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The Future for a Democratic Afghanistan Ambassador Said T. Jawad Las Vegas World Affairs Council


06/26/2006

Ladies and Gentleman,

Good afternoon. I would like to thank Mr. Ben Ducheck, Mr. Ron Morse and the Las Vegas World Affairs Council for inviting me to address this forum. I am delighted to be here. Today, I will speak about Afghanistan’s difficult but successful journey into a peaceful, pluralistic and prosperous society and I will also discuss our challenges in the state building process.

Historically, Afghanistan has been the center-stage when great regional and global changes have taken place. From the conquests of Alexander the Great, to the emergence of Afghan empires, from the Cold War to the global war against terror, Afghanistan’s destiny has been connected with regional and global politics.

Today, Afghanistan is once more playing its historic role in bridging cultures, countries and civilizations. Over 60 counties are helping rebuild Afghanistan. 36 countries have troops in Afghanistan. 41 countries are helping train and equip our national army.

In the past four years, we have established all key institutions for building a civil society and providing for democratic governance, with mechanisms for political reintegration, women empowerment, and disarmament of militias. The inauguration of the new Afghan Parliament, with a delegation that is 27% female, completes our state’s constitutional design.

As Afghanistan is regaining its place among the family of democratic nations, we are also re-entering the global marketplace. The Government of Afghanistan, with the partnership of the United States and the international community, has laid the foundation for a comprehensive restructuring of the economic system.

Under our new liberal constitution, the state-controlled system has faded away as a free market economy has taken hold. The government’s role has been reduced to developing Afghanistan’s physical, human and legal infrastructure, providing an atmosphere that is conducive to private sector growth. In less than five years, the government has introduced a new currency, adopted liberal banking and investment laws allowing for 100% foreign direct ownership and full repatriation of profits, initiated membership negotiations with the World Trade Organization, and has exceeded the structural benchmarks established by the International Monetary Fund. The economy is expected to continue to grow at double digit annual rates. More that 13 foreign banks have opened their doors in Afghanistan and more than 3,000 new investment projects have been registered. We have created the Afghan Investment Support Agency (AISA) as a one-stop shop to facilitate and promote investment in Afghanistan. We have connected the country through the building of roads and telecommunication systems. Free press is flourishing. Afghans today enjoy more political, economic, and social rights than at any time in the history of the country.

Since the days of the silk route, Afghanistan’s unique location in the heart of Asia has made it a natural trade hub. Today it remains a land bridge between south and central Asia, connecting emerging markets with drivers of the global economy. With the construction of the ring road, our national highway system, all Central Asian capitals will be less than 32 hours from the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. With each passing week, more and more investors are recognizing Afghanistan’s potential. With 25 million people, it is the second most populated country in Central Asia. Geographically, in central and south Asia all roads lead to Afghanistan.

Politically, Afghanistan has become a beacon of democracy in an often-troubled region. 86% of eligible voters participated in our presidential elections. When 8.4 million Muslims, Afghan men and women, proudly and patiently lined up to vote for their president and parliament, they not only demonstrated their competence, and commitment to democracy in Afghanistan, but also sent a strong message to terrorists and extremists all over the world. 3.6 million Afghan refugees have demonstrated their vote of confidence in the political process and the Government by returning home. Six million children are going to school, 36% are girls.

Providing that the international community continues to stand with us, Afghanistan in 2010 will be a stable and relatively prosperous state.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We have come a long way, but we are not out of the woods. Despite the incredible progress Afghanistan has made, we are aware of the fact that we are facing serious challenges. Afghanistan is 6th poorest country in the world. Only 6% of the country has access to electricity and 23% has access to save drinkable water. Narcotics and terrorism are among our most serious challenges. They are connected and part of the same problem. The proceeds of narcotics feeds into terrorism and the terrorists provide protection to narco- traffickers.

Narcotics is a key threat to Afghanistan’s stability. Some recent news stories have hinted to possible links of government officials with narco-traffikers. Let me assure you, that if we are provided with credible evidence, we will act upon it swiftly. We have removed three governors in the problematic provinces of Zabol, Helmand and Uruzgan. The Government has established, with the support of the international community, an Afghan Counter-Narcotics Police force as well as a Central Narcotics Tribunal, a special court to prosecute narco-traffickers.

Let me make one point very clear: There is no quick fix or silver bullet solution for the international problem of narcotics in Afghanistan. Opium production is the result of 30 years of war and destruction. If a poor farmer’s choice is between life and death, he chooses life, even if his action is illegal. Give the farmers an alternative, they will take the legal and dignified option.

Forceful poppy eradication, without adequate alternative livelihood assistance and sustained rural and agriculture development in the areas that we face terrorist infiltrations, will alienate poor farmers and strengthen narco-traffickers. We need the people’s support to fight terrorism successfully.

Our Strategy to fights narcotics is based on eradication with alternative livelihood assistance, rural development, building law enforcement capacity, reforming the judicial system and interdiction, as well as information campaign and regional and international cooperation. By bringing roads, electricity, and micro-credit we are offering a long-term solution to this invasive menace.

We are serious about eradication and interdiction. Last year, we have seized and destroyed 143 metric tons of opium and 35.5 metric tons of heroin in 2005. We have also shut down 247 heroin labs and arrested or detained 32 traffickers.

This year, we have launched a comprehensive eradication campaign led by the Governors in 22 provinces. The eradication is underway, and so far exceeds 14,000 hectares.

Security

We are experiencing increased terrorist activities in five provinces: Zabol, Hemand, Uruzgan, Kandahr and Kunar, all bordering Pakistan. The reason for the security challenges are three fold:

First, Taliban are acquiring advanced weapons, sophisticated explosive devices and better communications gear as well as more pick up trucks and motorcycles from abroad. Taliban are crossing the border in much larger groups of 20 to 30 heavily armed militants. Terrorist training camps continue to operate outside our borders.

Second, we, as the government of Afghanistan, are not provided with adequate resources to significantly expand our security presence and deliver services and protection in some large districts. In Uruzgan, for instance, a district that covers hundreds of square miles, we have 10 to 15 police officers, all poorly trained, ill equipped, unpaid for months, with old and outdated light weapons, and two clips of ammunition. They are very vulnerable and casualties are increasing. We need extended police training and better equipment for our police force and resources to strengthen district level administration. Local police are the only forces that can prevent the Taliban from burning our schools at midnight and bombing our clinics and mosques.

The third reason is the expansion of NATO to south. In the coming months, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will assume more responsibilities in the South and Southeast. Their troop numbers will expand from 9,000 to approximately 21,000 by November. British soldiers have been deployed in Helmand since March and Canadians have been deployed in Kandahar since February, while Dutch troops are going to Uruzgan.

More attacks and cross-border infiltrations are to be expected, as terrorist and Taliban attempt to take advantage of this transition and test the commitment and capability of the new troops.

While, the United States will remain the largest single troop contributor and the leader in anti- terror operations, we welcome NATO’s expansion in the south and southeast of Afghanistan, and the removal of national caveats from their mandate in Afghanistan. We believe that this is a crucial mission that NATO can not afford to fail.

Operation Mountain Thrust

As you are aware, Operation Mountain Thrust is currently unfolding in four southern provinces – Helmand, Uruzgan, Kandahar, and Zabul. This crucial operation involves over 10,000 Coalition and Afghan soldiers fighting side by side. An Afghan Corp Commander and four battalions of the Afghan National Army is taking part in the operation.

This timely and massive operation is the largest offensive Afghanistan has seen since 2001. US and NATO forces are infiltrating remote areas that have not seen Afghan or American soldiers for months or even years.

However, large-scale, periodic military sweeps will not completely eliminate the terrorist infiltrations. Eventually, the soldiers pull back, and the terrorists crawl out of their hiding places to renew their campaign of fear and intimidation. President Karzai recommends a “Clear, Hold and Build Strategy” in order to fight terrorism effectively. We should first clear the countryside of terrorists through large scale, periodic operations. Then we should have compact and highly mobile international military force working closely with our national army and local government authorities to hold the area and respond to daily terrorist attacks. In the long term, our national police force must be given adequate training, equipment and salaries to be present twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to hold and defend the population.

To keep the trust and support of ordinary citizens, we must work together to build the countryside and improve the daily lives of civilians. Without adequate development and job opportunities, people will be taken hostage by the terrorists and narco-traffickers.

Large-scale development projects that will employ significant numbers of young people and former militias will be necessary if we are to win the peace in Afghanistan’s more restive provinces. We have disarmed and demobilized 60,000 militias, but offered little training and job opportunities for them.

We are asking our partners to invest in peace and reconstruction in Afghanistan. This assistance does not need to be the domain of governments alone. The private sector has been a vital force for progress and stability in Afghanistan. Key sectors for investment include agriculture and agro processing, construction, power generation and transmission, oil and gas exploration, telecommunications, transportation, irrigation, and industrial, precious and semi-precious stones. The World Bank has ranked the ease of starting a new business in Afghanistan 16th in the world and named Afghanistan as this year’s top reformer in business licensing procedures globally. Afghanistan has attracted investments from major international companies like Alcatel, Siemens, DHL and Standard Charter. Afghanistan is open for business, and the pioneer investors who have come to Afghanistan intimately understand the potential of its untapped market.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The enemies of peace see the positive changes in Afghanistan, the new businesses, the exchange of commerce, a populace that is free express their minds and children who are going to school in record numbers. They realize that their days are numbered and their influence is steadily diminishing. The terrorists employ fear and intimidation in order to distance the people from the government and the coalition forces. They kill teachers, doctors and those who are helping Afghanistan’s most vulnerable people.

There is no popular sympathy for terrorists and those who wish to prolong Afghanistan’s suffering, but some people in the restive southern provinces are afraid and disillusioned. The peace dividend they were promised has yet to materialize. No visible signs of reconstruction are evident in our neediest provinces.

Afghans demand and deserve freedom. We are working hard to build a bright, new future of peace and prosperity. We have put our trust in the benefits of democracy and partnership with the United States and the international community. When terrorists burn down a school, Afghans rebuild. The people of Afghanistan will not be intimidated they are determined to continue their march to freedom.

Afghans are truly grateful for the assistance provided by you. We value the sacrifice of American solders fighting alongside Afghans to defend freedom and to make Afghanistan, America and the world a safer place.

The United States and the international community are strengthening freedom and global security by investing in the future of Afghanistan. Where extremists have tried to build walls, our strategy is to build bridges and expand freedom and friendship among peoples with diverse traditions and heritages. With your support and partnership, we will build a bright future for our people.

Thank you.