The Kabul Times.
Opinion Politics

President Ghani’s keynote address at 9th Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process

By: The Kabul Times

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful
My dear brother, His Excellency President Rahmon; distinguished participants, distinguished international representatives, my Tajik sisters and brothers;
The relationship between Afghanistan and Tajikistan has been established based on common interests, mutual respect and mutual trust. I extend my heartiest gratitude to you, Mr. President, for your support, hospitality, yesterday’s reception as well as the Government of Tajikistan and Tajik National University for awarding me with the honorary doctorate.
Nawroz, similar to Dari language is one of our great cultural heritages. I congratulate this festival to all and we take rainfall and snowfall after our arrival to Tajikistan as good omen. We are hopeful that our borders turn to open borders of cooperation to exemplify mutual cooperation. I hope our joint regional connectivity plans bring prosperity and tranquility to the entire region. The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is keen to play its role as the Asian roundabout and a platform where civilizations can meet and interact.
President Rahmon, my fellow statesmen and women, ministers, distinguished colleagues;
We are gathered in Dushanbe in the midst of a global reset following the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the pandemic has for the past year now occupied center stage in our lives and livelihoods, there are other trends that could either exacerbate, or ameliorate, its adverse impact. Those also must be part of our conversation today.
The third wave of distrust is a global phenomenon that predates the pandemic, and is now a global challenge. It intersects with the fifth wave of global terrorism, which is constantly morphing into new forms of attacks on us. Climate change is also manifesting in ways that have directly impacted our rural and urban communities and added an element of uncertainty and deprivation. All of these factors—the pandemic, and the distrust left in its wake, terrorism, climate change—all add to the complexities of our relationships as a community of sovereign states.
But there have been some unexpected silver linings to the pandemic, ones that if capitalized upon could lead to expedited advancement towards prosperity and stability for our region.
The pandemic has expedited the process of digitalization, making the choice to digitalize or not a matter of moving ahead or being left behind. Afghanistan, this year, has put digitalization on top of its developmental agenda.
Regionalization is another process accelerated by the pandemic. The transformation of Asia into a continental economy, where integrated networks of infrastructure and systems of cooperation will bind the landmass into a connected whole, will be the distinguishing mark of the 21st century. The pandemic and the series of financial crises it provoked have also demonstrated that the functions of the state must shift to respond more directly to the needs of citizens, make up for market failures and spearhead regional cooperation.
And the responsibly to respond to these new trends and challenges falls squarely on us. We, the countries and people at the heart of Asia, face collective responsibility for both challenges and opportunities.
Our opportunities, however, I believe are greater than our challenges. And if we act on a strategy of cooperative advantage, I am confident that even our challenges could be turned into opportunities.
Since President Erdogan initiated this conference, it has been one of building trust, increasing cooperation, and enhancing regional connectivity. And this forum is today an even more important platform for addressing them.
We, the people and government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, are in a truly open moment of history. We are on the cusp of both immense opportunity and immense challenge. It is possible, God willing, to put an end to the violence that has haunted us and our lives for 42 years.
A genuine political settlement that results in the agreed-upon end state of a sovereign, democratic, united, neutral and connected Islamic Republic Afghanistan will be the deciding factor as to which side of the cusp we land, and whether our achievement of peace will translate into prosperity and stability, not only for Afghans, but for the entire region at the heart of Asia.
I would like to thank the United States, our NATO partners, our EU partners, Australia, Canada, Japan, the UK and all of you around the table for joining us to ensure that we achieve peace in Afghanistan. We thank you for the emphasis on values that will ensure that Afghan women and men, girls and boys of the current and future generations, will enjoy the rights and obligations of citizenship in a peaceful country free of fear.
Similarly, I would like to thank Qatar for hosting the Afghanistan Peace Negotiations and the other four host countries, Norway, Uzbekistan, Indonesia and Germany for providing critical support for the process.
We are grateful to Russia for the recent hosting of the Extended Troika in support of the peace process. We appreciate Turkey’s willingness to host an important international meeting to complement the peace process initiated in Doha. We thank Secretary General Guetters for his appointment of Ambassador Jean Arnou as his regional special representative and for his support to Ambassador Lyons, the Special Representative of the Secretary General to Afghanistan.
We acknowledge and appreciate the support and commitment of our other partners such as Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, UAE as well as our Central Asian neighbors to the Afghanistan peace process.
We appreciate the sense of urgency and the use of the convening power of the United States and our other partners to bring an end to this long war and to make sure Afghanistan does not become a safe haven to launch terrorist attacks ever again in the future.
I would like to thank President Rahmon again and the government and the people of Tajikistan for hosting this session. I would like to thank Turkey for both initiating the process and for hosting us last year. The people of Tajikistan are known for their historic hospitality.
And I would like to extend equal gratitude to all of our previous hosts: Kazakhstan, China, Pakistan, India, Azerbaijan, and Turkey.
The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan will have the honor of hosting you in 2022.
The membership of this process is wider than our immediate neighborhood, which shows the importance that our international partners place on this forum. They are our partners both in diplomacy and development, as well as stakeholders in defense and stability, and their participation is critical for a realizing a strategy of cooperative advantage. I thank you all for your continuous attention and participation.
On behalf of Minister Atmar, let me thank all the foreign ministers and senior officials for their systematic and productive exchanges in making this conference and the communique possible. Also, I would like to extend my gratitude to the ministries of foreign affairs of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and especially to the two Deputy Ministers Khisrow Nazari and Mirwais Nab for their hard work to build consensus among our partners and make this meeting a success.
A strategy of cooperative advantage is rooted in our past, and is also now being realized again in our present. For millennia, despite the formidable constraints of our region’s terrain; people, ideas and goods flowed freely among us, weaving our countries into a network that gave us a deep cultural foundation and civilizational references.
But regional cooperation does not just flow from the desirability of an idea. It requires convergence of interests, articulation of common visions, and a demonstration of the advantages through programs and projects and first and foremost leadership that is aligned. And we are privileged that we are seeing alignment of leadership in the region on cooperation. I feel we have gone well past this stage of desirability of the idea, to feasibility and credibility. Today, our geology and distribution of our natural resources presents a natural complementarity between Central Asia, which is rich in energy sources, and South Asia, which has a high demand. West Asia and East Asia, all, can be connected through Central Asia as the shortest route and Afghanistan at the heart of this. Transportation links between us are revolutionizing the way we interact, allowing unprecedented flows of goods between all corners of Asia.
I want to recognize some of these noteworthy achievements.
I would like to thank Turkmenistan for starting this process with the decisions of His Excellency President Berdimuhamedow for championing the realization of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline. This year, we will start construction of the pipeline on Afghanistan soil.
I’d also like to thank Pakistan, Turkmenistan and India for agreeing with us to broaden the scope of TAPI to encompass the TAP transmission line, the installation of fiber optics, thereby changing the project into a developmental corridor and the site for growth of clusters. The TAPI corridor is now being called the New Hilmand River of Development.
Turkmenistan’s investment to extend its railways to vital connecting points in Herat and Faryab has made supply chains more reliable and extended our connectivity deeper into Central Asia.
Thanks to a fruitful partnership with Prime Minister Modi and President Rohani, the Chabahar port enabled us to diversify our access to the ocean. Iran’s investment in connecting railways, and the recent completion of the Khaf-Herat railway will enable us to connect directly to Istanbul. Thanks to Presidents Aliyev and Berdi Muhammov cooperation with us in creating the Lapis Lazuli corridor, we are now connected to both the Caucuses and Turkey and Russia.
Under President Mirziyoyev leadership, we have truly made history through an unprecedented scale of cooperation — today, Afghanistan is able to meet its needs for wheat and flour via reliable supply chains in Uzbekistan to and from Kazakhstan. I thank Presidents Nazarbayev and Tokayev for their vision and commitment to regional connectivity.
The Silk Road is being revived as we speak Mr. President Rahmon and thanks to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan’s cooperation, the time for exchange of goods has been reduced to several weeks to China. We are keen to expand our economic interactions with China and function as a center of alignment of different infrastructure systems. Our joint effort on extending the railway to Pakistan is going to be a game changer in terms of infrastructure as well as the energy lines that you spoke of. We envision Pole Khumri to become the synchronization point for all energy from Central Asia, thereby cutting the cost of delivery and transmission to Pakistan and India considerably. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have joined us in energy exchanges and CASA-1000 will deliver on its promises in 2022. The commitment of Presidents Rahmon and Japarov and Prime Minister Khan to accelerate this vital project is highly appreciated. We are keen to expand our dialogue on connectivity with China, India and all our neighbors near and far.
Thanks to cooperation with India, we demonstrated the feasibility of an air corridor. Air corridors now connect us to 55 different countries, allowing us for the first time to realistically think about achieving a goal of reaching two billion dollars in exports this year.
We also thank Pakistan for its recent engagement with us on economic cooperation, transit and investment. Prime Minister Khan and General Bajwa’s recent remarks at the Islamabad Security Dialogue were important conceptual breakthroughs, if acted upon, could bring game-changing results to regional connectivity, cooperation and peace.
We have thus far achieved much, but moving forward, we have to think bigger and think together. Cooperation and connectivity are not just about individual projects and infrastructure creation—they require innovation.
The most important innovation that we require in the near future is architectural—a smarter and more efficient use of our existing capitals and capabilities. That is to say, we must pay equal attention to the software as to the hard ware of our agenda. This means reviewing our systems for alignment, and training our people to think, feel and embody a spirit of cooperation.
In this regard, a stable Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is crucial. If we can achieve lasting peace in the heart of Asia, the advantages for all of us will be far-reaching and long-lasting. Studies have, time and again, proven if the gift of peace is delivered to a long-suffering people, neighbors can have one to two percent additional rate of growth in their GDPs.
Let me turn to peace.
The daily labor and struggle of millions of Afghans, alongside our international partners, has today led to an Afghan society, polity and economy that is completely evolved from the deprivation and destruction of 20 years ago. Fully fifty-eight percent of the Afghan civil service is below forty years of age. The women of Afghanistan have not only made history, they speak with clarity about their values and their place in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the past decades in Afghanistan has been the creation of a Constitution that embodies individual citizen and human rights, and state accountability on the basis of fundamental Islamic identity and values.
One thing, unfortunately, has not changed. For 42 years, we, the Afghan people, have been denied the right to peace. I cannot convey the level of pain that I experience every morning when I learn about the lives lived and the lives lost of so many of our brave and patriotic National Defense and Security Forces in my daily security briefing. Even more haunting for me are the loss of innocent citizens and targeted assassinations against our best and brightest.
I dwell on this throughout my days and evenings—the horrifying loss of my fellow citizens, men and women of immense integrity and courage, members of civil society and media, journalists, the ulema, our religious leaders, community leaders, and men and women dedicated to doing good and living exemplary lives. I am pleased that nearly all major Muslim thinkers in the world have condemned this violence and considered this war not to be based on anything that has to do with the holy religion of Islam. It is a political war and it must end politically.
The generation of Afghans that we have invested in and built the skills and capabilities needed to take Afghanistan to a more prosperous future are under direct attack.
Peace is therefore not a wish but an imperative for us, and I have prioritized it since day one of my presidency. Since then, the Afghan government led the peace process and secured a national consensus for peace, and, in 2018, was able to achieve the first comprehensive ceasefire in the last 42 years.
That ceasefire was a true national celebration and manifestation of the will of the Afghan people to embrace the future, overcome the past and show that the Taliban really could be engaged in dialogue and discussion. The discussion between Taliban and women of Afghanistan and the security forces of Afghanistan and Taliban was truly heartwarming.
But the hope we experienced on those three days in 2018 has come and gone, and today, now in the height of senseless violence being unleashed on us, there is a new threshold before us.
We, the government of Afghanistan and our partners, share a deep sense of true urgency at this point to move across this passage of time into a peaceful resolution.
We envision three phases to this passage: making, building and sustaining peace focused on achieving the agreed-upon end-state of a sovereign, democratic, united, neutral and connected Afghanistan.
Making peace is the process of discussions between the Afghan government and the Taliban that will produce:
– a political agreement to be endorsed by a Loya Jirga (our grand assembly),
– a ceasefire with international verification and monitoring,
– an articulation of principles to ensure international and regional guarantees for neutrality of Afghanistan,
– principles for forming a government of peacebuilding within the framework of the constitution with a time-bound mandate culminating in an internationally supervised and monitored presidential election;
– and a framework on counter-terrorism objectives.
Building peace is the process of forming a government of peace-building, formed by the current elected leadership and other Afghans who will not be candidates in the next election, within the framework of the constitution of Afghanistan. For the state to function, the ANDSF to fulfill their duties and for people to exercise their right to elect and be elected, careful attention to this phase is essential. This phase also includes the tedious technical work of developing frameworks that clarifies implementation arrangements for moving toward the end state, legal mechanisms, constitutional authority, governance and development programs, and security, counterterrorism and ceasefire monitoring.
Our Constitution has built-in mechanisms for amending it, and a commission should be formed to implement any amendments to the Constitution.
The government of peace-building must have a time-bound mandate, leading to elections that will secure the credibility and legitimacy of the third phase of this process. My greatest honor will be to hand over authority to my elected successor. I, therefore, strongly support holding elections at the earliest possible time. And I would ask for international supervision and monitoring to ensure a free, fair, and inclusive election process.
That final phase follows elections and is sustaining the peace. This process includes the long-term work of national reconciliation, reintegration of combatants and refugees, defining our new security, development and governance priorities.
This phase will require significant imagination, mutual acceptance and patience from all corners of the Afghan nation to stay the course on a pathway to just and lasting peace.
I do not want to elaborate on this process, but feel that based on lessons learned from prior peace processes around the world – and Tajikistan has very valuable experience – a political compact on national reconciliation is going to be essential. It will enable the Afghan people to enjoy the benefits of sustained peace and the peaceful utilization of our God-given resources for the sake of development of an empowered and prosperous citizenry.
You, our neighbors, will have an important and particular role in helping us make peace, build peace and sustain peace. Our security is intrinsically linked together and dealing with transnational terrorist and criminal organizations will continue to largely fall upon us.
Our international partners have been generous and we thank them for their sense of urgency and commitment to creating a platform for peace. Their continued and principled engagement during this process remains critical. We are particularly grateful to those of our partners who follow a value-based foreign policy. A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan will be an anchor of Central and South Asian prosperity as well as West Asia and global security. We can once again become a round-about, where ideas, goods and peoples openly flow and interact, and where civilization engages in a spirit of dialogue, discussion and cooperation. We can and must turn our challenges into opportunities—all we need is to combine our energies and sustain a commitment to a shared vision of peace and prosperity. In the hope for realization of that day, I thank you for your attention.

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The Kabul Times.