In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
President Erdogan, Your Excellencies, distinguished ministers, heads of delegation, ladies and gentlemen.
It is my honor and pleasure to be amongst you, as we reaffirm our commitment to the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process, now in its 8th year.
The decade in which this process began, has been one defined by global uncertainty and disruptive change. The threats of this decade are from terrorism, the international illicit drug trade, criminality and armed political opposition—all of which have trans-national as well as national dimensions. These threats pose great risks to our collective regional and global security.
But disruption also brings opportunities for positive change.
Despite 40 years of on-going conflict, the national mood in Afghanistan is one of increasing optimism regarding our future, as demonstrated by the recent Asia Foundation Survey of the Afghan people, with 65% approval rating for the government…
The key to sustaining the optimism, containing the threats and managing the risks lies in continuing our agenda of national reform and anti-corruption and regional connectivity and international cooperation. As the name says, this is a process, one that we must urgently and actively continue for our shared interests.
On behalf of the government and people of Afghanistan, I would like to thank you for providing a platform for this on-going process.
The Heart of Asia -Istanbul Process, an initiative of President Erdogan, has proven its relevance through time. I thank Turkey, Kazakhstan, China, Pakistan, India and Azerbaijan, for hosting our previous meetings and thank Tajikistan for agreeing to host the next meeting.
I thank the government and citizens of Turkey for their exceptional hospitality in hosting the conférence this year.
Thank you, President Erdogan, for your constructive remarks. Turkey has played a major role in the security sector from 2001, continuing today, and is an engaged on an ambitious agenda of economic cooperation with us. The friendship between Afghanistan and Turkey is deep, broad, enduring and without a time limit.
I thank all of the participating countries who make this platform robust and relevant: Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
Realizing Afghanistan’s vision of becoming an Asian Roundabout, to our mutual benefit, largely depends on you: your country’s development priorities, as well as the utilization of your country’s assets, capabilities and experiences.
Over the past five years, our combined efforts have shown that regional connectivity meets the test of desirability, feasibility and credibility, thereby beneficial to us all.
Thank you Azerbaijan, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, India, Turkey and Turkmenistan for opening up critical trade and transit corridors, including the Lapis Lazuli Corridor and the Silk road to China. These corridors have enabled Afghanistan, for the first time, to export 1 billion USD in 2019.
I thank India and Iran for making the Chahbahar port a reality, and thank the United States for exempting this important avenue from its sanctions.
Afghan products are reaching new markets—Afghan pine nuts exported to China; Afghan fruits and vegetables exported to India; Afghan dried fruits exported to Canada, Finland, Germany, United Kingdom and other countries.
I thank India, one of our fundamental partners in trade and development, for pioneering the concept of the air corridor, for their generous economic assistance, and for being a major trading partner with whom we now have a surplus.
These are but a few examples of what we have achieved together. My thanks come also from the Afghan farmers, entrepreneurs, and producers, because these links change their incomes and, thereby, their lives.
Our accomplishments this year in transmitting energy regionally have been another proof of the centrality of this process. We are one step closer to realizing energy transmission from Central to South Asia. The TAPI pipeline reached the Afghan border at Herat and construction in Afghanistan will begin next year. I particularly thank Turkmenistan for pushing this initiative forward. TAP, a major private sector project, is ready for construction when Pakistan gives the final approval.
I thank Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for their increased support in the security sector and engaging with us in a comprehensive dialogue on trade and investment.
On my last trip to Pakistan, I offered a vision of economic cooperation and articulated the willingness of the Afghan government and people to offer guarantees for large-scale regional programs and projects on trade and transit. As we are both members of the World Trade Organization, our shared goal is to act according to the rules of that organization, which have proven beneficial to their member countries. I look forward to fruitful cooperation in the future.
I also would like to express my gratitude to the nations who are supporting this process, namely Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Brought together by the tragedy of 9/11, our partners have sustained support with both blood and treasure over the years. On behalf of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, I pay tribute to all the men and women in uniform from our partner countries that served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 in combat and non-combat roles as part of NATO’s ISAF mission, and those who have served since 2015, as part of the Resolute Support mission to train, advise and assist Afghan troops, who are on the frontlines of this global war on terror.
Our heartfelt thanks to the families of those men and women in uniform who paid the ultimate price for your security and our freedom.
From the Tokyo Conference of 2002 to the Geneva Conference of 2018, your governments have provided us support that has had a transformative impact on the lives of Afghans. On behalf of my fellow citizens, particularly our children, youth, women and the poor, I thank your citizens, parliaments, governments, and in particular your tax payers, for the scale and scope of the assistance.
I especially thank President Trump for his recent visit to Afghanistan, for his South Asia policy, and his support of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. The United States has been a foundational and reliable partner for the people and government of Afghanistan—a partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect that has enabled us to move forward in confidence with a commitment to problem-solving and dealing with threats, and creating and seizing opportunities.
To regional and international organizations who are our supportive partners, I thank you for the critical role you play in facilitating regional cooperation, by providing us platforms to agree to rules, policies and processes, as well as the best ways of investing in infrastructure, human capital, governance and rule of law. Thanks to condition-based agreements, we are creating a performance based culture of governance, as demonstrated by successfully completing of our IMF agreement. I thank the EU for its state-building compact, an outcome based approach that allows to design reforms on the basis of verifiable benchmarks.
I conclude my thanks to you—our partners and friends—by remembering the spirit of a great humanitarian and dear friend of Afghanistan, Dr. Tetsu Nakamura, who was tragically assassinated by terrorists last week.
They say the greatest love is that of a stranger. Dr. Nakamura exemplified the spirit of humanity, and demonstrated what an individual with vision and commitment can do. He single-handedly transformed the lives of nearly a million Afghans by harnessing our rapid waters to make our deserts bloom. We pay tribute to his leadership, humanity, and dedication. And we express deepest sorrow to his family, the people and government of Japan, and also to the people of Nangarhar, who counted him as one of their own.
The interests of the international community converge at two key areas: 1) containing threats and; 2) creating and expanding opportunities.
The threats are transnational terrorism; transnational criminal organizations, particularly narcotics; forms of radicalism that are dedicated to violence and destruction of national stability, regional cooperation and international order; and uncertainty derived from perceptions of conflicting interests and short term, zero-sum perceptions of national interests, particularly in covert or overt tolerance of terrorist and criminal organizations.
These threats are particularly virile because they manifest in a combination of both political, economic, and social networks, but also virtual networks, providing peak lethal effects and flexibility.
These destructive networks have focused on Afghanistan because we are indeed at the Heart of Asia. Not only does their perverse apocalyptic narrative place Afghanistan at its center, but terrorist networks also feel that they are geographically best positioned to threaten all of you here today, from Afghanistan.
We have seen the organic ties that have developed between terrorist networks and criminal organizations, particularly the illicit drug trade that began with opium and now sadly include methamphetamines. In one operation in Farah province, our ANDSF forces destroyed an estimated 1 billion USD worth of drug products and factories. The future of our younger generations are under threat from these networks.
I have said it before at such platforms, in front of you, and I will reiterate it again here today, because it remains just as true and even more urgent: These are long-term threats that require coordinated responses and shared responsibility. I believe that, with few exceptions, our response as states has been slow, fragmented and short-term.
We must all work together to come up with creative, coordinated solutions and use all the platforms of international cooperation and regional connectivity to combat this shared threat.
I will share with you later what Afghanistan, particular the ANDSF, are doing to fight for our common future. I will also extend an invitation to you to focus with us on a collective narrative of ending violence through the peace process.
But first, let me turn to opportunities that lie in regional connectivity and global cooperation, as the antidote to the threats.
Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Afghanistan was the missing link in the system of infrastructure that connected Central and South, and East and West Asia. Now, with Afghanistan is linking to the great transformation of Euro-Asia into a continental economy through energy transmission lines, gas and oil pipelines, railways and highways, and fiber optic networks — all of which will have immense regional payoff.
I mentioned earlier the TAPI pipeline and other regional projects that are now in the construction phase or indeed, already functional, but there is more we can do together.
As an upper riparian country, Afghanistan has a significant role to play in a common regional approach to environmental protection and to harnessing of renewable energy. Our hydro potential is estimated at 23,000 Megawatts, our solar potential at 220,000 Megawatts and our wind potential at 80,000 Megawatts. Modern software has enabled us to map the exact locations for maximum exploitation of this potential, which would be transformative for us and the region.
Afghanistan is blessed with one of the richest mining deposits in the world. Russian geologists who first explored and documented the potential in the 1970s and 80s described us as Mendeleev’s periodic table.
Over the past five years, we have created the legal and governance infrastructure to develop this natural capital for the well-being of our people. Our anti-corruption strategy, consisting of both institutional reforms and strict enforcement, is paying off. In World Bank’s Doing Business Indicators, for instance, Afghanistan was the top reformer.
Moving forward, how should we cooperate to contain the threats, and utilize and develop the opportunities?
First, by sharing of lessons learned in regional cooperation and nation-state building. We have all overcome threats of conflict and disintegration at some point in our histories, expanded regional cooperation, and invested in infrastructure and human capital. But there is not yet a readily-accessible review of these lessons. The Heart of Asia -Istanbul Process could create a center for such lessons learned.
Second, in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, a unique consensus emerged on the need for a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan. Today our common interests require a renewal of this consensus. We, the Afghan people, want to see our country as a platform for regional and international cooperation, not an arena of short-term contending interests and subversive proxy conflicts.
Third, the scale and scope of cooperation in the area of counterterrorism needs to expand. Let me share an example. A year ago, Daesh was a major threat in ten districts of Nangarhar province. Its aim was to capture the Tora Bora caves. The atrocities committed by Daesh were unspeakable— they blew up children, elders, religious scholars; destroyed villages, mosques and schools; and brought untold suffering to our people. A sustained air campaign contained them, but did not fundamentally change the equation. We devised an approach combining a popular uprising, careful intelligence analysis, deployment of our Special Forces and Commandos, and air support. The goal was to clear and hold all ten districts.
We achieved this goal. Last month, I visited Nangarhar Province to thank the people, and our civil and military forces for securing the complete surrender of the remaining 243 Daesh combatants in Nangarhar. It must be noted here that those captured Daesh combatants were nationals from the following countries: Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the Maldives, Turkey and Uzbekistan.
In September 2019, an operation in Helmand province eliminated Asim Umar, the head of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS). Those Al Qaeda combatants captured and killed were foreign nationals, mostly from Pakistan.
These instances are but two examples of the fact that our threats are shared. We should create frameworks of regional cooperation that allow us to share intelligence, to investigate and take perpetrators to trial, draft agreements on exchange of combatants, and define what are the responsibilities for rehabilitation and de-radicalization of countries from where these terrorists originate.
For our part, the government of Afghanistan is committed to full transparency and information sharing. We hope that we can make serious progress on cooperating in this critical area.
Fourth, despite our common efforts, the region and the world is playing catch-up in the arena of counter-narcotics. The problem is two-fold—first, the cartels and criminal organizations profiting from the destructive enterprise are becoming more entrenched, utilizing the soft underbelly of globalization, for their illicit gains. Second, we still lack agreement on a framework that would clearly delineate the connection between production, processing, transit, trafficking and consumption.
The links in this vicious profit chain need to be clearly analyzed in close coordination between countries, civil society organizations, businesses, and regional and international organizations. Our efforts in the area of counter-narcotics are complicated by the organic ties between transnational terrorist organization and drug producers and processers and the Taliban. How organic are the ties that bind them and will they be willing and able to break off these bonds?
What is clearly indicated by the data is that those engaged in production get an insignificant share of the profits, and comprehensive modernization of our agricultural system, based on access to your markets, would relieve producers from back-breaking work in the illicit economy.
As our success would mean shift of the production elsewhere in the region, we need to act on lessons learned, especially support for rule of law and policing and transformation of agriculture.
Iran and Russia have particularly suffered from the destructive impacts of drug consumption and trafficking. But with the shift from heroin to amphetamine, all of us around this table, including Australia and North America, are threatened and need to join forces to in a designing and implementing a coherent and comprehensive counter-narcotics strategy.
Fifth, when 40% of a population lives below the poverty line, the temptations to opt for the illicit economy may be hard to resist. Your experience in successful transformation of your economies highlights the role of transit, trade and investment in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. The enablers, in terms of hardware, namely infrastructure, and software, namely rules, systems and processes, are well known. When one is at the heart of a market of over 3 billion people, the key to development lies in creating, expanding and sustaining value and supply chains.
We gratefully acknowledge the significant steps that have been taken by our Central Asian neighbors to prove that the potential exists. Our request is that we scale up and expand the scope of our cooperation and investment in these areas. A critical component that is still missing is a regional system of risk assessment and management, and mechanisms of common risk guarantees and insurance.
Regional and international organizations can play a particularly important role in making such tools available to the region, so large-scale investments in regional connectivity projects that require medium to long term maturation can take place.
Sixth, we suffered the wholesale loss of a generation of managers and technical experts in the 1980s, but also we had no opportunity during the 1990s to make up for that loss. Despite the significant gains in this area, providing quality education to our boys and girls and young men and women is among top priorities now.
Communication technology now makes it feasible to harness distance learning for a scale and scope of transformation in education that we could not have dreamt of 20 years ago. Our request to you is to make your education and technological institutions available to us through distance learning platforms so we can create human capital that will manage our natural and locational capitals, but also to create a culture of tolerance and moderation befitting the golden age of our Islamic civilization.
On the first of January 2015, the ANDSF assumed responsibility for our nation’s security. We assumed functions that had been previously performed by over 140,000 NATO and non-NATO forces, the majority of whom were from the United States. The Resolute Support mission that succeeded ISAF is an advise, assist and train mission.
When judged objectively, the enhanced capacity of our forces can be clearly demonstrated. In the last 8 months, our all-volunteer defense and security forces have moved from a defensive to an offensive posture across the country, not only containing severe pressure from the Taliban but re-taking ground in eight  districts that had been controlled by the Taliban for a decade.
Four main factors have been essential in this transformation.
First, we doubled our Commando and Special Forces, and tripled our Air Force. The result has been that 96% of operations this year have been carried out entirely by Afghan forces. There is nowhere in the country to which we cannot project state power, or prevent the Taliban from realization of their key goal of either bringing the government down or creating two political geographies in the country by taking over provincial centers. In the next 3 months, we will carry out a series of operations covering all of the country.
Second, we changed the Inherent Law, bringing down the retirement age for brigadiers to 58 and Generals to 62, and implemented the retirement of around 2,000 officers with a beneficial package. The generational change in security leadership and management, at every level, has brought visible and tangible results from the central command centers all the way down to the ground level.
Third, an unprecedented level of coordination and cooperation has been established in the leadership of the security sector, with the National Security Advisor playing a key role. We have focused relentlessly on building processes and systems to ensure cost-savings on the one hand and efficiency, effectiveness and transparency on the other.
In the Ministry of Interior alone this year we have saved around 50 billion AFS. We believe that we can make the cost of the security sector increasingly affordable and every year, we have increased our own contribution to paying for our security sector, thereby bringing different areas onto our national budget.
Our central goal is to put an end to 40 years of violence, by ensuring that not only the conflict ends but to secure guarantees for its non-repetition. A political solution through an enduring peace process is an imperative but so is agreed upon mechanism for dealing with the threats of terrorism and criminality and narcotics.
We can, however, credibly say that with the leadership, organization, equipment, patriotic fervor and commitment of our defense and security forces, that we will be able to sustain our gains, and the military is now secure, and one of the most highly respected state institutions in the country.
There is consensus that our security forces made it possible to hold both the parliamentary election in 2018 and the presidential election in 2019. Their professionalism, neutrality and sacrifice have earned them the title of the guardians of the constitution and citizens’ rights.
Elections have been a key test of our adherence to our Constitution. Our respect for rule of law is demonstrated by our strategic patience in regarding the scrutiny of the presidential elections of September 28, by the IEC with full participation of the UN, international observers and the members of our free press and civil society. We hope the transparency of the process will ensure its credibility, as well as the contestants’ adherence to the laws and rules of the IEC.
To ensure that the spirit of the Constitution permeates all aspects of our lives, we have promulgated around 400 pieces of legislation during the last 5 years, thereby providing a legal foundation for economy, polity and society. The independence of the judiciary has been a cornerstone of our policy and our Supreme Court and Attorney General have earned high marks for their professionalism and dedication to anti-corruption.
Our pursuit of self-reliance has been manifested in an increase of 90% of our revenues during the last 5 years. Next year’s budget takes the reform process significantly further by rationalizing expenditure of the recurrent budget and focused on a performance-based budgeting system. We are looking forward to a comprehensive transformation of our economy ranging across agriculture, mining, urban development, services, and regional connectivity.
The most notable feature of the past 5 years is in transformation of attitudes and priorities of the new generation of Afghan citizens and leaders. Citizenship and consensus on the centrality of an Islamic Republic have emerged as central tenets of Afghan identity and our political system. The drivers of this change have been one, a generational change in leadership and management to youth and women, and two, the national dialogue on the imperative of peace.
Participation of our youth and women are an irreversible change in our society and needs to be seen at close range to be believed. The change is not Kabul-based but countrywide.
I would like to applaud Afghan women, youth and the Ulama, across the country, for being the torchbearers in the single most important national dialogue we have had during the past two years—a dialogue about peace.
It has been nearly two years since I announced an unconditional offer of peace to the Taliban. My decision, arrived after years of consultation and preparation, was made possible by the sense of urgency called for by the Afghan Ulama, 2906 of whom gathered in Kabul in June of 2018 and issued a Fatwa, explaining ending of violence as a Quranic injunction and seeking of peace as a command of the Almighty Allah.
Since then, peace has moved from a deeply-felt but vague concept to something feasible—the boundaries, trade-offs and dimensions of which we are now defining as a nation. A successful ceasefire with the Taliban during June of 2018 was an initial step in building trust and allowing our people to imagine end of violence as a possibility.
Since I announced the roadmap for peace in November 2018, the Afghan people have been actively consulting and debating to inform us, the government, what should be our next steps forward.
In February 2019, for the first time in our history, the women of Afghanistan held a consultative Jirga on peace, painstakingly prepared for with 6 months of visits to all 34 provinces. Given the Taliban’s record of gender discrimination, Afghan women have taken the topic of peace very seriously, and are in fact leading the public engagement, actively fulfilling their responsibilities as equal citizens.
In April 2019, the government convened a National Peace Jirga, where over 3,000 men and women from across the country participated. The jirga included 30% female delegates; nearly 40% of elected working committee heads and secretariats were women, including a female spokesperson and 12 female deputies on the planning committee.
The jirga made 23 recommendations both emphasizing the need for constructive engagement with the Taliban but also setting their boundaries: those boundaries included respect for the Constitution and not sacrificing gains made in women’s and human rights. Public support for such principles were also mirrored in the recent Asia Foundation’s Survey of the Afghan people, where 65% of respondents support constitutional democracy, and 55% of respondents said their priorities in a peace deal would be to preserve the current constitution and a central democratic government.
To effectively act on these recommendations, we had to absorb the lessons from other peace agreements, think deeply about our Islamic and national traditions, and understand both the differences and similarities with other countries who moved from conflict to peace.
In October, we announced our 7-point plan for stability, which combine the recommendations of our people, the international community’s willingness to assist us in achieving peace, and also the critical lessons-learned from past peace processes.
Acting on lessons from global experience requires understanding that when parties sit at a table without having completed the preparatory work off the table–which includes serious national preparation and regional and international cooperation and coordination—the process of official negations have either been endless or fruitless. We must all work together to make sure we do the critical ‘off-the-table’ work now, in order to lay the groundwork for successful negotiations at the table.
As the agenda of ending violence and ensuring its non-repetition is the key objective of the Afghan nation at this moment of our history, I will offer suggestions for your deliberation and support to move the process forward:
First, building a consensus on drivers of conflict, unbundling the national and the transnational strands, will be critical to specification of mechanisms and coordination.
Second, reaching agreement on a coordinated process of regional and international support for an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Considering all the participating and supporting countries and regional and international organizations to be stakeholders in this noble quest, we ask that lessons be drawn from all the previous efforts to create reinforcing efforts in coordination with the Afghan government.
Third, we should design and implement a reinforcing series of dialogues between the Afghan government and people and the regional and international community with the Taliban. Structuring the dialogue around issues that divide us and agreeing on a changing venue where lessons learned can be discussed can help mutual understanding.
Third, work with us in creating framework for ending conflict and guarantee its non-repetition by focusing on mechanism for ending ties between Taliban and their state and non-state sponsors — particularly provision of sanctuary and networks of support, severance of bonds with all transnational terrorist networks, and terminating of their bonds with transnational and national criminal organizations. As the Afghan Government and the Taliban are the principal parties to the conflict, direct negotiations between us is the key to a political solution. The test of their political will, organizational capability, and capacity for command and control lies in the credibility of a comprehensive ceasefire.
Fourth, the key to ending the conflict and guaranteeing its non-repetition lies in a robust and credible system of verification. Hence, our request to all of you for help in designing and participating in such a system. Equally important, we should agree on a robust approach for dealing with threats by transnational terrorist networks, transnational criminal organization and subversion by state and non-state actors.
Fifth, as ending conflict will entail return of a significant number of the estimated 4 million Afghan refugees in Iran and Pakistan, whom we thank for hosting our people, support for peace-building will be critical. We thank the European Union for its five- point support agenda offered in the Geneva Conference and count on EU’s active engagement in our peace process.
As part of this critical preparatory work, the government will convene a mini-Loya jirga to determine priorities and agree on mechanisms of ending the conflict with the Taliban.
To have your reflections and suggestions on the above agenda, we invite working-level representatives (Special Representatives or National Security Advisors) from your countries, and representatives of international and regional organizations, to form an Alliance Consultations Group. We invite this group to participate in a conference in Kabul to collectively reflect over the past efforts and lessons learned and reach consensus on the way forward.
We also request you, as part of the Alliance Consultations Group, to work with us to organize and host a series of intra-Afghan dialogues to ensure momentum is maintained and channels of communication are open between the parties to the conflict. Unlike official negotiations, which come late, these intra-Afghan dialogues will not require a precondition.
We have seen and heard your willingness to be involved and helpful in this process, and as you are all a stakeholder in this peace process, we welcome your support. But we believe that such support can only be effective when we come together, coordinate, and define the objectives. I would like to appreciate the efforts of Uzbekistan, China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia who have held such helpful dialogues in the past.
These are critical steps we are taking in a process that should eventually result in a sustained and dignified peace. It is our hope, and our objective, that these steps will lead to a ceasefire, and direct official negotiations with the Taliban.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thus I conclude my remarks today with an invitation—an invitation that is forward-looking, to our peaceful future where our mutual interests are secured, as our mutual threats are collectively addressed. We look forward to working with you to take this next step forward toward peace.
Let me once again thank you—participating and supporting countries, regional and international organizations, for your constructive engagement of the last 18 years. Thank you to our gracious host, President Erdogan and the Turkish people and government.