H.E. President Ashraf Ghani’s Keynote Address at the 4th Senior Officials Meeting in Kabul
Kabul- July 28, 2020
In the Name of God, the Compassionate the Merciful
Vice-President Saleh, Vice-President Danish, Minister Argandiwal, members of the cabinet, Ambassadors Lyons and Tlass, distinguished senior officials, Representatives of Multilateral Development Organization, Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow Afghan citizens.
Our deepest sympathies for continuing losses from Covid-19. Best wishes for a breakthrough in the development of vaccines and the re-energizing of the global economy.
It is a pleasure to welcome you to this important meeting in the words of Rumi, our Mawlana,
Elect hope to overcome the sense of gloom
Embrace the sunshine to overcome the sense of doom
I will thank you, describe managing at the time of Corona, confronting corruption, a mutual accountability compact, peace-making and inviting you to the November Geneva Conference.
I would like to express our heartfelt thanks for your continued interest, support and partnership for the government and people of Afghanistan, women and men who are striving to lead meaningful, peaceful, and productive lives in a democratic polity and tolerant society.
International and regional consensus on the End state of a sovereign, democratic, united Afghanistan, at peace within and with the world and capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the past 19 years –as articulated in the meetings of July 5 and 9 that Minister Atmar convened–provide a foundation for securing our shared interests and realizations of shared values.
Many thanks for your eloquent statements and consensus. Your condemnation of senseless violence and your strong voice in support of a humanitarian ceasefire and start of direct negotiations between us and the Taliban is reassuring to our people and the heroic Afghan National Defense and Security, who have displayed immense restraint in the face of Taliban campaign of violence.
I would like to especially thank Ambassador Tallass and Lyons, the co-chairs with Minister Argandiwal for their very thorough work and thank the team in Finland and the team at UN for working with us.
I welcome your strong voice in promotion of accountability and elimination of corruption. I ask you to join the government in an anti-corruption compact, where all expenditure in Afghanistan is subjected to UNCAC rules and values. Everybody’s accounts are audited and all information is shared with you, your citizens and ours.
Forging our momentum is a draft document for your comments. It will be enriched by your experience and your suggestions on prioritization would be highly appreciated. It is an attempt to align the processes of market-building, peace-building, and state building with the agendas of regional connectivity and international partnership to enable us to build an inclusive, tolerant and united nation of equal citizens, where the injunction of our constitution on fundamental rights of citizens and equal rights of men and women will be realized.
This document is not going to remain in English. We are launching a national dialogue across levels and functions of government and across all the provinces of the society around the idea of forging our transformation between now and the end of the decade of transformation in 2024.
We have begun our provincial trips and vice-president Saleh and I have already been to four provinces in the past month.
Let me turn to managing at the time of Corona. In March we identified five phases of Covid-19: awareness; diffusion; adversity; relief; and recovery. June was the height of adversity.
I am cautiously optimistic that we are entering the phase of relief. Studying Afghanistan as a case of collective immunity could yield valuable lessons. Nonetheless, we need to be vigilant as a second phase cannot be ruled out, and the Eid – the forthcoming Eid of Sacrifice – is an extremely important occasion where we still exercise discipline.
The good news is that agriculture is performing well, with the cultivated area showing a 10% increase over 2019 –largely accounted for by good rainfall. Wheat production is estimated at 5.134 million metric tons against last year’s 4.89 million tons. All crops, ranging from corn and rice to fruits and vegetables –are showing either an increase quite significantly at times or the same level of production as last year. There isn’t a single crop that is showing a decline, which in terms of rural lives and livelihoods and urban connection to rural Afghanistan is important.
Our exports increased by 11% in the first quarter of 2020, declined by 77.7% in the 2nd quarter, and are now moving in an upward trajectory, thanks to the cooperation of our neighbors on trade and transit. Timely government procurement has been a positive factor in the market. The Air Corridor is connecting us to 50 countries now and we thank India, China and UAE for allowing us to export to and through their countries.
We expect to export 6090 tons through the air corridor in 2020. Our exports through the dry port of Zarang alone, fortunately, exceed 6k tons in the first six months already, underlying the crucial role of regional connectivity in generation of prosperity.
I would like to thank to President Aliyev and Birdie Muhammadov for the recent virtual summit on trade, transit and investment to make the Lapis Lazuli corridor into a true growth hub. I would like to thank Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan for the rail corridor as well as power transmission line. A contract for 1,000 megawatts at 5 cents for 10 years is an important signal as well as USAID’s support for private sector investment in renewables that would start. I would also like to thank Iran and Pakistan for keeping their borders open and for cooperating on trade and transit.
Revenue projection has been reduced from AFS 208.9 billion to AFS 175.8 billion, amounting to 12% of the GDP instead of 13.7% as we are originally planned. As of July 27, we have collected 54% of the revised target and expect to meet the target by the end of the year. We expect to spend at least 93% of the development budget by the end of 2020.
Our fellow citizens, especially women, however, want the government to focus on relief and recovery.
The Launch of Desterkhan Mille (the National Food Bank) as direct assistance to the poor through the Citizen Charter National Program is a landmark and let us remind ourselves that50% of the councils under the Citizen Charter are led by women. This is the first 50-50 parity in our history and I hope it would be an example for other countries. We are preparing the platform for direct transfers to the poor in the course of this year and I hope that within two years we would be able to be in a position to know the identity of everybody and their particulars and to be able to transfer resources through mobile money.
We were in Nimruz on July 26th and there was an unbelievable amount of poetry. You know we are visual people and imaginative people. Why would people sing poetry for a dam? Because after 700 years the Kamal Khan Dam is turning from a dream to reality. In four months, this dam will contain 250 million cubic meters of water and is going to turn at the first phase 50,000 of hectares of lands from a desert into a blooming agricultural oasis. We are determined to overcome those tragedies, some of them 700-year-old, some of them going to a thousand and some to the last forty years. The people of Afghanistan are not despairing, we are acting on the guidance of Mawlana to not let despair take over; hope is our eternal.
We have started a comprehensive review of the Public Health, Education and infrastructure national priority programs and every single one of them will of course be discussed with our partners.
Thanks to biometric data from the teachers and employees of the Ministry of Education, our largest employer over 220000 people, we will start hiring 15,000 new teachers from the vacant positions to welcome our children back to schools and hiring of women, Minister Nadery, is going to be a top priority among these 15000 so we can move over from 30 percent women participation in the civil service to a higher figure.
Civil Service Reform is made possible because for the first time the biometric data for the entire employees of government both in the civil service and the security sector, and Vice-President Saleh will be overseeing the integration of this and Vice-President Danish will be making sure that the rules and regulations for digital governance are in place. A program without any expenses has been launch is called the Security Charter. Citizens of Afghanistan are taking the plunge to identify the criminal elements and signing compacts with the government. The program is at immense success in Kabul and is being extended, I’d like to thank Vice-President Saleh for overseeing this.
The urban sector is hot heat because the situational party of COVID has been largely urban, but we are fortunate that we are launching major efforts in six cities followed by remaining 28 to move the urban sector forward.
And finally, a stimulus package is being prepared; our goal is to move from relief to recovery.
Let me turn to confronting corruption.
There is a national outrage against corruption. Please understand that this is not only your demand; it is the demand of the absolute majority of the Afghan citizens, who lead decent lives, live within the legal economy and want a functioning state, a dynamic market and a tolerant society. Demand for accountability now can be met with sufficient supply in the areas of accountability, rule of law, and security organizations and the active engagement of the media, the Ulama and civil society organizations to tackle the goal of creating a comprehensive strategy to make measureable and sustained progress against corruption.
There are iconic cases that enraged the population and have caught your attention, such as that of Karam-ud-din Karam and the wall at our Washington Embassy. I request our international partners to second experts to the Attorney General’s office, a lot of it of course through VTC to jointly investigate the case of the wall and allegations against the Ministry of Health and provincial governors in the misuse of funds allocated for dealing with the threat of Covid-19. I will suspend and help prosecute any official engaged in corruption or abuse of authority, no matter where or at what location. I call on the people of Panjshirto honor the memory of the Great Masoud and my friend Dr. Abdullah to expel Mr. Karam from the valley or assist the security forces to enforce the rule of law on the land. Panjshir is the land of the defenders of the freedom of Afghanistan; a valley that enjoys some of the highest values of this country. People like Karam cannot seek the protection of those people, people need to expel them and make a case of commitment to rule of law.
We are determined to complete all the remaining benchmarks of our current anti-corruption strategy and to enforce the decisions of the Attorney General on those found guilty by the end of October.
Reform of the National Accountability Institutions and Organizations, including Public expenditure reviews of all NPPs, including the Security Sector are underway and we hope to make significant progress by the end of October.
With over 400 new laws and regulations in place, which I thank Vice-President Danish for having played a very significant role, we will carry an impact review of policy and legal frameworks to ensure relentless focus on implementation.
We invite all our bilateral and multilateral partners to join the people and government of Afghanistan on identifying key drivers of corruption and bad governance through a mutual accountability framework based on UNCAC and governing the norms of conduct and accountability of all parties engaged in allocation, distribution, and management of resources for Afghanistan. Dealing explicitly with “special treatment” hitherto granted to some individuals and organizations will be essential. Even more essential is to have anti-corruption as an integral component of the political agreement with the Taliban. Let us not forget, they are deeply engaged in criminal activity surrounding narcotics. All our children all around this table everywhere we are, are suffering from criminal activities around heroin and amphetamine.
What will be the elements of a mutual accountability compact? First on-budget; reform of revenue, grants and aid in terms of OECD standards and tools. What is great now compared to when I was Finance Minister, there has been an immense investment in tools. It is not a question of what to do anymore; there is a lot of lessons on how to do, and I thank the multilateral and bilateral organizations and scholars for making this possible.
Second, we welcome robust conditionality on policy. Let’s be very clear. What is it that we need to achieve and let’s agree and then Ambassador Lyons, the monitoring system can be put in place, but a monitoring system without robust conditionality again could possibly lead to not achieving the result.
On projects and programs, we would like to have strict criteria on outcomes. The emphasis on process particularly procurement of infrastructure projects is resulted both in misallocation, lack of achievements, and attraction of the worst contractors rather than the best. So it is important to see the on-budget work as a compact that during the next three months is negotiated between us.
Off-budget: The first issue is absolute lack of information. If you look at the work of Professor Anthony Cordesman called “the true cost of war”, who knows how much has been spent or how much is being spent? Or when we say it is spent on Afghanistan, many other issues it covers.
The health sector: a paper was prepared to determine how much was being spent on the health sector. The issue of double-counting, lack of information. No one has information from ear to ear. If we don’t have in this age of big data the fundamental building blocks of information, it becomes incredibly difficult. I have mentioned the road sector. How many agencies and non-governmental organizations that are recipients of significant aid have audited reports that are shared and are put online? Some go back to 2016 and the then the audit opinion is that they do not meet the conditions of audit. The symptoms are known, I would not discuss them.
What is needed is to agree on accountability, effectiveness, efficiency, equity, transparency, legitimacy and directness of delivery. And the health sector where we are extraordinarily grateful for the assistance that you have been giving us particularly in the time of Corona, the bulk of your assistance has gone to four provinces of Afghanistan, the four largest. In terms of equity and in terms of access to the people, in terms of impact, these are calling for revision.
What is our request? A joint review of inherited rules, practices and organizational culture of our partners and those engaged in Third Party Governance. Taken together, this two-pronged effort will give us a mutual accountability compact for the future.
As was mentioned both by Ambassador Tlass and Ambassador Lyons, aid in the aftermath of corona is going to be restricted. If we want to have impact, let’s focus on quality and make sure that whatever your generous taxpayers and governments and parliaments allocate is put to the most effective use, we will mobilize our own resources.
And the last point that Minister Argandiwal had mentioned. We request broadening tools of Partnership hitherto it has been security and aid, guarantees, market access, environmental funds and digital cooperation, knowledge and particularly re-structuring of technical assistance that truly has had very mixed result would be important for moving forward.
Let me turn to peace-making. First, again to thank you for your immense support, 2020 began with a sense of dawn. There was hope that the peace process will move from desirability to feasibility and credibility.
The Taliban, however, have carried a full-scale offensive against the ANDSF, the people and the government of Afghanistan. Between February 29, 2020 – the day they signed their agreement with the United States – and July 21, 2020, our ANDSF losses have been 10,708, with 3560 martyred, 6781 wounded and the rest kidnapped, imprisoned or unaccounted for. What kind of peace dividend is this? What does it say about intentions?
Our civilian losses, that Ambassador Lyons referred to, have been 3073, with 775 martyred, 1609 wounded and 689 kidnapped.
Rocket attacks during my provincial visits where I am socializing peace with my colleagues have become a routine. Let us also say something about the courage of Afghan women and men. In Logar, in Kapisa, in Ghazni, rockets came, but not a single person moved and everybody maintained the need and the urgency to both engage in a national dialogue and to highlight the type of peace we want. Yesterday the women of Afghanistan participated in a discussion with the members of the Security Council. You can see that the Afghan women do not need facilitation, they can speak for themselves loud and clear and are agents of change and subjects of history, not objects of history.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the Taliban have severed their ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations or socialized peace to their commanders and fighters as we have been doing across the society.
It breaks my heart, but I need to share with you that the window of opportunity is narrow. Afghan men and women are increasingly seeing the continuation of carnage instead of a peace dividend. If the society turns against peace, restoring the national consensus would be an extraordinarily tough goal.
To ensure that the window remains open, we have offered proof of our commitment and moral courage by the exchange of Taliban prisoners with our security prisoners, a move without precedent in the annals of peace-building. We are setting precedent.
To demonstrate the government’s commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5000 Taliban prisoners as part of the exchange with ANDSF prisoners. With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week’s time. We call on the Taliban to join us at the negotiating table and to concluding promptly there a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire. Commitment to a ceasefire during the coming ‘Eid – the Eid of Sacrifice – will be an indication of things to come.
This decision is not popular with many of my fellow citizens and the members of our heroic National Security and Defense Forces that I have had the honor of leading their Commander-in-Chief. As President, I felt compelled to make this decision, as peace is vital to our self-realization as a free people and a unified nation and a sovereign and democratic state.
The ball now is in the court of the Taliban and the International Community.
I hope that the international community will turn an earnest to engage the Taliban and to communicate with them what are the norms, values and standards by which we all must live in this world together.
In conclusion, permit me to thank you again for this opportunity for your feedback to the document of forging our transformation, for your immense sacrifice both in blood and treasure, but particularly for your friendship and caring. Partnerships matter, the work is never complete. It is an ongoing effort. The more we work together, the more we understand and complement each other. We are inviting you to join us in Geneva so we move forward together and succeed together.