H.E. President Ashraf Ghani’s Speech at “2020 Afghanistan Conference – Launch Event”
Ottawa- October 6, 2020
Honorable Co-chairs: Minister Arghandiwal, Special Envoy Taalas,
Ambassador Lyons, Honorable Cabinet Ministers, Representatives of our International Partners, the Diplomatic Community, and Multilateral Development Organizations, My fellow Afghan Citizens, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to interact with you once again here at the launch of the Afghanistan 2020 conference coming up next month.
Before proceeding, I’d like to send my best wishes to President Trump for a quick recovery. We sympathize and empathize with all of our international partners who are now confronting the second wave of COVID-19. We in Afghanistan have been fortunate that the first wave passed with relatively low casualties, but we are now preparing for all eventualities in case of another wave.
I’m sorry that I cannot be with you in person today. Afghanistan is a country of many pressing priorities, but peace will always remain at the forefront. Thus I am on a state visit to Qatar today to move the peace process forward.
The process of preparing for the conference and collaborating on the draft of the ANPDF II has provided us, as partners, an opportunity to have a comprehensive and detailed discussion on Afghanistan’s past, present, and future development trajectory. Together, we have been breaking new ground in approaching the Conference as a process rather than an event, thanks to Special Envoy Taalas and all of you. The constructive conversation will be continuous, focusing on policy and implementation until and after the Conference. You thoughtful comments on the draft ANPDF II, consolidated in two cross-cutting and sectoral categories, are greatly appreciated and we will take them into account and act on them.
Let me thank the government of Finland, the UN, and all of our partners for agreeing to hold the conference on November 23 and 24 in Geneva and for agreeing to announce your commitments. We look forward to it.
Today, I would like to respond to some of the key points you made in your feedback.
We share with you a vision of a sovereign, unified, democratic Afghanistan at peace with itself, the region and the world, capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the past two decades.
This is not just the ultimate objective of our negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, but more importantly, it is also the ultimate goal of the work we do every day within the halls of government to meet our development objectives.
In Doha, our negotiation team is working on making peace, but here, back in Kabul, we—as a polity, an economy society, and a people—along with you, our international partners, are working on building peace.
Peace-building is different from peace-making because it is a multi-dimensional, cross-sectoral, short, medium and long-term process that will allow us to actually implement and secure the components of any peace agreement that is made on paper.
In other words, peace-building is about implementation; peace-making is about reaching a political agreement to end violence. We must now focus on prioritizing these components of peace-building and implementing them. The ANDPF II is all about peace-building—it is a document that shows us how to peace-build in the context of today’s Afghanistan.
In developing the vision laid out in the ANPDF II, we had to take into account not only the context of today’s Afghanistan, but also, what we have learned from our success, failures and shortcomings over the past five years.
First, turmoil, the dominant context of our existence, has led to a near-constant state of uncertainty and risk. But, as we respond quickly to natural disasters, or pandemics, or political crises, we must not lose sight of medium to long-term development goals. We have to think further ahead.
Second, dealing with intended or unintended changes, policies and priorities in the development agenda has meant constant adjustment and reprioritization. To enhance the impact of our joint work, we must avoid operating in silos both within the government and with and among efforts by partners, civil society organizations and the private sector.
Third, imperatives of political inclusion entail costs for effective governance, leadership and management. Benefits and costs of political participation require joint analysis and mutual understanding.
Fourth, despite the decades old global consensus on the need for institution- building, our reliance on parallel organizations and third-party governance structures continues. Alignment between development theory and practice, particularly on tailoring of implementation arrangements to context, will require more thorough discussion among us.
Fifth, it has been difficult to achieve alignment between functions and levels of governance, particularly between ministries and sub-national levels, has been a challenge. Misallocation of resources has been a significant challenge in this regard.
Overall, we need to work hard to more clearly articulate and own the goals of ownership, leadership, mutual accountability and self-reliance.
Peace-building goes hand in hand with two other pillars that are outlined in the ANPDF II— market-building and state-building.
Credibility of the state and stability of the Republic, as articulated in our Constitution, depends on earning the people’s trust. Building an effective state starts with listening to our people and understanding their expectations. I have really tried to do this over the past years, with over 95 trips to the provinces and meetings with thousands of Afghans from all walks of life.
The generous level of assistance in the last 19 years raised up the level of expectations, beyond our national resources. To both deliver and manage the expectations of our people, we must fully embrace the objective of self-reliance by focusing on how to convert our latent assets and capabilities into manifest resources and capacities. We must do more with less by embracing effectiveness, efficiency and transparency. We must learn to master the art of leadership and management under conditions of constant change. At the same time, we as a state must deliver services to our people. Our credibility relies on our capacity to deliver.
The state-building goals laid out in the ANDPF II are about devising systems that manage expectations, improve delivery of services and rights, and both take into account our restraints, yet try to overcome those constraints.
And we do have success stories of how this is possible through intense reforms, clear goal-setting, and effective management. International forces have been reduced from 150,000 in 2011, to below 10,000 today but the ANDSF has been successfully reforming since taking over responsibility for security and counter-terrorism operations in 2015. This is an illustration of how we have built institutions while dealing with intense conflict. We have also succeeded in overcoming the severe constraints in building infrastructure through a unique partnership between our National Company and thousands of small and medium firms across the country.
But the state alone cannot lift people out of poverty or ensure equality of opportunity. It needs a dynamic market to provide jobs and opportunities for the 400,000 people who entering the labor market each year. Market building is a systems process—it’s not just the existence of a private sector. It’s the culmination of freedoms, laws, institutions, and values. It requires rule of law and predictability.
We are in dialogue with a range of world-class firms reaching the stage of signing MOUs on generation of renewable energy, and investments in transmission lines and mining. The formation of the federation of Afghanistan’s chambers has given us an interlocutor that brings all the issues of the private sector to a dialogue with the government. We are focused on solving concrete problems and are looking very much forward to the transformative role of the Afghan private sector in creating the enabling conditions for peace and prosperity.
Here I consistently come back to regional connectivity because it provides so many opportunities and platforms to build our markets, our work force, and our infrastructure, while also substantially boosting our domestic revenues.
Since our last interaction, I am pleased to share with you significant progress and dialogues with our neighbors. The TAPI project will commence construction in Afghanistan in 2021. A $1.3 billion investment in a 500-megawatt transmission line from Turkmenistan to Pakistan through Afghanistan will complete its first phase in Herat next year. An Afghan private firm will invest in building our fiber optic lines with Turkmenistan and beyond.
We have also concluded a series of major agreements with Uzbekistan, including finalization of a 1,000 megawatt transmission line. With our central Asian neighbors, we are pursuing a plan to build railways that link us with Pakistan and India. The air corridor that started as an idea to get our fruits exported during a shutdown of our borders a few years ago is now connecting us to over 50 foreign export markets. The Port of Chabahar is now fully utilized for Afghanistan’s imports and exports as marked by the delivery of over 40K tons of Indian wheat assistance coming through Zarang. We have also commenced a dialogue with Pakistan on trade, transit and people to people contacts. We are ready to resume our historical function as an Asian Roundabout, serving as a platform of regional and global cooperation and peaceful transactions.
But amongst all of the problems we face, and of all of the development sectors we are juggling, the number one cause of suffering and depravation is imposed by war. Hence we come back to the ultimate goal of building an environment in Afghanistan that can actually sustain peace.
Peace building requires both state capacity and credibility, and market capacity and functionality. Without reasonable progress toward improving the effectiveness of the state and growing a functioning market, any peace agreement resulting from the negotiations runs the risk of becoming an empty promise.
Pulling these three pillars into a series of actionable plans that produce results is the challenge. But we have learned over the past five years that inter-ministerial National Priority Programs are an effective method of doing that.
Thus, we appreciate your commentary on the NPPs and the different sectors. I want to touch here on a few of the NPP sectors that we are going to be heavily focused on in the coming years.
First, the pandemic forced healthcare reform and improved delivery of health services to the forefront of our national agenda. To deal with disruptions caused by COVID 19, we had to urgently re-prioritize and make hard trade-offs. We mobilized most of the resources from reallocation of existing commitments. Our response was not only short term, but medium and long term.
We thank all of our partners for supporting the World Bank supported National Meal Program that is providing relief to 4.5 million households, about 90% of the population of the country.
At the same time, we undertook a systematic review of the National Health program. The top three priorities are response to COVID and dealing with a possible second wave; hospitals reform and governance; and the delivery of services through 3rd party organizations (the Sehatmandi program).
We have also examined the scope and scale of operations of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and will be sharing proposals for prioritization of its functions and the scope of its activities.
Based on feedback from women across Afghanistan, we decided that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs cannot continue to just be a policy-making entity, but must have programmatic delivery mechanisms to give practical support that helps further empower women as the economic, political and social change-makers that they are.
Infrastructure is a critical sector to our market-building pillar, yet it has been hampered by of misallocation of resources, poor management of programs and projects, and a lack of national integration and balanced development approaches. We will be paying particular attention to this sector and addressing these problems.
Another main focus over the next few months is on district-level governance. We have been working on a program to align security, governance and people’s participation at the district level, which has emerged as the crucial level of governance connecting the villages. Our national Citizen’s Charter program, which I should mention has 50% female council members, has empowered the village-level in decision-making processes, while also connecting them to municipalities, provincial and national level organizations. We now must focus with the same intensity on the districts.
Last but not least, we are focused on key sectors that will drive growth and enable us to enhance national revenue.
The NPPs are our implementation vehicles, but we do agree that 15 of them cannot be effectively managed simultaneously. We must come together to do some intensive prioritization. Every NPP must become cross-ministerial and national in scope, and have clear goals for delivery in all 34 provinces.
Underlying and cross-cutting everything I have laid out today is our commitment to fighting corruption.
We are continuing to take systematic, comprehensive and sustained action again corruption, with strong public backing for these initiatives. Perhaps more-so than any other sector or issue, we have learned a great deal over the past 5 years about how corruption manifests in Afghanistan. Perhaps we have learned more than we anticipated we would be able to achieve, as we had planned for in our anti-corruption strategy.
While a significant amount of work has been done in recent months on developing key components of a national accountability system, we need a newly revised strategy for combatting corruption. This new strategy must be carefully informed by all the lessons learned, and focused more on producing results and setting goals that are achievable given the realities. We look forward to working with the EU and other partners to develop and implement a game changing approach.
Today, I have tried to elaborate and give further clarity on our conceptual framework of peace-building, state-building and market-building and how they are intertwined. I have tried to give some insight on the lessons we have learned over the past five years, and the current context, which led us to this new framework. And I have tried to hone in on some of our key areas of focus as we move forward in implementation of our national priority programs.
But there is much more work for us to do. We have to do more information and knowledge-sharing; more rigorous and ruthless prioritizing of our NPPs; and really come together, not only around this conceptual framework, but also on the new rules of the game for implementing this new ANDPF II.
We are committed to do this in partnership with you.
Thus, we welcome your idea of a workshop, and in fact, we would like to expand that to propose five separate workshops held over the next two to three weeks that allow us to dig deep into the following issues:
- Peace-building, market-building, and state-building
- A strategic, long-term approach to peace-building
- Regional connectivity and;
- We look forward to planning these workshops with you.
I want to thank you once again for your partnership and your commitment. In preparing of this critical conference, I feel we have grasped an opportunity for meaningful and productive dialogue around Afghanistan’s future.
I hope that this dialogue and preparation can lead to the following outcomes of the conference:
- Achieving an understanding and plan for peace-building, and
- Achieving an understanding of past lessons learned and new goals for moving forward
More specifically, the conference will be an opportunity to signal to the Afghan people the international community’s continued partnership with Afghanistan. A practical step such as committing continued financial support to the key Trust Funds – Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), the Law and Order Trust Fund Afghanistan (LOTFA), the Infrastructure Trust Fund – is one of the most important outcomes that will reinforce confidence in our international partnerships.
I also hope that we can reach an agreement regarding on-budget support and alignment, which is so important to building a system of national accountability and predictability.
We hope also to secure support for a number of prioritized NPPs, and overall support for women and youth empowerment programs. Aside from the NPPs, we would like a realistic market-building strategy to be an outcome of the conference, one that is backed up by risk guarantees and insurance for trade, investment, and regional connectivity.
In closing, I come back to peace, which is not only the dominant theme of our national discourse, but the dominant theme of our development strategy.
Our people have reached an exceptional balance between realism and pragmatism. We want to overcome the pain and agony of the last 40 years but we also know that this cannot be achieved in a matter of days.
Making the type of peace that will have public support, and making it within the framework of the Constitution, will ensure order. Having experienced displacement, our people have no intention of allowing the repetition of the past.
I hope that, above all, we can consolidate our partnership to realize these noble aspirations and dreams.
We are meeting to vision, dream, plan and deliver on a future for all Afghans. The shadow of violence, however, is haunting our people. Your support for an immediate, comprehensive ceasefire is essential.
Given what the Afghan government and people have done through our historic Loya Jirga to make the talks possible, there is no reason to engage in the type of scale and scope of violence that is hurting our people.
Your unified voice in condemning violence and asking for a ceasefire will ensure that a political solution to the conflict will be found and will be sustained.