In the Name of Allah the Compassionate, the most Merciful, and the most Peaceful,
Respected Ambassadors, Ministers, Distinguished Representatives, Friends,
Six days ago, thirteen brave Afghan policemen gave their lives to stop a sewerage truck packed with military grade explosives from entering the diplomatic compound, a direct violation of the Geneva and Vienna accords. The massive blast tore through the heart of Kabul. But thanks to the unflinching sacrifice of those noble policemen, nobody from the diplomatic community was killed.
But over 80 entirely innocent Afghan sons and daughters were killed and more than five hundred were brought to hospital with burns, lacerations, and amputations.
Since becoming President two and a half years ago, not a month goes by without my heart breaking. I visit our hospitals and our cemeteries, the places where our young people’s lives have been torn to pieces by senseless, terrorist violence.
- Qudsia was a devout young Kabuli lady who had memorized the entire Q’uran. She was a part time worker, the only person in her family of six who had a job. She worked part-time, and used the other part of the day to improve herself through study. Walking to college one morning, a suicide bomber in a car smashed into another car and exploded. Qudsia was mutilated and killed, a sparkling young woman whose life meant nothing more than collateral damage to the fanatic who killed her and the people who trained him.
But we are not alone in our grief. Three weeks ago, in Manchester, England, little Saffie Rose Roussos had finally become eight years old. With thousands of other young children, she was going to have fun with her friends in a concert. And shortly thereafter she became the youngest victim of a terrorist attack that ripped 22 more souls from their families and sent at least twelve more children under the age of sixteen to the hospital.
Terrorism is killing our children. Before we begin our talks today, I ask that all of us take a minute of silence to reflect on these innocent lives that were lost, those young people whose futures were snatched from them and from us.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
Let me begin by thanking you – the men and women of the world community but also my Afghan brothers and sisters at home and abroad. You have stood with us, as we stand with you, to end the senseless violence in Kabul, in London, in Brussels, in Turkey, in St. Petersburg, in Iraq, in Syria. We acknowledge with gratitude the sacrifices that your countries have made, including that ultimate sacrifice which too many of your soldiers have made on behalf of Afghanistan.
We are gathered here in Kabul today to express solidarity against this terror and to begin the difficult process of defining a pathway that can lead to a just peace that ensures stability, security, and the rule of law.
The first part of this challenge is straightforward. In 2006 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted Resolution 60/288, the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Strategy. That strategy calls on all state members of the international community to (and I quote) “consistently, unequivocally, and strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever, and for whatever purposes, as it constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
You are in a city whose people are grieving because hundreds of our children have been blown apart by terrorist violence. But while our people appreciate the world’s solidarity and support for our loss, what our people are demanding is justice.
These terrorist attacks insult the very concept of justice. The rebels say they are fighting a religious war, but Islam is a religion of peace. As the Holy Q’uran says, “to kill one Muslim is to kill the whole of humanity.” And it is Muslims – Afghan Muslims — innocent Muslim men, women, and children, who they are killing, by the thousand. Narcotics, terror, extortion; our religion has nothing but contempt for these tools of modern day terrorism. They are terrorists, nothing more.
The world community has not yet come to grips with the full dimensions of the terrorist threat. The UN has documented the substantial growth in the scale of terrorism, in the sophistication of its operations, and in the brutality of its attacks. Unfortunately, the scale of the response to terrorism’s rise has been slow and inadequate. While cooperation is improving, countries still lack the frameworks, the legal instruments, and the adaptability to track down and destroy movements that rapidly change their scope, their scale, and even their theater of operations.
Global terror has targeted Afghanistan, attracted by our central location and difficult terrain. Best estimates show an increase from 200 to 11,000 foreign fighters over the past two years. Dabiq – the field manuals for Daesh – urge their recruits to go to Afghanistan and other South Asian countries. These people do not even pretend to bring any value to the Afghan people. They spill our blood only to provide a base for their criminal forays and violent activities around the region and the globe.
The world must help us respond to this threat. We are gathered in this conference because the world community signed a promise that terrorism would not be tolerated. State sponsorship of terrorism would not be tolerated. Transnational financing of terrorist would not be tolerated. As Prime Minister May recently said, “enough is enough.”
And today we are demanding that the world make good on this promise. The violence must be stopped. Terror must end. Our people must be able to live their lives in safety. There can be no compromise when it comes to protecting the lives of the innocent, and on enforcing rule of law and justice against those who seek to harm them.
We are making our full contribution as a frontline state and the first line of defense for the security of the region. We are fighting over 20 international terrorist groups on your behalf. Our armed forces and the mobilized people of Ningrahar and other provinces are containing and eliminating the Daesh threat.
But we still need a strategy agreed across the region, an operational vehicle, and a plan of action to overcome terrorism. That is the task of the moment, that is the challenge of the hour.
Refining a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan amidst this complex and constantly changing global threat was never going to be easy. Our conflict is multidimensional. We cannot solve one bit of the terrorism problem without having a comprehensive framework that allows us to address its complexity.
However, while the solution to the conflict will be complex, uneven, and time-consuming, the hardest part of all will be getting started. We believe that once there is a dialogue on peace, with good intentions there are few barriers that cannot be overcome. For starting that dialogue, we need to ask three fundamental questions.
- First, are we truly, genuinely, interested in peace?
- Second, do we have the unity, resolve, and capacity to bring about a sustainable peace?
- And third, do we have counterparts who are also genuinely committed to peace?
Let me address each of these questions in turn. First and foremost is that we unambiguously affirm our interest in bringing an end to the violence. Between 2015 and 2016, over 75,000 Afghans were killed or wounded. Over four million of our people are refugees from violence. Our people want to see better lives for their children, but while the violence rages our economy cannot grow and our people remain without jobs or hope. Our country is full of grieving mothers and impoverished widows. The orphans are asking me “what is our future?”
Let there be no question at all. We, the National Unity Government, most definitely want peace.
The second question is whether we have the unity and resolve to negotiate. Answering this question requires addressing directly the challenges that our government has faced, both the burdensome legacy issues of corruption, issues of leadership, and problems of internal fragmentation, and the contemporary problems caused by disagreements within the political elite. We own those problems and do not deny that internal dissension has been a factor in the perpetuation of conflict. But in Brussels, in Warsaw, and Munich and here in Kabul we have presented our reforms. Despite the triple challenges of managing security, creating jobs after transition, and dealing with fractious politics, these reforms are bearing fruit.
Let me summarize the ones most relevant to peace. The key to our negotiating credibility will be whether we succeed in reforming our security sector. I have said elsewhere and I will repeat again here that the cutting edge for our security reform strategy is whether we succeed in reforming the Ministry of Interior.
Defense has already started down the path of reform. Over the past six months we have already taken sharp measures to improve the leadership, reduce corruption, clarify the mandates, and transform the support that we provide to our frontline soldiers. We have a properly developed a four year plan, and we are making significant progress on implementing it. There is a new generation of major generals, generals, and brigadiers joining older generations of leaders to help us face down the terrorist challenges to our country. Let there be no misunderstanding. Our armed forces are ready to defend our country!
But the challenge now is to fix the Ministry of Interior. We know that this challenge will not be easy, that there will be pushback and resistance, but it must be done. Reforming the police is in many ways a more difficult challenge than reforming the army because the police are the face of the government to the people. But this is precisely why MOI reform is so urgent. Police corruption must stop. The police must become a force for stability, not a trigger for instability and popular resentment. There are many good frontline policemen – as those 13 good men killed by the terrorist blast showed beyond doubt – but all too often it is the policemen themselves who are the first victims of corruption and patronage. We cannot secure the country or sustain a peace until this situation has changed.
The Interior Ministry’s reform has already started, but we operate under no illusions as to its difficulty. But I, Dr. Abdullah, and the government are fully committed to reforming Interior. Our security forces need to stand firmly on two strong legs — and they will!
The hardening of our security forces means that the Taliban cannot win militarily. They must abandon that illusion. They will never succeed in dividing the sacred geography of our country into pieces. We are united country and united we’ll remain. We have already said that we aim for peace. But we cannot make peace if the Taliban are not prepared to do the same.
Peace is not just a matter of signing a peace agreement. A sustainable peace must be maintained, and for that the essential acts are to provide justice and to create jobs. In Brussels we promised to bring justice to the people. Our reformist Attorney General and our Supreme Court justices have in less than one year advanced that agenda, helped in particular by our friends from the European Community and elsewhere, through actions such as full review and replacement of professional prosecutors, over 1,000 judges, and a 500% increase in the number of women in the Attorney General’s Office so that justice can be done throughout the provinces. The economic reforms spearheaded by our Finance Ministry has stopped the economic collapse that plunged hundreds of thousands into poverty after transition, with the World Bank now predicting stronger than expected positive growth for 2017.
Democratic reforms, particularly elections, are essential, and Dr. Adullah, myself, and our entire government are fully committed to 1396 parliamentary elections and a presidential election in 2019, and they will happen.
Security, justice, jobs and democracy: the foundations for pursuing peace and then sustaining it are finally becoming real.
And so we come to the third fundamental question. Do we have interlocutors who are also interested in waging peace rather than war? Speaking frankly, we are not sure.
Our top priority must go to finding an effective way to build a different relationship with Pakistan. We have offered Pakistan a vision of prosperity, linking South and Central Asia together through trade, investment, and peaceful co-existence.
As you all know, from the day I took office I went far out on a limb to offer an olive branch to Pakistan. It has not been taken.
We won’t be drawn into a blame game. We have tried bilateral, trilateral, quadrilateral, and even multilateral negotiations to bring an end to conflict and terror. But we have made little progress.
We want peace with Pakistan. We want to be able to trust Pakistan. And we want the chance for friendly, cooperative relationships that will reduce poverty and promote growth on both sides of the Durrand line.
Our problem, our challenge, is that we cannot figure out what is it that Pakistan wants. What will it take to convince Pakistan that a stable Afghanistan helps them and helps our region? We continue to make an unconstrained offer for a state-to-state peace dialogue. But we cannot – nor can any signatory to the UN Counter-Terrorism Convention – accept that the global consensus against terrorism is not acted upon. So we again call on the Government of Pakistan to propose its agenda and a mechanism for that dialogue which can lead to peace and prosperity.
Our second interlocutor are Taliban groups. Here our questions are about who represents them and what is it that they want? We have given our pre-conditions to a negotiation in more detail elsewhere, but they can be summarized as acceptance of the Constitution, continuity of the reforms for educating and advancing the right of women, and a renunciation of violence and all linkages to terrorist organizations. All else is on the table, and I would like to advance this start to a peace dialogue by proposing several specific actions. First, since peace has to be a national discussion, we will hold a national consultation to develop a joint peace agenda that is representative of the Afghan nation and not the property of any one group. It must pay particular attention to the experiences and demands of our women and the views of our diverse civil society. I am pleased to report that His Excellency Mohammad Karim Khalili will be leading that consultation from his position as the new Chairman of the High Peace Council. Thank you, Excellency, for once again serving your nation.
Second, we would accept that the location for peace talks can be anywhere that is mutually acceptable, whether it be in Kabul where we would provide guarantees, or elsewhere.
Third, if there is agreement to develop a peace roadmap acceptable to both sides, we would allow the Taliban groups to open a representative office so that both sides can meet in safety.
We’re offering a chance for peace but we must also be clear that this is not an open-ended opportunity. Taliban sponsored terrorism is creating a platform that is bringing terrorists and criminals from all over the region to Afghanistan. Not a single one of the 20 terrorist networks does not operate by selling narcotics and other forms of criminality. The acts of violence that they carry out routinely clearly meet the standards set for the definition of terror and terrorism in UN documents. Without a lessening of violence against civilians and a meaningful engagement on peace, we will invoke the clauses of the General Assembly Resolution on Counter-Terrorism and seek to have the Taliban to be sanctioned as both a perpetrator and a sponsor of terrorism. They no longer have the time. We have the time. And they must get watches.
Our third interlocutor is our neighbors, the countries of Central, South, West, and East Asia. Let’s be frank. In the past there has been a mis-perception that this was “America’s War,” an unpleasant reminder of the Cold War as we experienced it. By now that illusion should be finished. Our territorial defense forces are fully Afghanized, and national policies are fully Afghan. The number of foreign troops has dropped by 90% since 2013; and in fact if Taliban groups had embraced our peace offer, by today there would be no foreign troops at all.
But there has been a change. From India to China to Azerbaijan and Russia, from China to Iran, we are all facing a common threat. Terrorism is spreading, bringing violence, instability, and disruption across all countries of the region. Our policies have been to build strong political and economic ties with all of our neighbors in this region, but now they too are feeling the hot winds of terrorist violence. There is a need to build the security alliances that will let us face this common threat together. I want to thank in particular or Central Asian neighbors, China, India, and Iran, whose economic and development cooperation will change the entire playing field. Our excellent diplomatic and personal friendships with our neighbors has been a great source of satisfaction and a promise that we can work together to overcome the terrorist challenge in the future
Our fourth interlocutor is you, the regional and international community. It’s time to get serious about peace. Our region is under threat. Each one of us faces terrorism that is financed through illicit transfers and maintained through criminal networks that spread extremism, money and weapons across borders. It is time to end this. Now more than ever, we need the global community to provide the muscle and backing to stop criminality and demand the rule of law. You’ve signed the agreements: let us now commit to enforcing them.
We have said clearly that we would like a strengthened UNAMA to be a key counterpart in this process. We will start discussions with the UN and the international community to develop a neutral, third party monitoring mechanism so that when a peace agreement is in sight, there is also the means to verify compliance and resolve disputes. Peace-making and Peace-building must go together. We will begin the processes of healing and reconciliation and we look forward to drawing on your own experiences of tragedy and recovery to help us reconcile and move on.
Let me add one final thought on this subject. The dialogue around peace is badly fragmented. There are many players running parallel tracks with too little clarity on who they are and what they represent. It is a recipe for misunderstanding and confusion when what is most needed right now is focus. The government has proposed a consultation to gather our people’s wishes, fears, demands, and concerns from across the country as part and parcel of the peace dialogue, but in return we also ask that you respect the integrity of an Afghan owned and led, consolidated process and not set up separate tracks of your own.
Let me conclude by underlining how urgent it is to bring peace to our region. Peace in Afghanistan will bring stability to our neighbors, to Asia, and to the world. As the renowned Pakistani poet Iqbal Khan said, “When Afghanistan is in accord, Asia is in accord; when Afghanistan is in disaccord, Asia is in discord.”
It can be done. Three years ago nobody thought that Hezb Islami could be brought under the tent of peace. And yet today they are here, ready to replace their bullets with ballots. Both sides negotiated hard, as Afghans do, but the deal has held. Thank you, Dr. Qairat, for your continuous efforts.
Afghans are resilient. We have all known hunger, we have all seen what terror does to our friends and our families. We have all seen what terror has done to our friends and families. There is not one Afghan family that has not suffered. But we are a nation not just of survivors. We overcome challenges, together. We are a country with a three thousand year history. There has never been a separatist movement in Afghanistan and there never will be. We are prepared to negotiate a pathway to peace, but nobody should ever assume that we will negotiate under duress or pressure. Terrorists can shed our blood, but they cannot break our will.
During this horrible week that has just finished, my esteemed colleague and friend Dr. Abdullah joined the funeral rites for the young son of Senator Izidyar who had been killed in the riots. During the funeral, another bomb went off, a bomb so powerful that half of the body of a person standing less than two meters away from Dr. Abdullah and right next to Minister Saleh ended up in one hospital, while the other half was taken to a different one.
That is terror.
And yet that evening, even before the blood and debris had been fully cleared away and despite the fact that the risk of more bombs remained extraordinarily high, Dr. Abdullah stayed to finish the funeral and pay the honor and respect that no terrorist could deter.
That is bravery.
Bebe Shima is a mother from Kandahar. Three of her four sons were lost in the fight against terror, two from the police and one from the army. And yet when I met her, she was helping her fourth son sign up to fight.
I asked her why. Her son, I said, should stay home and care for his mother.
“Because”, she said, “I want my son to fight the terrorists so that our mothers and daughters in our village do not feel the same pain that I have felt.”
Ladies and Gentleman, we are all living in one village now, a village that is under attack by networks that know no bounds or limits. Our purpose today is to show that we are as strong as Bebe Shima, as brave as His Excellency Abdullah, and as committed to ending the reign of the terrorist as are 31 million of my Afghan brothers and sisters whom I have the honor and privilege to serve.
Long Live Afghanistan.