Your excellency President Xi Jing Ping, Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Heads of Organizations, Ladies and Gentlemen:
We meet against the background of global uncertainty and disruptive change.
The space of SCO, fortunately, is experiencing one of those rare “open moments” of history, when creative change, pragmatic pursuit of realistic objective, commitment to problem solving, and systematic expansion of cooperation between and among states creating a new environment of cooperation and trust. As a result, the prospects of emergence of a Euro-Asian continental economy are increasingly becoming certain. The chance to expand the open moment into a century of sustained opportunity for our peoples is real.
Grasping the opportunity, however, requires fashioning a focused regional strategy to expand regional cooperation on connectivity and contain the threat of destructive change posed by Transnational Terrorist Networks (TTNS) and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs). Such a strategy, by necessity, will require a change of perspective on the potential and problems of Afghanistan.
Simply put, the conflict over our territory is whether Afghanistan should function as a platform of regional connectivity and global co-operation or a launching pad for destructive designs and plots of Transnational Criminal Organizations and terrorist networks. Permit me to make the case for how the despite the immense cost to our people by the imposed conflict, our prospects for becoming a platform for cooperation and connectivity are significantly approving.
First, having formed a national consensus on peace, we are firmly committed to a political solution to the conflict with the Taliban. Our unconditional offer of peace is comprehensive and we are pleased that for the first time the Ulema of Afghanistan have provided the total religious justification as to why the conflict should cease. We are pleased that the Taliban have accepted our ceasefire declaration for Eid. This is the first break in 23 years and we ask for your support to utilize the window for moving forward with Intra-Afghan peace talks.
Second, we are pleased that our international partners are resolute in their support for a stable, peaceful, democratic and self-reliant Afghanistan. The US South Asia Strategy has been a game changer in creating the enabling conditions for peace and stability. We gratefully acknowledge the support of our partners in the security arena through the Resolute Support Mission and the developmental partners through the EU-sponsored Brussels Conference to which all of you around the table made significant contributions. We are utilizing the generous support to change the lives of our people through consolidation of effective and efficient institutions that will be accountable to our fellow citizens.
Third, we are witnessing the emergence of a regional consensus on the need for a stable and connected Afghanistan. On behalf of our people and government, let me thank the leaders around the table for their generous comment and for the momentum generated and to highlight some events and measures. The Tashkent conference, hosted by President Mirziyoyev, introduced a fresh dynamic in regional cooperation on peace.
President XI, Prime Minister Modi, and President Mirziyoyev engaged President Trump and other world leaders on the need for treating Afghanistan as an area of cooperation. Thank you! Prime Minister Modi and President Xi’s dialogue and agreement to cooperate on Afghanistan has injected fresh energy and allowed us to articulate an agenda for Afghanistan’s prosperity through access to the massive regional market of these two engines of global growth. We are pleased with intensification of our bilateral dialogue with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
We have engaged in an intensive dialogue with Iran through five specialized committees and are focused on integrating the progress into a framework agreement. I thank President Rouhani for his engagement. Our bilateral dialogue with Pakistan has resulted in a framework agreement called APAPPS (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity) signed on May 14, 2018. Our focus now is to translate the agreement into real momentum on the ground on reduction of violence, acceleration of peace process, combatting terrorism and narcotics, and regional connectivity and cooperation. Reciprocal visits by high-level delegations have served as the catalytic mechanism for the dialogue and progress on paper. Our progress is on paper, we are hoping for cautious optimism to translate the progress into progress on the ground.
Fourth, our agenda of regional connectivity is making real progress. Afghanistan now has three dry ports linked with railways to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and the fourth railway linkage with Iran is being constructed to link us, India, Central Asia and China to the port of Chah-Bahar, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan are committing our own funds to the construction of Balkh-Herat railway and seeking international support for this transformative project. TAPI has reached the Afghan border and we are committed to turn its route into a full development corridor. CASA-1000 is becoming a reality. Even more significantly, our open access energy and fiber optics policies are resulting in significant private sector investment. The potential of Afghanistan as a hub of regional energy trade is no longer pipe dream but a rapidly unfolding reality. We are making weekly progress on expanding the national grid, to provide the power to drive the engines of growth. Regional transit agreements are linking us to China, Caucuses in Europe and air corridors are fast expanding, thereby gradually lowering the costs of transport and access to the export economy.
Fifth, to overcome our inherited problems of corruption, poor governance and limited utilization of our human and natural capital, we are accelerating the implementation of a comprehensive agenda of reform. Through a generational change in leadership and management, we are transferring authority and power to a capable dynamic group of young Afghan men and women. 49 percent of our cabinet for instance is under 40 and the age of ministries is fast declining, the average age. The retirement age for colonels and Generals has been brought down to 55-62 and the torch of defense, security and development is being passed.
We are making real progress in implementing our anti-corruption strategy, as demonstrated by certification by national and international observers that we have fully met 14 of the 19 benchmarks, set for this year, and have significant progress on the remaining. The reforms enable us to responsibly utilize our massive natural capital and minerals and oil and gas for the current and future generations. We are committed to holding parliamentary elections in 2018 and Presidential elections in 2019.
Our progress is real but every step forward is made very difficult in a difficult context. We are gaining our rights through the immense sacrifice and valor of our defense and security forces, the resilience and will of our people in the face of hardship and deprivations, and the commitment of the absolute majority of Afghan people to peace, stability, democracy and prosperity. Forces of disorder, as exemplified by terrorist networks and criminal organizations, are dedicated to our destruction and your insecurity. The twin evils of terrorism and narcotics must, therefore, be confronted coherently, comprehensively and cooperatively. The first step in this process is to create a narrative of cooperation on the basis of win-win conception of Afghanistan as a platform of regional connectivity and cooperation and then harness the Shanghai spirit to create the necessary action plans for regional cooperation. I am pleased on the agreement on SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group and look forward to expanding cooperation.
Geographically located at the heart of Asia and a historical gateway to the Indian subcontinent, Afghanistan is poised to function as an Asian Roundabout. It is not aid, but market access, transit investment and regional cooperation that we seek to assume our rightful place in the rank of developmental states and countries and serve as an anchor of international and regional stability.
Let me close by thanking President Xi and the people of Qingdao for the excellent arrangements and exceptional hospitality. I had last visited in 1996 and am inspired by the transformation that has taken place. May the prosperity generated by your leadership, President Xi, continue for people of China and the benefits be extended to all of your neighbors. I congratulate Kyrgyzstan assuming the chairmanship and wish Secretary General Alimov all the best.