkar Gah and Mehterlam.  Work is currently underway on putting in place the necessary capacity in these areas in order to ensure a smooth and successful transfer of responsibility in these and other areas.

Allow me to highlight the key steps both Afghans and our international partners must take to ensure the success of the Transition process.  To begin with, we must continue and expedite the building up and expansion of Afghanistan’s security institutions.  We must focus on the qualitative development of these institutions as well as the quantitative aspect.  Equipping these forces with the capabilities that are commensurate to the challenging tasks they will have to face is a crucial necessity.  Our army must be provided with the full range of enablers, including heavy weaponry, air and ground mobility and so on, which will help the institution become a confident, effective and self-reliant force that is capable of defending the country’s sovereignty.  Our police and intelligence services must be trained and equipped not just to counter the paramilitary threats they get to fight in many insecure corners of the country, but also to handle the tasks of civilian policing in general.  We must do all that keeping mind not just the exigencies of the current situation but also the long-term needs of a normal, stable and well functioning state.

However, we cannot succeed in the Transition process, or indeed in the fight against terrorism in general, unless we bring some urgently needed changes to our approach in the ongoing military effort.  We are facing a dangerous situation in Afghanistan and the wider region of heightened sensitivities, pent up frustration and increased radicalization which could seriously jeopardize our common efforts.

In this context, I wish to strongly reiterate the Afghan government’s continued demand for better coordination of all NATO-ISAF operations with the ANSF, as well as for an end to all operations that result in civilian casualties and damage to the lives and property of innocent Afghans. I urge General Petraeus and other NATO military leaders to continue and expand their constructive efforts in this regard.  I also wish to recognize Ambassador Mark Sedwill, the outgoing NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, for the tireless work he has put during his term in Kabul towards improving civilian-military coordination.  I look forward to working with his successor, Ambassador Sir Simon Lawrence Gass.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Recognising that Transition is not a purely military process, we in Afghanistan appreciate the growing consensus, both within Afghanistan and outside, about the need a political solution to ensure lasting peace.  I thank many of the NATO-ISAF nations that have provided strong and visionary support to an Afghan-led peace and reconciliation programme.  Since the establishment of the High Peace Council (HPC) last year, much tangible progress has taken place and a lot has been achieved both in the area of reconciliation, as well as in integration which includes programme delivery at the community level.  To date, a comprehensive outreach campaign has been launched to engage people in communities, and coordination among state institutions that are involved in the process has significantly improved.  The HPC has also engaged in a successful regional dialogue with some of the key countries in our neighbourhood whose support would be crucial for the peace process.  For this Afghan-ld peace process to succeed, a sincere, principled and sustained cooperation from the international community, including our NATO allies, will be essential.

Furthermore, we must ensure that the governance and economic development elements of our Transition strategy fall equally well into place.  The Afghan Government remains determined to fulfill its commitments under the Kabul Process, including the commitment to improve sub-national governance and improve the delivery of basic services to the populations in all areas of the country.  We are taking our commitment to ensuring transparency and the fight against corruption seriously and have taken a number of steps, since the Kabul Conference, to address these concerns.  The Afghan judiciary and the legal system are taking bolder than ever steps in apprehending corrupt elements.

To help this effort, we will need the understanding and support of our international partners.  We need your support to continue the capacity building of our institutions to be able to deliver basic services to the population.  To help enhance the capacity of government institutions, and increase public confidence, we need your cooperation towards removing the parallel structures that currently pose a challenge to the credibility of these institutions.  The continued presence of structures that may have once served a useful purpose, such as the PRTs, poses a challenge to the growth of genuine Afghan institutions at the district and provincial levels.  We propose a gradual process whereby these structures could be phased out and replaced by fully functioning Afghan institutions.  We also need your cooperation in bringing greater transparency to the contracting processes that are perceived to be a source of corrupt practice in the country.

In the area of economic cooperation, we would like the focus of our international partners over the next few years to shift towards supporting major infrastructure projects and creating real employment for the Afghan people.

You will agree that few things will inspire greater confidence in the success of our strategy than for the people to see solid, sustainable signs of investment and economic growth in their towns and villages.  While, under the Kabul Process, we pursue a comprehensive economic development strategy, we will give particular attention to investment and support in the agriculture, energy, mining and education sectors.  I urge our international partners to ensure that these priorities are taken into consideration as they plan the future economic and development assistance to Afghanistan.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Regional cooperation remains as crucial to the vision of stability and progress in Afghanistan as it always did.  Needless to argue, without sincere cooperation in fighting our common threats, and until a vision of economic integration replaces geopolitical rivalries across the region, it will be hard to achieve peace, stability and economic prosperity.  In this context, we are committed to continuing the constructive dialogue we have maintained with Pakistan in the recent years.  We also expect to engage our other neighours and countries of the region more closely in the interest of peace, security and economic cooperation.

Recognising the importance of regional economic cooperation, we are focusing on cooperation in a number of sectors that have significant economic benefit for the region as a whole, such as energy, roads and railway networks that connect Afghanistan with the region. The recent conclusion of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA), and the progress achieved towards the realization of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan–India gas pipeline (TAPI) project are milestones for increased regional cooperation.

Additionally, we have concluded feasibility study for the CASA1000 project for transfer of electricity from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  These and other initiatives will contribute greatly to peace, security and stability of the region.

Regional cooperation will also be vital to Afghanistan’s success in the crucial fight against narcotics.

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends,

The declaration of Afghanistan-NATO Enduring Partnership signed in Lisbon last November solidifies our time-tested friendship and cooperation into a more structured partnership that will stretch beyond the end of the current mission.  We hope this partnership will further contribute to the development of our security and help guarantee the success the success of the Transition process.  From a longer-term perspective, as a young democracy and a developing nation, we look forward to benefiting from the full range of partnership services that the Alliance has to offer.  We are deeply committed to fulfilling our obligations under the Partnership and we look forward to engaging with you on further elaborating its content.

With the Transition process now in full momentum, my country Afghanistan is entering a critical stage in its recovery, stabilization and development.  In the success of the Transition process lie the fruits of our historical partnership over the past decade.  In the success of this process also lie the chances of Afghanistan’s success as a stable and democratic country – that is, the realization of the true and long-held aspirations of the Afghan people.

I am sure you agree that a sovereign Afghanistan that is secure within its borders and at peace with the outside world, an Afghanistan where terrorism will never again be able to find a safe haven, and where the prospects of regional economic integration will ever increasingly grow, will be an achievement well worth your efforts and contributions.

Thank you,