2 November 2011
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
Excellency President Abdullah Gul,
Excellencies Foreign Ministers,
Thank you my brother, President Abdullah Gul, for hosting this conference and, as always, for the legendary hospitality provided to us here in Istanbul. This great city is not just the cradle of many civilisations, but also today a venue of unparalleled quality for promoting international cooperation.
As we meet, the effect of last week’s earthquake in the city of Van and the tragic loss of life it inflicted is on our minds. I take this
opportunity to express, once again, my heartfelt condolences to you, Mr President, and to my brothers and sisters in Turkey for the unfortunate losses.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Today, together with common friends and supporters from outside this region, we gather for the first time in a unique format – the Heart of Asia – which assembles all the major countries of the wider region surrounding Afghanistan, from China to Turkey, from Russia to India, and others in between. Indeed, apart from being yet another example of Turkey’s much valued leadership in strengthening regional cooperation, today’s meeting is also a significant milestone in Afghanistan’s long quest for regional harmony and cooperation.
The region has always been a crucial factor in Afghanistan’s vision for building a stable, prosperous and democratic future. Ten years ago, with help from the international community, we undertook to rebuild Afghanistan from the ruins of war, and laid the foundations of a free, pluralistic and democratic society – a society that is ruled by law and underpinned by just and enduring institutions. In this effort, we have achieved enormous progress, which is greater by comparison than any other period in our country’s history. Nonetheless, the most fervent desire of the Afghan people – which is to live in peace and security – has not yet been achieved.
Terrorist networks, by far the biggest threat to our security, continue to enjoy sanctuaries outside our borders from where they conduct their merciless campaign of bloodshed and destruction. Therefore, until we see a more concerted effort across the region to confront terrorism, particularly with a view to addressing the source and roots of the scourge, peace in Afghanistan will remain illusive.
Ladies and gentlemen,
2011 is a crucial year for Afghanistan as we expect to turn the corner on some of our greatest national priorities, including the Peace Process and the Transition of security responsibilities from the international forces to Afghan authority.
The Peace Process, until recently led by Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, who is tragically no longer among us, has been a sincere effort, underpinned by our commitment to make the political process in the country more inclusive. As such, all Taliban and other militant leaders can join the Peace Process provided that they give up violence, break ties with Al Qaida, and return to peaceful lives under the Afghan Constitution. However, as recent setbacks have indicated, the Peace Process will not succeed unless we are able to get the top leadership of the Taliban, based in Pakistan, to join it.
Our hope is that, with help from our brothers in Pakistan, we will manage to wean away the Taliban leadership from some of the long-established networks of support they enjoy outside Afghanistan and integrate them into the Peace Process.
Another crucial national priority set in motion this year is the Transition Process, which will see the complete transfer of security responsibility from international forces to Afghans by the end of 2014. The first phase of Transition took place in July, and I expect to announce the second phase in the near future. With the implementation of the second phase, nearly fifty percent of Afghanistan’s population will come under the security umbrella provided by Afghanistan’s own national security institutions. Once completed, Transition will signify the achievement of the most important strategic goal shared by Afghans and our international partners, namely the emergence of a sovereign Afghanistan that is self-reliant, and is the peaceful home for all Afghans.
Transition, of course, is not limited to security. For Afghanistan to become truly self-reliant we will need a comprehensive economic transition, which will take a much longer time than the transition of security. Economic transition will require the continuation of the steadfast support of our international partners far beyond 2014.
In this context, we in Afghanistan look forward to a major international conference on Afghanistan, to be held in Bonn, Germany, next month. Marking the 10th anniversary of the Bonn Process of 2001, the Conference will be an opportunity to take stock of the major achievements that Afghanistan has realised over the past decade in partnership with the international community.
At the Bonn Conference, we will share our vision for the next ten years – it will be a vision of consolidating Afghanistan as a stable and democratic country with a prospering economy. And we will seek a commitment from our friends in the international community to continue to support us as we work towards that vision. We will call for a new paradigm of cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community – one that recognizes the sovereignty of Afghanistan and the centrality of the Afghan state as paramount.
Ladies and gentlemen,
With a view to the future, Afghanistan seeks to build greater confidence and stronger ties with the region.
True to our belief that Afghanistan can only develop and remain stable in a regional environment that is conducive to stability and growth, we will work to foster constructive engagement across the region and play our role in regional economic integration.
Last month, Afghanistan signed an agreement on strategic partnership with the Republic of India. This truly historic agreement will take the age-old relationship between the two countries to an even higher level in the interest of both nations as well as the region. The time-tested friendship and solidarity between Afghanistan and the Republic of Turkey is another source of confidence and support for my country. Indeed, our ever deepening friendship with India and Turkey is a model for how we seek to shape our future relationship with some of our key regional partners that are not only tied to us by cultural and historical bonds but are also extending an enormously constructive hand to the Afghan people today.
Pakistan and Iran are our two immediate neighbours with whom we have very deep cultural and demographic affinities. Both nations have hosted millions of Afghan refugees in their midst for over three decades – an act of generosity and benevolence we Afghans will never forget. Over the past ten years, our country’s relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran have deepened and expanded for which I am grateful to the Iranian leadership.
Our relationship with Pakistan too has evolved considerably and enormously. I have often called Pakistan and Afghanistan as conjoined twins. The mutual dependence of both countries in terms of security, as well as social and economic development, bears out this analogy. Yesterday, thanks to President Gul’s hospitality, I had fruitful discussions with my brother President Asif Ali Zardari about the vital importance of the profoundly close relations that Afghanistan and Pakistan need to have.
We are also looking to China and Russia as two major countries of the region and as major partners in the stability and development of Afghanistan as well as the whole region. China and Russia, as well as India and Turkey, have enormous sway at the global level and, as such, can be very influential in shaping a peaceful, friendly and economically prospering region. In addition, our relations with our immediate and near neighbours to the north – Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – have grown strongly in the last few years where the potential for further expansion, in the interest of the region as a whole, is even greater.
We in Afghanistan attach great importance to the Middle East and are proud of our relations, in particular, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – three countries that are represented here today.
Our relations with the Middle East are not just anchored in religious and historical affinities, but also in our gratitude for the solidarity these countries have shown to Afghanistan over the years. In particular, I wish to recognize the personal commitment of Khadem ul Haramein Al Sharifein, His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, to Afghanistan’s search for peace and security. I wish to reiterate the desire of the Afghan people to have His Majesty’s continued and much appreciated guidance and support.
I wish to emphasize that our regional vision, and our keen interest in deepening our relationship with regional partners, is in no way contradictory to our enduring partnerships with countries outside the region. We attach enormous importance to the Strategic Partnership we are currently negotiating with the United States and other partners, including the UK and the European Union, which we hope will guarantee Afghanistan’s security and stability, as well as assist our future economic development. Let me be very clear on this point: neither our Strategic Partnership with the United States, nor any other partnerships we will forge in the future, shall be a threat to our neighbours or any other country. We will never enter into any partnership that may pose a risk to our neighbours or jeopardise Afghanistan’s role as a peaceful, friendly and constructive member of the regional community.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our today’s meeting in Istanbul is, indeed, a momentous regional gathering, which promises new horizons for regional cooperation, and where the real pull factor is the plethora of common challenges and opportunities. We all know well that the region we share has captured the world’s imagination for both desirable and undesirable reasons.
On the one hand, ours is a region that is blessed with unrivalled resources. Together, we are the custodians of a glorious heritage that underpins human advancement in the intellectual, spiritual, artistic and scientific realms. Today, the powerhouses of this region, notably China, India, Russia and Turkey, are driving the global economy. The future of an interconnected, just and more equitable world depends on the future of this region.
On the other hand, some of these opportunities may never be taken, nor much of our potential ever realized, unless we succeed in overcoming the enormous obstacles we face to legitimate interaction and co-operation. Terrorism is a menacing threat that does not just affect Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also other countries in our region, notably India, Turkey, China and Russia. The narcotics trade threatens the wellbeing of our nations.
As the frontline in the fight against terrorism and the global narcotics trade, Afghanistan has served as a bulwark to the common security of the region. Despite our enormous sacrifices, we are determined to continue to play this role.
To confront the common threats that endanger our security and peace, and to realize the potentials of regional economic cooperation that is so crucial for our common future, the region must come together in cooperation and solidarity to a degree that it has not yet achieved. We must boldly address the political differences that divide the region, and remove the deficit of trust and confidence that exists among some of us. Today, in Istanbul, we are coming together to subscribe to a new vision of regional cooperation, and agree to work together towards creating an atmosphere of true friendship and cooperation across the whole region.
For this vision of regional cooperation to succeed, the role of a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan is indispensable. Afghanistan can facilitate movement of goods and people across Asia. We can serve as a corridor of transit and trade. Today, I wish to invite Afghanistan’s fellow regional countries to see Afghanistan as an opportunity, and as a catalyst for advancing regional integration.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In calling our region the Heart of Asia, this Conference takes cue from one of the Muslim world’s most renowned poets and philosophers, Mohammad Iqbal Lahori, who said: “Asia is a body of water and soil, where the Afghan nation is the heart; its prosperity brings prosperity to Asia, and its decay brings decay to Asia”. The literal sense of Iqbal’s poem is as true as the wisdom in his analogy, and today it is borne out by history.