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Remarks by Afghanistan’s Ambassador Omar Samad Before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan

Ottawa, House of Commons - May 7, 2008
Merci monsieur le President,

Honorables members du comité spécial sur la mission canadienne en Afghanistan,

Je voudrais tout d’abord vous remercier pour cette invitation. Je voudrais aussi vous souhaiter bonne chance et bonne recolte d’information et d’avis diverses qui vont vous aider a mieux apprecier la situation en Afghanistan afin de pouvoir informer vos colleagues parlementaire et les Canadiens a propos de cette mission strategique, et formuler des decisions a propos d’un sujet d’importance historique pour votre pays, ainsi que le mien.

I will take a few minutes to tell you where we stand today and where we hope to be in the not so distant future to assure that Afghanistan can and will stand on its feet and take care of its core responsibilities. I also want to express the gratitude of the Afghan people for the continued support provided by Canada along with its allies and others over the past six years. As demonstrated again yesterday when we received the sad news that another member of the Canadian Forces has fallen, the menace is real, and we share the grief with the families and all Canadians. It is a reminder that our histories are now intertwined, forever bound by the values enshrined in this mission. That makes it incumbent upon us NOT to fail and to strive for a successful outcome as soon as conditions permit.

As reaffirmed lately at the NATO summit in Bucharest and in line with the spirit of several United Nations resolutions on Afghanistan in the post 9-11 world, we are determined to build “an enduring stable, secure, prosperous and democratic state, respectful of human rights and free from the threat of terrorism, because as the international community recognizes, “the Euro-Atlantic and broader international security is tied to Afghanistan’s stability and future.”

Your presence in Afghanistan is at the request of the Government of Afghanistan and mandated by the United Nations to prevent extremists and terrorists to regain control of Afghanistan or use it as a base for other attacks.

As a result of this partnership, we are in the process of building a young democracy that is not without its inherent challenges, and with which we are embracing a free media, women’s rights and promoting a functioning civil society. Since 2002, close to five million Afghan refugees have come home, and over six million boys and girls are attending new schools, the highest in our history. Access to basic health care is widespread, and over 4,000 km of roads were paved as we continue to connect Afghanistan with fiber optics and a communications network to the region and beyond. Economic growth rates are double digit for the fifth year in a row, resulting in higher income, but still insufficient because of the low base of recovery.

Allow me to highlight some of our immediate challenges and a set of proposed solutions to remedy them using an Afghanized approach and supported by the international community. Some of these issues will be discussed in the upcoming Paris Conference in June, where the donors and our side will review the development and reconstruction balance sheet, and based on the results, propose a series of activities as part of the national development strategy that will guide our future commitments and priorities.

We are working on an Afghan-led political reconciliation process to give dissatisfied elements a chance to give up on violence and reconcile within the constitutional order. We are not, however, dealing with those who are irreconcilable and determined on bringing terror and destruction to our country or with the foreign units within the groupings.

Terrorism or violence perpetrated by extremist or criminal groups remains the top concern for Afghans, particularly in the context of the shifting regional complexities that cannot be ignored. We need to go to the source of insecurity and deal with the various aspects of it using a comprehensive and multi-faceted strategy supported by all entities.

The build up of the Afghan National Army and police are the guarantors for a stable future. However, while the operational capacities of the Afghan National Army have increased, we need to focus more on mentoring and proper equipping of the forces, in the same reinforced manner that we are now improving the quality of training and capabilities of the national police.

Despite some hiccups, we believe that we can take responsibility for the security of Kabul by fall of this year and gradually assume responsibility for other regions in the future.

Given the systemic institutional weaknesses that endure, we should look at practical ways to help strengthen the political leadership, management skills and help bring efficiency to the decision-making process by injecting competencies to reignite parts of the governance and development processes that are lagging.

In order to strengthen governance at the sub-national levels, the government established the Independent Directorate for Local Governance, has accelerated the reform of the judiciary, and we continue to fight corruption head-on as part of a new strategy. All of these complex initiatives will take time and political will to bring about real progress.

On the narcotics side, we aim to further increase the number of poppy free provinces and to reduce the poppy growing fields by at least 25 percent in 2008-2009. As you know, the struggle against poppy cultivation can succeed through increased security, better governance and, more importantly, a comprehensive programme to help the farmers through measures such as alternative livelihood. While realizing that the Taliban take a cut from the drug business And the farmer is squeezed between the mafia associated with the Taliban and our desire to move to other crops, we also need to combat the diffused network of drug trade in the region and beyond that is sustaining the drug economy in Afghanistan.

By now, Afghans expect to see tangible changes asking for quality roads, electricity, clean water, healthcare and a relatively clean and functioning administration among their low-level expectations. However, reconstruction has been an under-sourced operation. The aid allocated over the last six years amounts to little less than $80 per Afghan per year, compared to $275 for Bosnia and $248 for East Timor. Aid has to be responsive to Afghan needs and increasingly pass through accountable Afghan channels.

As reiterated by the new UNSG special envoy to Afghanistan, aid effectiveness will require strong coordination with all sides involved, and we welcome the emphasis to reduce poverty and create opportunities for Afghans.

As I have stressed on many occasions since I took up my mission here, Afghanistan is an agrarian country with the potential in the future to becoming a natural resource rich nation. But at this point without a concerted effort on water management, power generation, rural development, and building infrastructure and human capital simultaneously, we will not create economic sustainability and put the country on the right path for a healthy development.

This is where Canada can proudly look at its accomplishments and focus on future commitments. Your country has done well in terms of channeling aid to specific targets. Can it improve the process? We all can. I am happy to see that a re-assessment of Canadian priorities is currently underway.

Canada’s mission in Afghanistan may shift its focus to some degree from security to development, however, all efforts need to be coordinated with our side and other major donors via the UN so that aid is effectively and efficiently dispensed, while helping us build capacities and institutions. It also should aim to increase our productivity and create livelihoods.

Let us not forget that Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world and over two decades of war brought the country’s economy and civil society to its knees. However, as Oxfam recently said, “the Afghan people have a great strength; a dignity in their lives, and a pride in their culture.” I would add that an average Afghan family is no different than any other family anywhere else in terms of their aspirations and dreams.

In order to formulate this vision, I will return to the strategy paper agreed upon at the NATO summit where it is said: “extremism and terrorism will no longer pose a threat to stability; Afghan National Security Forces will be in the lead and self-sufficient; and the Afghan Government will be able to extend the reach of good governance, reconstruction, and development throughout the country to the benefit of all its citizens.”

Merci. I am happy to take your questions now.


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