IN THE NAME OF GOD THE MERCIFUL, THE COMPASSIONATE,
Speaker Boehner, Chairman of the Senate Mr. Biden, Senate Majority Leader. McConnell, House Majority Leader McCarthy, House Minority Leader Ms. Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Mr. Reid, Ladies and Gentleman of the Congress, please allow me to thank you for your gracious invitation to address this unique forum of deliberative democracy.
Above all else, I would like to begin by thanking the people of the United States, whose generous support for my country has been of such immense value in advancing the cause of freedom.
More than one million brave Americans have served in Afghanistan. They have come to know our snowcapped mountains, our verdant valleys, our windswept deserts, our parched fields, our unharnessed, flowing rivers, and our plains of waving wheat.
But more important than knowing our geography, they have come to defend and to know our people. And in return, the people of Afghanistan recognize the bravery of your soldiers and the tremendous sacrifices that Americans have made to keep Afghanistan free.
We owe a profound debt to the 2,315 servicemen and women killed and the more than 20,000 who have been wounded in service to your country and ours.
We owe a profound debt to the soldiers who have lost limbs to buried bombs, to the brave veterans, and to the families who tragically lost their loved ones to the enemy’s cowardly acts of terror.
We owe a profound debt to the many Americans who have come to build schools, repair wells, and cure the sick. And we must acknowledge with appreciation that at the end of the day it is the ordinary Americans whose hard-earned taxes have over the years built the partnership that has led to our conversation today.
The service of American men and women, civilian or military, in our country has been made possible by the bipartisan support of the Congress of the United States .On behalf of our own parliament and people, I salute and thank you. It ihas always been a pleasure to receive and interact act with Congress men and women during your visits to Afghanistan. Please do come again and again, and if you are reservists, please come in your proud uniform.
Veterans will always be welcome in Afghanistan. Our deepest hope is that the time will come when Americans visiting our country see the cultural heritage and natural riches of the Bamiyan valley, the ancient Timurid architecture of Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, the fishing streams of Badakshan and Takhar, the forests of Khost, Kunar, Nuristan and Paktia, and, the ancient architecture of Farah, Helmand and Nimroz, not as soldiers, but as parents showing their children the beautiful country where they served in the war that defeated terror. On behalf of my entire country, when that day comes, you will be our most welcome and honored guests.
America’s support to Afghanistan has been led by a succession of remarkable generals. I am proud to have known and worked with Dan McNeill, McKiernan, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, John Allen, Joseph Dunford and John Campbell.
Their commitment and dedication is inspirational. These generals lived in simple quarters. They worked tirelessly though the night. And their leadership of their troops has set an example that our generals are working hard to follow.
Your civilian leaders are no less inspirational. Ambassadors such as Ronald Neumann, Zal Khalilzad, Karl Eikenberry, Ryan Crocker, James Cunningham and my good friend Michael McKinley give American diplomacy first-class leadership and strategic understanding. And I would be remiss to not mention the stimulating conversations with my friends from this chamber, like John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Carl Levin, and the many fine Congresspeople who have come to Afghanistan over the years. But I must also acknowledge the deeply appreciated contributions of the aid workers and NGOs who are the day to day representatives of your country. I have met people from all 50 states of the union, from Senators and Representatives to construction workers and computer operators. I want to thank all of them for introducing the best of America to the people of Afghanistan.
And finally, I would like to thank President Barack Obama. He is an admirable and principled partner. His support for Afghanistan has always been conditional on our performance. I like and appreciate his clear and disciplined approach to American engagement. Thanks to his strict rigor, we were encouraged and supported to build up the Afghan armed force into the self-reliant army that it is today. Because he stood firm on the deadline for the surge and the transition, the US Army pulled off a logistical near-miracle, first deploying and then withdrawing more than 100,000 soldiers without a hitch and timed right to deadlines. And it is thanks to his promise to America to end active combat that we saw a seamless handover of responsibility for all combat operations from your side to ours on December 31st, 2014.
Tragedy brought our two countries together but it is our shared interests and values that will keep us together. September 11, 2001 was not a distant image that I watched on the emotionless screen of television. It was horrific and it was personal. i was in my office at the World Bank when the first plane smashed into the World Trade Center and forever changed the lives of each and everyone of us.
New York is a special place for me and my family. My wife and I are both graduates of Columbia University. I was another beneficiary of America’s wonderful generosity that has built so many long-standing friendships through its unparalleled universities. I ate corned beef at Katz’s, New York’s greatest, greasiest, pickle lined melting pot.
Close friends were working near the trade center. My children were born in New York City, and my daughter was living in New York when the twin towers fell.
I visited Ground Zero that very week. Seeing firsthand the tragedy and devastation drove home the realization that after 9/11 the world would never be the same. I went home, knowing that American would seek justice, and I began to write the plan for our national reconstruction.
Indeed, justice came swiftly. Al Qaeda terrorists were killed or driven underground. The Taliban, acknowledging their losses after the initial encounters, quickly vacated the cities, with their leadership moving to Pakistan and their rank and file returning to their villages.
There was considerable anxiety as to how the Afghan people would respond to the American presence. The issue was put to rest by the welcome accorded to the American soldiers and civilians as partners. Even today, despite the thankfully rare if no less tragic “green on blue” incidents by Taliban infiltrators, the overwhelming majority of Afghans continue to see partnership with the United States as foundational to our future. There is no better proof of this than last October’s overwhelming and immediate parliamentary approval of the Bilateral Security and the Status of Forces Agreements, both of which testify to our desire to continue the partnership.
Afghanistan has been the frontline of the global battle against extremism. America, as a result, has been safe, but that safety has been ensured through the loss of American and Afghan lives in the fight against terror. We have made great sacrifices, but then it is our patriotic duty to do so. You, on the other hand, had a choice.
Most recently, due to the refusal of our previous Government to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement and the Status of forces Agreement with NATO, we had lost momentum and both partners had to operate under uncertainty, resulting in some eight months of lost time in the most critical moment of transition. You could have used this opportunity to end the partnership and return home in frustration. But you did not. Thanks to the flexibility shown by President Obama and Congress, we have made up for the loss and have regained momentum, without breaking by even a day the promise of President Obama to the American people that the US combat role would end on December 31 2014.
Building a Self-Reliant Afghanistan
I would like to talk a little more about our partnership because it is evolving. We are starting to balance the focus on security with a new emphasis on rule of law and justice, growth, and the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. The framework for our future relationship is defined by our Strategic Partnership agreement and the Bilateral Security Agreement. On your side, you have re-affirmed your commitment to support Afghanistan. On our side, we will focus on self-reliance. To get there, we have initiated reforms that will create a self-sustaining Afghanistan,
As the current phase of our relationship draws to a close, our appreciation for the depth of America’s contribution to our people cannot be measured in words alone. But it can be seen quite literally in the numbers of Afghans whose futures have been changed thanks to America and its allies. On September 10, 2001, there were no girls enrolled in school in Afghanistan. It was illegal to educate girls. Today more than three million girls in primary schools across the country are learning to openly and actively participate in the future of a democratic Afghanistan.
Their parents thank you.
In 2002, when the allies built their first clinics, the average lifespan of the ordinary Afghan was 44 years. Today it is over 60.
Their children thank you.
Today the rate of maternal mortality in our poor country remains unacceptably high, but, thanks to the immense effort you have made to build clinics and train nurses, an Afghan woman no is longer more likely to die because she gave birth to a child than if had she had somehow fought on the frontline of combat.
Their husbands thank you.
Our partnership with America and its allies has brought our country hope where we had none. We would, once again, like to thank you for that wonderful gift from your people to ours.
But in Afghanistan there is a saying that no gift can remain un-reciprocated. Today I would like to return that gift of re-born hope by offering the American people a partnership with a nation that is committed to the cause of freedom and that will join the fight against the growing threat of terrorism.
I will use my remarks today to tell America the history of how a future Afghanistan came to be. It is a story about how a poor country that relied on foreign help became a self-reliant nation where free trade and the rule of law let Afghan businesses create jobs and prosperity for its people. It is also a story about how a country that had been ravaged by conflict became a platform for peace and regional stability and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen, the story about Afghanistan’s path to self-reliance has already started. It began with last year’s election and the formation of our national unity government. Afghanistan’s external image is of a traditional country that has been frozen in time. But CEO Abdullah and I ran intense and passionate campaigns on the most modern of issues, such as the need to end corruption; taking the actions that will build transparency into government; and guaranteeing support for the impartial rule of law. Campaigns became forums for public debate. In the final election, not only did more than seven million Afghans turn out to the polls, but more than 38% of the votes were cast by women, many of whom had never previously had the chance to speak politically with their own voice.
There is no denying that the election was hard-fought and at times bitter. But in the end we chose the politics of unity over the politics of division. The National Unity Government brings together all parts of the country to make the government the arena where disputes are raised and resolved. Dr. Abdullah and myself my not initially agree on every issue, but we both believe deeply that spirited debate will produce better outcomes than will confrontational stalemate.
Afghanistan is well suited to democracy. Like Americans, Afghans are individualists. Our key characteristics are our openness and hospitality.. We believe in equality. Even in the most traditional parts of the country, our leaders must earn rather than inherit their positions. There is a strong public conscience. People are expected to act for the common good. We love debate.
Ladies and Gentleman, please allow me to introduce you to Afghanistan. We are an old country, with a proud heritage and a history of trade with our neighbors. We have had bills of exchange for at least two thousand years. For at least three millenia, we have been a hub for the caravans and trade networks that spread across Asia bringing Chinese silks and Indian textiles to ancient Rome and Renaissance Italy.
The 19th century disrupted this world, as it did in so many other places. Afghanistan became an isolated buffer caught between two expanding empires. The emergence of the Soviet Union further isolated our country, culminating in the 1979 invasion and the subsequent war of resistance.
Today, however, the isolation is over. First, awareness is growing that Afghanistan is, quite literally, the heart of Asia. Asia cannot become a continental economy without us. Asia in the next 25 years will have its 1869 — the year that the east and west coasts of the United States were joined through the transcontinental railway — but this completion of a new, inter-connected Asia cannot happen without us.
Our fragmented geography can once again become the opportunity for integrating Central, West, East and South Asia into a network that supports stability and prosperity over a vast swathe of the world’s surface. Diplomatic efforts to advance integration can free up cross-border trade and support multi-country investments in energy, transport, and water such as the Central and South Asia (CASA )1000 Transmission and Trade program. And I truly that believe that diplomatic efforts backed by the leaders of our countries will build the peace and prosperity for South and Central Asia in the same ways that the Common Market has done so for Europe and ASEAN has done for our neighboring region to the east. We envisage an Afghanistan that in twenty years has become a hub of trade and gas pipelines, power transmission lines, railways, modern telecom and banking services.
The Changing Ecology of Terror
Ladies and Gentlemen, if one story of our future history is bright, there is another, darker cloud that is making its way towards our country. Afghanistan’s security transition took place against the backdrop of the unexpected rise of religious extremism in the Middle East. But the changed ecology of terror could not have formed without some states tolerating, financing, providing sanctuary, and using violent, non-state actors as instruments of short sighted policies.
It is critical that the world understand the terrible threat that the Daesh and its allied forces pose to the states of western and central Asia.
Terrorist movements whose goal is to de-stabilize every state in the region are looking for new bases of operation. We are the frontline, but the terrorists neither recognize boundaries nor require passports to spread their messages of hate and discord.From the west, the Daesh is already sending advance guards to southern and western Afghanistan to test for vulnerabilities. To the south, Pakistan’s counter-insurgency operations, in which more than 40,000 people have already died, are pushing the Taliban from south Waziristan towards Afghanistan’s border regions.
Criminalization of the economy is an indispensable part of this new ecology of terror Control over the narcotics trade is providing the financing for these groups to find weapons and recruits, blurring the line between criminal economics and criminal politics.
Each one of these groups poses a clear and present danger to our neighbors, to the Arab-Islamic world, and to the world at large. Afghanistan is carrying forward everyone’s fight by containing this threat. But extremism is becoming a system, one that, like a dangerous virus, is constantly mutating, becoming more lethal, very media savvy, well financed, and thriving on state weakness and an overall lack of regional coordination.
To date, Afghanistan’s people have rejected the allure of violent Islam.
But sooner or later extremism will come knocking at our door. The world’s democratic communities must unite to fight against this dangerous form of violence.
Military fighting may stem the advance of extremism. But it will not put an end to the anger and hatred being promulgated across Muslim majority countries by these groups. That hatred must be challenged and overcome from within the religion.
The heart of the issue remains who is entitled to speak for Islam. Leaders, intellectuals, and those many millions of Muslims who believe that Islam is a religion of tolerance and virtue must find their voice. Silence is not acceptable.
But silence is not what the world will hear from us. Afghanistan is joining a new consensus that is emerging in the Muslim world, a consensus that rejects intolerance, extremism, and war. Scholars such as Fredrick Starr have documented beautifully Central Asia’s long tradition of rationalism and scientific inquiry. During Islam’s Golden Age, Muslim scholars synthesized and recorded all the known knowledge of the medieval world, giving the world advances in algebra, astronomy, water resource management, printing, and positive science This is the Islamic civilization that needs to re-invent itself. The Islamic world must understand its own gloriously tolerant and inquisitive past. It must re-engage with the world openly and without paranoid fears of encirclement.
We, the unity government of Afghanistan, know that Islam is a religion of peace. We are responding to extremism’s threats by building partnerships at the global, regional, Islamic, and national levels of governance.
Globally, Afghanistan abides by international conventions and the rule of law. We are staunch supporters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is firmly embedded in our constitution, obliging the state to achieve these rights for our citizens. We are committed to supporting our Independent Human Rights Commission, and I am pleased that Dr. Sima Samar, a tireless champion of human rights, is a member of this delegation and is today sitting in the audience of this great chamber. And our government will join the free trade system and harmonized investment rules that build prosperity and promote peace.
Regionally, we are engaging our neighbors across Asia to build trust and trade. Afghanistan will become a platform for cooperation in a vast region that extends from India to Azerbaijan and beyond. We have already made significant headway in making the vision of the Lapus Lazuli corridor that will link us to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Europe into a reality. The Arab-Islamic world, from Saudi Arabia and UAE, Qatar and Iran, is keenly aware of the new threats and we hope they will soon agree on a regional framework for cooperation. The recent declaration of a Council of Ulema across the Muslim world, may well be a historic turning point in building that alliance.
Properly supported, Afghanistan is uniquely positioned to block the spread of extremism. We have none of the historical inferiority complex that fuels resentment against western domination. With the bitter exception of the aberrant Taliban regime, Afghan Islam has traditionally been inclusive and reflective, not violent and angry. And after thirty-six years of conflict our people are well-vaccinated against the seduction of ideologically based conflicts.
Recovering the State
For Afghanistan to oppose the violence of extremists, we must turn our sights to the struggle to end the conditions that give rise to extremism in the first place. Our effort begins with the frank recognition of our problems and the challenges that we must tackle with determination and commitment. Nearly forty years of conflict have produced a country where corruption permeate our government. Until we root out this cancer, our government will never generate the trust to win the hearts and minds of our people.
We now openly and explicitly own these problems, and we have started this fight to overcome them. I would like to acknowledge the tremendous service provided by NGOs such as Transparency International and Integrity Watch, which have done yeoman’s work to expose the landscape of corruption so that we can systematically begin to cure ourselves of this horrible disease. Two days after taking office, my government re-opened the disgraceful case of the Kabul Bank and I am pleased to report that we have already recovered the first $25 million of stolen funds, with more to come as the courts authorize collections from the perpetrators of this crime against the nation. We are fully committed to a comprehensive reform of our legal system, and we will end the impunity that has shielded corrupt officials from punishment.
Ladies and Gentleman, ending corruption and impunity are the precursors of self reliance, but the true test will be whether we can restore the fiscal basis of public expenditure. We must create the environment where private investment, sustainable natural resource, and critical market-linking infrastructure development provide our youth with jobs, help us balance the budget, and launch the virtuous cycle that will let freed markets build our nation’s wealth.
Here I am pleased to report that we are reversing decades of mismanagement. Before coming to the United States our government concluded an agreement with the IMF that will set our government on the path of fiscal sustainability. We have provided our firm commitment to developing our natural resource endowments in minerals, oil, and gas. We will follow closely the principles of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. And, with help from experts from your Treasury Department, we have begun to design and implement a tax regime that will depend on the consent of our taxpayers rather than the charity of donors.
Long ago David Ricardo wrote that national wealth would grow as countries built upon their individual comparative advantage. Ladies and gentlemen, throughout modern history Afghanistan’s location in the heart of Asia has been its curse. It is becoming a blessing. In an age of global markets and sophisticated logistics, our comparative advantage lies in free trade, open borders, and providing a safe environment that encourages international investment to build the economy.
If economic growth is the first foundation block of self-reliance, the second foundation is with the education of Afghanistan’s women. No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away; uneducated and unable to contribute its energy, creativity, and drive to national development.
We Afghans respect and honor our wives and mothers. But there is a difference between modesty and marginalization. The Prophet Mohammed entertained no such fantasies about women’s absence from public life. His preachings of the holy teachings on worshipping God were supported by his wife Khadijah’s long-distance caravan business. After Khadija’s death, the Prophet remarried. His widow Aysha continued on, leading the generals who spread Islam’s message to the world. The idea that women should be locked away may be rooted deep in the traditional cultures of the Middle East, but it has no foundation in Islam.
Afghan culture traditionally had space for women as leaders, managers, and traders. The gender apartheid imposed by the Taliban came from people who had grown up outside of families, in refugee camps and religious boarding schools.
Our plan for restoring women’s place in society is built of three pillars that rest on a foundation of respect for the human, religious and constitutional rights of all of our citizens. First, and I want to spend a little time on this theme, educating women is not solely a matter of rights, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity.
I have said in the past that educating one young girl will change the next five generations of Afghans. I would not be standing before you today as an educated man had my grandmother, a refugee in India who had learned to read under the British, not taken it upon herself to make sure that I would match my youthful passion for hunting and riding horses with mastering the classic literature in Dari and Pashto and striving to excel in foreign languages.
Afghanistan’s self-reliance demands men and women who can run a modern economy. Basic health and education must reach all Afghan girls. That is a promise. But beyond providing all Afghan girls with these basic rights, we will increase to parity the number of women graduating from high schools and colleges. Even as I address you today, in Kabul designs are already being finished for an all-women’s university that will provide safe, top quality, education for the next generation of Afghan women leaders.
Let me tell you the story of Khatera Afghan, a young woman from Kandahar. Her schooling began when she braved threats of disfigurement by people swearing that they would throw acid in her face before they would let a girl attend school. .
She would not be dissuaded.
Her uncle threatened to disown her when she applied to university.
But she stared him down.
Khatera went to the American University of Afghanistan, where she not only topped her class but, aided by a Fulbright scholarship, went on to get a masters degree from The Ohio State University. Today, Khatera’s formerly angry uncle is so proud of her that he tells his grandchildren, both little boys and little girls, that they must all be as brave as their aunt Khatera.
Khatera, like thousands of Afghan women, thanks America for those opportunities — for the primary school teachers, for the university in Kabul, for the scholarship to Ohio — that changed her life and her children’s future.
The second pillar is that women must have the same access to economic opportunities as men. Women’s full empowerment will come about not through global conventions or government programs, but when they have jobs and own businesses. The United States has been a steadfast supporter of the nationwide National Solidarity Program, which for ten years has given not thousands but millions of poor village women their first chance to control their own resources.
Our third and final foundational belief is that a mental and cultural revolution must take place over the treatment of women in and by our society. There is no point talking about how much we respect women’s honor if we let rape go unpunished or allow harassment in our streets. We have signed the global conventions to end violence and discrimination against women. We will implement them vigorously. But work is still needed to convince our people that the protection of women’s rights is part and parcel of their own quest for social justice. I personally, as the leader of Afghanistan, am committed to working with the ulema, activists, and thought leaders of our country to bring about this mental change. Both the CEO and I will insist that the officials of our government set the national standard for workplace fairness.
Thanks to your help and support, the opportunities for women are indeed changing. I am sure that many of you have seen those stunning Skate-istan videos of fathers proudly taking their shiny-eyed daughters to show off their newfound skill in the ancient art of skateboarding. They are but the tip of the changes that are underway and which must be protected and advanced.
I am pleased to state that we have fulfilled our promise to name four women to the Afghan Cabinet, raising the women’s share to 20%. We are determined to name qualified women as ambassadors and to increase their number as deputy ministers. And we are working hard to attract and train a whole new cadre of women technocrats into our government. I promise you that five years from now our ministries will have a whole new look to them.
We are a country of young people. Th absolute majority of people are under thirty years of age. Youth are invested in the future, not in repeating the past. Jobs and engagement with the world are their first priority. Despite all of the assistance that Afghanistan has received over the years, thirty six percent of the population still lives below the poverty line, lacking even basic services such as clean water or household electricity. This cannot continue. We have articulated a Citizen’s Charter that will guide the investments that are needed to reduce poverty across the nation and prepare the next generation for capitalizing on the new opportunities that a thriving economy can provide.
Ladies and gentleman, so far I have talked about how we will achieve self reliance by ending corruption, balancing the budget, mobilizing the energies of our women and youth, and growing the economy. Let me now turn to the elephant that is lurking in the back of the room.
We must secure peace.
Afghans have shown that we know how to fight. Since as far back as the invasions of Alexander and the more modern expulsion of the Soviet Union, Afghans have shown that we will protect our country against foreign attack no matter how steep the price or how well-armed the intruder. I have no doubt that provided that they continue to receive equipment and training, our armed forces will stand firm against any efforts by outside extremists to build a base inside our territory.
But we must now show that we can also bring peace. Our strategy is built around three initiatives The first is to use our diplomacy to build a community of nations that is committed to stability in Asia. Dr. Abdullah and I have met with the leaders of Pakistan, India, Khazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and China. Their commitment for building mutual security across nations includes ending the financing and sanctuary for extremist groups.
The second initiative is to build up the ability of our own armed forces to project the elected government across our entire national territory. Our partnership with the United States and ISAF has given Afghanistan a well-trained army that is bringing the fight to the enemy. On December 31, 2014, all combat operations were handed over to the Afghan national security forces. General John Campbell, the US Commander of Resolute Support, has publicly testified in this very chamber that the Afghan army’s professionalism and morale meet all of a military man’s expectations. Thanks to our army, we will negotiate with the Taliban from a position of strength, not weakness, so that the hard-fought gains in education, health, governance, media freedom and women’s rights are not lost.
The third initiative will be our push for national reconciliation. The Taliban are not Al Qaeda. Many believe themselves to be patriots rebelling against the corruption and criminality that they saw in their towns and villages. We can deal with legitimate grievance. Provided that combatants agree to respect the constitution and the rule of law as the outcomes of negotiations, we are confident that we can find a path for their return to society.
Ladies and gentleman, I am not here to tell you a story about an overnight transformation of my country. Twelve years of partnership provide evidence enough that the road ahead will be difficult. We live in a rough neighborhood. We are a poor country. Self-reliance is our goal. We bear the scars of the fight against the Soviet Union and the forces of fundamentalism, scars that are as much in our minds as on the bodies of the Afghan farmers and American soldiers who have fought for freedom.
But although we may be poor, we are very proud. Our goal of self-reliance is no pipe dream told to pacify partners who are tired of hearing promises that we later fail to keep. We want your know-how — the business skills of your corporations, the innovation of your startups, and the commitment of your NGOs — but we don’t want your charity. We have no more interest in perpetuating a childish dependence than you have in being saddled with a poor family member who lacks the energy and drive to go out and find a job.
Afghanistan can and will be an enduring success. Your support, your understanding, and your commitment to our country will not have been in vain. Afghanistan will b the graveyard of Al-Qaeda and their foreign affiliates. Never again will our country be a host to terrorists. Never again will we give extremists the sanctuary to plan their destructive plots. We are determined to become the Asian development roundabout and the platform for the peaceful cooperation of civilizations.
Together, our two countries will finish the job that began on that clear, terrible, September morning almost fourteen years ago. We have the will and we have the commitment that will anchor our country in the world community of peaceful, democratic nations. Knowing our conditions, you, the American Congress, and the American people, will decide how to ensure that our common goals and interests are written into the books that will be telling the history of our shared future.
Thank you again, and may God bless the partnership between America and Afghanistan.
Dr. Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan