President Ashraf Ghani’s Keynote Speech at the High-level Event: Meeting on Regional Cooperation on Afghanistan, Geneva Conference – side Events

Regional Connectivity

Bismillah Rahman Rahim.

I

Vice President Saleh, Vice President Danish, Excellencies, Minister Atmar, Arghandiwal, Ambassador Lyons, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues.

Its an honor to be with you virtually; Asia is in the process of transformation from a conceptual region to a functional region. Whether by self-identification or cumulative work of academic disciplines, Asia is long recognized as a conceptual region.  Emergence of Asia as a functional region, however, embodied in its transformation into a continental economy, is the result of the cumulative investment in critical infrastructure associated with the first, second, third, and fourth industrial revolutions.

Connectivity is the key for understanding the scale, scope and direction of transformation of a conceptual region into a functional region, as spatial flows and interactions, made possible by critical infrastructure, measure the degree of density of connectivity. Focus on places of intersection of conceptual and functional regions allow for identification of constraints and opportunities.

The following trends reveal the scale, scope and direction of change prior to the outbreak of Covid-19:

  1. Seventeen Asian countries accounted for 50% of global investment in electricity, road, telecoms, rail, water, port, and airport between 2007 and 2015. The investment rose from $1.8 trillion in 2007 to $2.3 trillion in 2015, showing an annual increase of 2.9%;
  2.  Oxford Economics estimated that China, which had accounted for 50% of the previously mentioned investment, would invest $26 trillion between 2016 and 2040 and the other 16 Asian countries invest $22.4 trillion dollars in the same period
  3. Asia faced the smallest gap in resource mobilization between the required and available investments during the foreseeable future.
  4. While there is no comprehensive study of resulting changes in supply chains and value chains and systems and processes, the phenomenal increase in intra-Asian trade as well as Asia’s trade with other regions of the world indicate the density of the resulting connectivity. This is truly the most impressive transformation of the last 400 years.

Covid-19’s disruptive on our lives and destructive impact on our livelihoods is evident.  The following trends, however, are emerging:

  1. Investment in infrastructure is likely to be a significant component of the stimulus program of Asian countries in the post Covid-19 era;
  2. Until agreement on global governance is established, the trend towards regionalism is likely to be reinforced; with a major shift to the center of gravity of the world economy towards Asia.
  3. Broadening the scope of investment in infrastructure and including the investment of all Asian countries, Asia is likely to be the dominant global player in investment in infrastructure in the next decade.
  4. Identification of hitherto neglected places of intersection and investing in them could have a multiplying effect on supply chain and value chain effectiveness and efficiency.

Critical infrastructure has been more broadly defined as sectors “whose assets, systems, and networks, whether physical or virtual are essential to a nation’s or region’s security, economic security, public health or safety or combination thereof.

United States list the following sixteen sectors: chemical; commercial facilities; communications; critical manufacturing; dams; defense industrial base; emergency services; energy; food and agriculture; government facilities; healthcare and public health; information technology; nuclear reactors, materials, and waste; transportation systems; and water and wastewater systems.

The broader definition reflects the presence of all four industrial revolutions, each of which is associated with the advent of distinctive forms of infrastructure and technologies.  The sad fact is that hundreds of millions of people, it turns billions including in Asia, are yet to have access to the forms of infrastructure associated with the first three industrial revolutions not to speak of the fourth one.

Afghanistan is one of these places of intersection, as historical trade roads ranging from the grand trunk road to the lapis lazuli and silk met here.  Names given to us capture the significance of our location best: heart of Asia; gates of India; land bridge; roundabout, a place where goods, ideas, and people freely move, circulate and interact; Switzerland of Asia.

Three words, an Asian Roundabout, capture own vision, strategic outlook and plan of action.   We are delighted that during the last five years of intense interactions with the leaders and managers of countries honoring us with their presence today, Afghanistan is being viewed from a perspective of opportunity and not just threats.

With this context in place, I now turn to address the four questions posed to the panel.

II

A strong regional consensus is essential to creating sustainable peace. Strongly associate myself with the words of Minister Atmar and Ambassador Lyons.  How can the regional political landscape be leveraged to this event.

  1. By developing a common understanding of the current context, where the Afghan defense and security forces will be playing the dominant role in own security and safeguarding all our neighbors and partners from the threat of terrorism. Additionally we must understand terrorism as a constantly changing eco-system rather than a series of isolated organizations;
  2. Having reached an agreed-upon end state for a political settlement in Afghanistan that is, “a sovereign, unified, democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself, the region and the world, capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the past two decades, a notion fully endorsed by the UN security council for which we are grateful” work with the Afghan Government on an inclusive regional process to develop a roadmap for securing the end state; let me repeat this we need an inclusive regional process to develop a roadmap for securing the end state; that we all agreed on.
  3. Endorse Afghanistan’s posture of multi-alignment, where we maximize our cooperative relationship in the region, avoid becoming parties to conflicts and disagreements among our friends, and ensure that our territory is not used against any of our regional and global partners or against the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
  4. Cooperate with us to develop a regional framework to guarantee peace and political stability and contain and eliminate the interrelated threats of terrorist networks, criminal organizations and other threats to the region;
  5. Engage with us on a medium-to-long term strategy of cooperation based on mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual trust to demonstrate the potential of Afghanistan as a platform of cooperation as well as an elastration of problem solving capacity of the region.

III

The following initiatives will help improve regional connectivity and enhance trade between regional partners and Afghanistan?

  1. Support for speeding up regional projects, ranging from CASA-1000 to TAP and TAPI, transmission lines, railways, trade transit, and investment cooperation’s rules of the game that will allow for free flow of goods. These measures will demonstrate cooperative advantage and invest in the logistical infrastructure, systems and processes to enable the agreed transport, trade and transit systems to perform to full capacity as measured by the Global Logistics Index;
  2. Secure agreement either by adoption of global standards or creation of regional standards on trade, transit, and transport and health, sanitary standards and invest in the improvement of supply chains and value chains beneficial to all stakeholders; politics with the small (P) should have no place in making trade, transit and transport unpredictable and disrupt trust.
  3. Examine the gaps in critical infrastructure in Afghanistan and help us design a medium-term framework for investment to overcome these gaps. Conversion of military infrastructure, such as airports, could be an important component of this approach.
  4. Given our vast potential in renewable energy and abundant resources in metals and minerals, help us realize become a hub of green energy and industry; will welcome Fortsco’s memorandum of understanding with us to produce 20,000 MWs from water and invest in green industry specially steel and related sectors.
  5. Cooperate with us on our agenda of digital transformation, particularly in the areas of human capital –education and health – fully 74% of our population is under 30  and 47.5% are under 15, one of the youngest population in earth and in need of hope and investment. These endeavors can be supported through online systems and communities – what has been the problem in the past.

IV

The constraints have been conceptual, operational, and managerial.   A strategy to place Afghanistan within a regional framework of connectivity only emerged during the last five years I thank vice president Saleh and Danish and other colleagues that are pushing for this agenda in grasping its full implications .  Projects have been the dominant tool of infrastructure development, resulting in the well-known reliance on primary contractors who subcontracted up to five levels and did not take responsibility for outcomes and results.  There has been enormous waste and misallocation of resources in the area of infrastructure.  Weaknesses in leadership and management of infrastructure and lack of prioritization of investments that would have had multiplying effects on the lives and livelihood resulted in misallocation and  missed opportunities.

Ignoring regional connectivity has been costly and we will avoid it at every cost. Simply put, Afghans neglected to capitalize on the advantages conferred by aligning ourselves with the great transformation of our time and the region looked at us as a source of threats to guard against.

                                                   V

Fortunately, the foundation for improving regional cooperation and connectivity is now firmly in place.  The following measures will enable us to accelerate and expand our common efforts:

  1. Taking advantage of the consensus among regional leaders on the centrality of regional cooperation and connectivity, develop a process and a strategy for political consensus on cooperation and support for peace and prosperity in Afghanistan and an investment program to enhance regional connectivity.
  2. Adopt a regional and global asset management and asset enhancement ecosystem for a program devoted to regional connectivity and draw on the skills and capabilities of treasury centers to adapt a suite of risk management solutions for large-scale regional program of connectivity to enable the investment of national, regional and global companies.
  3. Draw on the massive expertise of the region to design, and help us implement, operate and maintain projects within well-defined programs of connectivity.
  4. Utilize existing forums for building consensus on creating predictable environments for regional cooperation on trade, transit and investment, thereby enabling the Afghan people to lift ourselves through participation in functioning and reliable supply chains and value chains. We don’t want charity, we want connectivity.
  5. Understanding the deep suffering of the Afghan people during the last 40 years, help us achieve our goal of becoming an Asian Roundabout.   A sovereign, united, democratic Afghanistan will be an asset to the region and the world as a center of a thriving and tolerant Islamic culture and civilization once again.

In the conclusion let me first thank my fellow afghans, I have written these words under the attack of rockets and under previous attacks on the life of the first Vice President. Our people’s expectations of their leaders who serve as their public servants is to become reasons and future looking. The violence that our people suffer is beyond endurance the window is short please help take advantage of it. I have the pleasure to thank the Asian development bank, the European Union, the IMF, the world bank and bilateral organizations from our major partners who have helped us during these years and are playing a critical role in this conference.

I would like to thank Azarbaijan and Turkmanistan and Turkey and Gorgia for agreeing with us on the Lapiz Lazioli corridor that is crucial. I’d like to thank India and Iran for the Chahbahar corridor in related sea corridor as well as the air corridor. I’d like to Thank Uzbakistan, Kazakistan and Russia for their support and China for the support to what we call both the wheat corridor and the key supply corridors and flows will soon be in two ways.

I’d also like to thank Germany, Japan, Republic of Korea, Norway, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, United States and United Arab Emarates and Qatar for their support.

We welcome the investment of the UAE in our airport and air capabilities. All of you round this table present those capabilities and accomplishments that allow us to think through that our vision of becoming an Asian roundabout is not an empty dream but a realizable objective.

Thank you for your attention, thank you for the partnership and we are looking forward to your further cooperation.

Source: President.gov.af