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Islam and Politics ( 18 Aug 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Remarks at the US Congress: India, Afghanistan, and Regional Security




By M. Ashraf Haidari

(The Deputy Chief of Mission (Minister Counselor) of the Embassy of Afghanistan-New Delhi)

 Remarks by M. Ashraf Haidari, at the Conference on “Afghanistan and the Region: Security, Stability, and Prosperity” - Session II: “India, Afghanistan, and Regional Security” – The United States Congress, Washington-DC, July 23, 2013


The Honorable Members of Congress,


Distinguished Scholars,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to begin by thanking the co-organizers of this timely Conference, including the U.S. India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), the American Foreign Policy Council (AFPC), and the Foundation of India and Indian Diaspora Studies (FIIDS). In fact, I have been on a private visit to the U.S., and did not come to Washington-DC for this purpose. But my special thanks to the Chairman of USINPAC, Mr. Sanjay Puri, who kindly extended to me an invitation to speak today. I gladly accepted to do so, on a short notice, given the importance of our enduring strategic partnership with India and the United States. Of course, I am deeply honored to share this podium with Members of the United States Congress, B.J.P. President the Honorable Rajnath Singh Ji, as well as other distinguished speakers from the U.S. and India.  

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In an increasingly interdependent, interconnected, and shrinking world, security and stability in one country depends on the security and stability of the rest. This is especially the case with landlocked countries, whose stability and sustainable development squarely depend on an enabling regional environment. Afghanistan is a landlocked country and heavily relies on regional cooperation, from economic to political and security sectors, in order to stabilize and develop on a sustainable basis.

However, as we recall from the recent history of Afghanistan, regional and international actors have not always been kind to us, indeed, at their own peril on the long run. During the Cold War, Afghanistan was compelled to side with the West led by the United States, and together we ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and subsequently toppled the Communist Regime, which the former Soviet Union supported. After this victory, the Afghan people rightfully expected the international community and the United States in particular to help stabilize and rebuild our country so that peace, freedom, democracy, and pluralism could gradually take root and become institutionalized in Afghanistan.

On the contrary, however, soon after the fall of the Communist Regime, following the withdrawal of the defeated Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the post-war reconstruction and stabilization of our country were completely neglected. Morally speaking, we were not rewarded for the destruction of our country, the killing of over two million Afghans, and the displacement of over five million others, all caused by a Cold War proxy conflict that we fought on behalf of the West.

As the world disengaged from Afghanistan prematurely, our state institutions began failing, our politics became factionalized, and our country turned into a no man’s land, serving as a battlefield for regional proxy conflicts. This subsequently allowed Pakistan to create and launch a paramilitary force labeled as “Taliban” to invade and occupy Afghanistan. And overtime, as we recall, the Taliban invited and sheltered the leader of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, in Afghanistan, from where he and his transnational network comfortably mastermind and executed the tragedy of 9/11.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Anyone who visited Afghanistan under the Taliban 12 years ago and has visited the country since would tell you about the fundamental ways in which Afghanistan has been transformed. Our monumental achievements of the past 12 years result from the sacrifices of many nations in Afghanistan. And we remain indebted to each of the 48 nations, which have been providing us with moral and material support over the past decade.

Foremost, we are thankful to the United States people and government for their continued support, as they have stood by us every step of the way to get where we are today. We honor the ultimate sacrifices of more than 3,000 American forces, who bravely fought alongside their Afghan comrades to help provide an enabling, secure environment for institutionalization of peace and democracy in Afghanistan. I want their families and their Representatives in the United States Congress to know that these forces’ ultimate sacrifices have not gone in vain but have changed forever the lives of millions of Afghans across our country.

At the same time, we are grateful to the Indian people and government for sharing their bread with us over the past 12 years. India’s generous assistance has complemented the aid provided by the U.S. and other countries in building institutional capacity in our government, rebuilding our critical infrastructure, and connecting Afghanistan commercially with the rest of the region.

As a result of combined international aid over the past 12 years:

- 10.5 million Afghans are enrolled in schools across Afghanistan. Each year, more than 150,000 students graduate to pursue higher education in Afghanistan and abroad, including India where we have nearly 10,000 students pursuing degrees in the different fields.

- Our per capita GDP of $591 in 2011 is five times higher than $123 per capita GDP of 10 years ago.

- Nearly 8,000 kilometers of national highways, regional highways, and provincial roads have been built, cutting travel time by 75%.

- Moreover, civil aviation has improved, connecting Afghanistan with major regional hub.

- Access to electricity has increased by 250%, while some 18 million Afghans have mobile phones. Collectively, this has helped us maintain a 10% growth rate, creating many jobs that never existed in the Afghan history.

- And democracy is flourishing. We have the freest media in the region, one of the most progressive constitutions in the region, allowing 27% of women to serve as MPs in the Parliament. At the same time, Afghanistan’s civil society is growing more and more vibrant, frequently challenging the government and holding it to account.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

These and many of our other achievements are naturally a work in progress. To ensure their consolidation into sustainable gains, we have signed a number of Strategic Partnership Agreements with our allies in the region and beyond. These Agreements build on the objectives of the Istanbul, Bonn, Chicago, and Tokyo conferences on Afghanistan, helping us transition towards self-reliance in the post 2014 period into a decade of transformation.

The U.S. and India are two of our major strategic allies, and the Agreements we have signed with them provide for their continued support to Afghanistan beyond 2014. In an effort to work together towards our common objectives to help stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, our three countries have established a Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, which has met two times so far. But the mechanism remains under-utilized, which must be reinvigorated and used to ensure strategic coordination of the U.S. and Indian aid efforts, in support of Afghanistan now and beyond 2014.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we consolidate our gains of the past 12 years with continued international support, we have increasingly taken over from our allies the tasks that any sovereign country should execute on its own. Last June, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) took over from the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) the complete leadership and ownership of all military operations across Afghanistan. The ANSF is now providing protection for the whole Afghan population, while NATO-ISAF has begun its new mission of advising, training, and equipping the ANSF.

In spite of the ongoing successes of the ANSF against the enemy, our forces are yet to be fully independently operational. We continue to lack an Air Force and other such critical enablers as artillery, armored mobility, reconnaissance and intelligence capabilities, close air support capabilities, airlift and medical evacuation capabilities, as well as logistics and maintenance mechanisms that constitute the backbone of any force.

To help address these needs, we are going to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the United States. At the same time, we have provided India with a list of needs to assist Afghanistan with. We believe that India can fill some of the training and equipping gaps in the Afghan National Security Forces. And the Indian government has responded positively to our request for enhanced defense cooperation, based on the Afghanistan-India Strategic Partnership Agreement.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Parallel to the security transition, the Afghan government has striven to ensure the success of our political transition through implementation of a legitimate, fair, and transparent presidential election next year on April 5, 2014. As HE President Karzai has said many times, his second and last term under the Constitution is going to come to an end, and rumors that he would remain in office is baseless. In fact, the President signed in two law two critical electoral reforms paving the way for the peaceful and democratic transfer of power to the next president.

At the same time, despite the way the Taliban office was opened in Doha, Qatar, we remain committed to ending the war in Afghanistan that would result in further strengthening of our sovereignty and territorial integrity. That is the basic expectation of the Afghan people, the victims of more than three decades of war, who continue to fight and die day after day and year after year to ensure the absolute freedom and independence of our country, nothing less.

With that basic fact firmly in mind, the Afghan government and people are cautiously seeking a negotiated settlement with the armed opposition, including the Taliban. And that means an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned, and Afghan-controlled peace process where only Afghans talk to Afghans, with non-Afghans only facilitating the process at the request of the Afghan government.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The new democratically elected government of Pakistan under HE Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has taken initial, bold steps towards honest cooperation with Afghanistan and India. The Afghan people and government welcome with great optimism the Prime Minister’s call for a new policy that sees the end of interference in the Afghan affairs now and beyond 2014.

To that end, this past Sunday, HE Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs, visited Kabul, and delivered an invitation from HE Prime Minister Sharif to HE President Karzai to visit Pakistan. The President accepted the invitation “in principle,” but asked that a substantive agenda with specific objectives on supporting the peace process and effectively fighting terrorism be prepared, before the visit could take place.

HE Foreign Minister Dr. Zalmai Rasool also met with HE Aziz and expressed our hope to make considerable progress with Pakistan’s new government in all areas, including in the fight against terrorism and extremism and the networks and systems supporting them. HE Aziz offered to use his country’s influence and contacts with the Taliban, in support of the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. This is a welcome offer of assistance, which Afghanistan had long been seeking. The two sides also emphasized the importance of expanding bilateral transit trade, following a meeting of the Coordinating Authority to address issues related to the Afghanistan and Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement (APTTA).

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Afghanistan’s number one challenge is insecurity with external roots, which exploits Afghanistan’s numerous vulnerabilities, including ethnic diversity, widespread poverty, and weak state institutions. The externality of insecurity can also spoil the peace process in Afghanistan and impede our progress into a decade of transformation beyond 2014.

That is why we welcome regional efforts with strong, proactive participation of India to address this shared challenge facing Afghanistan and the whole region. India should play a leading role in regional processes, as well as reaching a consensus with Russia and China to work out a regional roadmap for stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan where our sovereignty and territorial integrity are ensured, thereby allowing the three countries in the region to invest in Afghanistan and to prevent destructive interference in the Afghan affairs.

At the same time, we renew our call on the international community to stay the course in Afghanistan. Our gains of the past 12 years should be consolidated through implementation of win-win objectives, which have been outlined in the Bonn, Chicago, and Tokyo Conferences, as well as through regional initiatives such as the Istanbul Process.

Indeed, winning or losing in Afghanistan squarely depends on whether our allies and friends would actually deliver on the commitments they have made in these conferences and their routine interactions with the Afghan government. We hope they would do so for the reasons, which I would like to explain briefly.

The implications of winning are clear: a sovereign Afghanistan at peace internally and at peace with others focused on win-win objectives towards a region where every nation would be secure and prosper through economic cooperation. This is the world in which we live today, a world which is increasingly interdependent and where zero-sum designs have proven a failure and a disaster. Sincere, results-oriented cooperation is the call of our peoples in the region and beyond. And Afghanistan stands ready to do our part for the good of all.

By contrast, however, the implications of losing what is a winnable war for peace and justice are also clear in Afghanistan. Any short-cut to peace leads to failure. Such half-measure peace initiatives were tried to engage the Taliban in the 1990s, with disastrous consequences. Let’s remember that the Taliban of today are the same dark forces that brutally terrorized the Afghan people, systematically destroyed our cultural heritage sites, enforced a gender-apartheid of unspeakable cruelty, and sheltered and aided Al Qaeda to plot and execute from the Afghan soil the tragedy of 9/11. Morally speaking, any attempt to sideline Afghans and undermine their democratic gains of the past 12 years would not only destabilize the region but irresponsibly endanger international peace and security again.

Thank you.