Remarks by President Ashraf Ghani at International Conference “Central and South Asia: Regional Connectivity; Challenges and Opportunities”

President Mirziyoyev, Prime Minister Khan, Mr. Borrell, Distinguished Ministers, heads of international and regional organizations, ladies and gentlemen, friends;

Dictionary definitions of connectivity are dominated by the “means by which individual terminals, computers, mobile devices, and local area networks connect to the global network”. Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things and the converging technologies of the 4th industrial revolution are accelerators that are likely to make 2030 radically different from 2021. The world is on a speed.

Each of the preceding three industrial revolutions were also deeply transformative of space, time, and power relations between regions of the world and within states. A major difference is that the Euro-Asian continent, this time, is a central hub of these accelerators, making the transformation of the Euro-Asia from a geographic notion to a continental economy one of the most significant transformations of the 21st century. With the reset caused by COVID-19, it is clear that regions and states are going to loom large in all of our lives.

For millennia connectivity referred to human relationships and networks established through the medium of culture and civilization, allowing people to establish reference points for identities in cooperation and opposition with others. As the first and second industrial revolutions provided the tools for subjugation of large parts of the world, cultures became arenas of confrontation. The possibility of combined development opened up by the 4th Industrial Revolution can provide the needed acceleration. But if our regions miss the opportunity during the next decade, the gap will be much wider.

This open moment, like all such moments, is, therefore, a mixture of opportunities, risks, turbulences and threats. How the region deals with the opportunities and challenges defining the context in Afghanistan after the departure of the US and NATO forces could have a significant impact on the prospect of regional cooperation or confrontation.

My week of July 8 to 15 offers us a window to the opportunities and challenge, captured through my interactions with my fellow Afghan men and women in Kabul and provinces that I visited. The opportunities can be summed up as follows:

First, the US and NATO partners have left behind considerable assets, provided concrete commitments in assistance and support, and are framing the future as a new chapter of the relationship. Mr. Borrell, I thank you. Bagram airport, which I visited on the 9th, alone has an estimated $3 billion worth. It used to be the busiest airport in the world for ten years. We plan to turn Bagram and other military airports into hubs of trade and connectivity. The investments made by our people, as illustrated by my visits to the thriving cities of Khost in the east and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, provide for lives with dignity. Our people have put all their resources into creating livelihoods for themselves in a platform for eradication of poverty and living with dignity.

Second, as a state, we are dedicated to a clear vision of peace, stability and prosperity through internal reforms and regional cooperation. Our reforms, ranging from digitalization of the government to the overhaul of our budget and revenue to construction of major irrigation and development projects are in implementation. I was delighted to welcome 161 people on the first direct flight from the UAE to the brand-new airport in Khost—a dream come true—on the 10th. I associated myself with President Mirziyoyev’s full proposal for regional projects.

Third, as a people and state, pursuit of a political settlement to the conflict with the Taliban has been our national priority. The end-state of a sovereign, united, democratic, peaceful and connected Afghanistan has been endorsed internationally and regionally. We have offered a clear roadmap, particularly in my article in the Foreign Affairs, consisting of making peace, forming a government of peace and sustaining peace through the will of the people, meaning there must be elections to elect my successor to the highest office in the land. We are also building consensus for the permanent neutrality of Afghanistan and we need your support for this.

Fourth, the enabling legal environment for utilization of our natural wealth—ranging from mining, oil and gas to renewable energy in geothermal, hydro, solar and wind has been created. We are talking not about megawatts but gigawatts of energy. We announced the award of a series of mining contracts on the 8th of July and finalized the process of procurement of over a hundred construction contracts on the 10th of July.

Fifth, the Islamic Republic as a constitutional system of government and the Afghan National and Defense Forces (ANDSF) have strong public support. Thanks to technology, I have been interacting with governors and defense and security officials across the country on an hourly basis to concentrate our forces and strictly practice economy of effort. I am delighted that recruitment to our all voluntary forces is considerably up.

How are the threats manifesting themselves?

First, while the 3rd wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening our lives and a severe drought is threatening our livelihoods, Taliban have unleashed a destructive wave of attacks across the country. Contrary to their commitments to the US to pursue a political solution, they have deployed the over 5,000 prisoners released at the request of the international community by the Loya Jirga as the vanguard of these attacks. Over 50 of the largest drug dealers released at international request provide financial backing for the onslaught.

Second, destruction of public assets, as manifested by the destruction of over 260 buildings and systematic looting of public assets, mark their trail of destruction. Reliance of car-bombs, massive planting of land mines, assassination campaigns, targeted killing of women and civil society leaders, and summary execution of prisoners of war constitute their arsenal. These practices are forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee to cities and secure provinces. The only choice offered by the Taliban is that of submission and surrender.

Third, intelligence estimates indicate the influx of over ten thousand Jihadi fighters from Pakistan and other places in the past month as well as support from their affiliates in the transnational terrorist organizations. There is a consensus among credible international observers that they have not taken any steps to sever their relationships with terrorist organizations.

Fourth, contrary to the declarations of their political office that they will not attack cities and provincial centers, they are accelerating their attacks and attempting to starve the cities.

Fifth, contrary to repeated assurances by Prime Minister Khan and his generals that Pakistan does not find a Taliban takeover in Afghanistan in Pakistan’s interest and short of use of force will use its power and influence to make the Taliban negotiate seriously, networks and organizations supporting the Taliban are openly celebrating the destruction of the assets and capabilities of the Afghan people and State.

What does this balance sheet imply for the Afghan people and government and our regional partners?

We, the people and government of Afghanistan, are fully focused on the present moment and determined to ensure our existence as a nation and a state. Relying on the will of Allah and based on the deep reservoir of patriotism, we are confident that we can change the challenge to opportunity. Based on the principles of concentration of forces and economy of effort, we are prepared to face the Taliban and their supporters for as long as it takes until they realize that a political solution is the only way forward.

Given the lessons of Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, among others, we wish to preempt descent to the hell of an all-out war. We, therefore, call on the Taliban to engage with the government of Afghanistan to end the war and the destructive recent onslaught. Also we call on Pakistan to use its influence and leverage for peace and cessation of hostilities.

To mark our differences with the Taliban, we will accelerate our reforms in state-building, market-building and peace-building. We are committed to international humanitarian law and will mobilize our national response under the leadership of the ANDSF. And as for as the theme of today’s conference, we will accelerate our efforts on enhancing the consensus on regional connectivity both in terms of hardware and software in relationship and rule of law that is required for accelerating the design and implementation of programs and projects of regional connectivity.

From the region, first and foremost we request a sense of urgency. Lessons learned are clear: without regional consensus and support, peace does not break out. Please approach Afghanistan from the perspective of our potential as an Asian Roundabout, where for millennia we have functioned as a hub for flows of civilizations, cultures, goods, ideas and people.

We don’t ask for sympathy but for clear definition of your interests in enduring the stability and prosperity of your own countries and people and finding mechanisms for convergence with our interests. Embracing regional connectivity and support for a political pathway to walk back the Taliban and their supporters from the brink of descent to hell is a win-win-win approach.

To plunge Afghanistan into all-out war is to plunge the region into radical uncertainty. Pakistan, therefore, needs to be engaged coherently and urgently from the perspective of regional interest.

The Afghan people have entrusted me with the honor to be the servant of the nation. They expect me to represent them with the dignity and logic becoming a proud people who have always defied predictions of colonial officials, generals and pundits on our imminent demise and doom.

Permit me, however, to make one thing clear: while our people and government are fully committed to peace under my leadership, our national security forces will uphold our patriotic duty to defend our people and land. After all, the tree of liberty is often sustained by the blood of patriots.

Thank you.

Source: ARG