Wednesday, September 28, 2016

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 program 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. Of course, I’d also be happy to answer some of your questions.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’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. I’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 – 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 year’s presidential and provincial council elections despite setbacks and a difficult security environment is proof positive of our citizens’ 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. 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 – this didn’t ever happen before in our history – over 40 percent of them girls. This number in 2001 was less than one million. Tens of thousands of our youth – both boys and girls – 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 we’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 we’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, it’s today Afghan forces – not foreign forces – who’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.

We’re confident that with the continued financial assistance of the international community and friends – which frankly we require for a number of years, and for which we have a clear and firm commitment from the international community – 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. We’ve also concluded or are currently negotiating similar partnerships with the European Union, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. And, we’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, we’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. We’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.

We’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.

Pakistan’s essential role in advancing the Afghan peace process is a clear example of the support that Afghanistan’s neighbours and other countries in the region, especially Muslim countries, can provide to the Afghan peace process.

I’d like to briefly touch upon another important transition in Afghanistan, namely the economic transition. This is an important element of the overall “capital T” 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 we’re profoundly grateful for.

But we’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, we’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. Together with our Turkish friends, Afghanistan’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, I’d be happy to hear from you. Thank you for yourself.

Statement By H.E. Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the Eleventh Annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Landlocked Developing Countries

Mr. Chairman,

At the outset, I would like to convey our appreciation to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on assuming the Chairmanship of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries. Our gratitude also goes to Paraguay for its Chairmanship of our group during previous years, and its role in strengthening unity among our members.

Mr. Chairman,

The landlocked developing countries are commonly among the least developing countries.  Sixteen of us, including my own country, are classified with the slowest growth and dependence on a very limited number of commodities for our export income. There is a clear connection between distance and transport costs. High transport costs affect the competitiveness margin of landlocked developing countries, and thereby affect trade volume.

Promoting regional cooperation for the benefit of the surrounding and landlocked countries manifests both challenges and opportunities. Some of the critical challenges which need attention cover geo-political position of Afghanistan and its neighbouring landlocked countries, security and stability of the region, drug trafficking, people smuggling, expensive and time consuming trade and transit because of barriers in trade, transport and transit, out-dated and restrictive trade and transit practices and policies, and infancy of financial markets.

On the other hand, regional cooperation provides opportunities to optimally utilize the resources of the region for the benefit of all the countries and will bring down all such barriers and create borders with human face. Despite the landlocked location of the countries, improved connectivity and development of infrastructure, particularly in the transport and energy sectors, would enhance the energy trade. Lowering of trade and transit costs and time among the land locked countries would enhance the pace of economic development; significantly increase incomes, employment and consumption in the region leading to reduction of incidence of poverty levels. Other areas of cooperation cover removal of barriers: in regional movement of labour; improvements in communication systems; civil aviation, human resources development; health facilities; and other areas of economic interests. Such efforts will be helpful in improving the productivity levels and services delivered to the masses in the countries of the region.

Mr. Chairman,

Afghanistan’s future – whether economically, politically, socially, or culturally – has and always will be deeply intertwined with its region’s future. Indeed, this is why we launched last November, with our regional and wider international partners, the “Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for Afghanistan”. And this is why with collaborated with the Government of Tajikistan earlier this year in organizing the Fifth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan. Building on the momentum generated the past twelve months in Istanbul and Dushanbe, as well as related meetings in Chicago, Kabul, and Tokyo, I firmly believe our deliberations today – with their emphasis on practical approaches for sustainable development and lessons from other regions undergoing similar transformations as in Central and South Asia – will be of immense benefit to the Government and People of Afghanistan, as well as our neighbours.

Promoting regional cooperation is a vital principle of cooperation in the Istanbul Heart of Asia Process. This is an emerging policy platform for advancing regional economic and other cooperation priorities among its participating states. Launched on 2 November 2011, the “Istanbul Process” introduces 43 confidence-building measures (CBMs) to enhance stability and regional cooperation between Afghanistan and 15 participating countries, with the support of 12 other country partners and 9 international organizations. Within the participating countries, 5 are Landlocked Developing Countries. Among the group of 43 CBMs, no less than 21 are of an economic nature (for example, trade, transport infrastructure, energy, water management, agriculture, and private investment) and 7 deal with regional cooperation in the area of education. For each of these priority CBMs, an Implementation Framework elaborates on the on-going work undertaken by a range of Afghan Government multilateral and bilateral partners.

Mr. Chairman,

Local trade between Afghanistan and neighbours is very important, even if long distance trade transiting through Afghanistan and neighbours takes longer to develop. Improved transportation links via the development of road corridors to the south and energy exports from landlocked Central Asian countries to the South Asia via Afghanistan would offer alternative means of trade flows and benefit the entire region.

As an over-arching, strategic goal for our regional cooperation projects, a broad-based effort to develop Regional Economic Growth and Resource Corridors can help connect – through Afghanistan – the people of landlocked Central Asia, South, and South-West Asia and their key economic activities, including agriculture, light manufacturing, and mineral extraction, with essential trade, transit, and energy enablers. And in doing so, the technical innovation and capital of the private sector will be unleashed, displacing over time both foreign aid and public sector capital investments. By generating significant returns to growth, jobs, and revenue, Regional Economic Growth and Resource Corridors have the potential to serve as “game changers” and to create a new dynamic for peace and socioeconomic progress across the region.

Unlocking the full potential of Afghanistan’s primary vehicles for economic expansion, employment, and public revenue are the keys to durable stability and financial sustainability across the country.  Investment in Aynak and Hajigak mines require investment in a rail system to efficiently move copper and iron ore to rail links in Central Asia and the ports of South Asia.  Exports of Afghanistan’s world class marble, gemstones, grapes, raisins, almonds, saffron, and pomegranates can only grow through a more favorable regional and global investment.  Small and medium-size enterprise owners – for example, involved in the production of rugs, wool, cashmere, and handicrafts – repeatedly stress the importance of reliable energy resources, alongside the rule of law, as essential to their competitiveness. And with adequate transportation and energy infrastructure, Afghanistan’s central location at the crossroads of Asia means it is poised to serve as a regional trade and transport hub, generating considerable public revenue through transit fees.

Mr. Chairman,

Afghanistan fully supports the commitment of the landlocked countries to accelerate the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action through effective and genuine partnerships between landlocked and transit countries and their development partners, as well as between the public and private sectors at national, regional and global levels.

In conclusion, I reiterate our commitment to work closely with all of you to advance our common interests.

I thank you.

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zalmai Rassoul Minister of Foreign Affairs at the High Level Side Event on New Deal:

Statement by H.E.  Dr. Zalmai Rassoul Minister of Foreign Affairs  at the High Level Side Event on New Deal:

g7+ Perspectives and Experience

67th United General Assembly

 

Opening Remarks

Excellencies,

On behalf of the Government of the Islamic republic of Afghanistan as the co-host, it is my pleasure and privilege to welcome you to the High Level Side Event on The New Deal: g7+ perspectives and experiences. It is a pleasure to see the level of support and the momentum which the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States is gaining after it was endorsed in November 2011 during the 4th High Level forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Bussan last year. This global recognition is indeed a result of the efforts of the g7+ countries and their partners.

Arena setting

Ladies and gentlemen, Afghanistan has received generous support over the past decade for its development and reconstruction. There have been noteworthy achievements in the areas of security and economic development since 2001, when we started our journey towards a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. We started this journey with weak institutions, poor infrastructure and with almost no formal economy. But despite all these hardships and challenges, we are now equipped with trained national security forces; access to basic health care services has improved; national highways and roads have been rebuilt; and telecoms and other hard and soft infrastructure facilities have been established. Of equal importance, our institutional and public sector reforms have advanced. This was indeed possible with the generous financial and technical support of our development partners.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, despite the tremendous achievements we have had, Afghanistan is one of the g7+ member countries which is lagging behind the goal of  materialization of MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). Despite sizable development aid invested in governance and capacity building, we continue to depend on external technical assistance. We can only cover some 60% of our operating expenditures through our domestic revenue. Our private sector is yet to realize its potential to become the engine of growth and absorb an emerging workforce. Our security sector needs to be further strengthened to take over the responsibility of protecting our people after 2014. In view of the perceived reduction in development aid during the decade of transformation, we have taken steps to bolster our domestic revenues and provide essential services to our citizens.

 

Longer and sustainable partnership:

Excellencies, sustained international engagement in development of g7+ countries is a necessity. But this engagement shall aim to support nationally owned and nationally led agenda for development. We presented our vision in the “Towards Self Reliance” strategy paper at the International Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in July 2012. To fulfill this vision, we have developed our partnership agenda “The Aid Management Policy” in consultation with our development partners and reaffirmed our commitment to implementing critical reforms and promote accountability and transparency in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework.  However, the key milestone of success in our partnership will be the extent to which our partners are willing and able to align their development efforts to our shared strategy. Being mindful of our budding institutional capacity, our partnership needs to be based on mutual trust which could involve sharing the burden of managing development aid and sharing the risks of engagement in fragile and conflict affected environments.  This is the only way to reach our common goals.  There is, therefore, a need for bold and mutual decisions by all our partners.

g7+ countries and post 2015

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

We are on the verge of 2015, when we will be reviewing our millennium development agenda. The progress made so far across the g7+ countries in terms of achievement of the millennium goals should be an important part of our review agenda and will be crucial in formulating our next steps. Since 2000, and despite the investment of nearly 30% of all development aid in conflict affected countries, we still have a long way to go.  These countries are still threatened by conflict, violence and poverty and suffer from humanitarian crises. The next phase of the millennium development agenda should focus more on strengthening the very core of functional foundations which are the pillars of Peacebuilding and Statebuilding. Only then, will we be able to observe the result of our efforts. Drawing upon the context of the g7+ countries, the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding goals should be fabricated in the next phase of our global development agenda.

Excellencies, I would like to conclude by thanking you all for your support for the vision of the g7+ which has been articulated in the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States. We are confident that with the realization of the New Deal, we can reach a brighter future through our shared efforts.

Thank you