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Remarks by Omar Samad, Ambassador of Afghanistan International Development Day 2008 Conference Vancouver, May 21, 2008

May 21, 2008


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me first to thank the organizers and sponsors of this important international development event, namely CIDA, the Government of Canada and Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, for the kind invitation to talk about a very timely issue, which for once does not seem to focus on such media-driven topics as detainees, Taliban atrocities or your parliamentary debate.

I hope the media will forgive me for bypassing those alluring topics, however our dialogue today on development, defense and diplomacy is not without merit and may still prove news-worthy. I will try to provide a context today to address the dimensions that can positively impact development work in Afghanistan. Let’s face it, to rebuild a country and engage in State reconstruction is a daunting undertaking, and the efforts that have been underway in my country for over six years are part of one of the largest multilateral commitments of our time. That is why, for historical, strategic, security, humanitarian and civilizational reasons, we should avoid failure at any cost.

Notwithstanding the flow of mostly negative, and at times sad, news relayed to Canadians, Afghans very much appreciate the fact that your country has decided to stand by one of the poorest nations on earth, with a troubled and unhappy past - at least encompassing most of my life span - and to generously invest in its rebuilding.

That in of itself is a noble cause and a reminder to those who belittle the contributions and sacrifices made so far that millions of Afghans are better off and grateful. It is important to Afghans that our friends across the world understand the long-term nature of this multi-faceted mission, and not drop the ball while so much is at stake. Let’s not forget, the ball was dropped on several occasions over the past three decades, before 2001, when at critical junctures, Afghanistan, its men, women and children were forgotten, and we all paid very dearly, and I might even add, we continue to pay dearly to this day, for the negligence and strategic blunders of the past.

Much has changed for the good since then. Although still fragile, Afghanistan is in recovery mode. Not only is Canada ranked among the top five donors, delivers on its pledges, and is a force for stability in Kandahar province, but Canada is also becoming a role-model for many others who are eager to help and are engaged in Afghanistan. Not only were you among the first countries to adopt the 3-D approach, but you actually turned it into a more comprehensive model, which is sometimes referred to as a “whole of government” approach, which puts you in a unique position to work with us to resolve specific issues in a sustainable manner and pass on ownership to the Afghans. We are fully cognizant of the fact that when a donor plays its role to the fullest, then it is easier for us to take the responsibility to do the rest, by learning to nurture, reform, manage and take charge of our affairs.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am no development expert and I do not pretend to have answers to all our problems in your vast field of knowledge and experience, but having been part of the policy-level discussions on our side and with the international community on the rebuilding effort from day one of the new post-Taliban government, I can tell you that we, meaning the recipient and the donors together, have at times misread the cards, not listened attentively to alternate views, not done enough or not done the right thing, lacked focus, lacked coordination and needlessly repeated past mistakes. In the case of Afghanistan, we really CANNOT afford to repeat errors anymore.

This does not mean that the situation is desperate, that we are failing, or that nothing has been accomplished over the past six years. I could give you a laundry list of achievements a mile long, but only a few inches thick. The goal, of course, is to build a strong foundation for peace and prosperity. Not only do we now need to consolidate the gains, but we also need to adjust and re-calibrate our security, political and developmental strategies, bringing it more in line with the Afghan people’s realistic priorities and needs, aiming for more effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and harmonization. Our collective gains could be jeopardized if we do not reverse the trend of uncoordinated and under-resourced international efforts, and fix the problems of weak Afghan institutions plagued by corruption, low capacity and drug interests.

Continuing and more lethal imported forms of violence are a real concern to Afghans, who are trying to put three decades of chaos behind and build a safer, more productive and more prosperous future for their children. Although the insurgency seems to have plateaued in most parts of Afghanistan, and is increasingly using desperate tactics, the majority of Afghans are not nostalgic about the Taliban and do not want to be forced back to that dark period of our history.

However, we are concerned about the regional sources of extremism and terror that not only threaten the precious lives of our children, women activists, teachers, road builders, de-miners and security personnel on a daily basis, but also can be a threat to your citizens or any society that opposes that particular mindset. Together, with regional actors and others, we need to implement a comprehensive policy that not only aims to alter the structures that sustains terror and shut down their safe havens, but also deals with the root causes of such threats, while we protect the innocent, and help develop an alternate environment conducive to moderation, democratization and economic opportunities.

This is not to say that there are no Afghan sources of criminality and violence as well. Besides terror cells, the phenomenon of warlordism and drug-lordism tied with criminality and instability needs to be uprooted to prevent the emergence of a failing narco-state. We are continuously working as part of a strategy to reconcile those armed elements that can live within the constitutional framework, espouse non-violence and cut their ties to the enemies of peace and progress. Re-constituting Afghan security institutions, whose duty it is to shoulder more responsibilities as they become operational, is a key indicator. Promising signs are emerging with the National Army, and at a slower pace with the Police. So as a first step, we will soon start taking over the security of Kabul, a process that may take up to a year, and gradually expand Afghan security reach and ownership.

Now that a new UN special envoy alongside many other stakeholders is tasked to help us deal with such challenges, we are more hopeful that our collective efforts will bear fruit. But it will require a shift in mindsets, and some policy revisions for all domestic and international actors to re-align themselves with a new paradigm to render it more effective. On our side, we cannot resolve some of the basic poverty-related problems such as corruption and narcotics without fighting the causes of poverty and also using tools of law enforcement and the judiciary. For that to happen we need to seriously address capacity building measures.

Meanwhile, we are learning that good governance, respect for rule of law and human rights are not privileges, but integral parts of development and state building that can help us reach our objectives faster and prevent the re-emergence of a failed state. However, to expect that we function as a perfect example of an egalitarian, advanced liberal democracy within a few short years, given our recent history and the total destruction we have undergone, flies in the face of reality and reason. It will take time, and if anyone does not have the patience to go through the growing pains, then we suggest they step aside so the rest of us are not distracted and can focus on the hard work on hand.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Having said that, allow me to talk about development as a core issue in relations to security, governance and as part of a model that works in Afghanistan based on the national development strategy (ANDS) that we have recently adopted, building upon previous commitments made by the international community in Tokyo, Berlin and London. This updated strategy document will be presented in Paris next month at a conference co-chaired by the UN, France and Afghanistan, where pledges are expected to be made to turn the Afghan vision into reality. We expect to discuss with our friends and all the donors the pillars and benchmarks of a five-year strategy as our focus will shift towards poverty reduction and the creation of critical infrastructure, in such sectors as agriculture, water management/irrigation and energy generation. Of course the issues of governance, rule of law, counter-narcotics and anti-corruption will remain prominent alongside the traditional development work to improve education, health and social services indicators.

But, as a former Afghan Finance Minister recently said, for example, let us also not repeat the classical mistake of “putting millions of people in primary school, without giving them a functioning economy… that is not the way to stability.” And what about higher education and vocational training? In a young and fragile democracy like Afghanistan, we cannot put all our eggs into a few baskets affiliated with special interests.

This means that post-Paris, our friends at aid agencies, working in tandem with the Afghans and public-private partners, may want to consider adjusting their mandates and modifying rules that restrict infrastructural and larger-scale development work. This also means that over time, more money would hopefully flow through verifiable and viable mechanisms to the Afghan budget, that a balanced approach would continue to fund national projects with proven value, yet not exclude what is referred to as select “signature projects” that make sense from the point of view of sustainability, and that donors and recipient would work in a more integrated and coordinated fashion, avoiding the multi-layered approaches to development work that has resulted in a less-than-desirable outcome. At least that is the public opinion perception on both the donor and recipient sides.

I believe that every post-conflict reconstruction case has its unique characteristics, and has to take into account the social, cultural, economic, historical and geo-political factors involved. That is why we are nowadays talking about the Afghanization of processes that originate at the community level and is complemented by public-private initiatives, as well as the non-governmental sector. Apparently, if a community is an integral part of the development cycle for a project, then there is less likelihood of fraud, waste or failure.

Credible and productive humanitarian and other NGOs continue to play a key role alongside the private and public sectors in Afghanistan, and no one should be under the illusion that one entity can exclusively deal with existing needs or maximize output. There is plenty of room for specialized work and for partnerships to evolve. I dare say, in some parts of Afghanistan, where everyone is a soft target for those who torch schools or kidnap engineers and de-miners, even the military has proven to be a catalyst for development. That is why the work of some civil-military PRTs in volatile regions makes sense, since they deliver where civilian activity is restricted. Once the security issue is brought under control, then a different dynamic is possible.

There are still serious challenges. Latest figures show that only 60 percent of funds are being disbursed because of stringent procurement procedures, and only about 20% of the total aid has passed through Afghan channels, and a staggering 30% over the past five years can be categorized as repatriated, tax-free income. For example, international technical assistance is considered to be largely wasted, especially when it lacks residual value.

We can’t discuss Afghanistan without addressing poppy cultivation and the drug business. While the number of poppy-free provinces has increased to 20 from 16 last year, there is no silver bullet in sight. It is estimated that between 20 and 40 percent of the insurgency is financed by drug money, but only 6% of the arable land is used for poppy. The problem is directly linked to insecurity and militancy. To resolve this problem, we will need upward of 10 years to increase security, provide better governance, prosecute the large beneficiaries and implement a program designed to help victimized farmers with options like alternative livelihoods and crops and agri-business development. It would also help if the demand as well the transit and smuggling sides did more to crack down… no punt intended.

On the positive side, GDP has doubled in the past five years and fluctuates between 9-12 percent growth rate, while inflation has remained relatively low. the return of 4.5 million Afghan refugees and the fact that more than 8 million men and women voted in free and fair elections for the first time in their lives in 2004 and 2005, that 25% of our parliament is made up of women and that national programmes such as the National Solidarity Program, partially funded by Canada, is functioning in every district; that almost 6 million boys and girls attend more than 9000 schools, and child and maternal mortality is almost 30% down; that 80% more Afghans have access to basic medical care and more than 2000 km of new paved roads connect the country; and that 60% of landmines have been cleared and the private telecom sector boasts more than 4 million subscribers, are all indicators for change, progress and hope.

We also intend to fund a ten-year sustainable project expected to provide 2.1 million jobs and generate about $2 billion worth of income by upgrading the already successful micro-finance programmes to provide small to med size credit loans to revive skills, inject new technologies, create local and regional markets for rural products through community entrepreneurship.

Probably, the most promising change that is taking place is the growing role of the private sector that is helping shape a new legal framework, pushing for monetary and fiscal reforms, and enabling development and partnerships to create jobs, promote industrial activity and most important of all, exploit Afghanistan’s vast deposits of untapped natural resources. Given our geographical position and based on recent surveys that have been conducted, we hope that within the next 20 years, we will see Afghanistan’s economy flourish in threes sectors: agricultural, mining/natural resources and, trade and transit

Ladies and gentlemen,

As aid, trade and investment activities become more integrated, and our aim is to reduce poverty and engage in sustainable development that works, realizing that we cannot ignore infrastructure and institution building in cases such as Afghanistan, the upcoming Paris conference will offer an opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss best practices, lessons learned, aid effectiveness and better coordination. This is also an opportunity to develop successful partnerships.

We look forward to working with all our partners, including Canada, to make the vision of a stable, democratic, self-reliant and developing Afghanistan come to life.

Thank you.


240 Argyle Ave. Ottawa, Ontario, K2P-1B9 | Phone: (613) 563-4223 / 65 | Fax: (613) 563-4962 | contact@afghanembassy.ca