Lecture by President Ashraf Ghani at Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS)

Lecture by President Ashraf Ghani at Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies (CHS)

Doha, Qatar

October 6, 2020

Bismillah-re Rahman-er-Rahim

Thank you for the wonderful introduction. It is great to be back in an academic setting. So I would like to thank you, all your colleagues, the chairman and all the faculty members and the students for this opportunity.

I would like to thank my colleagues especially Vice President Saleh and other colleagues, the members of the Afghan peace delegation who have been doing a heroic job, and all those present.

I am going to focus on peace-building. You live in peace, so maybe you don’t have the appreciation of what peace means.

Peace is a foundational capital. What do I mean by that?

Let me tell you a story. In 1977, it was Eid. My wife and I thought, what should we do? We got on a plane and went to Badakhshan province, and then flew to the remote district of Sheghnan. We walked for a week. We didn’t know a single person in the district, but they allowed us to sleep on their roofs and they gave us hospitality and made us welcome. Another day, we got in a car and drove through five provinces, Ghazni, Maidan Wardak, Paktika, Paktia, Khost, Logar and arrived back in the middle of midnight. At that time, freedom of movement for two 27-year old [persons] was taken for granted.

Because of this, peace is economic—we lost an estimated 240 billion dollars between 1978 and 2002 as a result of the war. The cost of what we have paid since 2002 has not been calculated; it is human [cost]. Millions of us became refugees. Ten million of us have returned back, four million of us during the last five years. Can you understand the human cost of displacement?

Lack of continuity, it is natural capital; the destruction of our irrigation system during those periods. Each time we built a bridge, particularly a long one, we celebrated. Each time we built a paved road or connected places to electricity, it was a national celebration. Can you imagine the destruction inflicted on the road between Kabul and Kandahar? That was built at the cost of more than 400 million dollars.

It is political because peace gives you a horizon to think through and not think about tomorrow. Peace removes turmoil and uncertainty out of the equation.

And it’s social because it allows for freedom of interactions across the board.

So in this regard, my first proposal to you because you’re leading this institute is that the advantage of peace and the cost of war is not sufficiently theorized and not sufficiently taught through still. We think that war is a condition that you grow used to. No you don’t.

My work begins usually at 4:30 or 5:00. Dr. Mohib, my National Security Advisor, sends me the worst thing which is the figure of casualties. And I need to have that hour to absorb the cost. Every Afghan life plans, horizons, thinking is disrupted by the cost of conflict. When you live with conflict for around 40 years; you don’t get used to it; you don’t accept it; you want to overcome it.

What is peace-making? Peace-making is the art and discipline of statecraft. You need to wish it. What do we have at this moment? First we have the national will for peace. Our Loya Jirga – Grand Council – over 3,000 men and women met. It was convened in four days. It arrived at a solution to a problem that fifty meetings at the head of state level could not solve. Our men and women decided to opt morally provide the basis for releasing 400 people that had killed our closest people, among them 40 of the largest drug dealers in the world that posed the threat but our people had the wisdom to solve what could not be solved legally. So the will for peace, the people of Afghanistan, the government of Afghanistan have passed this test in flying colors and I’d like to thank the women and men in the Afghan peace delegation that are representing this collective will and are guided by our Constitution and the resolutions of our Loya Jirga.

The second issue is peace is guided by a notion of end state. What is that end state? A sovereign, united, democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself and the world. And because this proposition is now strongly backed by the international community and the region, there is an alignment as to the type of peace that we desire.

Third, there is a strong regional consensus on a stable Afghanistan and an Afghanistan that would once again – I will articulate it further – be an Asian roundabout and a platform for regional and global cooperation.

[Fourth] And let me thank His Highness the Emir of Qatar and the government of Qatar. Now we have a host for peace negotiations and a host that is committed to making sure that an enduring piece takes place. I would like to thank His Highness for the exceptional hospitality but particularly for assuring the people of Afghanistan that Qatar will be a force for peace, cooperation and stability. And we also have a group of countries that are friends of peace, that are present, that are working with our delegation and working with our people.

Fifth, we have a negotiating team that has authority and the mandate of the people of Afghanistan. This is the first negotiating team that is not going to be micromanaged. We trust them. Our women are incredibly strong; our men are incredibly dedicated. I would like everybody to have a round of applause for them. And at the center of the government, I’m pleased to say it’s an exceptional unity of thought in action, Vice-President Saleh, Minister Atmar, Dr. Mohib and other colleagues; a very big thank you. Each of us can finish each other’s sentences; each of us represent a unified stand.

What is peace-building? I’m not getting into the details of peace-making because if I get into that detail, I will be second guessing them. They have my total backing. When they encounter a problem, I learned to my great delight yesterday, they solve it in 2 hours. When our interlocutors, the Taliban, encounter a problem, it takes them two days to two weeks to get an answer. More power to you and I hope they acquire more delegation so that we can move the process forward.

But I would like to focus on peace-building. What is peace-building? The discipline of design, alignment and implementation. We are cursed—and I say this with humility—by an inheritance of culture of planning. In planning, you think you know what the answer is. You don’t think through How to tailor, how to stitch solutions, how to–In planning, everything is prejudged. Well, this country doesn’t have the capacity; this country has the capacity! Well, what is the meaning of capacity? A lot of judgments are made from one way of looking. My submission to you today is we need to change our perspective and hence I’m presenting a different Afghanistan to you, not the Afghanistan that bleeds every day, but an Afghanistan that dream every day. An Afghanistan with a vision!

So in terms of design thinking, you will take a problem to solve it. And one of the fundamental questions of design thinking in the peace process is “Who is the victor of peace?” The people of Afghanistan. War has no victors, and the biggest winners of peace are the people, not just the living generations particularly five of the elder generations; my generation, the succeeding generations, but the generations unborn. Peace is for the people that come, so the weight of sixth generations in the present, the weight of five generations in the future is in front of us. Therefore, we have to force solutions that overcome the problems. The word ‘impossible’ should not exist in the peace-building. We have to make the seeming impossible possible and hence bringing that.

Second is alignment. The question of alignment is simple. When you put a wall of bricks; if it’s twisted; we have a proverb; it’s going to be twisted all the way. Alignment is about bringing state-building, market-building, peace-building, and nation-building together. You cannot operate in silos. The fundamental heritage, the bad heritage of 20th century is to think in silos. An engineer has to be an engineer; a social scientist has to be a social scientist while the art of the 21st century is to work together. We have to make sure because just to give you one example, as a result of peace, at least 3 to 5 million more Afghans are going to return to Afghanistan. How are they going to live? How are they going to work? 90% of our population, despite our efforts, live below $2 a day. If we don’t lift them out of need to a livelihood that they can think through, there will always be a reserve army of labor.

So it’s important to think through an alignment in a clear manner because alignment overcomes the problem of misallocation. Afghanistan has not suffered from shortage of resources; it has suffered from the misallocation of those resources. Our roads are one example; some of the most expensive roads in the world built with the lowest quality. So quality and quantity have to come together to enable us. And then it’s the question of implementation. Academic discipline as you mentioned, I was honored, for14 years I was a teacher and it’s in my nature and when I finish with this job, I’ll be again hoping to teach. And my dream is to establish an Institute in my ancestral village and I’ve already gathered the land to make it possible, because I would like to have an Institute on Islamic studies, our deepest binding form of human, political and social capital.

Implementation is going to bring space and time together. Time meaning short-term, medium-term and long-term. we’ve suffered from the tyranny of short-term. Everything is short-term. You grab, you grasp, you accumulate, you fill your pockets. Part of the corruption that haunts us is because of short-termism. If people thought that there was a long time horizon, they would think through more.

The other part is if you don’t own every inch of Afghanistan, you are not going to be able to make peace. I’ve had the honor to go 95 times since I have been president to the provinces. In my youth, I walked most of the country. I rode on horses and on back of trucks. During the transition which I had the honor of leading, from international forces to Security forces I went to every single province of Afghanistan from three to ten times. We have deep history; we need to knowledge and be able to mobilize…

So implementation is first and foremost about citizens. We, Afghans, have a great asset, sense of equality. We have never had cast. We really don’t care about class because how can an [indiscernible word] constitute a class? The money is short-term but we have deep senses of equality. When the [first] vice president and I go home and receive our other colleagues, you know what people tell us? “We have come to tell you our problems. Act on them otherwise we will not come back.” We’re delighted that our people receive us and keep coming back because they know that we cannot solve every problem. But you have to solve their problem. And it’s that sense of commitment that gives you the ability to make peace.

But peace cannot be just thought at the national level, so regional connectivity is absolutely essential to peace-building. The future of Afghanistan is tied to the region and to the world.

And the other part is global cooperation. Our conflict is not a civil war. Let me repeat; this is not a civil war. If it were a civil war, it would be over multiple times. It is a regional war embedded in a global conflict, embedded in the 5th wave of terrorism and a form of warfare between networks and States. That’s not unusual but unprecedented because now virtual networks and social networks coincide.

Given this, what is it that makes me optimistic? Our capitals and our capabilities. So let me highlight some of our capitals and then some of our capabilities and then return back to peace-building.

First, we are an immense beneficiary of what happened a billion years ago, our geology. Our geology is worth one trillion dollars at least. We are the Mendeleev Table. Just take rare earth; fourteen of the 18 elements of rare earth exist in Afghanistan. We are called the Saudi Arabia of Lithium—the largest unexplored, undeveloped iron mine, etc.

So there’s this immense natural wealth that the collision of two continents produced that gave us the Hindukush mountains, and unity of the country and then Kabul was a lake separate from the subcontinent; its collision gave us the largest copper mines. 90 copper mines exist between Kabul and Logar province alone. This is incredible.

The other part of this unlike Iraq and other countries, Allah has been enormously kind to Afghanistan. Our natural resources are extremely evenhandedly distributed. And furthermore, the ten poorest provinces of the country have some of the richest resources of the country in terms its geology. This is made for national unity. In other countries, a mountain divides. In Afghanistan Hindukush unites. Every value of it is a value of connection.

Second is our geography. Iqbal, the poet laureate of Pakistan put it best.

Asia is but the body of water and Earth

The heart of which is the Afghan nation

From its accord, the accord of Asia

From its discord, the discord of Asia

For 200 years, our location has been a disadvantage. Today, the largest single transformation in the history of humankind is the integration of the Asian continent into an Asian continental economy. Afghanistan is right in the middle of it. We are the shortest route between Central Asia, East Asia, West Asia and South Asia. if our geology is worth a trillion dollars, in my judgment in the next hundred years, our location is going to be multiple trillions of dollars. Infrastructure now is going unite it and bring it together.

Third is our ecology. Simple factors; sun, wind, water. Sun—potential of 220,000 megawatts of power from sun. wind—potential of 75,000 megawatts of power from wind. Water—besides the life-sustaining qualities, five rivers; every one of our neighbors depend on our water. Equally important, 23,000 megawatts of hydrothermal.

Again I would love to be able to be your guide, as a tourist guide to Afghanistan of the future. This is some of the most beautiful locations ranging from 300 to 7,700 meters. Every ecological possibility except Mediterranean is there. God has blessed us; human beings have to make sure that the future generations and our friends can take.

The other part of this, is culture. We have been center of civilizations for over 2500 years. The Bronze Age was probably invented in Afghanistan. Our gold collection from that period after talc is one of the largest.

We have known states for over 2500 years and every province of Afghanistan or every region of Afghanistan has the distinction of having been the center of an empire. Our civilization, interactive; our Buddhist, out Greek, our Hindu—but the most binding part of our culture is our Islamic belief. It is 99.9 percent Muslim country. Islam unites us; the networks of Islamic discourse and practice. And for the record, we have the most Islamic constitution in the world; articles 1, 2 and 3. The character of State, not just society, is Islamic.

The other part of the culture is equally important and needs a mention. There is not a single linguistic community in Afghanistan that does not have a deep culture of conflict resolution. In 2018, we and the Taliban agreed to a ceasefire. You know, every single one of us was jumping into the unknown. But you know what that taught me? Because in social sciences it is a the closest that you can get to a controlled comparative experiment. Not one Talib was molested, insulted, humiliated, or fired upon. Instead, the people of Afghanistan particularly the women of Afghanistan engaged them in a conversation. It shows an immense capacity to overcome the past and move forward towards the future. A society that has that type of deep reservoir—these are people who literally, a week before, were being killed.

I remember a young women, her name is Qudsia. She had memorized half the Quran and was in the process of completing. She was blown up to smithereens. Just going and she was the sole earner of bread for a family. But her family again embraced the ceasefire, as did everybody else. This is a deep reservoir of culture that needs to be utilized because peace-making is not just at the grand level of signing an agreement; it is being able to live together again. And without that deep reservoir, it becomes different.

Let me quickly go to some of the capabilities. We have one of the youngest populations in one of the oldest countries on earth. 75 percent of our people are below thirty. Imagine; most of these people didn’t experience what the five-year of ruling of the Taliban was. And the Taliban need to understand this generation. It is global and outlook; it is future-oriented. And like every generation [indiscernible words] the fathers and sons have different perceptions. And this generation has grown with their mothers. They have not just grown in tense under the command of their fathers or in madrasas that have been all male institutions. The fundamental nature of this generation needs to be understood. Yet, the tragedy is that we have six generations that are divided in experience. So their counterparts among the Taliban need to be thought through; the generational unity needs to be brought and everybody must think through. Pain is a common feature for all Afghans. We need to overcome this, but hope is the stronger factor.

Our women; last year we had the first all-Afghan inclusive Grand Jirga of the women of Afghanistan. Please understand two things; one, throughout our history women have been heroines. In 1880 when an Afghan army, the first time in Asia, beat a British division, it was a woman who had held the flag. Her name of was Malalai. She is the only women for whom a medal has been printed. I hope a lot of more will be minted. A second one is underway for our queen Gawharshad. Six hundred years ago, she was the wealthiest women all over the world. Her Awqaf and endowments are still the largest in Iran.

What I would like to bring to the attention of the world and our colleagues: The women of Afghanistan do not need someone to speak for them or write for them. They speak for themselves. They can represent themselves. And not only do they represent themselves, they represent the future generations.

The poor; our poor are situationally poor. The culture of poverty does not exist in Afghanistan. We don’t think that poverty is your destiny. We are entrepreneurial. It is a situation that we are put in. it is lack of assets, but it is not lack of will.

And these three make the majority. All our quest is that our Taliban interlocutors address them, engage with them, understand them, and make peace with them.

The market is another part of our strength. During Covid—and my congratulations again to the State of Qatar for managing this. Afghanistan has been extraordinarily lucky, not only that we managed Covid because we mobilized. And I would like to thank our friend Sheikh Tahnoon for alerting us in early February to what was coming. It was the first time that I heard the word ‘Covid Economy’, and Dr. Mohib Thank you for that.

We mobilized. But you know there was not a single food deprivation event in Afghanistan. The private sector—Vice-President Saleh, thank you again for your enormous work on this. The supply chain and the value chains function throughout.

In early 2001, when Taliban were in power, the exports of Afghanistan were about 10 million dollars. Our export last year for the first time exceeded one billion dollars. So understand now the private sector is really functioning. There are entrepreneurs and there are world class sets of capabilities.  

And last but not least the state as you kindly mentioned has acquired capabilities. Not only Covid is a demonstration of this, quickly, 150,000 international troops were in Afghanistan in 2011; less than 10,000 international troops are in Afghanistan today.

So January 2015, our heroic National Security and Defense forces have not only been guarding our freedom but ensuring global security—their sacrifice, their commitment. Dr. Mohib, the National Security Advisor and our other colleagues for ensuring this. Every single person in the Afghan National Defense and Security forces is a volunteer. That is an indication of patriotism, a will. Do you think they will fight in order to earn $200? No, because they believe. The 5,000 person graduate from Sandhurst in Kabul. It is called Sandhurst in the Desert, the wrong appellation because Kabul is a lovely valley, graduate.

 It’s a different set of security forces equally the capacity and the infrastructure and others just two illustrations. We are providing for the first time in our history food packages to 4.5 million households; the National Meal Program that will cover 90% of the population of Afghanistan.

There was a flood in the province of Parwan that devastated a canal.  Parwan is one of the major centers of the grape industry, resulting in raisins and other things and we would have lost the season and the livelihood of people, and people thought that the earliest this would be repaired would take 50 days. It was repaired in 8 days.  The state now has the capacity to design, to think, to act because we have formed a unique partnership between a national construction company and 3,000 small and medium firms.

But what is more important was the Loya Jirga. Do you think that the state that did not have will and capacity could convene a gathering of free Afghans, 3,300 of them, and think that you could get a result from them? Show me a society that can be convened nationally within 4 days and reach agreement through free, intense debate in three days. That is a degree of alignment.

The issue which raises; our conflicts have never been about separation. There has not been a single group in Afghanistan that has raised the slogan of separating. Our conflicts have been a form of competition about controlling the center and that brings us to our key asset, “the Republic”.  The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the framework within which all Afghans can see themselves. And in this regard the Republic solves the problem that it haunted us in the past, ‘succession’. Succession now takes place through the free will of the people. For the first time, power was handed without conflict from my predecessor to me. We have no blood relationship. That will of the people is fundamental to this.

Let me conclude. The people and the government of Afghanistan are ready to overcome the past. We have the will, the capitals, the capabilities, the desire and readiness. This means that we must have and I hope it has been demonstrated, compassion, commitment and courage.

Compassion—to understand each other, to acknowledge our common faith, but more importantly compassion for the generations of our youth, our women, our children and compassion for our common Islamic faith. Killing of one person in our holy religion is killing of humanity. This is a religion of peace. We need Umm Salama and the Hudaibiyah peace.

Courage—because it takes jumping into the unknown. Conflict is very easy it becomes an automatic course but we must be responsible for people who die because of our orders. 

And Commitment—because the road is difficult but we have to take the road less travelled.

Second we must put the citizens at the center. Peace in Afghanistan cannot be a peace of the elite. Peace in Afghanistan cannot be the peace of one group. Peace in Afghanistan cannot be the peace of factions. Peace must be the peace of the people. Because people are sovereign; therefore, we must put the people first and do what our constitution, our religion and our morals commands us to do. We are servants. 

I pride myself with the title that my people gave me “The first servant of the country”. And this means managing is to be important. How do you provide food to the people? How do you make the market function? How do you create the investments? We have been fortunate in ensuring that Australia’s most famous billionaire is now committing to produce 20,000 megawatts of power and hopefully convert our iron into steel that would have zero carbon emission.  Afghanistan could become a leader of green energy.  That requires a different type of imagination to work. But if we are confining ourselves and defining ourselves narrowly—leadership means two think simultaneously.

We need to have the ability to overcome the past. The Afghan people are not prisoners of the past. We want to live, the past is about dying and we have died enough, we must live, we must embrace living and in order to embrace living we must have the discipline of building a future together. A future that every Afghan can identify with, and this means in the weeks, in the days to come, we have to have the courage to declare a national ceasefire so that we can proceed to make peace political, not under the barrel of the gun. 

I hope my fellow citizens forgive me but we have a proverb “You cannot force an Afghan to heaven but you can persuade him to go to hell.” The path of persuasion is the right path. Let’s have the courage, commitment and compassion to make it and then build it.

Thank you.