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Building Bridges: Afghanistan's Future Strategy Ambassador Said T. Jawad


National Press Club
05/12/2006

Ladies and Gentleman,

Good afternoon. I would like to thank the National Press Club’s Newsmaker Committee for inviting me to address this forum. I am delighted to be here. Today, I will speak about Afghanistan’s future strategy with the primary focus on security, narcotics and NATO expansion to the South.

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. Afghanistan is a land bridge connecting Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East.

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 of building a civil society and democratic governance, including constitutional design, parliament, human rights commission, electoral system, national army and police force, political parties, as well as mechanisms for political reintegration, women empowerment, and disarmament of militias.

We have experienced double digit economic growth in the past four years, and made considerable progress in connecting the country by building roads and telecommunication systems. Afghans today enjoy more political, economic, and social rights than at any time in the history of the country. Free press is flourishing.

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 Government by returning home. Six million children are going to school.

The new State of Afghanistan is young and less experienced. But the Nation of Afghanistan is strong, with a rich history and culture. However, we need to build our state institutions that were systematically destroyed through 30 years of invasion, terror, and war. Two weeks ego our new parliament approved the list of the cabinet submitted by President Karzai. They rejected 5 out of 27 nominees. The approval and rejection of the ministers were completely based on merit and past performance of the ministers. Once again members of the parliament proved that they are not divided along ethnic or factional lines. The new parliament is an important and capable institution that completes our state’s constitutional design.

The recent donor conference in London reasserted the international consensus that has been the foundation of the Afghan people’s partnership with the family of nations. We presented Afghanistan’s National Development Strategy to the 60 countries that participated in the conference. We launched the Afghanistan Compact, as the blue print of our future reconstruction and development strategy. The compact sets out an ambitious agenda with quantitative and time-bound benchmarks for rebuilding Afghanistan. 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. We know for a fact the Taliban are collecting a 10% tax (or Usher), paid in opium, from growers and traffickers in Helmand and Uruzgan.

Narcotic 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. One reason that people have turned to cultivating poppy over the past 30 years has been for lack of hope for tomorrow, or for the future. It takes only three months to harvest a poppy crop. In an environment of social, economic and political insecurity, people have leveled heir vineyards and pomegranate arched in the past 30 years to turn them into poppy fields. If your choice is between life and death, you choose life, even if that means your actions are illegal. Give the farmers an alternative, they will take the legal and dignified option.

Forceful poppy eradication, without adequate alternative livelihood assistance, can alienate poor farmers and strengthen narco-traffickers. Such quick fix solutions would push many rural communities further into poverty and dependency on terrorists. We need the people’s support to fight terrorism. Many farmers have not yet received the benefits and funds they have been promised. We need to invest in sustained rural and agriculture development to effectively fight narcotics.

Our Strategy to fights narcotics is based on eradication with alternative livelihood assistance, rural development, building law enforcement capacity and criminal justice systems and interdiction, as well as information campaign and regional and international cooperation.

So far, the alternative livelihood assistance provided to Afghan farmers has been limited, uncoordinated, ad hoc and funded outside our government’s budgetary framework. This has undermined the credibility and moral authority of the Afghan government. According to our national development strategy, by 2010 we will have linked 40 percent of villages with roads, increasing access to markets, employment and social services. 25 percent of rural households will have access to electricity for the first time in Afghanistan’s history. As we improve security and the Government’s ability to deliver services, we create viable economic choices for Afghans who are seeking a way out of the drug trade. 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 throughout Afghanistan. The coordinated efforts of the Afghan Counter Narcotics Police, the Afghan Eradication Force, and the Afghan National Army and Police Force with support from the Coalition forces and the US Drug Enforcement Administration have been remarkable. The eradication is underway, and so far eradication exceeds 23,000 hectares. The majority of poppy eradication has taken place in major producing provinces such as Balkh (39%), Kandahar (20%) and Helmand (17%). The Ministry of Counter Narcotics and The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are jointly monitoring and verifying all poppy eradication campaigns.

Improving security is crucial in certain parts of the country, especially at the South. It must be to be done through military and non-military means. The Taliban continue to threaten the security and welfare of the people.

We are experiencing increased terrorist activities in five provinces: Zabol, Hemand, Uruzgan, Kandahr and Kunar, all bordering Pakistan. I visited Uruzgan last week. The security situation has deteriorated. We may lose a lot of the ground that we have gained thus far. 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 15 to 20 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 and equipped, unpaid for months, with old and outdated light weapons, two clips of ammunition and an old jeep. They are very vulnerable and casualties are increasing. We need and demand better equipment for our police force and resources to strengthen district level administration. We have been promised assistance and it is not forthcoming. Local police is the only forces that can prevent the Taliban from burning our schools at midnight and bombing our clinics and mosques. People are now insisting that they want their own initiative to defend themselves.

There is no sympathy for terrorists and those who wish to prolong Afghanistan’s suffering, but some people in deprived provinces like Uruzgan are afraid, disillusioned and disinterested. The peace dividend they were promised have yet to materialize. No major reconstruction activities have taken place in this very poor province. The terrorists employ fear and intimidation in order to distance the people from the government and the coalition forces. They kill teachers, doctors and the engineers who are building roads and clinics.

The third reason is the expansion of NATO to south. The terrorist are hoping that by attacking some of the NATO members who are deploying troops at the South, they may be able to deter them.

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 courage and capability of the new troops. The United States will remain the largest single troop contributor and the leader in anti- terror operations. NATO countries must be fully committed to fight terrorism if they are coming to Afghanistan.

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 very crucial mission that NATO can not afford to fail. Afghans are discouraged by some recent statements that imply that these forces will not be engaging terrorists. The Cold War has ended and NATO must remain determined and capable to go out and fight terrorism, the only true enemies of the humanity and global security, effectively and decisively.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Afghans have put their trust in the benefits of democracy and partnership with the United States and the international community. Afghanistan is not Iraq. Too often, our countries are linked in the media. Conditions, success and challenges are very different in the two countries. Afghans welcome the presence of US and ISAF troops as well as the engagement of the entire international community. We are truly grateful for your assistance. Afghans value the sacrifice of your solders fighting alongside Afghans to defend freedom and to make Afghanistan, America and the world a safer place.

Ladies and gentlemen; today, Afghanistan is once more playing its historic role in bridging cultures, countries and civilizations. Where extremists have tried to build walls, our strategy for the future is to build bridges.

Thank you.