Distinguished colleagues, Dear friends
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to thank all our guests – Ambassadors and diplomats, representatives from the United Nations organizations and the OSCE, members of the Austrian Parliament, colleagues from Austrian Federal Ministries and institutions, Municipality of Vienna and the Afghan community in Austria for being with us this evening to celebrate the National Day, the 96th Anniversary of the Restoration of Independence of Afghanistan. The day that the progressive King Amanullah Khan opened a new chapter of the rich history of Afghanistan by introducing a contemporary constitution that enshrined a number of significant reforms and democratic values to form the basis of a modern nation state in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan, as an ancient civilization, has had a prominent role in globally promoting culture and science. Preeminent Afghan personalities including Ibn-e-Sina Balkhi, Mawlana, Zakaria Razi, Khajeh Abdullah Ansari, Rabia Balkhi, Nasser Khosro Balkhi, Allameh Sayed Jamal al-din Afghani, to name but a few, contributed to world civilizations.
At the same time, the people of Afghanistan for the last four decades had to pay a heavy price to protect the county against foreign intervention, terrorism, and imposed wars, but also produced numerous outstanding leaders and personalities who sacrificed their lives for the freedom and independence of Afghanistan.
15 years ago, Afghanistan, with the support of the international community, opened another new chapter of its history and during these years we have made significant progress in laying the foundations and building institutions to establish an independent and democratic state. The National Unity Government, making every effort at the national level and reaching out to our partners in the region and beyond for their continued support to consolidate our achievements and implement our National Priority Programs for the success of Afghanistan’s Decade of Transformation (2015-2024).
To this end, Afghanistan has been actively engaged with the international community and Vienna has proved to be one of the most important capitals for us. Here in Vienna and over the past two years we have made successful efforts to further strengthen the fruitful and friendly relations with the Embassies and Permanent Missions of our partner countries as well as with the OSCE, IAEA, UNIDO, UNODC, CTBTO, IACA, OFID and other international and regional organizations and I am grateful for their cooperation.
Our relations and cooperation with Austria, which started back in the 1950s, are valuable to us and dynamic. We thank the Austrian Government and people for their support towards Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stabilization process for the last 15 years, and we are grateful for Austria’s generosity in hosting Afghan refugees in this beautiful country.
Let me reiterate that for the past fifteen years, the people of Afghanistan, supported by our partners in the international community, have accomplished tremendous achievements including but not limited to: the creation of equal opportunities for all Afghan citizens, men and women; the establishment of a democratic government; holding of democratic elections on all levels; assumption of responsibility from the international forces; expansion of friendly long-term strategic relations with countries in our region and beyond; provision of education for millions of kids, 40% of whom are girls; progress in the health sector and in the infrastructure with now millions of internet users and the activation of the first Afghan satellite under the name Afghan-1. We are also very proud of our strong, free and independent media landscape, boasting 90 TV stations, 220 radio programmes and 600 print media. Clearly, Afghanistan has made enormous achievements in all social, political and economic areas.
However, we are well aware of the many remaining and emerging challenges in the country, which remain priorities to be tackled by the National Unity Government of Afghanistan.
The year 2015 has been an important year for Afghanistan. Since last year when we gathered here in the same venue, Afghanistan has completed the process of Transition and has entered the Decade of Transformation, with both historic achievements and remaining and emerging challenges on our scorecard.
Following the Transition process, the establishment of the National Unity Government has been a great achievement for the country. Representatives of all political parties and ethnic groups are represented in the Government’s leadership. They all had played their important roles over the past fifteen years and remain strongly committed to defend our achievements made during this period and to lead Afghanistan towards a peaceful, stable and democratic future. Shortly after the National Unity Government was established, agreements have been signed with the United States and NATO. The President paid visits to most countries in the region and many other states, explaining the positions of his cabinet and seeking opportunities for enhanced collaboration.
In his inaugural speech, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani named the thematic main pillars of Afghanistan’s Foreign Policy: 1. our neighboring countries; 2. the Islamic countries; 3. Europe, the U.S., Canada and Japan; 4. the Asian countries; 5. international institutions.
Regional cooperation remains a key element within our foreign policy, and we consider the Istanbul Process, launched in November 2011, as the foundation for confidence-building in regional integration. President Ashraf Ghani participated in the 4th Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process, held in Beijing in 2014, where he also emphasized on the importance of regional cooperation. We believe that stability in Afghanistan is interconnected with stability in the region. Therefore, Afghanistan signed agreements on good neighborly relations with our regional partners. We are convinced that together we can and will manage to effectively strengthen peace and security in our region.
The signing of bilateral agreements with the United States, NATO, regional countries and additional states of the international community shall not constitute any threat to other countries and our much-valued friendship with the United States is not intended to affect our friendship with other countries. On the contrary, it is our goal to help build bridges in order to achieve comprehensive and global security, peace and stability.
Our cooperation with all Islamic countries aims at building even stronger relationships. We are grateful for any assistance received from these countries and we hope for strengthened collaboration with the Islamic countries and the OIC in the future, also in terms of our joint fight against terrorism and extremism. It is our hope that all Islamic countries and institutions may unify their positions in this regard.
The government remains dedicated to further strengthen our relations with our partner countries but also with all other friendly nations. By accepting the leadership role of the Istanbul Process and RECCA-VI meetings in 2015, Afghanistan demonstrated the economy-orientated nature of its foreign policy. At the RECCA-VI meeting held in Kabul this month, on 3 and 4 September, delegates discussed a number of crucial topics including railway projects, energy transfer, mine exploitation, expanding trade and economic relations, and upscaling training and technical cooperation to support Afghanistan’s integration in the regional and global economy.
The National Unity Government of Afghanistan also showed its commitment to establish Afghanistan as a hub and crossroads for trade and transit – a connecting point between the Middle East, South and Central Asia. In this context, let me mention some of our major regional projects including the CASA-1000 electricity project, the TAPI pipeline, and a number of planned regional road and railway networks. The envisioned Lapis Lazuli Corridor which is planned to run through Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, across the Caspian Sea to Georgia, and then on to Turkey and Europe, marks another significant undertaking of our economic regional policy.
At the London Conference on Afghanistan, held on 4 December 2014, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani explained the three dimensions of transition in Afghanistan: 1) the political transition, transferring authority rather than power from one elected leader to another; 2) the security transition, with the Afghan National Security Forces assuming responsibility for the country-wide security, with the assistance for our international partners; and 3) the economic transition, where we have to redouble our efforts in order to accomplish our minimum objectives.
The President also made reference to a number of inter-related cross-dimensional priorities, such as the empowerment of women and youth, as well as the promotion of accountability, good governance and the fight against corruption.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) demonstrated their capability to provide security for the Afghan people and to defend the country against external and internal threats. To this day, Afghanistan remains a victim of international terrorism. We call on our friends and partners to continuously support our security forces through training and advice, equipment and funding. The Resolute Support Mission (RSM) provides great opportunities for further enhancing the capabilities of the ANSF. The fight against international terrorism including DAESH requires an aligned global response.
The National Unity Government considers peace essential for the Afghan people and achieving peace clearly remains a priority. To this end, the Government seeks peace talks with all groups willing to accept the norms, values and principles as have been set forth in our constitution. At the same time, the Government will continuously respond to all security challenges and will oppose all terrorist groups in the country. No parallel political structures shall be accepted.
Our fight against the cultivation and trafficking of illicit narcotics also remains high on our agenda, as the global menace of drugs is intertwined with many other transnational scourges including terrorism, and other forms of organized crime. We are counting on our partners in the region and beyond to jointly tackle this problem in all its facets, from demand reduction and eliminating the flow of chemical precursors to border security. The principle of shared responsibility must be upheld.
The Afghan Embassy and Permanent Mission in Vienna remains grateful to its host country, as we are sharing excellent relations that have been established six decades ago.
Austria, our beautiful host country, has contributed to the international community’s stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and is taking part in the Resolute Support Mission.
As I mentioned earlier, Afghanistan also greatly appreciates Austria’s generosity in hosting refugees from our country. In this context, let me say that Afghanistan is committed to the voluntary, dignified and gradual return of all refugees, whilst taking into account absorption capacities in Afghanistan. We recognize that returning refugees can play an essential role in rebuilding the country. However, we consider the issue of refugees as a purely humanitarian matter and believe that political trade-offs should not affect this important human rights issue.
The Government of Afghanistan is looking forward to enhanced cooperation between Austria and Afghanistan and we are convinced that the ongoing Decade of Transformation will offer plenty of fresh opportunities for increased economic and political engagement between our two countries.
Today, I wish to thank all of you present here, representing the friends and partners of Afghanistan who contributed financially and, sadly, also by sacrificing the beautiful lives of their loved ones, to provide a better future for the Afghan people. The Afghan people will never forget your most generous help and in particular those who lost their lives, and we will hold your precious friendship in high esteem.
Please be reassured that the Government will play its role as an active member of the international community, as a young, committed democracy, contributing to the protection of our shared values of humanity, freedom, peace, human rights and international security.
I wish to take this opportunity to welcome the new Ambassadors here in Vienna and wish good luck to those who will leave soon.
Let me once again thank you all for joining us tonight, and without further ado, I now open the dinner buffet and I wish you all a wonderful evening. Hopefully, you will enjoy the Afghan food. Thanks for coming!