Thank you, Mr. Caro, for your introduction.
Thank you Ambassador Lyons for helping put together this event on an important and timely topic.
I’d also like to recognize the panelists: Dr. Manza, Ambassador Hirji, Mr. Paulsen, Mr. Bowden, Mr. Aqa and Prof. Karam.
And of course, Jason and Annie and Andrew—all good friends of Afghanistan.
Thank you all for being here today and being part of this discussion.
The nexus of peace, development, and security is one that many have been trying to figure out for years in Afghanistan. Which comes first? How do these elements fit together? How does one achieve development in the absence of security? How does one achieve peace without development?
In Afghanistan, it seems less of a nexus and more of knot, or a puzzle—one we have not yet been able to fit together in a configuration that delivers the promise of prosperity and stability that the Afghan people so desperately deserve.
We Afghans live this conundrum every single day. It’s not a policy question for us; it’s a daily, existential problem.
And it’s a problem that is further exacerbated by the overwhelming challenges we face today: poverty, the pandemic, and of course, the on-going conflict.
According to the latest figures from the National Information and Statistics Authority, poverty rates have actually reduced by 7%, but still, almost half of our population live hand-to-mouth on a daily basis.
Drivers of poverty, such as food insecurity and unemployment, are made worse by internal displacement and loss due to the conflict, climate change, and of course, the pandemic.
After our infection rates steadily decreased since June, Afghanistan, along with the rest of the world, is now approaching the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. On a national level, our economy is expected to shrink by 5% this year due to setbacks from the pandemic. On the local level, there are still pockets of the country that we are not able to reach with humanitarian and healthcare assistance due to the violence.
And the violence has only gotten worse. Despite efforts made by the Islamic Republic for peace, we have little to show for it today.
Our commitment to pursuing peace as our number one national priority has been evidenced in actions we took from early 2018, staring with President Ghani’s unconditional offer to the Taliban. That was followed by the unprecedented 3-day ceasefire of June 2018. At the last Geneva Conference in 2018, President Ghani announced his roadmap for peace.
We followed through on these efforts with large national consultations across the country in 2019 that culminated in the Loya Jirga on peace which mandated negotiations with the Taliban. After we agreed to the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners, the Afghan people took another bold risk for peace in endorsing the release of an additional 400 contested Taliban prisoners guilty of the most heinous crimes against humanity.
The Afghan people, particularly Afghan women, came together to articulate the type of peace we seek—one that is sustainable and inclusive; one that is reached via a political settlement with the Taliban; and one that is aligned with our Constitutional values and human rights.
Our efforts have gotten us to the negotiating table with the Taliban, but we have not seen a reduction in violence. On the contrary.
I grew up in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, but I won’t tell you stories from my childhood of what living under their regime was like. You have heard all of those stories. What I will tell you are stories from today, of what it is like to try and live under Taliban terror today.
Since February, violence initiated by the Taliban and other terrorist organizations affiliated with the Taliban have sky-rocketed. They have attacked schools and universities where our children and youths were learning; and a hospital where our mothers were giving birth. They have planted bombs along the roadsides where our traders were taking their products to market; they have blown up bridges that linked our villages to our district centers. They have planted mines amongst the famous pomegranate orchards of the Arghandab, killing farmers and ruining not just crops but livelihoods.
Since the beginning of 2020:
6,772 innocent Afghan civilians have been senselessly slaughtered.
7,960 brave Afghan security forces have been killed defending our nation.
I want to pause now for a moment of silence so we can remember those lives lost.
——count to 30 seconds and then continue—-
This is not development. It is destruction.
This is not the pursuit of peace. It is the pursuit of war.
This is not security. It is terror.
I believe that, in Afghanistan, we will achieve a nexus of peace, security, and development as and when we do the following simultaneously:
1) Continue to prioritize security by investing in the capability and growth of the ANDSF, who are now already conducting 96% of operations independently, and
2) Continue to work in close collaboration with one another—the Afghan government with our international partners—on a long-term development agenda that expands service-delivery to the Afghan people and grows the economy.
Though we have not made adequate progress in achieving peace, we—the Afghan government along with our international partners—have clearly defined and agreed upon an end-state that would achieve peace, development and security: “a sovereign, unified, democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself, the region and world, capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the past two decades.”
But how do we get to that end-state?
We all must do our part.
In terms of security—
Since foreign troops largely withdrew in 2015, the Afghan security forces have held the line in the global struggle against terrorism. In the face of Taliban offenses over the past few months in Helmand, Kandahar, Badakhshan and other parts for the country, we have held provinces; and when districts fell, we quickly took them back into government control. We continue to plan for multiple possible scenarios, and look at all possible options for cutting costs and working toward a more self-reliant force.
What we require from our international partners is their continued alliance and support in our fight against a shared enemy, particularly in continuing to provide funding for the ANDSF.
In terms of peace—
I recounted earlier in my remarks the efforts, sacrifices, risks and leaps of faith we have taken over the past few years to further the peace-making process.
We have a long road ahead of us in achieving the end-state I mentioned earlier, but I take confidence in the steadfast commitment of the Afghan government’s negotiating team in Doha. I know that their efforts at the negotiating table reflect the determination of the Afghan people for achieving a sustainable peace.
We need you—our international partners—to stand with us in this determination to achieve our agreed-upon end state. This will take time and patience, but commitment to this process and our shared values will be absolutely critical to its success.
In terms of development—
The Afghan government has laid out its vision for development over the next several years, articulating national programs that prioritize building our market economy and our state institutions, and also, a lasting peace.
We look forward to working with our international partners in implementing those programs and making the vision of the ANPDF II a reality that delivers peace and prosperity for the Afghan people.
It seems like an overwhelming goal—the achievement of peace, development and security in a country like Afghanistan, faced with so many challenges.
But we have to go step by step.
The first step is a ceasefire. Peace is not itself a ceasefire; sustainable peace starts with a ceasefire. It starts with a reprieve from the constant slaughter so we can all take a breath.
One of my colleagues, Ms. Naheed Sarabi, the former Deputy Minister of Finance, once said something that I have often recalled—she told a story of living under the Taliban when she was a child. People were safe, the fighting of the civil war had ended, but people could not prosper, they had no freedom, they had no rights, girls couldn’t get an education, women couldn’t work.
Ms. Sarabi’s story illustrates for me what we all know and what we must all work diligently to avoid equating—that peace is not the absence of violence. It is the product of human security and development, which give us rights and opportunities to thrive as human beings.
I hope that today’s discussion can be a platform to take us a little closer to putting this puzzle together. I thank you for being part of today’s discussion and for your friendship and support of Afghanistan.