President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s statement at 7th Conference of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process

President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s statement at 7th Conference of the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process

Baku, Azerbaijan

December 1, 2017

In the Name of God the Compassionate, the Merciful

President Aliyev, distinguished ministers, heads of delegations, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends:

We are meeting in a context where the need for regional cooperation has never been greater. Great economic opportunities beckon us. Malign transnational networks and criminal organizations threaten us. Geography has made us into neighbors. Common vision, leadership, and political will, and relentless attention to management will turn us into partners seeking our national security and prosperity within the framework of regional and global security in an interdependent world.

Mr. President:

Let me begin by thanking you and the people of Azerbaijan, for hosting us in the historic and thriving city of Baku.

Your leadership on opening of the Northern Route has been critical to our security and its transformation to the Lapis Lazuli corridor and the multimodal transport system will make it central to regional and global economic connectivity. Your brave soldiers have contributed to our security through ISAF and Resolute Support missions and we greet your recent announcement on increasing your military support.

You have shown a deep understanding of our problems and prospects, borne from your own inherited problems of undeclared war, internal displacement, poverty, criminality and corruption. Your success in overcoming those problems, as illustrated by increasing your GDP from $5.3 billion in 2000 to $75.2 billion in 2104, gives us confidence in own quest for stability and prosperity. Your systematic diversifications of your economy through sustained reforms are examples on which we are building, as you mentioned. You are offering us the best form of technical assistance, through direct learning and sharing, and I am looking forward to the signing of the agreement on the Promotion and Reciprocal Protection of Investments, as well as other agreements, between our two countries today.

Distinguished Ministers and Heads of Delegation:

President Erdogan articulated the concept of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process during his premiership. We gratefully acknowledge his stewardship of the process and the Government of Turkey’s firm and continued support for ISAF and Resolute Support Missions. We are particularly delighted that you’ll be again hosting us. We also appreciate the leadership of President Nazarbayev and the Government of Kazakhstan, President Xi and the Government of the People’s Republic of China, Prime Minister Sharif and the Government of Pakistan, Prime Minister Modi and the Government of India in hosting the previous meetings of this distinguished group.

Representing Afghanistan for the fourth time, I see a platform gaining breadth and depth of understanding on key issues and creating and building partnerships for realization of our priorities. The process is not a substitute but a complement to the work of other important regional organizations, such as ECO, SAARC, SCO & others. I thank President Berdy Muhammadov and the Government of Turkmenistan for hosting RECCA VII, where the need for creating synergy with the Heart of Asia process was agreed. I extend a special thanks to leaders and governments of participating and supporting countries and organizations for their participation in and backing for this platform.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

The global context for ensuring momentum on our priorities is excellent. With President Trump’s recent announcement of his strategy to counter terror and stabilize South Asia, Afghanistan’s enduring partnership with the United States and the international community has been renewed and redirected. We welcome this strategy, which creates a roadmap for securing Afghanistan’s future within a secure region. We pay tribute to all men and women of allied nations who have served with us, particularly those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

 The strategy consolidates all instruments of American power, conveying a message that Taliban groups and their backers cannot win militarily. Only through political settlement can we achieve enduring peace, a theme to which I will return.

Distinguished participants:

Poets and historians have applied three concepts to capture our distinctive place in Asia: heart of Asia, gates of India, and the roundabout.

Iqbal, Pakistan’s poet laureate, put is thus:

 Asia is a body of water and earth, of which the Afghan nation is the heart.

From the discord of the heart, the discord of Asia. From the accord of the heart, the accord of Asia.

Gates of India was the dominant notion during the Great game of the 19th century, serving as justification for two invasions of the 19th century and the building of railways as an instrument for projection of power.

Toynbee, the British historian, however, best captured our historic function through his concept of the roundabout, a place to and from which ideas, people and goods flowed and interacted. Frederick Star in his recent book, the Lost Enlightenment, captures this function for Afghanistan and all of Central Asia because we, indeed, were the roundabout of civilizations and cultures.

This genealogy is essential, as our conceptions of the present and our vision of the future are embedded in and inspired by our memories and perceptions of the past. To turn to the here and now: the destruction unleashed upon our people is not a war in Afghanistan, but a war over Afghanistan. Simply put: transnational networks of terror and transnational criminal organizations, tolerated by or used as instruments of policy by some states, are attempting to turn our location into a platform for destabilizing the region and the world. We ask analysts and policy makers to answer three related key questions: can the 20 transnational terrorists groups and drug traffickers operate without the platform provided by Taliban groups? Are Taliban groups the central operators of the drugs and criminal economy financing the war? Can the Taliban operate without support and sanctuary? We, the people and government of Afghanistan, by contrast, own our problems and solutions and are working relentlessly to turn our country into a heart in accord with Asia and the world, the economic gates of the Sub-continent and the an Asian Roundabout. But first let me dwell on our actions and efforts in the arenas of counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics.

Friends and partners:

In fighting terrorism, we are adhering to the UN 2006 Counter-terrorism Strategy, which calls on all member states to “consistently, unequivocally, and strongly condemn in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever, and whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security”.

The accompanying report, unfortunately, says that state sponsorship of terrorism still remains a fundamental challenge to the global community.

We remain committed as a partner to counter terrorist threats in the region and ready to expand our cooperation with all the countries. The war on terror isn’t just an Afghan or regional problem, as the Fifth Wave of political violence and terrorism is a threat against humanity and the hard won compacts that bind citizens and states together. As our success in Afghanistan is essential to regional and global security, we need to make that our narratives reflect the emerging patterns and successes. Disregarding the letter and spirit of the UN CT strategy will produce blowback and regrets later.

Contrary to predictions, we have succeeded in achieving the seemingly impossible: ensuring the survival of the state and the constitutional regime during the last three years. The cost has been horrendous. My heart breaks every day, but I am determined to succeed. I can confidently state that our Defense and Security forces are now moving to an offensive war against terrorist networks and the drug cartel. I am doubling the size of my Special Security Forces and tripling the size of the Air Force to defeat the terrorists and further secure the population. Today, Afghan Commandos conduct four out of five every operations independently from US and NATO support. We Afghans own the fight and have turned the corner. Our Special Forces – the Kitah Khas and Commandos – have never lost a battle and, God willing, they never shall – they are becoming one of the best Special Forces in the region. As Commander-in-Chief and as a “War President” – a function that President Aliyev had to perform – I salute the valor and heroism of our defense and security forces and pay tribute to the dedication, leadership and management skills of my colleagues leading the defense and security sector and the cabinet supporting them.

Having been among the first leaders to warn about Daesh and mobilizing to confront it, I find it ironic and tragic that a false and malicious narrative of alleged indifference or worst collusion of Afghan authorities with this nefarious network is being paddled.

In the last year, Commandos successfully defended Kunduz, Lashkar Gah, Tarin Kowt, and Farah, defeating Taliban’s “red” units, and destroying Daesh.

Daesh failed in building a base for their so-called caliphate in Afghanistan. Daesh is on the run – in Southern Nangarhar, Achin, Kunar, and Tora Bora – Daesh is being killed and cleared from Afghanistan.

We are steadily eliminating Daesh capabilities and territory. In the last year, we conducted over 1500 combined ground operations and 300 air strikes against them.

We killed 3 of their leaders, over 2500 fighters, and captured over 200 Daesh fighters.

Our interrogation of captured Daesh fighters and exploitation of intelligence allowed our Special Interdiction Units to raid and arrest financiers, planners and recruiters.

We have reclaimed Afghan territory from Daesh. Our operations have destroyed over 1000 Daesh structures and fighting positions – capturing countless weapons and equipment. . Last year they controlled 9 districts, now only pockets of Daesh fighters remain.

Daesh is isolated from external support. They are running out of weapons, supplies, and fighters – what’s left of Daesh is stuck in the mountains to starve and die. We ask for full regional cooperation to establish mechanisms of verification and coordination for elimination of this threat.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Criminal transnational organizations, especially drug cartels, are a threat to regional and global security and blemish on all of us. We sadly acknowledge the increase in the area of cultivation in 2017 but would like to share our efforts against traffickers and processing laboratories. During the past 11 months, we have seized and destroyed more than 2 tons of heroin, 64 tons of morphine, 400 tons of opium, 25 tons of hashish, and more than several thousands of kilograms of precursors. The street value of these seized drugs in Afghanistan is estimated at $352 million.

It is our recent efforts against processing facilities, however, that signals our resolve in this arena. In a series of operations by our Special Forces and Commandos, we have destroyed assets estimated at $50-70 million. These operations will not only continue but will become an integral part of our 4 year comprehensive security plan.

Our efforts are necessary but not sufficient. As a landlocked country, drugs are trafficked through our neighboring countries. We ask UNODC for their estimates on the percentage trafficked through the region and the distribution of profits among growers, processors, traffickers, transit countries and consuming countries. Dealing with the financial benefits of this drug trade where it is alleged that the bulk of it is going to Europe is an important international duty and challenge. We all have shared responsibilities and Afghanistan is ready to cooperate with all stakeholders in this arena.

Let me turn to regional connectivity. First, let’s acknowledge that after years of work we are no longer talking about talking. We have created the reality of regional cooperation. Let me provide some examples very briefly.

First on power, transmission lines everyday are increasing. On the 4th of Dec I will be signing an agreement with the president of Uzbekistan that will ensure the flow of another 1000MW of power. Afghanistan believes that 5 to 15 thousand of MW of power from Central Asia can be transferred to South Asia through Afghanistan and CASA1000 is the fine illustration of this.

Natural gas; TAPI that analysts dismissed as a pipe dream is reaching Herat province in February, and we are looking forward to expanding it and seeing it delivered gas to Pakistan and India. CASA1000, Afghanistan is one year ahead in its implementation schedule and is fully on course to deliver.

Transport; the Chabahar port is going to be inaugurated in next couple of days and the railway connection to Afghanistan through Khaf to Herat, is fast proceeding completion. We are looking very much forward to seek corridor to India through Chabahar and equally we are delighted to provide the flow to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan the linkages to Iran and beyond to the gulf.

The air corridor, in Amritsar it was a concept, we translated it into reality, I think in one of the fastest policy to delivery transformation over 700 tons of cargo flew through this air corridor and now we are expanding it across to the gulf and we are looking very much forward to reaching Baku. Yesterday, we had the first inaugural flight to Tashkent.

Railway, the Turkmen railway has reached Aqinah, as I mentioned Khaf Herat is fast proceeding, but the price is what we are working on now to link Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Iran and Pakistan and China to all these countries. The five nation railway is moving from conception to financing and implementation.

And of course, the Lapiz Lazuli Route, Mr. President [of Azerbaijan], I will never forget your speech in the Chicago summit where you committed considerable resources to make both the air corridor possible but particularly the linkages and I want to thank Georgia and Turkey and congratulate you on this new way of diversification. I am very proud to state that Afghanistan, after 117 years, again is an inherent member of central Asian and Caucasian community. And we look forward to enhancing these cooperation.

There is a world to win. The mineral wealth of Afghanistan is waiting development, our water resources are significant and our agricultural potential are immense. One of the richest country on earth in terms of gift and endow by God is being inhabited by one of the poorest population on earth. And its regional cooperation that would lift us from poverty to prosperity. Foreign aid will not do it, it is we as leaders who can lift our people and what we ask for is WTO rules for all of us to trade freely, to interact freely and to benefit freely.

Let me return to my last and most important topic, peace in the Kabul Process.  Peace is imperative for us. It is not a luxury. It is not mere desirability. Our suffering knows no bounds but equally our determination. So let me first cite the mother of four. She lost four of her sons and I requested not to send her fifth son, she is from Helmand, and she turned to me and said, if my fifth son does not fight who will? Who will guard the honor of this nation? So let us both understand our determination but equally if we do not find partners, our determination…

 Peace has three fundamental components:

 First Taliban groups; we extend a dialogue and we ask them to participate in the political process to let the people of Afghanistan decide what percentage of them support them. If they can win the presidency, here is the opportunity. If they can secure membership in parliament, here is the challenge. Let ballots replace bullets. There are no winners in this violence, and the more they engage in violence the more revolt and resentment. I am responsibly stating this because I can take the risks. My successor will be determined, will be bound by the public will not to engage in the peace process. They need to understand that they do not have the time and they better get watches.

 Second, peace with Pakistan. State to state comprehensive dialogue is essential to our mutual survival and to our mutual prosperity and security. We highlighted, when His Excellency the chief of staff of Pakistan came to Afghanistan, three critical issues; intent, will and capacity.  We have received, for the first time, a paper that hopefully will provide the basis of a dialogue but, since that visit, we have only seen worsening of the conflict. We hope that these are the last throes of a conflict and not an indication of intent not to engage. We are not prisoners of the past and we ask our Pakistani counterparts and colleagues to look into the future, a future of mutual benefits and mutual prosperity.

Lastly, transnational criminal networks. There is no precedent historically for fighters, estimated now over ten thousand. How are we going to make peace with them? Day before yesterday, we arrested 6 Chechens in the Azra district of the Logar province. We ask this august body to determine responsibility of countries from which their nationals come and fight in a third country and help us with shared responsibilities. We have turned over the people we have arrested and we continue to do this because we cooperate against them, but what on the basis of international law, [addressing:] colleagues from the UN, is the responsibility of countries. This is an important dialogue because all political… Internal political disputes are about power sharing and frameworks for resolving those rights and obligations. What is the framework for people who just want to kill you and use you as a platform for their nefarious designs?

Lastly the Kabul process. On the 25th of January we will be hosting the Kabul Process – the second meeting of the Kabul Process on peace. First, let me express immense gratitude for your participation in the first Kabul Conference [=Process]. On 31st of May Kabul became the scene of a carnage. And if it were not for the valor and sacrifice of thirteen Afghan policemen, it could have gone in the Guinness book of record as the worst suffering of the international community. That attack was an attack on all civilized norm of diplomacy. We have a huge history, thousands years of history, where ambassadors have always been saved; that was violated. We ask for international investigation of that incident and verification of the responsible networks because it is essential that when we are attacked collectively, there is a collective response.

The Kabul Process is a network of networks. What it means is that other efforts for supporting peace come and converge under this overarching umbrella. Leadership and ownership of the peace process must lie with the Afghan government. We are the elected leaders of the country, and no one should question our sovereignty. Partners work with sovereign partners; when you recognize us and have embassies your processes must be coordinated with us. That is essential peaceful conduct.

Peace as I said is the desire of the country, but the longer the conflict continues and the senseless attack on civilian increases, it will harden public attitude. We need to understand that the Afghan public, like the Azerbaijani public and others that have suffered from conflict have views and opinions and elected leaders in a democratic country, are going to be constrained by the will of them. We have the will to move forward and we hope to be able to have a breakthrough.

Let me conclude by again thanking you [addressing President Ilham Aliyev] Mr. President, the government of Azerbaijan, all our partners, colleagues and participants. We have a region to win and an opportunity to secure generations to come. This is worth deliberation and I thank you for your support and attention.