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Remarks by Minister of Foreign Affairs on Afghanistan’s Foreign Policy Priorities and Implications for the New US Administration

بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

 

Distinguished Guests,

Fellow Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentleman,

 

Good Afternoon.

 

It is a great pleasure to be back in Washington, and to address the Atlantic Council. This is a prestigious forum, which for decades, has played an important role in discussing such key ideals, values and pressing issues as peace, security, democracy, and prosperity around the world.

 I thank the Atlantic Council for the invitation to speak to you, and Mr. Javid Ahmad for the kind introduction and moderating our discussion this afternoon.

Today’s event provides an opportunity to elaborate on Afghanistan’s Foreign Policy Priorities and Implications for the New US Administration, specifically in the context of security and peace in Afghanistan, and the way forward.

 

As you may all know, our foreign policy rests on five concentric circles—one of which pertains to our enduring strategic partnership with the United States and our other key allies including NATO partners, with whom we have signed strategic partnership agreements.

 

The fight against global terrorism was the foundation, on which Afghanistan, the United States, and the international community began our strategic partnership sixteen years ago.

 

And today, it remains a key component of both our foreign policy architecture and our broad partnership with the United States and the international community.

 

Over the years, Afghanistan has made enormous sacrifices in the regional and global fight against terrorism and violent extremism. We have lost thousands of people: our security personnel; our government officials; our community and religious figures; and so many of our ordinary civilians.

Despite all the progress we have made in the political, social and economic domains, terrorism remains the principal threat to peace in Afghanistan, stability in the region, and security throughout the world. Therefore, we have initiated a comprehensive effort to root out this menace from our society.

Our national security forces are leading the fight against a broad nexus of twenty regional and global terrorist groups, operating alongside the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan and undermine international peace and security.

Our forces have successfully prevented these groups, including the Haqqani Network, elements of Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups from capturing major population centers.

Tomorrow, at the Ministerial Meeting on Countering ISIS, hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, I will provide an overview of the ways, in which we are countering and weakening that group in different parts of Afghanistan.

Terrorists and extremists have suffered major setbacks on the battlefield. That is why they now have shifted their focus on soft targets, including innocent civilians, population centers, institutions, and infrastructure.

They are doing so to amplify their brutality, spread fear and chaos among our people, and attract international media attention. Earlier this month ISIS, in collaboration with the Taliban, attacked a military hospital in Kabul killing many innocent Afghans.

Our fight against all violent extremist groups will continue with strong resolve and urgency, on the basis of our National Security Strategy objectives.

Indeed, our firm determination in our common fight against terrorism is underpinned by the support of our key ally and strategic partner: The United States and other allies in the Resolute Support Mission. Thanks to them, our security forces are increasingly more able, better equipped and ready to confront the security challenges facing Afghanistan in 2017.

Nevertheless, looking ahead, we will still need requisite support, including such critical enablers as increased quality training, ground and air capabilities, reconnaissance and fusion intelligence support.

We will continue to work closely with the United States and our other partners to overcome these military shortfalls in addressing the security challenges that face us all.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Despite our collective efforts, defeating terrorism in Afghanistan and the region is, fundamentally, dependent on eliminating terrorist safe-havens in countries that harbor terrorists.=

They must end their sponsorship of terrorism through continual flow of financial, moral and material aid.

To this end, we must pursue various measures, through several mechanisms and forums, including our bilateral strategic partnership agreements and the UN Security Council to ensure a paradigm shift.

Ensuring friendly and constructive relations with all members of the international community, including our neighbors—based on the principles of non-intervention, mutual respect and good-neighborliness—is an important pillar of our foreign policy.

We have always chosen cooperation over confrontation. Yet, some in our region have not been reciprocal in their approach, consistently undermining our efforts to end violence and reach peace through a negotiated political settlement.

Pakistan’s reluctance to end its support for terrorism underpins the continuation of violence in Afghanistan and the region. And this constitutes a violation of our territorial integrity, as Pakistan violates our airspace and frequently shells eastern Afghanistan.

These routine violations undermine any prospect of normal bilateral relations, and pose a serious threat to peace and security in our region and beyond.

Earlier this week, we again engaged with the Government of Pakistan at a trilateral initiative convened in London, hosted by the Government of the United Kingdom. Discussions focused on a mechanism, through which outstanding issues could be resolved.

We have encouraged Pakistan to seize the opportunity by adopting a new approach and joining the responsible members of the international community that adhere to the principles of the UN Charter.

Except for one neighbor, the Government of National Unity is pleased with progress in advancing relations with the wider group of countries in our region, with whom we have also signed partnership agreements.

India is an important partner providing support where their means has allowed. We have encouraged India to further expand our cooperation based on the Indo-Afghan strategic partnership agreement.

We also enjoy constructive relations with other regional countries based on the principles of mutual respect.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Ending the conflict and achieving peace through talks is another important objective of National Unity Government, on which we are proactively engaged with regional and international partners.

The National Unity Government has spent enormous political capital to reach a breakthrough in our peace efforts. This was exemplified by the signing of the peace agreement with Hezb-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

As for the Taliban, they have yet to embrace the path of peace. The recent attacks in Kabul, Kandahar and Helmand, which took scores of innocent lives proves otherwise.

A paradigm shift in Pakistan is needed if any progress is to be made in peace efforts with the Taliban. Having said that, we have kept the doors of negotiation open to all elements of the group who are ready to embrace peace.

We welcome the ongoing efforts, aimed at fostering a new and effective regional consensus on Afghanistan. Success in this endeavor can help propel renewed progress in advancing peace efforts and fostering effective cooperation among key regional and international stakeholders.

Advancing regional cooperation, including economic cooperation, is another important pillar of our foreign policy. Through the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process and Regional Economic Cooperation Process, we are working to strengthen cooperation mechanisms to advance peace and bolster economic opportunities in our wider region.

We believe in win-win initiatives, such as the CASA 1000 electricity and the TAPI natural gas pipeline, the Chabahar Trade and Transport Corridor; and the Silk Road Economic Belt projects. All of these can lead to unprecedented economic growth in Afghanistan and the rest of the region.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In relation to future Afghanistan-US relations, it is essential that we recall the circumstances, in which our partnership emerged 16 years ago.

We began a historic journey that has evolved into a strategic partnership, which is based on shared challenges and common objectives.

As one of our most trusted partners, the United States has been a catalyst for the monumental gains, which we have collectively made in various spheres.

These include the reconstruction of viable state institutions; the formation of our army and police; the restoration of law and order; improving social and economic conditions for our people; and above all, helping us achieve an environment where all Afghans citizens, can meet their aspirations and determine their future destiny.

We recognize the strong level of bi-partisan support that Afghanistan enjoys on both sides of the US Congress; and we stand confident that the new Administration, under President Trump, will remain strategically engaged and continue its support within the framework of the Strategic Partnership and Bilateral Security Agreements.

To this end, we also welcome the call for an increase in the number of US forces in Afghanistan, by General John Nicholson.

We consider it to be an appropriate decision, considering the prevailing security challenges still facing us.

In our view, the Afghanistan-US Bilateral Commission has proven to be an effective mechanism to implement mutual commitments

With the previous meeting of the Bilateral Commission having met in Kabul in April of last year, we hope that the next meeting of the Commission will be convened in the near future in order to take stock of where Afghanistan’s stabilization stands for continued US support, under the new Administration.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Government and people of Afghanistan take pride in our strong friendship and strategic partnership with the United States. We remain immensely grateful to the American people for their continued financial support, as well as to those American families, who have lost their loved ones in Afghanistan.

I can assure them that their precious losses alongside those of ours, have changed the lives of millions of Afghans for the better, while making the United States more secure.

Indeed, the best way to honor their memory is to fulfill the task for which they have sacrificed their precious lives!

 

Thank You!