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Welcoming Remarks by H.E. Salahuddin Rabbani Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan at the Opening Session of the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of g7+ 23 March 2016, Kabul

Kabul, 23.03.2016

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بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم

His Excellency President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani,

Excellencies,

Honorable Delegates of the g7plus

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all to the 4th Ministerial meeting of the g7+ countries here in Kabul. We are delighted to host this important gathering, which is of particular importance to the people and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and signifies our steadfast commitment to advancing the important goals of our group.

Your presence here under the theme of “from Dili to Kabul and Beyond: Pathways Toward Resilience” expresses a strong sense of solidarity and commitment towards maintaining the momentum which the g7plus envisioned in 2010.

Since its inception, the g7plus has evolved into one of the most important cross-regional fragile state groupings in the realm of international relations and development.  It provides a unique platform for genuine cooperation between fragile States and more broadly, with our international development partners to overcome the many challenges that confront us in the security, social and developmentspheres.

We will have His Excellency President Ghani deliver the keynote address, in which he will outline various aspects of the policies and strategies that we have initiated to achieve our peace-building and State-building goals (PSGs).

I will, therefore, be brief in highlighting the overall context of our state-building efforts.

Excellencies, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Although the constituting members of g7plus belong to diverse regions from Asia to Africa and from Middle East to Latin America, our experiences in peace building and development are common and so are our challenges. Dealing with these decades of challenges has made us realize the importance of coming together.

It is also pertinent to mention that 18 out of the 20 members of the g7plus group are also Least Developed Countries (LDCs) including Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is a country that has experienced a myriad of challenges ranging from armed conflicts and combating terrorism and extremism, to developing viable institutions, and rehabilitating the social fabric of our society, which was decimated as a result of the decades-long conflict.

Yet, over the past fifteen years – with the generous assistance from international partners – we have made considerable progress in various domains that helped put us on the path to achieve a new Afghanistan.

Despite these gains, we are far from where we want to be.  We fully understand that our security and stability ultimately rests on our ability to make steady and substantial progress on the goals that we, in the g7+ grouping, are collectively seeking to achieve.

That includes improving security and promoting peace; strengthening governance and the rule of law; enhancing capacity and transparency in our institutions for effective service delivery; as well as building our infrastructure and increasing private sector investment to spur economic activity and lift our people out of poverty.

In this context, the Government of Afghanistan is adamantly focused on implementing our reform agenda, which we presented at the international London Conference on Afghanistan in November 2014. As we move forward, we (are) pleased that the international community will continue to stand beside us as a committed partner, in support of our state-building efforts.

To our many international partners represented here today:  we deeply appreciate the important work that you continue to render, in support of our peace and stability.

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Afghanistan believes that the adoption of the New Deal marked a truly momentous occasion in the development of a more effective result-oriented partnership between fragile and conflict-effected States, with our development partners.

With this initiative, the nature of North-South cooperation has changed for the better, whereby the international community is increasingly channeling greater portions of official development assistance, in accordance with the national development strategies and priorities of fragile states.

Needless to say, challenges remain.  We, therefore, must remain vigilant and increase our collaboration. Let us benefit from each other’s experience, and work to ensure that levels of development aid-delivery are proportionate with the assistance needs of concerned countries.

Equally important, it remains imperative that the donor community channels its assistance in a manner that will also reinforce the principle of national ownership, and strengthen national capacities of state and non-State actors, including civil society and the business community.

Afghanistan welcomes the increased number of feasibility assessments conducted by the members of our group. Conducted at the country level, these assessments feature a concise and detailed analysis of the underlying sources of conflict and stability in fragile settings.

For our part, Afghanistan has been actively engaged in the implementation of the New Deal since 2011,with the Ministry of Finance taking the lead on this important issue.

My esteemed colleague, Finance Minister Hakimi, will present the findings of our New Deal Fragility Assessment, entitled: “Afghanistan’s Pathway Towards Stability and Resilience.”  We are sure that it will be of great interest to you all.

Excellencies, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last September in New York, at the Summit Meeting of the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, the international community adopted the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The integration of the Peace and State-building goals in the 2030 development agenda was a welcoming event that will serve to benefit the g7+ grouping.  Nevertheless, we must (NOT) lose focus on the task at hand.

The onus is on us (to) undertake every effort to increase our coordination and collaboration, and leverage the full range of resources to implement the five peace-building and state-building goals,as a central component of our overall efforts to meeting the MDG’s and SDG’s.

We are convinced that so long as we stand firm in our shared commitment, we will succeed in our“transition from fragility to resiliency,” and transform the slogan of “Goodbye Conflict – Welcome Development”  into reality!

To conclude, let me state that Afghanistan stands fully committed to working closely with all members of our group to advance our common peace and development agenda.   We look forward to adoption of our Strategic Road Map for 2016-2017 at the conclusion of our meeting!

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is now my honor to invite His Excellency the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr. Mohammad Ashraf Ghani to deliver the keynote address.

Thank you!

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Transcript of President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani’s Opening Remarks at the G7+ Ministerial Meeting

Kabul, 24.03.2016

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In the name of Allah the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate

Your Excellencies. Minister Marah, my colleague His Excellency Xanana Gusmao, Minister Tadjidinne, Minister Konneh, Special Envoy Pires, friends and colleagues on this remarkable shared adventure.

Welcome to Afghanistan! I am so glad that on this beautiful springtime day you can see firsthand the gap between the media perception of forbidding Afghanistan and the reality of our beautiful and hospitable country.

And welcome to this meeting of the G7+ group of nations.

I would like to personally thank you all for forming this group of like-minded leaders who are committed to reinventing aid.  Never has there been a time when international partnerships are more needed. And never has there been a system more in need of reform.

Let us begin with a statement of the problem. Global stability rests in the hands of states under threat.  Fourteen years ago state-building was not considered to be a crucial issue of world interest. Today the question of how to build stable, successful states is the pre-eminent question of our time. Building states and building peace are now goals shared by the entire world.

The general outline of what will bring success  — national leadership, regional coordination, and building up core country systems — is also now clearly understood and broadly accepted, in large part thanks to the untiring efforts of this group to open up the world’s eyes to the challenge of state-building.

But if these global goals are now agreed, the processes that will lead us to achieving them are still barely identified, much less turned into a specific disciplined, set of programs for action.

In my opening remarks this morning I would like to confront two of the challenges that this G7+ sisterhood of nations must address.

The first issue is the challenge of state fragmentation. The relationship between state weakness and fragmentation by now is so widely accepted as to be practically a commonplace statement rather than an insight into the drivers of fragility.  And yet if we frame overcoming fragility from the perspective of distinguishing between what is desirable from what in practice is credible or feasible given the current terms of aid partnership, it becomes instantly clear that the aid system perpetuates rather than overcomes fragmentation.

Current aid practices make state fragmentation inevitable. And while there have been some reforms over the past decades, the promises made in Paris, Seoul, Accra and elsewhere are not yet backed up by sufficient credible actions. Too many aid practices continue to prevent reformist leaders from negotiating strategy, consolidating their budget, and managing their economy in self-reliant ways.  Too often aid partnerships mean that our ministries become speckled with specially created project units that magically appear and never go away. Our ministries and our civil society groups lose their talent to high-paying consultancies that are then sent to build the capacity that they just drained away. Our budgets become assemblages of donor projects that cannot be restructured or re-positioned to tackle new needs.

Not all aid works this way. When leadership can conceptualize its reforms then the aid community can help facilitate and catalyze the kinds of change that build capacity, which is again a lesson on why our leaders must drive reform rather than wait for it to happen.

But if aid still poses the external constraint, we ourselves must address more credibly the problems within us. How many of our countries remain trapped in the bottom-most rungs of the Transparency International rankings?  We cannot continue to ignore this fact or to blame others for not solving this problem that eats our countries alive from within.

Our grasp of corruption remains weak, trapped in the realm of definitions and denunciations but still lacking the framework that will let us define its contours and domains of action. Our discourse on corruption ends up describing bribe paying and bribe-taking as individual transactions that must be brought to an end rather than as the inevitable result of deep sociopolitical processes that must be understood and addressed from within.

State corruption can be analyzed as a fourfold process of elite capture. In many countries that have experienced war and social conflict, capture begins with the perversion of the security sector. Powerful individuals can use the security sector to make enormous amounts of illicit money. Their use of the public security forces ensures impunity. A first breakdown of trust in government quickly follows. Corruption in the security sector allows the threat of force to stifle the development of the rule of law. Economic policy making also erodes in the face of special interests. A stifled economy is further pressured to grab rents rather than build up productivity, further choking growth.

Government institutions often then become the means to perpetuate corrupt behavior rather than the tool for building development.  Oversight systems themselves become captured or emasculated. Without controls, high-level corruption subverts sectoral institutions and entire ministries can become corruption machines. Further down, corrupt officials could control access to positions, contacts, and payments to contractors and other service providers. Public procurement became the means to reward bribe-payers rather than the mechanism for government to obtain value for money.

Finally, political capture drives political leaders to reward followers rather than promoting the national interest. With capture, government reform efforts are blocked if they bring to an end privileged access, and internal organizational reforms will be subverted by political pressure to appoint followers throughout the system.

If this fourfold process of state capture can be easily described and to some extent measured, the remedies that get brought to bear by the aid system not only provide little help in addressing them, but all too often become part of the problem that we are trying to solve. The solution to fragmented and captured states is never going to be more consultants, anti-corruption plans, or good governance projects. Reform will come when reformist leadership is fully equipped with the tools it needs to rebuild core state systems, above all an ability to recruit like-minded reformers into the system and to have the flexibility to use reform to deliver results.

What do state leaders need? In my remaining time I can only touch upon three core areas that in my experience will define the success or failure of the state-building effort here in Afghanistan.

First, reformist leaders need to be able to control their budgets. None of us can spend money. The symptoms of constipated budget management are pervasive. In almost every developing country the recurrent budget keeps rising while large amounts of the development budget remain unspent. And not spending money well means not implementing policy. We need to make public financial management reform and the repair of the budget process a central focus of attention. Poorly formulated budgets, inflexible budgets fragmented by aid projects and their PMUs, budget management by consultant — these are recurrent symptoms of what the aid agency should be helping us overcome. Instead they perpetuate them. I can only advise my G7 colleagues to take inspiration, as we have done, in the path breaking work done by His Excellency Xanana Guomao and Special Envoy Emilia Pires to take back control of their budget and use it to execute policy.

Second, our countries need to understand that across our countries there is a critical role for the state to build price-setting, resource-allocating markets. The past decade has seen the total failure of neoliberal ideology. After two decades of donors preaching to us about dismantling the state and removing it from all economic functioning, when their own real estate, banking, and automobile industries imploded in 2008, every single one of them turned to state-driven solutions. Clearly we do not want to return to centrally planned and managed economies, but defining the role for smart, efficient state in building markets, defining economic strategies, and providing incentives needs to be re-thought.

Third, if state-building rebuilds the ability of our states to carry out their core functions, peace-building must provide a charter of citizenship rights for both women and men that restores a belief that we are all part of one nation. Peace must consist of a program to build citizenship, both at the symbolic level of creating what the late scholar Benedict Anderson called an “imaginary community” and at a practical level of trust that citizen’s engagements with state agents is on the basis of clear rules and transparent rights and obligations. Development can then become not the trickle down form of compensation that it often is, but a citizen-driven agenda whose outcome is a trusted, credible state that works on behalf of the common good. Here in Afghanistan we will soon be launching a nationwide Citizen’s Charter that will not just provide the development rights guaranteed by our constitution, but be the foundation for a renewed partnership between our citizenry and our state.

We have chosen a formidable task. But it is a task on which global peace, stability and prosperity depend. Yesterday’s tragic events amidst our European brothers and sisters transcend any divide between developed and developing countries and shows that we are all in this boat together.

This conference must produce a vision of hope, possibility, and solidarity. But before I close I would like to express my wish that we G-7+ members think through what we want this G7+ process to be. Reading through the documents this morning I was struck by how many of them sound just like the consultancy reports that each day I get fed by the international agencies.

Aid is seductive. Development is not just a practice. It is a mindset. Aid agencies will leap to insert their language, mentalities, and procedures into our thinking and we will respond like Pavlov’s dogs to the ringing bell of technical assistance. And who wouldn’t since that entire world of fragility assessments, country assessments, fiduciary assessments, performance metrics and so on that we continually need to be feeding the aid community in the name of partnership are so time-consuming and distracting for our people to prepare? And so we gratefully accept the assistance and dutifully produce the reports.

I do not think we should go much further down this path. The G7+ is a way to use our common experience to push back against the hegemony of the aid industry.   Our purpose is to substitute aid practices with the kinds of rules, tools, and partnerships that will help our leaders carry out their national agendas. We should not take in aTrojan horse filled with consultancies, studies, and reports to reproduce some “global consensus” on what the donor agencies need.

Our purpose in this network of shared needs is to articulate an agenda to re-negotiate those rules.  Our guiding principle should be whether we — the national leaders who not only believe in reform but have been entrusted to carry it out — really need all of these expensive, time-consuming studies and reports.

We must use these meetings and our network to propose a wholly new set of flexible, effective partnerships that strip away whole levels of stuffy, time-consuming and in the end largely ineffective procedures that grew up over decades of mentored development.

And we must learn to do this work ourselves. We see every day that our countries are increasingly filled with bright, well-educated young people eager to rebuild their countries. They are our greatest resource. We as leaders must build them the career paths, mentorships, and high level coaching not that they need but which weneed so that we can replace the shadow army of global consultancies with a new generation drawn and developed from within our own knowledge institutions.

State-building, peace-building, and market-building are the critical foundations for successful development. Our citizens, and the citizens of the world, are counting us to bring to pass a new model for prosperity, stability, and a future for their children. This process will be long. We  who are gathered here in Kabul today are taking small sips from a broad river. But our countries have much wisdom within them. May your discussions be fruitful.

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