President Ghani’s remarks in Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

President Ghani’s remarks in Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

Ambassador Chaudhry, Minister Qureshi, Distinguished ambassadors, members of civil society, fellow academics, ladies and gentlemen;

It is a pleasure to be with you.

I was teasing Ambassador Chaudhry that he has the job that I aspire to have. The best job I had was president of Kabul University, and my fourteen years of teaching at Kabul University and John Hopkins and Berkeley always make me be with you where ideas are not conspiracies, and exchange is productive, and a learning process is mutual.

I come here as the representative of the sovereign state of Afghanistan to seek a relation of equality and cooperation between two sovereign states. Our stability and our prosperity are linked and related to mutual respect for our sovereignties. The word “strategy” is one that I used to ban in discussions because it is so overused, but today I think we are truly at strategic moment—a moment where we can make history by overcoming the past.

We had on April 29 to May 2 [2019] an unprecedented democratic event in Afghanistan. It was the Consultative Loya Jirga of 3,200 Afghans representing all the districts of the country and 27 strata, all elected. Over 30 percent of them were women, 60 percent were youth. They represented the Afghanistan of today, not the Afghanistan of yesterday. And among the 23 items that they laid for the future, two items are crucial: one, they instructed me and the government of Afghanistan to normalize relations with Pakistan. And second, they instructed us to find a political solution to the conflict in and around Afghanistan.

In order to move forward, I don’t want to dwell on the past, but differentiate between two types of strategies. One is “bad strategy”. Bad strategy is not absent of strategy, it is truly repeating the mistakes of the past and saying it is going to work in the future. Today we are in a moment in Pakistan where bad strategy has been recognized and we are moving towards formulation of what is good strategy. Good strategy requires three things: one, clarity of vision. What do you want to get? Second, an analysis of the conditions of today honestly, carefully and systematically. And third, the roadmap. How do you get from here to there?

So the first item that I want to start with is regional connectivity. [To Minister Qureshi] You spoke of new narrative. A sovereign Afghanistan will be a partner of Pakistan in reduction of poverty and overcoming institutional difficulties and connecting to a wider set. While, Mr. Chaudhary, bilateralism is essential, it is also fundamental that we think Asia-wide. While there is global uncertainty, Asia is living in an incredible moment of time. Asia is having what the United States had in 1869. In 1869, the Atlantic and the Pacific railways were joined and the Suez Canal was opened. I see in the next 20 years the formation of an Asian continental economy; and more accurately, a Eurasian continental economy. For the first time, trade between Asian countries exceeds our trade with the rest of the world.

So it is important to think instead of just either multilateralism or bilateralism to think of units of analysis that can allow us to connect. And in this regard, I take pride in turning our location into a major asset. When I became president of Afghanistan, everybody was saying Afghanistan was a landlocked country. The narrative that you spoke of, we turned it around and we said: we are not a landlocked country, we are a roundabout or a land bridge. And long before you knew it, last year the Secretary General of the United Nations came to Afghanistan and spent one week in Central Asia 5. He said, “What have you done? Everybody is looking south in Central Asia.” I said, “Because we started looking north.”

Now Central Asian countries are our largest trading partner. Kazakhstan wheat competes in every single district of Afghanistan with local wheat and with Pakistani importing wheat. So it is this diversification, and I mention this not to highlight the missed opportunity but to say how one creates opportunity. What is important to this is common vision in the leadership level and relentless pursuit of detail and common understanding in ground. All of that is done Minister Qureshi, to be able to connect Central Asia to Pakistan and South Asia, India and Bangladesh beyond.

So this northward look of us is enabling us to look back. And here, the past is of relevance. The trade of Bengal and South and East India with Europe is widely known; it is in every textbook but my historical research reveals that what is Pakistan, today Lahore particularly–the city of Lahore, Kashmir and Delhi exported more textiles to Central Asia and Russia than that combined to Europe. In other word, we were an economic region long before the concept of economic region was born. And our past was a past of flows; open systems, trading links and insurance. In 16th century there were insurance linkages and the Hawala system united us.

What does that mean for today’s connectivity? I have six quick points in succession so I will make those:

First, projects do not make connectivity, systems do. And what brings a system? Agreement on the rules of the game. South Asia is the least connected region on earth, as least connected than Africa, because we have not yet had agreement on the rule of the game. And if Pakistan and Afghanistan take the lead, we can form this with Central Asia and the Caucuses. What is it that is lacking? Predictability. For flows to be regular, the system must allow for predictability. Predictable flows are key to allow us to move forward.

My second point is the role of the state. What is the role of the governments in this?  And I am delighted with my meeting with Prime Minister [of Pakistan] both today and in Makkah, because his abiding concern with empowerment of the least privileged elements of Pakistan’s society is what I share in Kabul. And his belief that connectivity is the future, is the bond—the foundation—that we can build upon as you mentioned.

The first thing is that we must have a shared special vision. We cannot treat ourselves as isolated countries. We must think of what—because bilateral relationship will be important but how much could Afghanistan and Pakistan trade with each other. While you just look at your imports form Uzbekistan, cotton; it goes through six countries, each container. Bringing the wider system to a win-win situation is critical to this and this requires leadership level common understanding and common vision.

The second element is commitment of “political will”. We must mobilize political will together because there are going to be a lot of naysayers. Machiavelli long ago observed, reform has no constituency, the present has very strong defenders. Because if you want to open up, they are going to be a lot of hurt voices in the short term but a lot of beneficiaries in the medium term.

The third is a programmatic approach. We cannot go project by project. With enormous respect, because this is what General Bajwa said and I quote it, “Why did Karachi or Gwadar not become Dubai?” The infrastructure was built but the systems to make it Dubai or Singapore were not brought in. So we need to be having a programmatic approach and not just saying we are building the infrastructure and they are going to come. We need to be able to connect it.

The fourth element which I am delighted because we have both agreed that the Turkham Custom will become a 24-hour facility. We have to align systems and processes. If our goods are delayed 20 to 40 days in Karachi, would you say an Afghan trader would come through Karachi. It is not the Afghan trader that doesn’t want to come to Karachi, it is the problems of governance at the port of Karachi that repelled him. Because today Batumi and Patumi in Georgia, Baku in Azerbaijan, now the latest Jaihan, and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan are open to us, as is Chabahar. So in this system, one must benchmark and compete by services. That is essential because it allows us internal drivers of competition, to move forward.

A question that a lot of you will have in mind, so let me tackle it first. Why would you commit your energy security or your transport security to a country with which you have had a difficult past? And my answer is five-fold:

One, political risks need to be differentiated. There are political risk guarantees. In my old job at the World Bank, I used to prepare political risk guarantees.

Second, risk of disruption, because we have experienced these sorts of things. I want to propose an escrow account managed by a third party that in case there is disruption because of political decisions, there will be a penalty. And the penalty would be so heavy that nobody would dare repeat it. You know when we link tens of thousands megawatts of power or billions of cubic meters of gas, we have to think systems.

The third is financial risks. Financial risks require both insurance and sovereign guarantees. By bringing people together, we can deal with this phenomenon.

The fourth are environmental and social risks. On environments, let me make a point. I think what steel and coal did for Europe, environment would do it for Central and South Asia. Your floods, our earthquakes, our cycle of vicious floods require environmental coordination. These are not things that—does environment— does God differentiate between borders, political borders or is it natural events that come?

The most important thing here, and this connects to our discussion this morning is security risks. Because of this, the narrative that I am offering to the people of Pakistan is that you become our partners in peace, the rest of the agenda will fall in place. And we are not suing for peace; it needs to be very clear. I will come back to those remarks.

Our Loya Jirga has mandated peace, not because Taliban are powerful. The security dynamics is moving forward. Yesterday we took another district from them [Taliban] and there is no shortage of Afghan volunteers for our security forces. I had to retire around 2000 colonels and generals and there wasn’t a murmur. Our culture is of civilian leadership. Since 1747, only one general has been in charge of Afghanistan. All the leaders have been civilian. So this is a culture. All political cultures have differentiations.

I wanted to address this so that the realism of the agenda that I am proposing becomes subject of discussion. What I think I am proposing is a realistic agenda, not just an idealistic agenda because the problem with a lot of vision that is not grounded in risk analysis and concrete proposals then it becomes insane, it is a pipe dream. The agenda of connectivity is not a pipe dream. And what could be some of the early wins before I go to others. TAPI; the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India pipeline is moving, financing has been secured. In couple of months work in Afghanistan is going to begin. This is a breakthrough project. It is proof of concept. We have synchronized energy from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and we are synchronizing it now with Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

CASA was talking about less than 1000 megawatts. The potential—and I thank Dr. Qayoumi, our distinguished finance minister who has had this vision for many years, potentially we are talking about 50 thousand megawatts of power from Central Asia to South Asia. And what is most impressive, a private sector firm is right now discussing with Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan putting $1.7 billion of its own money to transmit between 1 – 2 thousand megawatts of power from Turkmenistan via Herat to Kandahar to Pakistan.

The ports of Gwadar and Karachi; these can become the ports of choice for Central Asia 5. I repeat: both Gwadar and Karachi can become the ports of choice for Central Asia 5. You don’t need to wait for the system of railways; the existing system of highways is sufficient to underwrite this, but the other is railways. We miss the age of railways. Our fiber optics system is moving enormously, we have just secured 400 million dollars of for Afghan private sector commitment to the fiber optics. In other words, the vision we are offering is not of two decades, it is of years. What it takes is political will and the organizational capacity to being able to bring this.

But this brings me to my fourth point. Infrastructure needs to be approached differently. In my old job, particularly 1991-96, I worked on infrastructure both in South Asia and East Asia simultaneously and I saw the differences. The first thing we need from a connectivity perspective is what is critical infrastructure. I give you a small example of what we did with Turkmenistan. We had a single port, dry port, to Central Asia; the port of Hairatan with Uzbekistan. Now we have two with Turkmenistan; one is in Herat called Torghundi, the other is in the province of Faryab called Aqina. What it took was persuasion of fifty to sixty miles of railway to link the existing system to us. That has connected us all the way to the Lapis Lazuli corridor, all the way to the Caucuses and beyond to Europe. It is not each time 2000 or 1000; it is those critical missing pieces. And second is what serves you; we need to define this in terms of an agenda of future growth and be able to have a logic for it.

Second is prioritizing. If we take these two proposals from a regional perspective Minister Qureshi, Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the beneficiaries because the critical gaps are in our territory, and so would be the linkages. Dr. Qayoumi again has a worth saying, one plus one is two but one-one-one is 111. In other words, geometric progression is possible in this agenda and it can be moved forward. And this requires agreement of systems. There is not a single road between us that is aligned. We each use different standards. Railway gauges are not aligned. Power; we are just synchronizing so it is extremely important,

But the second part of this; South Asia in my comparative experience builds the most expensive infrastructure with the least utilization because of lack of connectivity. Design of these, building of these—and this is the sector that generates jobs. Mining generates wealth, but infrastructure generates jobs. And again to program and project management capacity, we can work together.

I was delighted to see so many young men and women today, the future diplomats of Pakistan. Diplomacy is going to be economic diplomacy, connectivity, strategy. It is not going to be about reporting intrigues in the elites, it is going to be creating common wealth and the true sense of the world. So knowledge of each other is extremely important in this knowing how we complement each other. This is not an agenda of competition; it is an agenda of cooperation.

So then where does the money come from? The first part of the money will come from the private sector. If we put the right systems and process in place, we would be able to mobilize the money. My initial estimation, it might be wrong but we need detailed work: this agenda will cost 30 to 40 billion dollars, but it is mobilizing. Grants and loans are a second part. Regional funds are a third source. Bonds and joint budgetary commitments. And this goes back to another form of insurance. When you have so many financiers that you need to bring together, they need to know that there is return to money. The reason I am interested to private sector, is the private sector will not risk its money if there’s political disruption. So it is another form of insurance for the countries that we commit our future together.

What I proposed to the distinguished prime minister is a task force at the level of leadership, a second at the ministerial level and a third at the technical level. And I am very pleased to share with you that the European Union already is very seriously interested in this agenda; the leadership of C5, Caucuses, particularly president of Azerbaijan, Russia, China others. We are working together. Bottom line: the coalition for peace will be much larger than the coalition for war.

The last thing I will make some remarks on peace because it is [important]. What is our vision of ourselves? How are we approaching peace? The first thing: we are an Islamic Republic. We are not just a republic, we are an Islamic Republic. Our constitution in comparative perspective, is the most Islamic that has been judged. The key word is a republic and citizen because of this the presidential elections of 28 September 2019 is a MUST.

The other day, a colleague of mine, former colleague of mine proposed and said, “We postponed the elections. Let President Ghani govern for another ten years.” I don’t need it. I don’t accept a mandate from the elite. My mandate comes from the people of Afghanistan. They can throw me any day they wish and I’d be honored, but an elite mandate is undermining of democracy and the rights of the people. Nobody can give you mandate except the people of Afghanistan. Sovereignty is vested in people’s freedom. And I will just give you an illustration. In the parliamentary elections, literally rockets were raining but our people stood in lines. And when we held the Loya Jirga, you know what was the most contentious issue? The number of delegates that wanted to participate. They were competing fiercely. The people of Afghanistan want a center to function. The view of the capital is of a moral authority, it is not of physical source of coercion. So this is the notion of the republic is central in rights of the people.

The second thing we want to be is a roundabout which I have explained. The late Toynbee for the first time coined this in relationship to Afghanistan’s past. He differentiated between two concepts. A “cul-de-sac” where things come and get stuck and a roundabout where flows take place. For two and half thousand years till the 19th century, we were a roundabout. If you look at India of today, you know the subcontinent; plains, coasts and others, but the main route during ancient times was over land and Afghanistan is the shortest way of connecting in this area. So we have been gates and our culture has been one of free flows.

Look at Data Ganj Bakhsh, his actual name is Al-Hajairi, and he is from Ghazni and I still read him in Dari. We want to be a roundabout so we can connect. Every single of our languages is a source of pride and connection to us. Dari; we share with Iran and Tajikistan. Pashto; we share with Pakistan as well as Baluchi. Uzbek and Turkmeni we share with Central Asia. A roundabout has to be a place of coming together.

The third part is we want to be platform for regional and global cooperation. Why is that? Because the threat of terrorism, drugs and radicalism need to be dealt with. This triple nasty formation needs to be tamed and it cannot be tamed without an alternative. As Minister Qureshi mentioned, we have all suffered from this. A month ago, we carried an operation in one of our provinces. We destroyed 54 laboratories, the damage inflicted upon them, the criminal organizations, worth one billion dollars, but it is not heroine. What was the issue was that they were producing crystal methamphetamine. Well, for years Afghans were in denial, saying things are produced here, we are not going to get addicted. Well, we have news; we at least have 2.5 million addicts. So it requires a comprehensive way of dealing with this. Monopoly of force has to be vested in the state in this vision, because without that—and again the program that you have undertaken in the current government to bring madrasas and others where I have studied is…

And lastly our citizens should enjoy physical, human, social and economic security. It is citizen focused version. Where the Taliban fit? Through a political inclusion strategy. We acknowledge them to be part of our society and the mandate of the Loya Jirga is to find a political process for ending the violence. I don’t want to get into the detail, but we have had constructive discussions the heart of which has been that two sovereign states are talking about cooperation. Afghanistan would never be a colony, we have never accepted to be a colony; it is not in our nature. But you know we have a proverb. It says, “You cannot take an Afghan to heaven by coercion, but you can take him to hell by persuasion.” That is the balance sheet, the strategy of persuasion and I hope I have used the word “strategy” properly, allows us to develop a good strategy. In this part, Pakistan has an important role and that there are strong interdependencies between Taliban and Pakistan. We need to recognize this and arrive at programmatic approaches to move from conflict to cooperation.

You mentioned as the Prime Minster had mentioned that the road would be bumpy. All strategic decisions are bumpy; that is inherent in the nature of strategy in a time of uncertainty. We have to take uncertainty for granted, because the world of cold war where there were certain certainties and certain assumptions, that world is gone. In this world, it is going to require agility and capacity to devise joint solutions and to implement them. We will not fault each other if we meet bumps. Where the test will come is our common collective will to overcome, and once we have made a decision regarding the destination not to look back but only forward. Thank you.