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Speech By His Excellency Hamid Karzai President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan The Afghanistan Support Conference Paris, France

President Nicolas Sarkozy,

Secretary General Ban Ki Moon,

First Lady, Laura Bush,

Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to join President Sarkozy and the Secretary General in opening this international conference in support of Afghanistan. I welcome you all. Your participation is a testimony of your firm commitment to the stability, peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan, for which I am deeply grateful.

There are few nations in the world with a past more gravely affected by global events, a present more fraught with challenges that transcend its borders, and a future more dependent on sincere international cooperation than Afghanistan.

Without your support, the sacrifices of your men and women, and the determination, tolerance and sacrifice of our own people, Afghanistan would not have been where it is today.

Over six and a half years ago, Afghanistan was a destroyed country - a nation broken and silenced by war, interference, and occupation. Afghans were isolated from the rest of the world by a tyrannical regime that had little value for human beings or respect for their rights.

At the dawn of the 21st century, Afghan women had no rights to education, work or even health care.

Afghans lived in a state of despair as their country became a safe haven for international terrorists. Afghanistan’s physical destruction had reached a monumental scale. The cost of the wars between 1979 and 2001 for Afghanistan has been estimated – rather conservatively -- to be around 500 billion US dollars. And this is only the price that can be measured in money.

After six and a half years of our joint efforts Afghanistan has come a long way: From a pariah state, it is today a responsible member of the world community. From a sanctuary of terrorism, it is now an important ally in the war against it. From an oppressed and silenced nation, it is now a free and democratic country.

Afghanistan has the most progressive Constitution in our region, which enabled the Afghan people to elect their president and parliament in free and fair elections.

We are now preparing for our second presidential and parliamentary elections in 2009 and 2010 respectively for which the Independent Election Commission of Afghanistan will count on your assistance.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are working hard to rebuild our shattered institutions and establish a system that guarantees the basic rights of our people. The individual freedoms that our people enjoy today by participating in the political life of the country, in holding their elected representatives to account, are simply unprecedented in our history.

Our independent media have grown at an exponential rate. While before our government, Afghanistan had only one state-run radio station, no TV, and a few printed publications, used strictly for propaganda, today we have about 70 independent radio stations, 15 television channels, and 500 printed publications. They are all enriching our political, social and economic debates and are signs of an emerging democracy.

We have built critical national institutions to protect and serve the people. We reconstituted our national army from scratch, and are striving to make it into a truly national institution.

Today our people are more educated, healthier, better off, and more optimistic about the future. We have built thousands of new schools and reconstructed many more, where millions of our youngsters learn and prepare for the responsibilities of tomorrow.

We are proud to say that today more than 30 percent of our 6 million students are girls. We have also established hundreds of clinics around the country, boosting our basic health coverage from 9% of the population six years ago to over 85% today.

For the first time in our history, our development programs have improved lives in thousands of villages that had never before seen an agent of the state in their midst. In the past six years, our community-led National Solidarity Program has been able to deliver village-level infrastructure and social service projects in over two-thirds of Afghanistan’s villages.

In the process, about 21 thousand community development councils, whose job is to manage development in their villages, have been established. These councils represent real community empowerment.

Building Afghanistan’s destroyed and neglected infrastructure has been a high priority for us. We have built thousands of kilometers of roads and have connected our districts and provincial capitals.

We are about to complete paving our national ring road, bringing us closer to the goal of serving as an economic land-bridge between South Asia, Central and West Asia.

Our telecommunication system has experienced enormous growth, attracting over one billion dollars in foreign investment. Total private investment of some $5.5 billion in various enterprises over this period is also unprecedented in our history.

Our rapid economic growth -- reaching double digits almost every year -- has led to higher incomes and better living conditions for our people.

An achievement that makes us particularly proud is that we have been able to welcome home about five million Afghan refugees – one of the largest return movements of people to their homeland in history. I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to the host countries, in particular to Pakistan and Iran, for their generous hospitality.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Afghanistan’s achievements over the past six and half years amount to a major transformation. There is, however, a long way still to go before our country achieves lasting peace, sustainable development, and an enduring democratic system of government. Our vision for the future of Afghanistan is that:

· We will be a people at peace, and will have the ability to maintain it.

· We will be a tolerant, united and pluralist democratic nation that honors its Islamic heritage and achieves the aspirations of our people for the rule of law, justice and equal rights for all.

· We will have an economy, free of narcotics, that provides decent living conditions and social protection for our people, based on a strong, private sector, free market economy and equal opportunities.

· We will be a community of more educated, more skilled, and healthier people.

· We will be a state with a more accountable and professional civil service that provides good governance.

· And we aspire to be a society enjoying constructive and brotherly relations with our neighbors and serving as a conduit for growing regional trade and economic cooperation

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today we are presenting for your support a document that details this vision and our plan for achieving it. Our vision for Afghanistan is achievable; however, we should be aware of the obstacles in our path. Security continues to be our biggest challenge, without which progress on every other objective will be difficult to realize.

The main threat to our security is international terrorism, harbored and supported beyond our borders. As long as we have not addressed the continued presence of terrorist sanctuaries in the region in a decisive manner, our efforts to fight the terrorists within our country will bear limited fruit.

And the longer we wait to take those decisive measures, our task will become more difficult and the threat to regional and global security more immediate and serious. The fight against international terrorism calls for a regional political commitment that is based on sincere partnership and cooperation, recognizing that the menace of terrorism is a threat to peace and stability of the entire region.

It should also be realized that a stable and peaceful Afghanistan is key to prosperity of the region. We must not allow narrow interests to hinder our broad and common goals of regional stability and progress.

Afghanistan for its part has made regional cooperation one of our highest priorities. We want to maintain constructive and brotherly relations with our neighbors for a better future for all of us.

In addition, ladies and gentlemen, we must accelerate our joint efforts to train and equip the Afghan security forces to take the lead in the fight against terrorism. I wish to express my government’s strong commitment to continue to implement comprehensive security sector reform, including building a professional army and police force that operates within legal standards and respects human rights.

I must also reiterate that coalition and international security forces fully coordinate their operations with their Afghan counterparts. They must exercise maximum caution to prevent harm to civilians, and they must remain respectful of the cultural values of our people to avoid alienation of the public.

While we continue to fight the Al-Qaida terrorist networks and isolate those bent on misusing the teaching of our Holy Religion, we will pursue reconciliation with those who are willing to lay down their arms, renounce violence, accept our constitution, and return to a peaceful life.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Afghanistan’s security is also deeply tied to narcotics. This menace undercuts efforts to build a legitimate economy and it also is also a major contributor to corruption and an impediment to peace and stability. Lately, we have had success with respect to poppy eradication: about two thirds of Afghanistan’s provinces are either totally poppy-free or becoming so during the course of the current year.

We must capitalize on our gains and prevent these provinces from falling back. W e also must not forget that to our destitute farmers, opium is about survival. The key to counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, therefore, must be meaningful and sustainable alternative livelihoods for our rural population.

May I add that while opium is produced by Afghan farmers, its trafficking is a regional and international criminal phenomenon. The international beneficiaries of the narcotics trade, unfortunately, have not received as much attention as is needed to disrupt demand.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

To realize our vision, we have no alternative to good governance. Together we have been able to reestablish basic state institutions. However, they do not yet have the needed capacity, and are susceptible to corruption. Poor governance is as much a cause as it is a symptom of other ills, including insecurity and narcotics. It creates distance between the government and the public and diminishes the latter’s confidence, support, and involvement in efforts that ensure peace and stability.

We have initiated measures that signal the urgency of this important matter. We have ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. Further, last year I appointed a commission, led by the Chief Justice, to identify the types and sources of corruption and to draw up an anti-corruption strategy.

The report of the commission identified complex bureaucracy and ambiguous legal framework, low salaries, illegal economy, international contracting mechanisms and weaknesses in our monitoring institutions and the justice system as the major reasons for corruption. The commission recommended corresponding measures to which we are committed to implement.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Our efforts alone, however, will remain constrained unless we address the challenges of human capacity. The technical assistance provided to our institutions currently must be focused more on building the Afghan capacity rather than substituting for it.

Promoting long term stability, development and effective national governance requires that donor agencies help with building Afghan institutions owned by and accountable to the people of Afghanistan. The current development process that is marred by confusion and parallel structures undermines institution building.

We need to assess the current mechanisms of aid delivery to curb waste and ensure greater impact. While Afghanistan needs large amounts of aid, precisely how aid is spent is just as important. In this context, what should be seen as the most important objectives by the aid community are: Afghan ownership, leadership, and capacity development.

Channeling aid through mechanisms such as the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF) and the Afghan government development budget has proven effective.

These mechanisms must be improved and adopted as the principal channel for funding development plans.

We are grateful to those who have already chosen ARTF and our national budget as means for their aid delivery.

Assistance could be better coordinated and scrutinized for efficiency. In this regard, we expect to see the needed improvement with the appointment of Ambassador Kai Eide as the Special Representative of the Secretary General. He has our full support to coordinate the efforts of the international community in partnership with the Afghan government.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Fundamental to the successful implementation of ANDS is the need for adequate, long-term and predictable resources for critical sectors such as road, education, health, agriculture and electricity. Of these, agriculture and electricity are our current pressing priorities not only because of their critical importance for economic development and job creation, but also because they have not received the needed attention.

We have ample water resources, untapped oil and gas reserves, as well as coal deposits that offer ready resources for power generation. We must use these resources for reliable and sustainable power supply. This will require a sizeable investment for which we look to our international partners for support.

Similarly, our neglected agriculture sector needs urgent attention, particularly now that we are facing an unprecedented high food prices. For the majority of our population who live below the poverty line food prices are devastating.

Our immediate focus, therefore, is on ensuring an adequate and affordable food supply and providing safety nets for our people, particularly, the most vulnerable.

While the current food crisis is a threat we have to be concerned and prepared for, it also provides a unique opportunity for developing our long-neglected agriculture sector. Afghanistan has the potential to increase its grain production multifold. Developing agriculture to its full potential will not only make Afghanistan self-sufficient in cereal production, but it will also turn us into an exporter.

The development of the agriculture could be pursued jointly with that of electricity, which requires a substantial increase in our joint efforts. Specifically, I request your full support for investment in dams, irrigation and water management schemes, as well as, productivity-enhancing methods and technologies. On our end, we commit to raising our institutional capacity and bringing the necessary changes.

In addition to providing electricity and security, our nascent private sector will have difficulties to flourish unless certain other enabling measures are taken.

While we have to bring the necessary reform to make Afghanistan an easy and corruption free destination for business, we seek your support to assist us in responding to infrastructural related impediments.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I wish to express my profound gratitude to the international community for your sacrifices and generosity that have enabled the Afghan people to rebuild their lives. Today, we are entering a new phase – the phase of consolidation and sustainable development that requires a much stronger coordination of aid delivery, and shifting greater accountability and ownership to the Afghans themselves.

In this phase, the nature of our projects is such that they demand adequate, long-term, and predictable support. We must seize upon the momentum for progress that we have built together. Today, what brings us together is a concern for the destiny of a nation that has emerged from a dark past and is defying the odds to build a bright ad peaceful future.

History will one day judge us the people of Afghanistan on how well we used this historic opportunity to improve our livelihood. It will also judge the international community favorably for your wisdom and foresight to recognize that investing in Afghanistan’s peace and development was vital to global peace.

Thank you.



 

 
     
   
 
 
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