The Emerald Express Symposeum

 

Afghanistan at the Crossroads

 

Quantico Base, Virginia, 03/30/09

 

Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I would like to thank the Marine Corps University for convening this conference. Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to be with you to discuss “regional relationships.” It is a pleasure to share the podium with my colleague and dear friend Ambassador Haqqani. Allow me to convey my gratitude to the US soldiers, especially the Marine Corps, who are fighting to make Afghanistan, the region and the world a safer place.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to join Minister Wardak to convey our full support for President Obama’s new strategy. For the first time, U.S. agencies, NATO allies, the Afghan and Pakistani governments and donor countries have been consulted.  The result is truly a comprehensive strategy that encompasses counter-insurgency, development and regional cooperation. The new strategy provides clearly defined, measurable and attainable goals and objectives.

 

The Afghan Government welcomes and supports President Obama’s new strategy. We are grateful to Mr. Bruce Riedle and Ambassador Holbrooke for reflecting our views on the regional aspects of fighting terrorism in the new strategy.

 

In this forum, I was specifically asked to discuss two important and current topics: regional cooperation and effectiveness of PRTS. I will be brief and on point.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Long-term sincere cooperation in our volatile region is not only a very wise choice for our foreign policy, development and security challenges, but also an absolute necessity. Afghanistan is successfully navigating very difficult waters in the region.

 

We know from our recent history that when regional players pursue shortsighted predatory policies, everyone in the region and behind, pays a hefty price for it. The creation and support for the Taliban in the past decade is a prime example.

 

In the post-9/11 era, the main pillar of our regional foreign policy has been to convince our neighbors and friends that stability in Afghanistan serves their own best national security interests. International and regional cooperation are keys to fighting extremism, terrorism and narcotics that continue to undermine the lives of each of our citizens, as well as regional stability and global security.

 

While we were the main victim of terrorism and continue to be the main front to fight extremism and narcotics, our neighbors are increasingly destabilized by Talabanization, trafficking and drug addiction.

 

Therefore, the cornerstones of Afghanistan’s foreign policies are partnership with the international community and regional cooperation. Geography places us as the land bridge between South, Southwest, and Central Asia, connecting emerging markets in South Asia with mineral and natural resources in Central Asia. History has made Afghanistan the crossroad of civilizations.

 

Today, with the completion of infrastructure projects in Afghanistan, especially the ring road and improved security, Afghanistan can serve as a roundabout of trade and commerce for our region.

 

Today, there are many serious common threats and great economic and development opportunities that push us together. Such opportunities include the need for energy and minerals in our resourceful region. The efficient exploitation of these massive resources to fuel regional and global economies requires mutual trust, investment and cooperation for security.

 

We will all benefit from establishing regional transportation networks, building pipeline, electricity transmission lines, modern highways and rail road systems to fight poverty and create job opportunities in our region.

 

Shared Culture: Our region shares thousands of years of shared heritage, common languages, religion and culture. We are building on our shared culture to overcome our mutual trust deficit through cultural exchange programs and celebration of common traditions. In March of this year, the Afghan, Iranian, and Tajik leaders gathered in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif to celebrate Now Ruz, our common New Year.

 

On the other hand, we all face common threats that require shared responsibility and closer regional cooperation, including:


Terrorism: The most dangerous threat to our region’s security is terrorism. We must be determined as a region to fight it sincerely and unconditionally. None of the opportunities before us can be realized unless we eliminate terrorism. We should have learned by now, from the Taliban and Al Qaeda experience that the use of extremism and terrorism as tools of foreign policy are lethal for the shared future of our children. 

 

Extremism: Extremism nurtures and fuels terrorism. Together we must fight poverty and ignorance and make better use of our resources for socio-economic development to provide decent education, not indoctrination, jobs and hope for our region’s increasing young population. This precious asset is being exploited by extremists and terrorists.

 

Narcotics and Trafficking: Drug production, trafficking and addiction are national, regional and global problems that threaten our children across the globe. An important pillar of our National Drug Strategy is regional cooperation. We welcome the recent initiative by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to help Afghanistan fight narcotics.

Furthermore, poverty, youth unemployment, water resources management, environmental degradation, drought and diseases are common regional threats that require shared responsibility and close cooperation.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Regional cooperation is the cornerstone of our foreign, security, and development policies. Right after the establishment of a new government, we hosted the Good Neighborly Relations Conference in 2002, and actively followed up with the Dubai Declaration of 2003, the Berlin Agreement of 2003, and the Bishkek Conference of 2004. The Kabul Conference of 2005 and the Delhi Conference of 2006. We are working with Pakistan on the Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan to convene in Islamabad very soon.

 

To capitalize on shared responsibilities and common threats, Afghanistan has joined all regional organizations, including:

 

Just in the last few weeks, the conference on Afghanistan in the Hague, the special meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Afghanistan in Moscow, the Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey trilateral Summit, the NATO Summit, and the US-Afghan and Pakistan trilateral meetings in Washington reaffirmed international consensus on the need to cooperate strategically across the regions to achieve collective security. We welcome the recommitment of participating states in the above forums to stabilizing Afghanistan.


Now, on the issue of our bilateral relations and the security concerns of our neighbors.

 

Pakistan

The political and civilian leadership and the two democratically-elected Presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan have never had such close and trustful relations and extensive bilateral engagement in the history of two countries as they do today. We hope that this will be matched by delivery by Pakistan’s security institution.

 

We are all concerned about the security situation in Pakistan. We are in favor of cooperating with Pakistan on a trilateral basis, such as the US-Afghan-Pakistan trilateral meetings, NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan trilateral meetings and the Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan forum to fight extremism and terrorism in the region. In late February, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States held very constructive and frank trilateral talks about the new US strategy.

 

Presidents Karzai and Zardari recently met on April 1, 2009 in the Ankara Summit. Our Foreign Ministers, National Security Advisors, Army Chiefs of Staff and Chiefs of Intelligence are meeting regularly. The frequency of these meetings must be matched by delivery of specific results. We need to move on from the high protocol of such forums to delivering on specific promised made.

 

We know that Pakistan’s military view on Afghanistan is still in context to their relations with India. We are encouraging our US, NATO and regional friends to work harder to reduce the trust deficit between India and Pakistan.  Ambassador Holbrooke can play an important role in this regard.

 

Iran

Iran has played a constructive role in Afghanistan, while keeping its destructive network in place. There is no love relation between Tehran and the Taliban. Afghanistan, Iran and the United States share common interests in the stabilization of Afghanistan and in fighting narcotics. We welcome the new policy by the Obama Administration to engage Iran. The inclusion of Iran in the Hague Conference was a positive step forward.

 

Central Asia

The real security threat to our northern neighbors—Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkemistan—are terrorism, radicalism, drug trafficking and organized crime, not NATO or US military presence.

The potential for trade and commerce with Central Asian countries are much larger than the current volume. Some of the existing infrastructure is under-utilized due to restrictive and unpredictable trade policies.

 

India

Afghanistan and India have historically had close friendly relations. We appreciate India’s generous contributions to the reconstruction projects in Afghanistan including road-building, institutional capacity building, training and higher education. Even India is concerned about the prospects of further instability.

 

We are aware of Pakistan sensitivities and we hope that relations between Islamabad and New Delhi further improve.

 

Saudi Arabia

Afghanistan greatly values our relations with the Muslim world and sees larger potential for further engagement. We are hoping to use the spiritual influence of His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz for the peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan.

 

UAE
We greatly appreciate the support we have received from UAE not only in monetary pledges towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction but also in the private sector investment. UAE firms are going to invest some $4 billion in construction works, power, mineral resources and agriculture in Afghanistan.

 

China

China, like the rest of the region, shares our concern about extremism and terrorism. Chinese firms have begun making serious investment in Afghanistan. We welcome the $3.4 billion Chinese investment in Afghanistan’s copper industry.

 

 

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs)

PRTs are playing an important role in the stabilization of provinces in Afghanistan. The degree of success depends on the resources that the PRTs have at their disposal. Good leadership plays a key role.

We would like PRTs to further focus on training, transfer of skills and local institutional capacity-building.

 

The PRTs should engage communities and better coordinate their efforts with the governor, local shuras and Community Development Councils in some 20,000 villages across Afghanistan.

 

The PRTs should be very cautious and alert when contracting local private security firms and local militia, as most of them are manned by former commanders and criminals that often abuse their association with the PRTs.

 

Afghans perceive PRTs as a symbol of the international community’s commitment and presence of security forces. We encourage more nations to set up PRTs.

 

Thank you.

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