Speech of His Excellency Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the Asia Society
Your Excellency Mr. Tom Nagorski,
Your Excellency Mr. Tom Freston,
Your Excellency Mr. John Hockenberry, host of National Public Radio’s morning programÂ The Takeaway,
Dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I want to start off by expressing my profound thanks and appreciation to Mr. Freston, Mr. Hockenberry and to all my friends and colleagues at the Asia Society for organizing our event today. As an institution of international renown and credit, the Asia Society has contributed to our understanding of the most important issues in the world, especially in our part of the world. So it is a distinct honour for me to have this opportunity to speak with you and exchange views on the situation in Afghanistan.
I believe a useful way to approach our discussion today would be for me to give you a brief overview of the situation in Afghanistan over the past twelve years, since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001 that is, and then for us to get into a more open and free-flowing conversation.Â Of course, Iâ€™d also be happy to answer some of your questions.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Iâ€™ll take a step even farther back than the year 2001 when the Taliban regime in Afghanistan was ousted by the Afghan people with military backing from the international community. Iâ€™ll do that very briefly, just to point out that the recent history of Afghanistan over the past more than three decades has been a history mostly of suffering and pain brought on by foreign occupation in the 1980s, imposed internal strife in the first half of the 1990s and Taliban domination in the latter part of that inauspicious decade for Afghanistan.
As a result of these periods in our recent past, we sustained incalculable losses and destruction. More than a million Afghan citizens were killed and upward of five million fled to neighbouring countries and farther afield. During the particularly tragic 1990s, Afghanistan entered a decade-long period of dark isolation from the region and the wider world. In addition to the destruction of our physical infrastructure, these conflicts partly or completely devastated the essential institutions of our state. During those years, our people suffered severe poverty, physical brutality, and lack of hope and confidence about the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
With the collapse of the Taliban regime in 2001, we opened a new chapter in our history.
Despite numerous challenges and problems, over the last twelve years, because of the determination of the Afghan people, and the wise and steady leadership of His Excellency President Karzai, and with critical support from the international community, we in Afghanistan have taken a major step towards the recovery of our political, economic and security systems and have achieved historic gains in a broad range of areas.
We are proud of these positive gains in Afghanistan, which, I would like to repeat, are mainly the result of the dedication and sacrifices of the Afghan people and the major sacrifices and generous support of the international community and our allies. We are proud of our young democracy â€“ today we have an elected president, an elected parliament as well as elected provincial councils in each one of our 34 provinces. At this very moment, the Afghan government and people are busy preparing for a historic third presidential election next year that will further entrench the principle and practice of democratic governance in our nation, and mark the first democratic, peaceful transfer of power from one elected president to another president.
The keen enthusiasm of the Afghan people up and down the country for next yearâ€™s presidential and provincial council elections despite setbacks and a difficult security environment is proof positive of our citizensâ€™ determination to solidify our young democracy.
Today the active presence of women and girls in the political, social and economic fields is quite comprehensive and a force for good in our country.Â We have arguably one of the freest media in our region, and our vibrant civil society is playing an increasingly positive and significant role in the political and social life of the country.
Today more than ten million of our children attend school â€“ this didnâ€™t ever happen before in our history â€“ over 40 percent of them girls. This number in 2001 was less than one million. Tens of thousands of our youth â€“ both boys and girls â€“ are attending more than 70 public and private universities across the country. Today over 70 percent of our people have access to basic health care services. We have built thousands of kilometers of roads and bridges throughout the country, and weâ€™ve opened our country for foreign investments. These gains would not be possible without the support of the international community, particularly the United States.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I now would like to give you a brief but broad outline of some of the key priorities weâ€™re engaged with at this point in Afghanistan.
The first point I want to make is about the security transition currently underway in Afghanistan, which started two summers ago and is to be wrapped up completely by the end of next year. Indeed, with the security transfer milestone that we marked with our international partners in July this year, itâ€™s today Afghan forces â€“ not foreign forces â€“ whoâ€™re leading all security operations across Afghanistan.
Looking at the big security picture in Afghanistan, transition has proven both a strategic and a tactical success. The transition process has strengthened Afghan national sovereignty and ownership of our own affairs, and the Afghan people have embraced it as a vital endeavour. It is true that casualties among Afghan soldiers and police officers have gone up, but to us that is the sign of the commitment of brave and patriotic Afghans to the security, development and progress of their country.
Weâ€™re confident that with the continued financial assistance of the international community and friends â€“ which frankly we require for a number of years, and for which we have a clear and firm commitment from the international community â€“ Afghan national security forces will be able to provide internal security and defend Afghanistan against external threats by 2014 when the transition process will have concluded.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the last three years, we have buttressed the transition process by entering into long-term strategic partnerships with the international community, and initiating efforts to build confidence and seek new forms of result-oriented cooperation with our neighbours and the wider region. During the past three years, we have signed key long-term strategic partnerships with India, the United States, Germany, Australia, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Poland. Weâ€™ve also concluded or are currently negotiating similar partnerships with the European Union, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. And, weâ€™ve conducted lengthy and complex negotiations with the United States over a Bilateral Security Agreement that will provide for the continued presence of a number of American soldiers on Afghan soil post-2014. We believe that a bilateral security agreement with the United States that fully respects our sovereignty, independence and culture and strengthens our national security forces and their capabilities is in the interest of both Afghanistan and the United States because it will be a cost-effective continuing investment in our common security in that critical region. The Afghan government is keen to sign such an agreement with the United States as soon as possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
In addition to the security transition, weâ€™re pursuing efforts towards a political process of negotiations with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, because we know that a political process is the surest path to lasting and dignified peace for the Afghan people who deserve peace and security more than any other people.
Therefore, pursuing a national peace and reconciliation process with the Taliban and other armed opposition groups, which has the broad support of all the political groups in Afghanistan and the solid backing of the Afghan people, remains an urgent priority for the Afghan people.Â Weâ€™re pursuing the peace process also because we know that there are is a significant current within the Taliban that agrees with the necessity of such a political process.
Weâ€™ve been heartened by the recent supportive position of the new government in Pakistan towards our peace process, and the initial step of releasing Mullah Beradar from prison on Saturday. We look forward to further steps by the Pakistani government to support our peace efforts.
Pakistanâ€™s essential role in advancing the Afghan peace process is a clear example of the support that Afghanistanâ€™s neighbours and other countries in the region, especially Muslim countries, can provide to the Afghan peace process.
Iâ€™d like to briefly touch upon another important transition in Afghanistan, namely the economic transition. This is an important element of the overall â€œcapital Tâ€ transition process because we know that there will be an economic impact from the security transition as international forces return to their homes and foreign military spending, which has been an important part of economic activity for a large number of Afghans over the past decade, decreases across the country.
Some of this downturn will be absorbed by international development assistance. In this connection, an international development conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo in July last year pledged over $16 billion for the next three years to help fill the projected fiscal gap in our budget, critical help that weâ€™re profoundly grateful for.
But weâ€™re also trying to build up our national economy and ensure long-term self-reliance by attracting new investments into the different sectors of our national economy.
In this context, weâ€™re paying special attention to attracting investments into our key industries and sectors, including agriculture and natural resources.
Our mines are conservatively estimated to hold trillions of dollars of precious minerals and hydrocarbons, which can sustain our economic growth for decades to come.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The last point I would like to highlight before we go to your views and questions is the central importance of regional cooperation. As the land bridge between South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East, Afghanistan can play a pivotal role in terms of promotion and advancement of economic and political cooperation in our region.
Therefore, peace, security and stability in Afghanistan undoubtedly is of vital importance for the promotion of economic cooperation and integration in the region, of course to the benefit and prosperity of all our peoples.Â Together with our Turkish friends, Afghanistanâ€™s immediate neighbours and other regional countries, we launched the Istanbul Process in 2011 for confidence building and result-oriented cooperation in the Heart of Asia.
Two follow-on Ministerial meetings of the process were held in Kabul in June last year and in Almaty, Kazakhstan in April of this year.
Though this process is still moving towards its full maturity, it has developed into a meaningful forum for discussion on specific confidence building measures and gained considerable momentum.
An important note about the Istanbul Process is that it does not intend to replace or replicate any of the existing efforts and initiatives, but to complement them, strengthen them, and bring coherence between and among them, particularly in relation to Afghanistan. We just had an important senior officials meeting of the Istanbul Process yesterday here in New York ahead of the next ministerial meeting in the Peoples Republic of China next summer, a sure sign of the relevance, significance and importance of this process.
With that, Iâ€™d be happy to hear from you. Thank you for yourself.