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Transcript of H.E. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at the Heart of Asia 6th Ministerial Conference on Afghanistan

Amritsar, India

4 December 2016

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Prime Minister Modi, distinguished foreign ministers and other ministers, heads of delegations, ladies and gentlemen!

Heart of Asia is meeting at a time of great opportunity and significant threats for Afghanistan, with Asia-wide and global implications.   Taking stock of the emerging patterns and trends of the year since our meeting in Islamabad last year will help us prepare for 2017 and beyond.   But, let me first begin by thanking you and the Indian people for hosting us today in the historic and beautiful city of Amritsar-a city that used to be the center of bills of exchange and commerce connecting India to Central Asia, Russia, Middle East and beyond. And thank you for the visit to the Golden Temple. It was an exceptional and moving event.

Mr. Prime Minister:

You honored us by visiting Afghanistan twice this year to inaugurate two important iconic projects.   The Afghan parliament will stand as an enduring testament of the enduring relationship between the world’s largest democracy and a people and government committed to the realization of democratic rights and obligations of a free citizenry enshrined in our constitution.    The Afghan-India Friendship Dam at Salma, generating 42 megawatts of power and storing 650 million cubic meters of water and finished after 40 years of waiting, will bring light and improved lives to the people of Herat.   No wonder, that your visit was greeted with spontaneous celebrations across Afghanistan.   Equally significant, the trilateral agreement signed in Tehran between India, Iran and Afghanistan on the port of Chabahar is a major step in transforming Afghanistan from a landlocked country to a land bridge.

Your words, assuring the Afghan people of the support of 1.25 billion strong Indian people, have been quickly matched by deeds, as demonstrated by your pledge of $1 billion of new development assistance.   As we have welcomed nearly a million of our refugees, the new portfolio of programs and projects made possible by your assistance will reproduce, expand and consolidate the billions of historic bonds between the two nations dedicated to empowerment of their people and peace and prosperity through cooperation.   The agreed cargo air corridor to be soon launched will give Indian and Afghan consumers and producers unimpeded access to each other’s products and services.  Afghan students, over 20,000 of whom are currently enrolled in India, are marked for playing a significant role in leading and managing Afghanistan’s transition to prosperity and stability.

India’s support is impressive, both in its scale and its system of delivery.  India’s assistance is state-to-state, aimed at improving people’s lives and wellbeing.   It is transparent and without strings attached.  There are no hidden agreements and secret conditions.   It is convergence of interests and values of two states inspired by the belief in cooperative advantage. Thank you!

Ladies and Gentlemen!

The renewal of international commitment to the people of Afghanistan during 2016 has been impressive.   President Obama’s historic decision in committing US forces will be respected and remembered by us as a decision for securing our future.   We thank the President and his national security team for respecting the sacrifice of our defense and security forces and for trusting our resolve to fight corruption and putting our house in order.   Commitment of $15 billion to fund the 354,000 strong ANDSF, the renewal of the Resolute Support Mission, and commitments by the assembled countries to have their sons and daughters serve in the Resolute Support Mission during the NATO summit in Warsaw provided us with a medium-term horizon to strengthen the capacity and capabilities of our forces.  We thank President Obama, Chancellor Merkel, Prime Ministers Cameron and Renzi, President Erdoğan and other leaders for forging the summit’s consensus on Afghanistan.

The $15.2 billion commitment at Brussels in support of our Peace and Development Framework was even more impressive, for it took place against the backdrop of arguments regarding aid fatigue and competing global priorities.   Our intense focus on reforms and our productive dialogues with our development partners, however, resulted in a resounding success.   We take the pledges, as I said in the concluding press conference, as a line of credit to be translated into commitments and disbursements against substantial and sequential reforms.   We thank all of you for your participation and pledges, particularly the efforts by vice president Mogherini and her staff at the European Union and US’s advocacy efforts on our behalf.

Believing that deepening and broadening of partnerships requires constant work and investment and relation building, we neither took the Warsaw nor the Brussels pledges for granted.   Instead, we focused on making our case by deeds in the arenas of the battlefield and in reform of governance, ranging from revenue collection to the overhauling of rule of law institutions. We thank you for the opportunity for engagement and your appreciation of the complexity of the challenges facing us.   With the medium-term horizons made possible by Warsaw and Brussels, we are now embarking on an earnest effort to ensure the stability and security of our country and the wellbeing of our people.   Momentum towards this objective, however, requires a framework and an action plan for addressing the distinctively Asian – or more accurately the Euro-Asian – dimensions of our potential, as Russia is a significant stakeholder and interlocutor, so that our potential and our problems can be faced. Hence, the relevance of today’s deliberations and the Heart of Asia-Istanbul process and the relevance to Afghanistan’s and Asia’s linked destiny. Let me thank the government of Turkey for having formulated the Istanbul Process, a dialogue that successively is becoming more productive and encompassing, and equally the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for previously hosting this conference, and let me extend our thanks to Azerbaijan for agreeing to co-host next year’s meeting.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Asia’s transformation from a concept into a continental economy, on the one hand, and the terrible price wrought by the fifth wave of political violence and terrorism on our societies and polities on the other, define the stage for the realization of our potential and the setting for our problems.

Connectivity, as the experience of North America and the first global surge in investment in transportation in the 19th century shows, is the key to weaving a landmass into an integrated economic system.   Independent states of Central Asia and the Caucuses have demonstrated the transformative impacts of investing in connectivity.  Turkmenistan articulated the concept of connectivity corridors in September 2014 and sustainable transportation last week.   Afghanistan is a major beneficiary of this approach, as our people are celebrating the inauguration of the dry port of Aqina on October 28 across our land.   Aqina’s impact is in its network effect, for it enables access to the enormous transportation network that links Turkmenistan to the system of its neighbors and their neighbors.  Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia on the one side, and of course Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Russia and beyond in Europe.   Equally the arrival of the first consignment of goods from China through Uzbekistan to the port of Hairatan is a demonstration of the flows to come.  We are very pleased with our intense dialogue with the leadership of Uzbekistan and China, and look forward to increasing the scale of our interactions.   Equally significant is the tripartite agreement between India, Iran and Afghanistan on the port of Chahbahar and the project under implementation to link the city of Herat to the Iranian railway and port system.  The reduction in cost of transport and in predictability will enable us to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our developmental efforts, thereby bringing visible changes to the lives of our people.

When network and cluster effects combine, the scale of change becomes irreversible.  Each new connection produces a network effect but when these points are connected to each other, it produces a combined developmental impact that can lift our people from poverty to prosperity.  TAPI is an illustration of cluster effect.   Initially conceived as a pipeline, the concept is now being broadened to a cluster of a pipeline, transmission line, fiber optic network, a railway, roads, and airports, creating an integrated system of connectivity between Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Our location at the heart of Asia and the recent momentum gives us the confidence that investment in connectivity in Afghanistan can have Asia-wide impacts and implications.   A cluster approach to infrastructure development to integrate our dispersed spaces into an integrated system and open up the arteries of Heart of Asia is, therefore, our top development priority.   Imagine a railway system, reinforced by the rest of the cluster, linking China to Iran, Pakistan and India.  Our initial assessment shows that up to 15,000 megawatts of power from Central Asia can be transferred to South Asia and that within 5 years Afghanistan can be transformed from an importer of power to a transmission center and exporter of power.   Our ability to attract $900 million of private sector investment in the power sector in the last five months– of which $700 million is from Afghan entrepreneurs- demonstrates that we are beginning to gain the trust of the private sector.  We invite firms from all of your countries to make a difference while making a legitimate profit.   Making the railway happen, however, requires a combined effort of partner countries and development organizations and we hope to convince you of the wisdom of the investment.

Afghanistan must come out of dependency on aid and we can.   Our hydrocarbon and mineral wealth is estimated at trillions of dollars and we have the potential to harness around 26 billion cubic meters of water.   Timely, efficient, and effective support through global and Asian coordination to support our infrastructure system will enable us to achieve self-reliance rapidly, thereby enabling our people to lift themselves from poverty to prosperity.   Use of existing and development of new financing and risk guarantee instruments will be critical to the achievement of our common objective.   Even more significantly, we must confront the specter in the room: the fifth wave of political violence and terrorism.

Distinguished leaders, ladies and gentlemen!

A poor developing country in a normal regional and international context has the luxury to articulate a vision and develop an action plan for its sequential realization.   We, unfortunately, do not have this luxury.  The challenges that we confront are chain-linked, complex, and highly interdependent, requiring alignment of actions at the Asian, global, Islamic, national and regional levels.   As the weak link in the chain defines the speed of movement, we have no choice but to focus on crisis management and change management simultaneously while paying close attention to building and deepening of our partnerships.

At the heart of the problem are the nature, scale and scope of the fifth wave of political violence and terrorism.   As the frontline society and polity confronting the wave, we have paid and are paying a huge price in lost lives and denied opportunities.   Last year we suffered the highest number of civilian casualties and military related deaths in the world. This is unacceptable. It can be avoided. It is not unavoidable.

Judging by the previous four waves of violence, covering the period from the 1860s to 1990s, confronting this wave requires a strategy of 10-20 years, as acknowledged by the Australian Defense Policy.

The fifth wave builds upon, incorporates, and amplifies the techniques of violence and destructiveness of the previous four waves, starting with anarchism.   Its network effect is, however, intensified as it exploits the huge potential of face to Facebook rather than face-to-face relationships of the past.   As disrupting the social contract between the citizen and the state through an all-out attack on freedoms embodied in the creation of the nation state and the international system is the core objective of the Fifth Wave, mobilization of the state system at all levels is crucial to defeating and destroying this wave of violence against citizens and states.

We see five interrelated phenomena.   First, criminal economic networks, centered on drugs, smuggling, human trafficking and other illicit activities provide the platform for criminal politics.   Like the drug wars of Latin America, narcotics are a major driver of violence.   Second, close to 30 groups classified as terrorists by the United Nations are attempting to establish a base in our country in order to destabilize their countries of the origin, the region and the world.   Third, the military operations in Pakistan have brought a major but selective displacement of the Pakistani extremist networks and their allies on to Afghanistan.    Fourth, despite our intense engagement with Pakistan on bilateral and multilateral basis, the undeclared war – the name that I gave to the phenomenon in the winter 2014 – not only has not abated but also intensified during 2016, with special intensity right after the Brussels Conference.

Our highest rate of use of force and organized defense of our country took place between October 4th and November 20th. Fifth, the response of the states has been fragmented and some still provide sanctuary and support or tolerate these networks. As Mr. Kakazada, one of the key figures in the Taliban movement recently said, if they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month. We need intense dialogue and engagement; I, therefore, conclude with proposing the following:

First, to tackle criminal economics, we need to convene at the Asian and regional way and document who benefits from producing, processing, trafficking and consuming; this requires an international effort without blame game to be able to uproot the basis of this phenomenon.

Second, we propose an Asian and international regime. Whatever is accepted, particularly, to our neighbor Pakistan to verify cross-frontier activities and terrorist operations. We do not want blame game. We want verification.

Thirdly, there is need for a fund to combat extremism. Pakistan has generously pledged 500 million dollars for reconstruction of Afghanistan. This fund, Mr. Aziz, could very well be used for containing extremism because without peace any amount of assistance will not meet the needs of our people. We have been balancing the opportunities and the threats. I am confident that focused, deliberate and systematic efforts can enable us to win a world and to make Afghanistan and Asia secure. Once again, thank you for your attention.

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