President Ghani’s Remarks at Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, Brussels, Belgium

President Ghani’s Remarks at Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, Brussels, Belgium

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Your Excellencies, let me begin this morning with a note of thanks on behalf of Dr. Abdullah and myself to the distinguished representatives of the 75 countries and 25 representatives from the international community who are gathered here today with the sole aim of helping Afghanistan. We have come together as a partnership of countries and international organizations united by a common perspective on the value of democracy and human rights, a shared vision of the grave threats to world stability that terrorism poses, the need for leaders to unite in the common cause of respect for international law and sovereignty of states, and the commitment to eradicate poverty and achieve the Social Development Goals.

It is a privilege to express the heartfelt thanks of the Afghan nation.  Knowing sorrow that follows from war and the loneliness of displacement, exile and migration has been our condition for four decades.   Despite the adversity, resilience is our national characteristic, derived from our long history as a meeting place of cultures and civilization, our abiding Muslim faith, our firm belief that we can overcome the past, and our culture of hospitality and friendship.

You, distinguished leaders of the international community, have been our friends and the font of hope for our people.  The international community has offered our people a hand to help lift us out from the years of warfare, poverty, and cruelty. In a country that yearns for its children to be educated, you have built schools. Where lives were filled with trauma, disease, and early deaths you have built clinics and trained our nurses and doctors.  Where our fields had been destroyed and filled with landmines that suddenly left innocent children playing their childish games without legs and arms, you helped us clear them of danger and replanted our vines and orchards. Our citizens- boys and girls, men and women, students and teachers, nomadic, rural and urban, young and old –grasped that hand of friendship and today we acknowledge the gratitude of our nation.

Afghan women have been making history in the last 15 years. Offended but not broken by the gender apartheid imposed on them, they have dedicated themselves to the realization of the rights, obligations, and equal opportunities that our constitution provides to all Afghan citizens.   I celebrate the ability and capability of the Afghan women speaking for themselves.   They speak articulately and clearly as women and not just through identities derived from their relationship to men of their families.   Viewed case by case or category by category, the stories of our women’s remaking of themselves, as cultural, economic, political and social actors are inspirational.   Viewed collectively and measured by their network effect, they are taking a giant step for a historic transformation in the lives and roles of Afghan women. Supporting the emerging platform for sustained change requires focused attention, resources, and political will.   For every life changed, unfortunately, ten or more remain at risk.  If you look into what women farmers have done with around $40 to become the breadwinners of their families and hear them speak with the dignity that economic empowerment brings with it, you cannot but believe that Afghan women will be guardians of the democratic values enshrined in our constitution. I hope that their First Lady’s partnership with their president can serve as a demonstration that strength lies in mutual respect and commitment.    I am proud to acknowledge my continuous debt of gratitude to Rula for subjecting my ideas of reforms to the rigorous logic of whether it meets the test of putting people first, particularly the excluded and the poor.   The First Lady and I express our deepest thanks to the women and men in your countries, particularly in the executive and legislative branches, for your advocacy and support for expanding and sustaining the gains of Afghan women, for empowered women – the theme of yesterday’s session—are indeed the key to a prosperous Afghanistan.  Our inspiration comes from Bibi Khadija – the employer and then the wife of the Prophet (PBUH) – who was one of the most prominent merchants of Arabia.

The youth and the poor — the two other numerical majorities of our people –are also feeling the impact of your support.   As Minister of Finance in 2002, I literally searched for months for a capable leader or manager.  As president, I am fortunate to be flooded with CVs of capable Afghan men and women who combine education, experience and commitment.  In reading several hundred proposals from candidates for mayors of municipalities, I was struck by the evidence of a generational change in our capabilities and skills for leadership and management.  Thanks to your investment, we now have the 5-10 thousand people who can staff and drive the reforms and the projects that our electorate has mandated their Government of National Unity to deliver.     On behalf of the young generation of Afghan men and women who are going to bring us stability and prosperity, Dr. Abdullah and I thank you for opening up the opportunities offered to them.

Poverty is our enduring challenge, as 39% of our people live below $1.35 a day.  That means 1-2 meals a day and low probability of their children ever attending school.   Nonetheless, the 61% that live above the poverty line and can eat 3 meals a day and send their children to school owe their changed lives to your assistance – for in 2001—after five years of drought and the cruelties of the Taliban– we were facing social collapse in the face.   I thank you for your generous new pledges on behalf of our poor, as we are going to be relentlessly focusing on reduction and elimination of poverty.

Some months ago, I presided over the graduation ceremony of cadets from our Security Academy – where 549 officers – 13 of them girls – graduated.   These young people – the crème de la crème of our youth—exemplify our national will in defense of our country.

Your investment in our security and defense forces since 2002 has given a capability that can lead and manage the war against terrorism, criminality and instability.   Your generous commitments in the Warsaw Conference have assured our people that their volunteer sons and daughters in the security and defense forces will have the training, enablers and assistance to defend the independence and sovereignty of our country.   I thank President Obama for his historic decision to support our quest for freedom and democracy and all the leaders- Chancellor Merkel, Prime Minister Renzi, Prime Minister Cameron, President Erdogan, leaders of the four framework nations, and all other governments and people of all the countries that are supporting the Resolute Support Mission to advice, train and assist our forces.

Your commitment, however, has been much more significant than spending of treasure.  Your sons and daughters have fought shoulder-to-shoulder with us, making the deepest of sacrifices in the cause of freedom. On behalf of the Afghan people and our security and defense forces, I would like to request a moment of silence in the honor of the fallen heroes from your countries and ours.

When our Security and Defense Forces assumed full responsibility for the defense of our country on January 1, 2015, a significant number of pundits predicted our imminent collapse. How could the Afghan Security Forces carry the job of 130,000 ISAF soldiers?  Terrorism united – from Al Qaeda to the emerging Daesh- Taliban groups, criminal networks around the heroin trade and those providing sanctuary and succor to them, bet against us.  Defining our critical task as the survival of our country, we, the government of National Unity, reorganized and mobilized our security and defense forces – which operated in as many as fifteen provinces a day.

We are still carrying out 15-18 missions a day.  But there are significant differences between 2015 and October 2016.   Confident of immense public support and full international backing, our security and defense forces are confident of facing and overcoming the forces of disorder.   Kunduz yesterday is an illustration.  Knowing the penchant of Taliban and their supporters – as expressed in the clipped English of their press release—we had predicted a series of attacks designed to overshadow the Brussels Conference.   This gathering of leaders committed to securing the future of Afghan citizens, however, cannot and will not be overshadowed.   Enemies of freedom can affect the news cycle but they will not dent our will, diminish our resolve, or divert our focus from building the strong state, market and societal institutions that a free people and a sovereign country require.   A war president was the last thing that I wanted to become but as the proud commander-in-chief of our forces I salute their will and their sacrifice.  All Afghans, especially our forces, know the stakes entailed in our sacrifice: the future of generations to come and the right of the Afghan people to independence, sovereignty, democracy, development, peace, and unity.

There are no easy decisions in Afghanistan but I hope that history will judge that when confronted with hard choices, we have made the right choices.   As both our problems and solutions are chain-linked — where the weakest link determines the strength of the chain—we have to think multi-dimensionally and act on multiple fronts simultaneously. But before addressing the road ahead, I would like to take a moment to summarize the positive achievements that your help has brought to some 30 million of my Afghan brothers and sisters.

Just a little less than two years ago we held our first Ministerial meeting in London, where our newly installed Government of National Unity presented an ambitious reform agenda.  The goal of that agenda was to put Afghanistan on a path to self-reliance through a combination of sound macroeconomic management, private sector development, and a stable, inclusive, system of public administration and finance that would carry into action democratically debated public policies.

To understand and overcome our developmental constraints while fighting for our survival has required focus and teamwork.  I, therefore, hope that our challenges should not obscure the accomplishments of our government and the commitment of the Afghan people to move forward.

Setting revenue targets and achieving revenue targets is one of the most significant tests of political will and capacity for leadership and management.   Commitment becomes clear when a poor country invites the IMF to set these targets and monitor their implementation. I don’t think they get many invitations.

In 2015, despite the severe recession, we increased revenue by 22%.   We then reached agreement with the IMF on a three-year staff monitored program.   I am delighted to state that Minister Hakimi, our gifted Minister of Finance, has informed me that yesterday we fully met the revenue targets for 2016 – three full months ahead of the schedule.

Our budgets are credible and our medium-term fiscal management plans feasible.  Contrary to prevalent practice, we are championing condition-based assistance.   Not only are we asking the IMF to be strict with the conditionality that will help us build macroeconomic stability and a sound banking sector that can finance our recovery and growth, we are proposing the same model to our partners.

Our new development partnership with the United States is condition-based and we have met all the conditions. Thank you Secretary Kerry for championing this approach. The State-building compact with the EU, signed yesterday, is another significant step in this direction. Thank you President Tusk and Ms. Mogherini. On-budget assistance supporting credible reforms is the key to accountability, efficiency, effectiveness and transparency.

Joining the WTO required a focused effort and full coordination between the executive and legislative branches of the government.   We prepared the necessary laws, submitted them to parliament and obtained passage by July 2016.

This effort required a sustained dialogue with our private sector, about the effectiveness of which you will hear directly from the private sector.   If investment by the private sector is the criterion of credibility, then I have good news to share.  In the last three months alone, we have secured commitments for investment of $1.1 billion from the private sector.  What is particularly rewarding is fully $800 million is in the energy sector- requiring a 20-year timeframe.   Equally significant it is three Afghan entrepreneurs who are making the bulk of the investment through a public-private partnership.  The news that a major Turkish company is willing to invest $200 million in a dam in Helmand to produce 100 megawatts of power should particularly please you.

For decades we have talked about water resources, our potential to generate thousands of megawatts of energy, using our location to serve us as a regional hub for transit and trade, integration of our rural and urban sectors, our mineral resources, containing corruption and many other wonderful things.    The Government of National Unity has brought discipline to these dreams, knowing that our masters, the Afghan public and our partners, the international community, judge us by the results and not just by mere effort.

For the first time in forty years, we have completed two dams, generating 60 mw of new power and storing 650 million cubic meters of water.   In the next three years, we commence building more dams than the last 250 years combined to harness an estimated 26 billion cubic meters of our water for irrigation and power generation.   Storage of the water will allow us to create a regional system of water trade and water conservation.   I want to thank Dr. Qayoumi, my brilliant friend, who resigned from his position as president of San Jose State University to guide our infrastructure and human capital portfolio and the ministers and all other colleagues who have acted upon his advice and guidance.

On energy and infrastructure, we have turned 10 years of talk into action, through agreements, groundbreaking   ceremonies.   CASA 1000, TAPI and Chabahar are in the process of realization, to be followed by multiple efforts at connectivity in the future.   Economically, Afghanistan is once again becoming integrated with Central Asia and through it to Europe.   The arrival of the first cargo by train from China and the agreement to establish an air corridor with India for export and import of high value low volume commodities are harbingers of the dividends of regional cooperation to be expanded.

Our approach to regional cooperation is through development of clusters.  TAPI, for instance, will become a cluster, as will be others.

Any and all things having to do with agriculture has received our serious attention, for sustained agricultural growth is the key to political and social stability.   We are pleased that 240 villagers from all over the country joined myself, Dr. Abdullah and our Cabinet in Kabul as we launched the billion-dollar Citizen’s Charter program, which in January will provide basic health, education, electrification, and clean water to 12,000 rural and urban communities across Afghanistan.  And what touched my heart was when those 240 villagers stood up and told us, the government, that the two targets for their half of the Citizen’s Charter contract were to ensure that every penny is accounted for —- and that within four years they will make sure that 50% of their village council members will be women. Think about that. Rural and urban representatives are telling us that they believe in change.  This is real social transformation in action.

Last Saturday, with help from the EU and the US, we launched a land certification program that will turn hundreds of thousands of urban squatter families in our five largest cities into property owners with secure titles.  And in January I invite all of you to join the launch of our National Program for the Economic Empowerment of Women, which, together with our programs to end violence against women, will put real substance into our Constitutional obligations to ensure equal rights for women.

During the London anti-corruption summit hosted by Prime Minister Cameron, we announced that we will establish a counter-corruption justice center.   I am pleased that not only is the justice center fully functional but that it has made its first arrest.   A senior official in the Ministry of Interior who was asking for a $150,000 bribe was caught red handed and will be publicly tried.   The National Council on Rule of Law has been set and has put the rules on how to proceed further.

Central to our policy of fighting corruption is building the rule of law institutions and we are enormously pleased with the work of the Chief Justice and the Attorney General.  Our problems remain and they are networked: criminality and corruption are interrelated and it requires regional focus. We have made significant progress in arriving at economic cooperation in the region. What is critical is to generate the political will for regional cooperation. Terrorism does not know borders; there cannot be a distinction between good and bad terrorists, providing sanctuary or tolerating; Terrorism is a threat not only to Afghanistan, but also to the entire global community.

We are enormously pleased and proud both of the strategic patience, strategic focus and strategic commitment of the global community as represented today. Thank you President Tusk, Ms. Mogherini, the Secretary General, Mr. Kerry and all other distinguished participants for showing that political will, but the root of the problem is in the region; we, at the national level, are committed to unity, to focused effort, to dialogue. We made the peace deal, the recent peace deal, from within our public consensus, not outside of it. It is based on our constitution; it was negotiated in Kabul, the capital of all Afghans and it took place through an inter-Afghan dialogue. Afghans can make peace. We will make peace. We are committed to constructive politics, not destructive politics. We are committed to a politics of imagination, a politics of inclusion, a politics where every Afghan, as the constitution specifies, is equal to another Afghan. The largest task is the poverty in the region; the political will and focus in the region generated to define poverty and terrorism as our two central challenges. I am confident that we will overcome them. Terrorism is not a short-term phenomenon; unfortunately, if the previous four waves of terrorism are an indicator, it is a medium term phenomenon. We need to join our forces, keep our focus and move together. Afghans have the ability given our culture of resilience to overcome; we need the friends’ hands of friendship to believe and conclude that 40 years of suffering of a dignified nation that has never posed a threat to any of its neighbors and has always welcomed the international community with open arms, is enough. Thank you for the statement of support. Thank you for this magnificent gathering. And we shall succeed.

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