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CENTER ON LAW AND SECURITY – NYU AFGHANISTAN CONFERENCE Remarks by Omar Samad Ambassador of Afghanistan to Canada

Many thanks to my friend Peter Bergen for the kind introduction…

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me also thank the Center on Law and Security at New York University and the New America Foundation for hosting this conference, and for extending an invitation to speak to you, and provide an Afghan perspective on current issues and challenges ahead.

You'll hear me speak in my capacity as a diplomat, but also as an Afghan who has spent the last 30 years advocating for the Afghan cause through its different tumultuous phases, and am, today, concerned but not hopeless about the course we are pursuing in partnership with many of our international friends.

I hope we have learned the not-so-distant lessons of neglecting Afghanistan in the post-Soviet period, of dealing with the issue through someone else's prism and not reading the smoke signals accurately. So I will not dwell on the past and instead look at current trends as well as the outlook for the next few years. I will emphasize on the regional context, the reconciliation path, sprinkled long the way with matters relating to security, development and governance.

For the past seven years, we have attempted to deal with the consequences and effects of a failed and destroyed state, However, we now find ourselves at a stage where we need to deal effectively with a failing state both in recovery mode and in peril. The peace dividend never materialized in its entirety, because historically, in the Afghan context, it is the post-conflict stage that is fraught with dangers and threats. This is where we stand today.

However, not all is gloom and doom, as we keep hearing these days. There obviously is a certain amount of recovery and progress that cannot be overlooked. On the other hand, certain initiatives have failed as a result of mismanagement, weak capacities, bad planning or even complacency on both the Afghan as well as the international sides.

There is a growing consensus that Afghanistan is in need of practical and realistic re-conceptualization that focuses on the fundamentals of state-building. This requires a robust increase in international commitments, with vision, focus and deliverable criteria, aimed at regaining part of the trust between the Government and the people, and between the Afghans and the donors. Improving security and safety conditions to a manageable level will be a key factor for addressing other pressing challenges.

We are entering a critical phase where not only do we need to defend the gains achieved on behalf of the public good, but also, simultaneously, contain the enemy with more troops on the ground, with accelerated training of the Afghan national security forces, creating jobs through development activities, better governance, less corruption, and almost zero tolerance for the nagging trans-national radicalized infrastructure that feeds and sustains this violent insurgency.

This means the strategic use of soft and hard power to dismantle the infrastructure beyond our borders, pursuing current initiatives such as the Jirga mechanism, reconciliation efforts and addressing the reasonable dissatisfaction of Afghans in terms of rule of law, governance, parallel structures, aid money repatriation and lack of economic opportunity.

The country's political system and the foundations that sustain it need to be strengthened by accelerating the reform of critical government institutions in a top-to-bottom fashion, creating role model institutions in terms of efficiency, service delivery and transparency.

Up to 2006, Afghans felt relatively safe in 80-90% of the country. Today, in just over two years, people are wary of security threats in almost 50% of the country, which includes pockets of insecurity in provinces surrounding the capital. A diplomat in Kabul recently said: "The Taliban are forcing acquiescence." The Taliban aim is to win via use of psychological warfare, as a part of their brutal terror tactics. Consequently, civilian and non-civilian casualty numbers caused by enemy fire or friendly fire has exponentially increased to alarming levels.

The latest decision by NATO and US forces to consider a "tactical withdrawal" when faced with the choice of air raids in the vicinity of civilians will help minimize casualties even further, and we welcome this decision, however better coordination with Afghan forces should be reinforced as well, especially in intelligence sharing functions.

We also welcome the decision to strengthen the Afghan national security forces through training, mentoring and the supply of adequate and quality equipment. We also support the recent decision to increase the counter-narcotics capabilities of the ANA and ANP as well as the use of NATO forces when necessary in specific anti-drug operations.

I don't have to tell you that besides all other measures taken to help farmers move away from the poppy cash crop, and use of a comprehensive strategy to combat this menace, it is also essential to use the military to target smuggler and processing lab network. However, it is essential that the international community and the Afghan authorities speak in one voice and agree upon a single strategy.

It is obvious to all contributing nations that Afghanistan's security challenges are part-and-parcel of regional dynamics, and integral to almost three-decades-long efforts to keep the country oppressed, under-developed, subservient and radicalized.

Today, the blowback effect of this policy is felt across the tribal belt divide, but the policy of denial is as deep now as it was during the heyday of Talibanization of Afghanistan. Unless denial on the part of those who sympathize with extremism and terror is replaced with a reckoning with past strategic miscalculations and duplicities, and a spirit of sincere cooperation to change the old paradigm of the 80s and 90s with a new one that addresses our people's needs and aspirations, we will together sink deeper into this quagmire.

Afghans will welcome and support any effort to reduce the threat of militancy and extremism that undermines stability in our region, including the radical madrassa syndrome. However, it is not enough to only combat them in select areas, since it is also incumbent upon all of us to prevent fighters of all stripes from freely crisscrossing the dividing line, making use of tribal territories. As a consequence, tribal people are suffering and they feel held hostage by extremist groups. We need to help them free themselves from the clutches of Talibanization, and provide assistance for long overdue development and modernization purposes; but let's avoid writing blank checks, as has been the norm for a few years, without a verification and accountability regime in place.

Some of our neighbors underestimate Afghanistan's desire and will for stability, prosperity and cooperation. We are not hostile towards them, as was mentioned by another speaker this morning, nor are we a source of militancy and radicalism.

To address this challenge, the Afghans look forward to working with the elected government in Islamabad to resolve the outstanding issues with a fresh outlook and new paradigm.

Afghans are tired of being in a protracted state of conflict, and there are increasing indications of war-fatigue among some less doctrinaire Taliban as well. It is plausible that the Taliban will negotiate in earnest only if pushed into a permanent state of weakness and fatigue.

It remains to be seen if the schism within the Taliban is real and will actually result in less attacks on civilians, suicide attacks and beheadings, gruesome act imported by foreign fighters and deemed un-Islamic by Afghans.

While the popularity of the Taliban may be at an all time low, their vicious and brutal methods are at an all time high. That is a tactical move on their part to intimidate and neutralize any opposition, especially in southern and eastern provinces, and around Kabul.

I mentioned reconciliation as a soft power method. Meetings, followed by talks, followed by negotiations, followed by reconciliation is a process that needs a clear framework, backed by a strong political consensus among influential Afghan groups and our international friends. It is not an ad hoc exercise that can succeed without vision or strategy.

As part of the pre-negotiation consultations, Afghans are opposed to compromise on the political system and social-economic foundation endorsed by two loya jirgas and legitimized by two general elections. It is also difficult to fathom sidelining Afghan elements that support constructive change, that defended their country against foreign pressures, by replacing them with elements that do not inspire confidence, are seen as implicated in terrorism, and worse of all, viewed as leverage for regional forces.

The Taliban and their handlers are also banking on at least one or more NATO members calling it quits within the next year, yielding to domestic public pressure. Thus, they are targeting the soldiers of several nations with a stronger punch in the battlefield, while so-called anti-war lobbies steer public opinion towards a premature withdrawal.

The notion of reconciliation with figures whose goals are antithetical to a democratic state, modernism and such fundamentals as gender rights, freedom of expression and education, is difficult to swallow.

Since the perception within Afghanistan is that some elements with power and influence within the leadership structures of the armed opposition are an extension of foreign strategic interests, and leverage for future geo-political clout, any attempt to deal with elements that cannot prove their loyalty to the Afghan state and the constitutional order can easily backfire.

Having said that the door is open for contact and maybe even talk with those Afghans who can prove their genuine desire for reconciliation and re-integration within society. For those reconcilable armed factions that reflect dissatisfaction of one sort or another, we see a chance for reconciliation.

At home, in the eyes of many Afghans, the government is undergoing a trust and confidence challenge. Real and enforceable measures need to be implemented to fight corrupt practices at all levels, not just at the lower echelons.

Corruption is a major problem, but somehow we have ignored the fact that we need to deal with competencies that haunt us in the form of weak institutions and low capacities. And then, there is the element of uncertainty that can fuel hopelessness.

The empowerment of the newly formed High Office of Oversight and Anti-Corruption under the direct command of the president is an indication of political will to tackle this endemic problem.

We realize that fighting corruption and ensuring good governance is a long-term programme, yet is a pre-requisite for successful state-building, as pledged at the Paris conference. This means enforcement, prevention, education, public awareness and support by the donor community.

When it comes to development and reconstruction, Afghans are losing faith in empty promises and low level delivery. Commitments should be real, focused, strategic and sustainable. Yes, we have had achievements since 2001, especially in the fields of education, health, road building, telecom, construction companies, banks, media and many others. But at the same time there is very limited access to electricity, clean water, and there are few jobs to come by, while prices are high and incomes remain low. To make it worse, parts of the country hit by drought are facing severe food shortages, and poverty indicators overall have not improved very much.

Afghans are eager to see meaningful investment on the licit agricultural sector – the backbone of our economy - water management, power generation, medium to large-scale public works projects and any public-private initiative that can create jobs, and increase earnings as part of public-private partnerships.

Building up human capital and strengthening institutions are key elements for sustaining growth. We need to accelerate training and education of Afghans in areas that define this mission's needs in terms of leadership and professional skills.

For all of this to happen within the next few years, while we face the daunting task of holding presidential, parliamentary and local elections in the next 12 to 24 months across Afghanistan, inshallah security conditions permitting, it is incumbent upon us, the Afghans, to put our house in order and for the international community, with a re-invigorated UN role, to find the appropriate mutual arrangement in terms of short and longer term strategies to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet.

Let's not forget that Afghanistan is a long-term mission that cannot be fixed with short-term patches and solutions. We need more integration and coordination of efforts, and not just on the military side, but even more in other sectors. We need to be on the same page to the extent possible when it comes to security, counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, development, governance, reconciliation and regional cooperation strategies. We cannot afford to lose Afghanistan to extremism, and need to remind ourselves of the consequences of failing to correct the course.

Thank you very much.


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