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Palm Beach Roundtable

 

Looking towards the future in Afghanistan

 

Palm Beach, Florida, 01/14/09

 

Dear Friends,

 

It’s a pleasure to be here with you in Palm Beach. Not only am I blessed to be surrounded by good friends and supporters of Afghanistan, but I’m lucky to be here in such beautiful weather. I’d like to thank you all for being here, and I would especially like to extend my gratitude to the Palm Beach Roundtable and its leadership for having me here to speak.

 

One of my most distinct joys as an ambassador is having the opportunity to travel throughout the U.S. and talk to different groups about Afghanistan. I’ve been to both ends of the continental United States and many of the states in between. I’ve spoken to school children and university students, at museums and galleries, to fellow diplomats and U.S. policymakers, and to many of the brave troops that have deployed to help protect freedom in Afghanistan. I’ve had a chance to experience the diversity this country offers, both in natural beauty and the kindness of its people.

 

I do hope that at some point in the near future friends like you will be able to travel to my country and witness the wonders of its landscape and the warmth of its people. Afghanistan is a country that stretches from some of the highest mountains in the world to some of the most barren plains; a country with a history dating back thousands of years that saw a melding of cultures and civilizations as diverse and far-flung as the Romans and the Chinese. We are a crossroads and a roundabout, a land of one country but many different people.

 

We are also a country in the midst of a struggle for peace, prosperity and pluralism. The brutal attacks of September 11 were launched from the soils of Afghanistan after decades of violence and conflict. What was once a poor though pacific country was wrenched into the international limelight by a band of terrorists and extremists that not only attacked the U.S., but also the Afghan people. The Taliban and their terrorist allies forced women into the shadows, denied our children opportunities for the future and made Afghanistan an international pariah.

 

Today we’re still facing a determined enemy, though with the help of the U.S. and our international partners we have made significant and measurable progress. Where a totalitarian government once existed, we now have a written constitution and an elected parliament and president. The women of Afghanistan have emerged from the darkness to become students and teachers, voters and elected officials, and consumers and entrepreneurs. The children of Afghanistan have again returned to school, and in enormous numbers. There is no sight like young girls gathered under a tree with a teacher, determined to read and learn math whether or not they have a building to do it in.

 

Thousands of miles of new roads are being built, a vibrant independent media has sprouted up, and millions of Afghans can be seen chatting on cell phones on a daily basis. Our economy is growing, and a number of Afghan goods – from rugs to pomegranates – offer hope for many Afghans. Kites again dot the skies of Afghanistan’s cities and towns, a small though significant reminder of the freedoms we have regained from the Taliban. In last year’s Olympic Games in Beijing, Afghanistan won its first ever Olympic medal – a bronze in Taekwondo. Our national cricket team has defeated a slew of adversaries in international competition, and is likely to reach the World Cup in 2011. These may seem like minor accomplishments to bigger countries, but to Afghanistan they represent a return to life before violence hijacked our country’s history.

 

And last year, Afghanistan saw a significant cultural accomplishment. A collection of 228 artifacts ranging from ivory and jade to a famed treasure trove of gold pieces opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The exhibit, “Hidden Treasures of the National Museum, Kabul,” stands as a testament to Afghanistan’s enduring cultural heritage. Hidden away by ordinary Afghans prior to the Soviet invasion and uncovered only in 2003, the exhibit attracted over 200,000 visitors and introduced them to an Afghanistan beyond the headlines. It has since moved to San Francisco, will arrive in Houston in March and ends its U.S tour in New York later this year. If you have an opportunity, I encourage you all to see this stunning exhibit.

 

None of this could have happened without the determined and consistent support from the U.S. and compassionate and caring friends like you. Afghanistan faces challenges, but working together we can overcome them. This year will see a presidential election in Afghanistan, a significant milestone for the country’s young democracy. And with our shared commitment, we will be able to fight back the terrorists and extremists that  pose a threat not only to Afghanistan, but to the region and to the world.  

 

Over the last seven years we have seen flashes of what Afghanistan can be. With the bravery of its people and the partnership of our allies, we have moved far beyond where we were on the fateful day of September 11. We have a long ways to go, but I have faith that together we can get there. And when that day comes, you will be able to experience Afghanistan just as I have experienced the U.S.

Thank you.