Firstly I want to express my personal regard for the Secretary-General. You have led NATO’s reform enabling it to adapt to changing conditions – a friend of Afghanistan, and the right man for the right time to turn NATO into one of the most important instruments to defend our common values.
Secondly I express my gratitude and the gratitude of my nation for the continued service and sacrifice of your men and women in uniform. Around one and half million of your citizens have served in Afghanistan and many have paid the ultimate price. We honor their sacrifice. They have shed their blood alongside ours.
In extending my greetings to the distinguished ambassadors present, I want to thank all of your countries for their continued support on our journey towards peace and stability. We honor those civilians who spend years of their lives working to make Afghanistan a better place.
Thirdly I want to put on the record my thanks to General Nicholson. Few NATO soldiers have spent as long as him in the service of our country and the causes of freedom and democracy we all share. I value his friendship, straightforward approach and clear analysis at all levels, whether strategic, operational or tactical.
On the first day in office of our National Unity Government, Dr Abdullah and I ensured the signing of the NATO status of forces agreement, which alongside the bilateral security agreement with the US is the foundation of our security partnership.
This ensures continued mutual respect and mutual interest between NATO and Afghanistan, and is the only such security agreement between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.
It is worth reminding ourselves how far we have come since 2014. International funding and casualties are both around 10 per cent of what they were in 2012. We have made considerable progress together but are still fighting under four constraints.
- Our military capability is not yet fully complete – in particular in terms of air capacity. And we thank President Trump for his contribution of $800 million dollars for this
- We face an undeclared war with an enemy sponsored from across our borders, with sanctuary we cannot reach
- Transnational terrorists have now moved their operations to Afghanistan. These new networks are ten times stronger than they were in 2001, and represent a threat to Afghanistan and the world.
- The fourth constraint is our under-performing police force, which still has problems of corruption.
The security threats are chain-linked – crime, criminality and corruption undermine our desire for reform. The solutions too are chain-linked, and we have subjected them to rigorous diagnosis, feasible policy and are moving that onto focused implementation. Actions are clearly more important than words, and we are willing to turn this into conditionality.
I will begin my detailed remarks with security. We now own the war, and we are not asking for that to change. The transition to our control was carried out successfully. There should be no reversal. We do not want NATO troops returning to combat. The only thing we ask for is time to continue on the path to reform – time to align resources, people and systems to go onto the offensive, preventing the emergence of a new strain of terrorism in this region, and putting pressure on the Taliban to provide the conditions for a genuine lasting peace. This changes the eroding stalemate and we need to ensure that they know the war will not be won on the battlefield.
Rebuilding the Afghan National Defense and Security forces could not be done overnight. It takes ten years to build an NCO, and even longer to recreate an officer corps that can be relied on.
This year we have managed a generational change at the Ministry of Defense, removing a layer of leadership inherited from the force broken by war in the 1980s and 1990s. 150 generals have been retired. The new Minister of Defense, Tariq Shah Bahrami, and his new Chief of Staff, General Yaftali head this new reformed force.
This is a very significant development. The officers we now have, leaders we can be proud of, are the product of investment over years for which we thank you. They command a resilient all-volunteer force of men and women who have faced the severest of tests and do not run away, proving the pessimists of 2014 wrong. There was a general feeling in 2015 that the army would collapse, but it was resilient, and is growing in confidence and offensive capability.
The reform process that is still under way is manpower-neutral – building a more effective force with the same resources, and fighting more efficiently. We are focused on improving management systems and processes, putting the armed forces under professional civilian leadership. But this process is not yet complete. The roadmap we agreed with you at Warsaw last year sets out a path to self-sufficiency through your continued support for improvements to the leadership and organizational capacity of our forces.
In consultation with me, General Nicholson has developed a plan to widen the train, advise and assist mission from Corps to Division level. This does not put more NATO troops in harm’s way, but this adjustment to the mission will ensure we have the systems and people in place to make the decisive difference we need.
This includes a doubling in size of the Afghan Special Forces commandos, and establishes a Special Operations Corps – significantly expanding our most effective and offensively-oriented fighting forces. It also improves capacity for the Afghan Air Force. We will have command of our own sky for the first time in 20 years.
This year we are being tested again. But in a series of carefully coordinated assaults in the eastern province of Nangarhar, Afghan special forces, alongside their American partners, have retaken significant amounts of territory from Daesh. We will continue until we get rid of Daesh.
REFORM OF THE POLICE
Reform of the army to create a force that society could be proud of was the first priority, and was deliberately tackled first. There is not a single piece of ground the army has not been able to take. Despite successes, one of our major challenges has been to hold ground once it is taken. But For this we need to improve the police. With your continued support we are now moving onto the far harder task of dealing with institutional corruption in the police, to turn them into servants of the people. Again this involves new leadership at the top and changes in systems and processes further down.
Yesterday I signed orders for 13 new senior appointments in the Ministry of Interior. These included a deputy minister, General Murad Ali, and several key regional commanders. This signals the same generational change in the MOI that we have delivered in the Ministry of Defense.
Security goes hand in hand with development in the road map. We inherited a system of patronage and corruption that challenged funding mechanisms. The government’s drive against corruption is having an effect, including the open trial of six generals from the MOI. This creates an institutional framework where the promises of equality and justice provided in our constitution are delivered to all citizens. This institutional reform matters more than short-term deals with elites which have been tried and failed in the past. The National Unity Government is an inclusive political sphere guaranteeing opportunities for women, youth and the poor that are unprecedented in Afghanistan. The average age of civil servants is 6 years younger in the two years since we came into office, and reform of the civil service continues to be one of our top priorities.
We are currently rolling out a new compact between every individual and the state in the Citizens Charter, providing local ownership of how government money is spent, and how priorities are set.
At the same time we are turning Afghanistan into a land of investment opportunity. Yesterday I inaugurated a new road project to connect the central province of Bamiyan to the north. The people there have waited 60 years. I met there and meet every day deserve a better future in particular the women and children who have been patient. They are beginning to believe that there is a way out of central Afghanistan.
I have built more infrastructure in the past two years than in the previous 15, lifting Afghanistan out of isolation.
We are looking at growth rates of 3-5% in GDP. This growth rate is Afghan-generated. It is not the product of windfalls from international support. And revenues are growing – by 25% in 2015 and 35% in 2016, moving us closer to sustainability and self-reliance.
We are building bridges with our neighbors – a process of economic diplomacy to remind them of the advantages of our location as the Asian roundabout in linking vital infrastructure – telecoms, roads, rail, electricity and gas pipelines.
A stable Afghanistan is in the interests of everyone in the region and across Asia.
The poet Iqbal wrote that ‘Asia is but a vessel of earth and water. The Afghan nation is its heart. From its accord, the accord of Asia. From its discord the discord of Asia.’
I have invested significant effort engaging our neighbors in a shared vision for the future. We have a regional interest in preventing transnational terrorism and crime. Some of this effort has yielded results, and there is considerable understanding on matters of mutual interest from China, India, and our Central Asian neighbors. A constructive process of engagement too is underway with Iran and Russia. Pakistan remains the exception, and we seek a meaningful dialogue to make peace on a state-to-state basis with Pakistan too.
These regional links will be developed in a conference next month to build wider consensus for peace in the Kabul Process. We need external understanding for internal peacebuilding, shaping the space for negotiations with Taliban groups and other armed opposition fighters.
We have recently shown we can deliver peace, by taking Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i Islami fighters off the battlefield and back from the mountains in a negotiated settlement – the first such deal in forty years of conflict. There are other encouraging signs. Elders in the province of Zabul have made their own local peace, defeating Daesh, reintegrating Taliban fighters, and promising loyalty to the government. I met them in Kabul this week and offered them our continued support.
While we are actively pursuing an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process, this will not be possible without turning the tide in the conflict from an eroding stalemate to a focused offensive. The Taliban need to know that they cannot win on the battlefield. The elders of Zabul deserve reliable high-quality police and army units to guarantee their gains will not be reversed.
This week I have also hosted – or been delighted to be part of – a women’s process where the social aspects of peace were expressed by women from across Afghanistan. The four-year road map outlines mutual commitments in which we are playing our part. We face not a war in Afghanistan, but a war over Afghanistan – by criminal interests, and increasingly terrorists with a nihilist agenda. We want to stop the spread of this new and virulent threat, that is more lethal, more global, and more violent than anything faced before.
We are on the frontline, fighting this menacing new phenomenon with your support. The costs of failure are high for us, and also for the wider world.
The National Unity Government has had only two years to reverse almost four decades of corruption, criminality and war. Continued violence has incentivized short-term decision-making and discouraged civil society growth. We are changing that narrative to offer hope, but it is taking time. The terrorist threat has turned into a global threat. Once observers, north America and Europe are now victims and targets like us. We are a potential platform for stability, with a four-year plan that enables us to reach that position. We have travelled too far together to leave this task before it is finished.