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Remarks By The Minister of Foreign Affairs At The Meeting of the North Atlantic Council Foreign Ministers

021215-5

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the Name of Allah the most Merciful, the most Compassionate
Mr. Secretary General,
Distinguished Foreign Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, I would like to extend our sincere gratitude to Secretary General Stoltenberg for the invitation to participate in today’s timely meeting, which takes place amidst a number of significant developments in Afghanistan and around the world, since our Antalya Meeting last May. My delegation and I greatly appreciate the steadfast leadership and efforts of the Secretary General, as NATO continues to make remarkable contributions to ensuring peace and stability in our troubled world.

Just this past month, we experienced one of the most horrific tragedies of 2015: the terrorist attacks on innocent civilians in Paris. As a daily target of such terrorism, the Government and people of Afghanistan condemn those attacks in the strongest terms possible.

To the French Government and people, who have stood by Afghanistan every step of the way since 2001, we extend our profound condolences on the loss of so many innocent lives. And in light of this tragedy, I renew our repeated call on the international community to strengthen our resolve in the fight against terrorism that transcends international borders.

Over the past 14 years, forces from more than 40 countries, led by the United States and NATO, have bravely fought and made the ultimate sacrifice alongside Afghan soldiers to stabilize Afghanistan and to secure our future against transnational security threats. We pay tribute to all those brave NATO soldiers, who have fallen or been wounded in Afghanistan.

Today, with the continued support of NATO, young Afghan soldiers are fearlessly fighting to defend and protect our country, the region, and the world against terrorism and extremism.

Mr. Secretary General,

Today, I want to highlight some of the major opportunities and challenges that characterize the current status of the National Unity Government (NUG).

First, we have formed a functional government based on the principles of trust and accountability. President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah have agreed on building stable and enduring institutions that can deliver effective and sustainable services to our people.

The Cabinet is working hard to implement our reforms agenda aimed at maximizing efficiency and effectiveness across our national and sub-national state institutions. And, meantime, we have focused on private sector development, while passing legislation that has made it easier to register and do business in Afghanistan.

Second, the President and the Chief Executive have prioritized the necessary reform of our electoral institutions, which underpins our firm commitment to institutionalization of democracy in Afghanistan. To that end, we have established an electoral reform commission, which has presented a concrete set of recommendations for strengthening the integrity, inclusiveness and transparency of our future elections.

Third, we are determined to curb all manners of systemic corruption. Among some of the measures we have already put in place, the establishment of the National Procurement Commission stands out. Co-chaired by President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, the Commission has already helped save over $40 million in ensuring transparent contracts that meet our strict accountability criteria.

Fourth, in the defense and security sectors, we remain committed to civilianization of all procurement and finance-related personnel at the Ministries of Defense and Interior. At the same time, we are working to implement defense reforms that enable us to achieve our long-term goal of an effective, affordable, and sustainable military force.

Finally, in all the reform steps taken so far, empowerment of women tops our priorities. We remain steadfast in consolidating the hard-earned gains of Afghan girls and women over the past 14 years. We have developed a National Action Plan for the implementation of UNSCR-1325, as our Ministry of Women’s Affairs works to ensure the protection of women’s rights under our progressive Constitution, while including women in all policy- and decision-making processes across our Government.
Consequently, in my own Ministry, in addition to three Directors-General, we have appointed two female Ambassadors and will make two additional appointments in the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The success of our self-reliance agenda is interconnected with and dependent on regional factors. The drawdown of foreign aid for Afghanistan has direly impacted our economy as thousands of jobs have been lost. This requires us to increase our domestic revenues and to attract capital intensive investment in infrastructure projects. This is possible by exploring regional economic opportunities.

Last September, we hosted the Sixth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA VI) in Kabul. This important event brought policy makers, economists, and the private sector to identify new avenues of economic cooperation.

Several regional connectivity projects were discussed and reviewed, while the implementation of CASA-1000 and TAPI projects gained tremendous support. The construction of the TAPI natural gas pipeline will be officially launched on December 13.

Moreover, the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process—the Fifth Ministerial Conference of which will be held on December 9 in Islamabad—is another unique opportunity to stabilize Afghanistan and to revitalize our declining economy.

This year, we hope to build consensus among the regional and extra-regional stakeholders on the need for a collective, concerted approach to countering all security threats posed by the Taliban, Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, DAESH, ETIM, IMU, and others. Indeed, a secure Afghanistan will allow further regional economic connectivity, which has been selected as another core element of our focus for this year’s Ministerial Conference.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please allow me to draw your attention to the most serious challenge, with which we have had to grapple this year. Contrary to the previous years, this fighting season has proven decisive both for our forces and for the Taliban and their terrorist allies.

Since the drawdown of a large number of US and NATO forces by the end of the transition process in December 2014, our forces have singlehandedly provided security and protection all over Afghanistan.

Increased violence and high casualties in this fighting season have also resulted from the Pakistani military operations, which have displaced thousands of foreign militants into eastern, southern, and northern Afghanistan. And the situation is further compounded by the growing threat of DAESH, which has been trying hard to establish a solid foothold in eastern Afghanistan, from where they intend to expand throughout the country.

In the face of these mounting security pressures, our forces have stretched thin and continue to lack critical enablers and capabilities like: fire power, close air support (CAS), fusion intelligence, reconnaissance, medical evacuation, counter-IED, and logistics mobilization and management.

As a consequence, our assessment of what caused the fall of Kunduz mirrors many operational shortcomings characterized by institutional weaknesses, resource constraints, and displacement of thousands of diehard militants from the region into Afghanistan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The atrocities committed by the Taliban and their terrorist allies against the defenseless, civilian population of Kunduz City demonstrate that nothing has changed in their mindset and strategy to undo the hard-earned gains of the Afghan people over the past 14 years. Their aim remains to destabilize Afghanistan and the region, which has already facilitated an operational environment for other terrorist networks like DAESH, LET, IMU and others.

Despite our successful clearing operation in Kunduz, however, our forces remain under tremendous pressure: they are presently fighting terrorists in over 20 different provinces. Looking at the intensity and geographic expansion of the war this year, we strongly encourage our NATO allies to review and reconsider their commitments in terms of human and material support.

To be specific, further investment in our Special Forces and Air Force with a focus on bolstering our close air capabilities would go a long way, so would NATO’s flexibility in providing support to our forces on demand.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Sustainable security in Afghanistan is closely linked with the success of the peace process. Afghanistan requires the genuine, results-oriented support of our neighbor, Pakistan. To earn the country’s goodwill and confidence, the National Unity Government spent an immense amount of political capital to engage and work with the Pakistani military and civilian institutions to end war and violence in Afghanistan through reaching a political settlement with the Taliban.

However, we had to withdraw from the peace process after it was revealed that Mullah Omar had died two years ago. But he was portrayed to be alive and active in the peace process. Nor were our genuine peace efforts reciprocated at all, as it had been agreed upon.

However, we remain open to peace talks with the reconcilable Taliban, and count on the support of my counterparts in the international community to help our genuine efforts bear fruit for restoring peace in Afghanistan.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In spite of the many challenges facing us, Afghanistan has done much better than expected. As we reach the end of this decisive year, we can say with great confidence that our common enemy has been psychologically defeated, even though they are still challenging our steadfast resolve to defeat them.

I am confident that with the continued support from NATO, Afghanistan would steadily grow as a stable, democratic, peaceful and prosperous country. And this would enable us to focus on win-win objectives towards a region where every nation needs to be secure and prosper.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the United States for recently extending the mission of their forces in Afghanistan until the conditions have improved for their phased drawdown. And we are equally grateful to Germany, Italy, the UK, and our other NATO partner-nations for continuing to stay the course in Afghanistan beyond 2015.

We welcome and look forward to further deepening our relationship with NATO within the Enhanced Enduring Partnership framework, which should help strengthen the overall capacity of our forces based on the Joint Needs Assessment and its related action plan for presentation at the Warsaw Summit next year.

And on our part, I am delighted to reaffirm our commitment of $500 million for the financial sustainment of the Afghan National Defense and Security Force (ANDSF).

In closing, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to Ambassador Aramaz and General Campbell, as well as to their hardworking and dedicated teams in Kabul, for their numerous contributions to stabilization of Afghanistan, on a daily basis. We look forward to our continued cooperation in preparing for 2016, which every Afghan desires to be a year of peace, prosperity, and harmony in Afghanistan and the world over.

Thank you!