Statement by His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference
13 May 2009
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Honorable Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani
Excellencies heads of delegations
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me and the Afghan delegation to see many friends and partners of Afghanistan gathered in the beautiful city of Islamabad. On behalf of Afghanistan, I welcome our neighbours, countries of the region, member countries of the G8 and the various international organizations for attending today’s conference. It was almost four years ago in Kabul that we first came together to discuss the opportunity that Afghanistan’s re-emergence as a stable country presented for economic cooperation and integration in our region. We met again Delhi in November 2006 to reaffirm our commitment to regional economic cooperation and to discuss specific measures to that end.
I am grateful to my honourable brother, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for pushing this initiative ahead by hosting this Conference in Islamabad today.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Economic integration in our region, where each and all of our nations would have a part to play, is an achievable vision. The next step is to take careful stock of where we are, and to move to a higher level by focusing on practical objectives.
To achieve our goal of greater regional economic cooperation, we have eagerly participated in multilateral trade negotiations. We are also engaged with many of our neighbors through bilateral and multilateral trade and economic agreements. Afghanistan is an active member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and SAARC. We have taken serious steps to gain membership in the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement.
Afghanistan is also a member of the Contact Group of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Moreover, through active membership in Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Central Asia and South Asian Transportation and Trade Forum (CSATTF), and UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), Afghanistan is focusing on various projects and activities that promote enhanced regional cooperation within our region. Key among these projects are CASA-1000 which will transit 1000 MW energy from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline which will transit natural gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. In line with our goal of promoting regional cooperation and to include regional actors in our economy, we concluded a major contract with a Chinese consortium to undertake exploration, smelting and sale of the Aynak copper deposit. As part of this contract the consortium will build a railway line which will connect Central Asia to South Asia and expedite the transport of people and goods within the region and beyond
Within our country, we have taken serious steps to encourage and facilitate the establishment of new businesses, to widen trade opportunities, to promote foreign and domestic investment, to build roads and improve transportation, and to provide efficient communication networks for businesses and for the society at large.
Moreover, we have overhauled our laws, including our corporate and commercial laws; we have revised and simplified our customs procedures and reduced tariffs, we have passed new laws promoting direct foreign investment and portfolio investment; we have established a dependable banking system; we have provided for a stable exchange rate and stable money; and we have expanded and improved our educational system to create a pool of employable, skilled labor force. Above all, we have institutionalized and consolidated our nascent democracy, permitting our people to become true stakeholders in our country’s political and economic destiny.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today there are a host of factors – from the fragility of security, to inadequate physical infrastructure, to inconsistent policies – which play to the detriment of regional economic cooperation. Many of us are plagued by poverty and environmental degradation; for some of us, trafficking in illegal drugs, corruption and red-tape are among significant obstacles to development and upholding the rule of law.
Perhaps by far the most menacing challenge to the region’s prosperity today is extremism and terrorism which threaten our people’s lives and livelihoods. It is with tremendous trepidation, ladies and gentlemen, that we have been watching the wildfire of terrorism spreading across the region. The increasing number of suicide attacks and other forms of violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are grim reminders of the terrorists’ growing reach.
In addition to suicide attacks against innocent civilians and security personnel, attacks have been launched against hundreds of vehicles transporting Afghan merchandize or NATO supplies on the road from Karachi to Kabul. Trucks have been burned, drivers have been killed, and merchandize have been looted and set on fire. Such terrorist atrocities have had a serious affect on trade and commerce.
There is more to this: terrorists and extremists are extending their reach in whole areas of our habitat and hindering our progress towards peace and prosperity. Today, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fallen victim to the atrocities of the militants and terrorists, forcing hundred of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes and become refugees in their own countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The current situation has become intolerable for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is time to combine our energies and make sure that the forces of mayhem and death are defeated once and for all. It is time to take back our valleys and villages from terrorists; it is time to get serious about keeping our roads open to trade; it is time to open our schools and send our sons and daughters back to classes; it is time to secure the lives of our women and children.
It is for the sake of our common security, ladies and gentlemen, and for the future of our children that we must counter the spread of terrorism, urgently and decisively. We must open our hearts and our minds to the prospects of a new, better and more prosperous future. It is time we focused, together, on fighting extremism and terrorism, as the enemies that work against that future and as enemies that we have in common. It is time we all realized that a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for our children will only be attained by espousing the progressive ideals of regional cooperation and interdependence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While we marshal our joint efforts to fight terrorists and remove their sanctuaries, we must also offer protection for the civilian population and prove that our efforts provide for a better future, a promise of life and opportunity for them and their children.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we are here in Islamabad to recommit ourselves to a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous region, built on the principles of the rule of law and friendly co-existence with the outside world; and to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan that would be an important contributor to the economic integration and prosperity of the region. We must commit ourselves to dispense with the stereotypical and narrow-minded politics of the past and start afresh in building a peaceful and prosperous region. With this commitment in mind, today’s conference is a landmark event both for Afghanistan and the peoples of this region who share our vision of security, progress and prosperity. Therefore, for the sake of the legitimate aspirations of our peoples, let us resolve to make our common vision a reality.
By MARK THOMPSON / WASHINGTON Mark Thompson / Washington–
Public beheadings in Afghanistan are usually associated with the Taliban, but on Monday it was Defense Secretary Robert Gates metaphorically wielding the axe from the Pentagon platform. Gates announced that he had asked for and requested the resignation of his top commander in Afghanistan, Army General David McKiernan, after only 11 months in that theater. The 37-year veteran will be replaced by Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. Army Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the Defense Secretary’s own top military aide, is to serve in a newly created post as McChrystal’s deputy.
The move was yet another dose of accountability from Gates, who has previously cashiered officers for failing to tend to hospitalized troops or to secure nuclear weapons. But Monday’s action was more momentous: It marked the first time a civilian has fired a wartime commander since President Harry Truman ousted General Douglas MacArthur in 1951 for questioning Truman’s Korean War strategy. (See pictures of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.)
The Obama Administration has made Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror over the past month, it had concluded that McKiernan’s tenure there had involved too much wheel-spinning even as the Taliban extended its reach. There was not enough of the “new thinking” demanded by Gates. “It’s time for new leadership and fresh eyes,” Gates said, refusing to elaborate. He noted that Joints Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and General David Petraeus, who as chief of U.S. Central Command oversees the Afghan war, had endorsed the move. Officers have typically served about 24 months in the slot, meaning McKiernan had served less than half his expected tour.
Military experts anticipate that U.S. policy in Afghanistan more militarily pointed as well as politically deft, once McChrystal and Rodrigues, his 1976 West Point classmate and fellow Afghan vet, are confirmed by the Senate. “McKiernan did his best – he was just the wrong guy,” says retired Army officer and military analyst Ralph Peters. “McChrystal will ask for more authority, not more troops.” By the end of this year, the U.S. expects to have close to 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 21,000 ordered there by Obama. While that’s just half the 130,000 troops the U.S. maintains in Iraq, Gates has been leery of sending further reinforcements. (Read TIME’s 2-Min. Bio of McChrystal.)
McChrystal proved adept at using intelligence to multiply the impact of the troops at his disposal when he commanded U.S. Special Forces in Iraq as they hunted down and killed al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And unlike what some call McKiernan’s “shy” demeanor and his desire – in Army parlance – to “stay inside his lane,” McChrystal is eager to take the spotlight. He’s also expected to challenge behavior of the Afghan government that undermines the war effort: One official on the Joint Chiefs of Staff expects McChrystal to warn President Hamid Karzai to shut down drug running operations that fund the Taliban, even when their networks run uncomfortably close to his government. “[McChrystal] will tell him: ‘If you don’t clean this up, I will.’ ”
Not everyone welcomed the change, however. Some viewed McKiernan’s firing as unfair, noting that he had inherited command of an under-resourced Afghan theater that had been a secondary priority to Iraq. “In Afghanistan, we do what we can,” Mullen himself had said in December 2007. “In Iraq, we do what we must.” And while McKiernan was given his Afghan command during the Bush Administration, it had been Gates who had appointed him – at Mullen’s recommendation.
Gates took pains on Monday to avoid criticizing McKiernan. He told the four-star general that his Army career was effectively over during a face-to-face meeting in Afghanistan last week. “This was a kick in the teeth, but McKiernan took it extraordinarily well,” a senior Pentagon official said. Other military officials were less courteous. “I still can’t figure out why they put an armored guy with no Afghan experience in charge” one said. A second senior official said “Dave McKiernan is clearly part of the Army’s old guard – he led troops in [1991’s] Desert Storm, for pete’s sake. But if things were going better over there, he’d be staying.”
Gates has long demonstrated an impatience with war-time commanders who passively wait for the military hierarchy to give them what they need. He was stunned at the military’s foot-dragging when he ordered additional armored vehicles and drone aircraft to the Afghan and Iraq wars.Even though McKiernan’s dismissal had been in the works prior to Gates’ trip to Afghanistan last week (Mullen had warned McKiernan two weeks ago that it was coming), Gates was incensed by some of what he witnessed during that visit. Several troops complained that they lacked basic gear after arriving in Afghanistan. “It is a considerable concern to me,” he said last Thursday, brushing off a suggestion that the Taliban or the priority given to Iraq had been to blame for the Afghan shortfalls. “It’s more, really, a logistical challenge than it is anything else,” Gates said. That, one of the defense chief’s top aides said, is an unacceptable failure in a theater of war. “McKiernan never quite figured out how to ensure that he would succeed – he was still too dependent on the organization coming to his rescue,” he said. “Sadly, this institution doesn’t always do that.”