February 21, 2019
Bismillahirrahmanirrahim [In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful]
Distinguished Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan and Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Rashid Meredov, Professor Baba Tahirov, Director of the institute; distinguished members of the faculty, students, members of the Afghan cabinet and Afghan delegation, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great pleasure to be with you today and thank you for honoring me. I was a professor for fourteen years, so I feel at home here. It is the Presidential Office that I don’t feel at home; so thank you for giving me an opportunity to be among you again.
My remarks are in three parts:
First, I will describe an enduring partnership, a very special relationship between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Second, I’ll go back to history as to what lessons we have from history. And third, I will focus on the skills and perspective necessary to expand this relationship.
First. Today, we have signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. This is a partnership agreement without an expiry date. What does that mean to have a partnership without an expiry date? It means that you, your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren are going to be carrying this partnership.
Our relationship is not of a day, is not of a month, is not of a year. Today we have laid down the basis of a partnership for centuries to come.
And particularly on this day, we singed this agreement because today, as the professor said, is the 27th anniversary of establishment of our relationship. So thank you Mr. Foreign Minister for choosing the date that marks our 27th anniversary. May many more come and I am sure that there will be hundreds of more to celebrate, and each year, I am sure that we will have further and deeper accomplishments.
What have we achieved in the last four and half years? Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, I think, in the region are unique that we hope that this relationship, the type of relationship, now will expand with all our neighbors near and far. We have established connectivity. In four years, two railway terminals from Turkmenistan have reached Afghanistan. Together we have opened the Caucuses and Europe to Afghanistan and together we are in the process of opening South Asia and East Asia to Turkmenistan. This is not a small accomplishment.
And enhanced connectivity is marked by two major projects: one is the Lapis Lazuli Corridor that links five countries. It means that today the ports of Georgia and Turkey are the destinations for imports and exports of Afghanistan and all of the five countries and tomorrow, I think, South Asia will be traveling through this corridor to Europe and the Caucuses and not just Central Asia. Second, I will return to is the TAPI corridor that is not just a project, but a great instrument of connectivity.
What is the basis of this relationship? First and foremost, mutual respect. We love the Turkmen people and they love the Afghan people.
Second, it is mutual interest. Together, we have been able to turn Turkmenistan’s energy surplus into income for Turkmenistan and hopefully light for millions of people in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. Mutual interest means that each year our trade is increasing, our understanding is deepening, and the areas of cooperation are broadening.
The third is a mutual future. The future of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are linked, ladies and gentlemen. You, as the young generation of the diplomats of Turkmenistan and your colleagues in Afghanistan are going to be carrying this torch of a common future to all corners of the world, saying look at a model relationship. So it is important to understand that we are not just operating in today; every year, this partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest is going to be broadened. Because of this, the relationship is without an expiry date and we can count on ever-increasing flows of relationships and mutual understanding.
Why should we discuss in an institute that is developed to the future our past? Several reasons: first, the civilization that Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are heirs of the civilization of the Silk Road. Long before Europe knew what money was in the Medieval Period, a series of cities locked like pearls on a necklace linked this part of the world together. The rhythm of Mary in Herat was a rhythm that existed for centuries. The caravan trade linked us, the trading systems linked us, banking systems linked us, so it is a deep trading culture. The Soviet period stands us as an exception to this deep-rooted culture, but this deep-rooted culture is not just the past, it is the future. You, as diplomats, are going to be representing the interests of Turkmenistan around the world and that means you have to have deep knowledge of the counties to which you are assigned, but more than that your own knowledge of history to represent this.
Second, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan were the birthplace of the great Abbasid civilization. The capital of Caliph Ma’mun was in Mary and Shah Jahan and the army that conquered Baghdad for him was from Herat led by an Afghan called Tahir Foshanji. This civilization was a civilization that devoted one hundred years to a project of translation. Every element of science from India, from Rome, from Greece, from China was translated. This deep civilization existed for centuries and we were the heirs of this civilization. Nation states—European nation states have been close systems, meaning that connectivity was within the state after that was opposition. Our historical system was an open system. A judge could practice from Morocco to Turkmenistan, to India, without the slightest difficulty. The Haj connected us across this world and the legal system was an incredibly sophisticated system. These routes need to be appreciated.
What ruptured this? It was the colonial experience, particularly 1872, the Russian invasion. So from 1872 to 1992 is a period of our separation. A forceful re-orientation from each other where we were ignorant of each other, but now we are connected again. The reason I mentioned this is, because without this deep past, you could have not built the special relationship in four and half years or 27 years. Afghans and Turkmens have not had conflict, we have had cooperation; we have had mutual respect for centuries, and we have had trading relationships.
Based on this, we come to today. So what is our concept of ourselves and what are we doing to realize this? Afghanistan wants to make itself into an Asian Roundabout. You have seen traffic. In a roundabout, traffic from all points gathers and then moves. The roundabout is not a stopping place. It is a connecting place. And a roundabout is an open place that opens itself to flows of commerce to flows of culture, to human connectivity, to mutual understanding. Concretely what are we doing to—and Turkmenistan is another Asian Roundabout, because Turkmenistan’s unique choice, historical choice is neutrality. That means not a negative withdrawal from the world, but on the contrary to becoming a positive transport hub and a center of connectivity. And based on this, it is not surprising that railways, gas pipelines, electricity transmission lines, or at the center of our agenda, as well as training of our young people and connectivity across all groups.
So let me illustrate. I have argued already what the Lapis Lazuli Road is. In four years, we went from an idea to a concrete delivery. What does the concrete delivery mean? It means that, thanks to the Lapis Lazuli system, hundreds of trucks, thousands of railway carts are going to be moving back and forth from Afghanistan all the way to Georgia and Europe and from there back. And all of this is because the central decision of my brother, the President of Turkmenistan and the Government of Turkmenistan to see itself as a transit and connecting point rather than as a blockage. The blockage of the other people is mental. We see connectivity where others see obstacles. And this is going to be bringing prosperity to millions of our people. It is going to make transactions cheaper, more efficient. Just one part. Before the last connection of the railway was built between Turkey and Azerbaijan, it used to take 24 days. Now it takes two days. This means that the entire set of connectivities through goods is made possible.
The second example. We got a project concept. It said the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India pipeline is a project. This project had been on the books for nearly two decades, but we made it into reality. And not only has it now reached Herat border, our border in Afghanistan, all the elements of making it happen is literally taking place. Something that was unbelievable and people thought it was a figment of imagination is now becoming a reality. Millions of people in the subcontinent are going to have light and energy, and this translates to income to enormous set of opportunities and to enduring changes and relationships of Turkmenistan.
But how did we change it from a project to corridor? Project is an individual thing, a pipeline, what did we do? First we said, let’s add a power line to the pipeline. That is called TAP; the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan transmission line. And the test of the pudding is that of the idea is that a private investor from Turkey is now willing to invest over a billion dollars probably closing to two billion dollars to make this happen. Why would the private sector come if they could not make profit from them?
Three, we said, If you are having a pipeline and a transmission line, why not add a fiber optic aligned to it. And what does the fiber optic line do? This fiber optic line will connect China, India, Pakistan through Turkmenistan to the huge European and Caucuses, and this is the beginning.
So the fourth we said, does this corridor make sense without a railway? And the first step of that was that from Mary to Herat, the railway had not been completed; because of this, the connectivity to Herat happened. Just by building those missing link between Mary and Herat, now the railway has allowed us to have a dry port and today we have reached agreement that 120 Km of railway from Torghundi to Herat is going to be built. And of course, with this, is Afghanistan’s ring road, but with this possibility, the ring road is going to expand.
And along this road, we have four airports; the airport in Herat, the airport in Farah, the airport in Helmand, and the airport in Kandahar. You will suddenly see that going from an isolated project that would focus just on gas, now it is a rich dense area of connectivity. This is equivalent to building a new Amu River or Helmand river, is going to become a huge center of flows and connectivity so the fate and interest of people in Afghanistan and Turkmenistan gets not only linked with each other, it gets linked to all our neighbors and partners in this project.
In order to do this, you, the generation that we have invested so much in to turn the reins of authority and power need to have at least three qualities. First, you need to make yourself into leaders, not followers. What does it take to be a leader? A leader must have imagination. A leader must say no to the impossible. A leader must be able to think how to overcome the odds so what seems incredibly difficult actually becomes possible. The job of leadership is to make the impossible possible. It is to create opportunities not just by words, but by deeds. And to build the sort of relationships that results in mutual interest, mutual respect in a mutual future. You know, when I came to Turkmenistan, I read every single speech of your distinguished president. Leadership is hard work of detail, because in the first fifteen minutes of a discussion with another leader, either you make it or break the relationship. Diplomacy, young colleagues, is enormously creative work but it is also the discipline of detail. You need to know what is on the mind of your counterpart. What does she or he think? What are their priorities? How do you set within those? How do you create the thing?
Leadership is also about explaining a very difficult idea in terms that can be understood. So from a project to a corridor is where the conceptual parts of it goes, building the relationship is central. Why do President Berdimuhamedov and I insist on seeing each other at least once, if not twice a year? Because without a dialogue, without a face-to-face interaction, despite the age of communication, you cannot build up chemistry. And chemistry is essential to building trust, because billions of dollars, millions of lives are at stake with the task of leadership.
Two, you need to be managers. If you are not managers, leadership is not enough. Meaning some jobs are 90% leadership, 10% management. Most jobs are 90% management, 10% leadership. Meaning if you promise that a line is going to be built, and it is not going to be built, it is not going to result in trust so the task of management is a very different task.
Complimentary some people—and I am very honored and pleased that my colleagues were with me are both leaders and managers, but a lot of people are either leaders or managers. You need to be able to have the discipline of detail to make thing happen and management is about knowing every one of your promises following upon it. If you don’t follow up and don’t make it happen and you forget to build schedule, that small things like missing an appointment can cause huge losses in opportunity.
So the task of management is to deliver results. It is mangers that deliver results. It is like a building. You know, you build an institute. If this hall did not exist, you would have to be interacting very differently. Details of getting management right is teamwork. And without understanding while leadership might be an odd, management definitely is a discipline and a science. It is about knowing how to build schedules, how to get resources, how to manage people, but more significantly, it is knowing about how to bring people together.
And the last quality is perspective. You have to have a sense of the future. The potential—most leaders and managers operate just with the present framework. They miss the great latent assets; they only look at what has been routine. A latent asset is an asset that is there but without utility that you cannot put it into money and can translate it into relationship. And the greatest latent asset is Central Asia’s energy. It cannot be so to the rest of Central Asia, but South Asia and then Middle East are desperate for this, as is East Asia. It takes the type of leadership of President Berdimuhamedov to be able to see this potential to bet on places. If it were not him, Afghanistan that I inherited and I became leader of and my colleagues, was a place that everybody else saw problems, terror, etc. President Berdimuhamedov had the perspective to see an Afghanistan with the distinguished Foreign Minister and other colleagues a great partner, a possibility. And you can see, I hope that it is not exaggeration, but Afghanistan has never made a payment with its Turkmen partners. We pay in cash, we pay in advance because the trust, our word is our trust and our bonds and on this basis, we can go forward.
So to come back and sumMaryze, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan have created an enduring partnership. It is your generation’s job to turn this partnership that legally is enduring, economically is enduring, culturally is enduring and to a sustainable ever-expanding set of relationship. Our past is important in envisaging the future, because we are parts of a common civilization. Islam now at extremism and radicalism is not the Islam that we believe in that we have practiced, that we have inherited from our ancestors. There is enormous amount of our culture of the past that is really made for the 21st century. Openness, hospitality, interactions and deep sets of relationship seeing language as a means of connectivity rather as a means of separation.
And three, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are engaged in world-class projects that will transform our lives together. Success of these projects is going to require your commitment. It is going to require your diplomacy to be able to create the type of relationship that Afghanistan and Turkmenistan have created together with all our neighbors. Our view of our neighbors is plus-plus. We need to take all the obstacles, turn them into opportunities and be able to live a life of decency, integrity and connectivity.
Connectivity is not railways. It is not power lines. It is not gas pipelines. Connectivity is human. It is at the human level that we connect deeply together because power lines do not understand mutual respect. They understand system connections, synchronization. Human beings are complex, but human beings are the key agents of change. And I believe that the current and the future generations of Turkmens and Afghans have the judgment and capability to make this great relationship thrive. May we ever live in peace, dignity and mutual prosperity. Thank you.
Q and A section
I am third year student of the Institute of Ministry of foreign affairs of Turkmenistan. Thank you for your interesting and grateful speech. Your Excellency, what priority areas of interaction could you single out in Turkmen-Afghan relations and what prospects do you see in Turkmen-Afghan relations of friendship and cooperation? Thank you.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani:
Thank you for a great question. Our first priority is to expand the Lapis Lazuli Corridor. Everything is done. It is now managing it so it becomes a completely reliable just in time delivery for every single business, every single government, every single entity along its route, and to expand it from five countries in the future to many more. This corridor is connecting Asia to Europe. This connectivity has never happened in this way before. So it is literally transformative. You know the port of Batumi now is a port of for Ashgabat and for Kabul and Herat. All the people along this route, this is a new equivalent of the old Silk Road.
Our second priority is transmission lines. We have expanded the trade and energy between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan very significantly. We hope that by this summer, there will be two major further developments, some 300MW of power through the port of Aqina to northern Afghanistan and then on to our grid and also the completion of the new 220KV line from Mary to Herat. But this is just the beginning because following this, what would really change the energy trade in the region is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan transmission line. This is likely to be at the beginning around 2000 MW, it could go probably up to 6000 megawatts; it is going to be literally a game changer. A game changer means that the previous sets of relationships that were assumed and here the critical element is the private sector participation to make this possible.
The third thing is railways. We have just agreed to two new lines of railway from Turkmenistan. One is Aqina to the city of Andkhoi, it is a 30 Km line. And we agreed and it is going to go towards implementation. The second one is a 120 Km railway from Torghundi, our dry port with Turkmenistan to the city of Herat.
After this. These are immediate things. I am bringing this to your attention because to say we have not sat and talked in the last four years, we have connected, we have created reality. The reality four and half years ago was goodwill between the two countries, today it is mutual interest. Hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions in a year.
The next and the greatest issue for us is the corridor that I described to you, the TAPI corridor, to make TAPI happen and all its related components. Within this context, we need to think big about energy and that means thinking through about other pipelines, not just to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan but hopefully to other countries. Railway connectivity and fiber optics is going to be again something that is going to transform lines because we are at the digital economy. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, we had missed the transport revolution, we need to do the first industrial plus the three others together and I think this means working together in all areas.
The human part of this, I hope that there are some Afghan students here, if not, I would urge you to make a friend among Afghan students. I would like to invite you to come to Afghanistan whenever you can to make friends. It is the friendships that are the deepest part of our relationship because it is only by knowing each other, understanding each other, and establishing common frameworks that you are going to go.
In the area of diplomacy, we see eye to eye because it is the counter-terrorism strategy of the UN, mutual respect based on sovereignty, territorial integrity, respect for systems that provides the basis of our relationship. This is a great relationship already. We need to make it much greater and I am sure your generation will do this.
I am the third year student of International Relations in World Politics Major at International University for Humanities and Development. Your Excellency. As you have already mentioned, today we are celebrating the 27th anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Turkmenistan and Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. So how do you assess the historical significance of state in development of bilateral cooperation between our countries over the past period? Thank you.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani:
Thank you. Today is a day of happiness. Not only because we have created a past together, a past where respect, non-interference, but positive engagement has become the norm. Today we have signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and this means that our relationship, all aspects of our relationship are now brought together into a strategic framework and as I indicated this is a strategic agreement without an expiry date. Most strategic agreements are two years or five years or ten years. This explicitly says there is no expiry date. That shows how connected we are and how much we believe in each other and how much new generation must do now to make this literally thrive and bring benefit to all our men and women, our generations and our people together and our governments.
The critical nature of this is that the state to state relationships, meaning government to government relationship is the center of our relationship. People to people relationship, business to business relationship, culture to culture are great. They will be thriving, but basis of this is state to state interest, relationships and understanding and I am sure that we would mark this day in future as a day that changed this part of the world.
I am the third year student of the Institute of International Relations of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan. Your excellency. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan supports international legal status of Turkmenistan. What do you think the significance of neutrality in mutual relations? Thank you.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani:
Thanks for a great question. Neutrality for Turkmenistan has been guarantee of its independence, its sovereignty and its will and commitment that is not going to engage in negative quarrels, but it will always be a place to help other countries resolve their problems with each other. Turkmenistan has invested very substantially in the UN system. Turkmenistan is one of the few countries on earth that has given the UN system free accommodation, free access and enormous respect. What does this mean? Turkmenistan believes in an international order that is based on rule of law and on respect for sovereignty.
Neutrality in the hands of Turkmenistan is not negative, it is positive. How is it not negative? Because Turkmenistan, you recall, became the leader for regional transport. It offered a vision of itself as a place of connecting all its neighbors to each other and the region to other regions, so it is positive vision.
Our region, the wider Asian region, unfortunately is marked by lack of respect for sovereignty, for constant interference at ranges as far as direct state sponsorship of terror and sending of suicide bombers to some countries. Turkmenistan has said no to that type of relationship. It shows, and what we have described to you is the outcome of this principle stand Turkmenistan because it wants to connect people, it wants a place where you, particularly the younger generation, are going to have a horizon of certainty instead of uncertainty. We live in a world where uncertainty is the mode.
The definition of the 21st century is not known. Great power rivalries are taken place. Tectonic shift in the economy, politics, culture, but particularly terrorist groups, criminal organizations. Turkmenistan’s stance on neutrality means that it wants to create positive barriers so that these negative forces do not affect you and your aspirations and that the resource utilization that God in His Wisdom has granted to Turkmenistan is utilized for the benefit of generations of Turkmens to come.
The president [of Turkmenistan] told me, when he grew up, the gas that was produced in Turkmenistan was being sold around the world but he and his family had to heat themselves with coal or with wood. It shows what independence can bring to a people and this is a celebration and this stance, I think, has been enormously useful because it enables Turkmenistan to reach out and to build bridges. This positive vision of neutrality is one of building bridges rather than burning them. I salute the accomplishments of Turkmenistan and wish you and all the people of Turkmenistan great success and you can count on an enduring partnership with the people and government of Afghanistan.
Good day Your Excellency. I am the third student of International Relations in World Politics Major, the International University for the Humanities and Development. My question is what is your vision of the states in the prospects of cultural and educational cooperation between our countries? Thank you.
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani:
Thank you. My first part of the regional cooperation is that Turkmen women and Afghan women have to get together. Our minister of Information and Culture, Mrs. Safi, is a distinguished leader of women, also our Deputy Minister of Education Ms. Mateen is another leader of the women [applause] they have been leaders in the women’s networks. On their behalf I extend invitations to you to interact with Afghan women.
Through youth, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan are two countries where the absolute majority of population are young. I am often criticized, I am sixty-nine but because I was away for 24 years, my colleagues subtract those 24 years and accept me to being young. You are literally in the future. And we want your generation to know your deep roots to connect with them and to create new culture. This is the openness of our relationship.
We take pride and all the accomplishments of Turkmenistan and now our future is linked together. We need to know each other much deeper and that means interactions. And the best means of this is, of course, connection between universities, diplomatic institutions and cultural institutions. From music to literature, we have enormous common understanding celebrating figures of our past as well as contemporary figures.
Culture is an open system. Culture, simply put, is a system of human communication. Deep meaning comes from mutual understanding. You know if you don’t know each other even if you speak the same language, we have great deal of laughing. The test of a cultural relationship is that you have to be able to laugh at the same jokes. And that, I think, we have the ability to the same things should make you tear, give you tears of joy, and the pain and the joy need to be brought together when we feel each other’s pain, but means our common humanity is respected. When we share deeply in each our accomplishments and tears of joy come instead of tears of sorrow, that means connectivity.
What is the rule of the state? The state must orchestrate, regulate and facilitate this relationship and this is what we are about. And I am very confident that our cultural relations will expand. You know carpets are means of connection. One million, Afghan most of them women, are working in the carpet industry. Turkmenistan celebrates the day, a day especially for carpet and for its creating it is only country that I know that has a Ministry of Carpet. So from material culture to poetry to music, but particularly please understand the language of this projects. These great projects that we are undertaking are another language of connectivity. And it is we human beings—electricity doesn’t connect itself, it is we who have to bring it together to make us mutual—Mutual dependence is an enormously good thing, because interdependence means but each time we think about each other, we think in positive ways while isolation is a negative relationship because that understanding that necessary often does not arrive so one only says the negative. Turning the negative into the positive is an act of cultural and human imagination and I am sure together we can accomplish it.