بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
Your Excellency President Mohammad Nasheed,
Excellencies Heads of State and Government,
Distinguished Heads of Delegation,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be among you in the beautiful city of Addu. I thank our host, President Mohammed Nasheed, and the people of Maldives for the warm welcome and generous hospitality we have received. Indeed for us from Afghanistan from those mountains, this was a very new and beautiful experience.
I would also like to thank Mrs. Fathimah Dhiyana Saeed, the Secretary General of SAARC, for visiting Afghanistan this past summer, and for her dynamic leadership of our Organization. Last year we were all in Bhutan and we saw the splendid hospitality, just like in Maldives, given to us by the people of Bhutan. Mr. Prime Minister! You also visited us in Afghanistan. Thank you very much for that and for the very the able stewardship of SAARC that you and the people of Bhutan have done till today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The SAARC Summits are important opportunities for us to reaffirm our commitment to cooperation, particularly in the face of the many challenges that confront our region today. Despite the monumental progress that some of us have made, many in South Asia remain mired in a vicious cycle of violence, poverty, deprivation and underdevelopment. Lack of education and employment opportunities provides fertile ground for intolerance and extremism. Climate change and natural disasters pose serious threats to our future.
At the same time, there are positive examples of goodwill and increased cooperation in the region that makes us hopeful for the future. I applaud Pakistan’s recent decision to grant India the Most Favored Nation status in trade and economic cooperation, as well as the gesture by India to support Pakistan’s successful bid for a non-permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.
These examples show that today the imperative for cooperation at the regional level is better recognized than the inhibitions we might have from a national security viewpoint. I hope that such examples of goodwill and confidence building will become the norm rather than the exception in South Asia.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Last week in Istanbul, we took an important step toward strengthening regional cooperation. Fourteen of Afghanistan’s near and extended neighbors came together to commit to a new vision of cooperation, including measures to improve confidence and trust in the ‘Heart of Asia’ region.
An important outcome of Istanbul was the recognition of Afghanistan’s role in promoting regional cooperation. Indeed, we are truly blessed to serve as the natural land-bridge in the middle of a vast region, which gives us the potential to connect the markets, resources, and peoples across South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East.
I hasten to say, however, that only a stable Afghanistan, surrounded by a stable and cooperative region, can genuinely serve as the land-bridge at the Heart of Asia. History has shown that Afghanistan’s stability, and that of the region surrounding it, are deeply intertwined. This reciprocal relationship between the security and well-being of our country and that of the region lies at the heart of Afghanistan’s commitment to regional cooperation.
In this context, Afghanistan attaches great significance to our membership in SAARC. I believe, within this regional community, a great deal of our interests is shared, as are indeed our challenges; and that cooperation is indispensable for the pursuit of our common interests and to address shared challenges. SAARC can be a powerful engine to drive regional economic growth, cooperation and integration, as well as an effective forum for promoting understanding and security in our region.
In particular, we are keen to see SAARC member states work towards collective action against mutual threats such as terrorism and organized crime. Today, my country bears the brunt of the terrorist threat, which remains the biggest source of suffering for the Afghan people. The violent manifestations of terrorism are not confined to Afghanistan. Pakistan is also hugely affected as are others in our region, notably India.
Our collective action in fighting terrorism will require us to overcome the trust-deficit, which we must be prepared to do in the interest of achieving our common goal of regional security and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen
We in Afghanistan believe that economic integration and connectivity benefits regional security. Multi-country energy projects such as the TAPI gas pipeline and the CASA 1000 electricity transfer can develop a shared stake in regional energy security.
We also believe that the South Asian Free Trade Agreement, if implemented as envisioned, can become a steppingstone toward a future South Asian Common Market, and towards making the vision of regional integration a reality.
We are keen, of course, to see decisions and commitments by SAARC translated into tangible and meaningful benefits in a time-bound manner. In this context, we believe SAARC should build on the findings and recommendations of the recently held Consultative Meeting on Strengthening the SAARC and its Institutional Mechanisms.
Next month, we will convene the International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn where, together with our friends and partners from the international community, we will take stock of the last ten years of hard work in Afghanistan. Hosted by Afghanistan’s great friend, Germany, the Bonn Conference will help us to better define our long-term engagement with the international community as we consolidate our historic achievements and redouble our efforts to overcome existing challenges.
In Bonn, we will share our vision for a new paradigm of cooperation between Afghanistan and the international community, and also our regional partners and neighbours.
In this context, Afghanistan recently signed a strategic partnership agreement with the Republic of India, which covers cooperation between the two countries in economic, social, cultural, and security areas. Presently, we are also engaged in talks with the United States of America on finalizing a long-term strategic partnership agreement. This agreement, when conclude, will, I hope promote Afghanistan’s vision of security and development, and as such contribute to security and economic growth in the region as a whole.
I wish to reassure our neighbors and all our fellow SAARC countries that none of the partnerships we forge now or in the future shall pose a threat to our neighbors or to the region. I also wish to emphasize that Afghanistan’s goal in seeking partnerships with countries outside the region is totally consistent with the goal of building close cooperation with our regional partners and neighbors.
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
As we meet today, new horizons of cooperation and partnership at the regional level are opening up, yet we as members of SAARC are at a cross-roads. Our inability to translate pledges to concrete actions holds us back from realizing our region’s unparalleled potential in virtually all areas.
We need to redouble our determination to eliminate terrorism and extremism, build networks of commerce and trade, and assure the free flow of energy, capital and people. The experiences of other regions – namely Europe and Southeast Asia – demonstrate that political constraints need not be barriers to development and economic cooperation.
The stakes are high, the benefits are clear and the decision is ours to make. I say let us go forward with determination and bold action to realize the vast potential of the SAARC to create an enabling environment for our youth today, and to ensure security and prosperity for our future generations.
Thank you for your attention.