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Remarks by Ambassador Erfani at the Austrian Ministry of Defense’s Panel Discussion on Afghanistan

Remarks by H.E. Ayoob Erfani Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan in Vienna at the Institute for Peace Support and Conflict Management of the Federal Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Austria at a panel discussion on Afghanistan

Vienna, 24 April 2014

 

Commandant Lt.-Gen. Erich Csitkovits,

Distinguished participants,

Dear Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to be here today amongst such a distinguished group of participants. I would like to thank the Institute for Peace Support and Conflict Management, and in particular the director, Dr. Walter Feichtinger, for inviting me at today’s discussion to speak about Afghanistan’s past achievements and the way forward. Let me also welcome the panelists and thank you, dear Ladies and Gentlemen, the large turnout here demonstrates your great interest in Afghanistan. We also consider today’s event an excellent initiative by the Defense Academy and appreciate our cooperation.

I am pleased to be the Ambassador to a country, such as Austria, which has been a good partner of the International Community in Afghanistan’s stabilization efforts. On behalf of the Government and people of Afghanistan, I will also take this opportunity to once again express our gratitude to the Government and people Austria for its continued support and friendship.

We have gathered here this evening to discuss this critical year, 2014, a juncture in Afghanistan’s history. As you are most likely well aware, the Presidential and Provincial Council elections held in Afghanistan on 5 April 2014, constituted a historic milestone for Afghanistan. This remarkable success was only made possible through the tremendous efforts and sacrifices of the Afghan people, and our international partners, over the past thirteen years. On this note, however, I would like to add that Afghanistan’s democratic history did not begin at the end of 2001, as is commonly misconceived, and I would like to expand on that:

Afghanistan has a long and rich history and due to its specific geo-strategic location, has served as a land bridge for centuries, connecting people and civilizations in the region and beyond. From its independence in 1919, under the progressive King Amanullah, until the  invasion by the Red Army in 1979, Afghanistan had successfully developed  state institutions. Particularly during the “Decade of Democracy” in the 1960s, Afghanistan served as an active and healthy member of the international community and the Afghan people, and categorically Afghanistan’s women, could enjoy those rights, liberties and values, which we are struggling to secure again in the country today.

The 1979 invasion of Soviet Union troops was first followed by internal conflict, then, as of 1996, it was controlled by the brutality of the Taliban and other international terrorist organizations. This  marked the darkest period in Afghanistan’s history, coined by massive and systematic human rights violations, including the complete negation of the rights of women and children.

Afghanistan’s new era commenced with the ousting of the Taliban from Kabul on 11 November 2001, when the international community intervened in the country. The people of Afghanistan were left with nothing: no unity; no government, institutions or security forces; no infrastructure; no media; no health services; and no public spirit or collective consciousness – nothing. The Afghanistan which our people once enjoyed prior to the 1970’s was decimated. We needed to start all over again, from scratch.

 

Distinguished participants,

We have come a long way since 2001. Let me briefly exemplify our achievements in eleven key areas: women’s rights; education; media and civil society; elections and democratization; security; foreign policy; economy; infrastructure; refugees; and health.

 

1)    Our constitution of 2004, laid down the foundation for the democratization process and statehood institutions in the country. These foundations guarantee the equality of women and men, and the Government promotes full participation of women in all spheres of society, through respective legislation, institutions and policies – Without the equal involvement of our women, we will not be able to realize our potential as a nation.

2)    School enrollment has been increased from less than one million boys in 2001 to more than 10 million, with close to 40% of whom are girls in 2014. At universities we had 8,000 male students in 2001 and currently have 110,000 male and female students.

3)    There were no TV channels or free media in 2001. Today, we proudly boast 210 free and independent radio stations and 85 free and independent television stations, as well as more than 200 print media publications. Also, a vibrant self-organized civil society actively works to entrench democratic values and pluralism.

4)    We have developed all three branches of government, all relevant institutions, and held six elections since 2004.

5)    National Security Forces did not exist in Afghanistan prior to 2001. Today, we have 350.000 professionally trained male and female ANSF officer, that are capable to face any internal and external threat against Afghanistan and provide security for its people. At the same time, the government will pursue the peace process in the country, with all those who denounce violence and accept the constitution of Afghanistan.

6)    Afghanistan resumed its activities in the international fora, operating more than 60 global diplomatic representations, and signed and ratified a number of international law instruments, as well as bilateral agreements. In Vienna, we are working closely with our partners in UNOV/UNODC, IAEA, CTBTO, UNIDO, IACA and OSCE.

7)    Our economic upswing continues, the GDP (PPP) has risen from 20 billion USD in 2003 to more than 45 billion USD in 2013.

8)    Afghanistan’s infrastructure was in shatters in 2001. We managed to build 15,000km of roads, participated in transnational railroad and pipeline projects, and secured energy supply.

9)    Since 2002, 5.7 million Afghans have returned to their home country. This is an unprecedented scale of voluntary repatriation in the world.

10)  Access to medical treatment has been dramatically increased, resulting in significant improvements concerning life expectancy, child and maternal mortality rates.

11) There was no functioning government in 2001, now our Government has all the relevant state institutions, such as an established Executive, Legislative and Judiciary.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to the aforementioned achievements, the process of transition has been in three areas: economic, security and political transition, a process which began in 2001 and will be completed at the end of 2014.This demonstrates the will of the people to take control of their destiny, in achieving an independent and stable country.

From there, we will move forward into the Decade of Transformation 2015-2024, and will be shifting gradually from aid-dependency towards self-reliance. In this context, the Government has created a basket of six National Priority Programs: 1) Peace 2) Governance 3) Development of Human Resources 4) Infrastructure 5) Development of the Private Sector 6) Agriculture and Rural Development.

Afghanistan possesses huge water reserves and untapped mineral deposits, revitalized agriculture and human resources, which will ensure food security, generate jobs and income for our nation, of which almost 65 percent of our population are under the age of 25. Furthermore, regional co-operation remains a main pillar in our foreign and economic policy: Afghanistan’s strategic location will enable the country to again serve as a transit route for Eurasia and be a hub of connectivity in our region, which is sure to be a catalyst for economic growth.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While we are optimistic about our way forward and since Afghanistan is still in the process of transition to transformation, we require the continued partnership of the international community, with a view to addressing the following issues:

1)    Tackle remaining challenges, including the two interconnected menaces of terrorism and illicit narcotic drugs;

2)    Sustain past achievements and

3)    Further advance our development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In spite of all of our achievements, many of our partners, indeed also some of our own people have showed concern, rather than confidence, in Afghanistan’s ability to maintain our achievements and continue on the path towards further development after the end of foreign military engagement at the end of 2014.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

However, the 5 April 2014 Presidential and Provincial Council elections have proved sceptics otherwise.

Let me emphasize that these were not merely successfully executed elections, as the preparations and conduct of the vote, showed us and the world, how far we have come as a nation, and that nobody will ever take our achievements away from us. There are now new realities on the ground in my country: A new generation of young men and women, enjoying equal rights, with a fresh new mindset, who are committed to eventually changing the face of the country.

This election proved that the Afghan people, as a whole, are strongly dedicated to democracy and prosperity in their country. 7.3 million Afghans, many of whom are young, first-time voters, and women. Despite insurgent security threats and adverse weather conditions, voters went to the polling stations and cast their vote to elect their new president, thereby marking the first democratic transfer of power from one elected leader to another, in the history of Afghanistan. The Afghan people reiterated their urge for a democratic, internationally engaged Afghanistan, as they did in the Loya Jirga last year.

Many factors contributed to the great success of the elections: a free, independent and professional media, providing full coverage and opportunities for stimulating televised debates; professional candidates’ campaigns;  civil society was deeply involved through dispatching thousands of observers across the country; improved education levels tremendously contributed to the greater involvement of the Afghan people, including through fostering a participatory political culture in the country;  the electoral process has been continuously improved in the past few years: two important electoral laws were adopted in Afghanistan in 2013, and two election-related presidential decrees have been issued in 2014. Unlike the pessimistic views on the capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), the successful holding of the recent elections proved that the ANSF are both capable and committed to provide security across the country; last but not least, our independent election bodies, the Independent Election Commission and the Independent Election Complaints Commission performed extremely well.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, let me reiterate that we are optimistic about our future, despite remaining challenges.

Transition does not mean the end of co-operation between the IC and Afghanistan, the grave mistake that occurred in 1992. Indeed it will mark the beginning of a new era of the relationship, this time as an independent and sovereign Afghanistan, with its friends and partners in the international community.

We continue to require the assistance of our international partners, as has been agreed upon in Tokyo, Chicago and Lisbon conferences, in maintaining and furthering developments, and whose generous contributions and sacrifices will never be forgotten.

At the national level we are committed to using all of our resources, including the active   engagement of our women and youth, in order to unleash our full potential for a successful Decade of Transformation. Regional cooperation will play an increasingly advanced role as a main pillar of our foreign policy, while we will continue to be a reliable partner in the international fora and as a healthy member of the global family.

Failing is not an option for Afghanistan, neither is it for our partners. The new Government will build on current achievements, based on thirteen years of experience and will lead Afghanistan to a better future, where all Afghans can enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms, as we remember from the Afghanistan of old.

I thank you very much for your attention, for your interest and I wish you all a productive debate.