H.E. President Hamid Karzai's Speech at the India Today Conclave

New, Delhi February 25, 2005 - "Afghanistan and Future of the Region"

Honourable Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Senator Hilary Clinton
Distinguished guests,

Thank you Mr Purie and the 'India Today' for inviting me to this year's Conclave. I also thank the Government of India for the kind hospitality extended during my visit. It is indeed a great pleasure to be back in India, a country where I spent some of my life's best years as a student. I have very fond memories of Simla, one of the most elegant towns I know. Simla is, by the way, both a city of learning and reflection, as well as a remarkable holiday destination. So, Mr Purie, you will be well advised to consider convening your next Conclave in Simla. Although one could also make do with Delhi.

Gentlemen and ladies,

The theme of this Conclave, Perception versus Reality, and its focus on the future, is timely not only for India, but for the region as well. It is also fitting, I believe, that we have gathered in India, a country with vision, resources and great potential, to discuss a new bold future for our countries and for our region. Indeed, the destinies of our countries are fundamentally interdependent. Our region is culturally rich, naturally endowed and strategically located. Together we have tremendous potential to grow and prosper.

However, for all our strengths and potential, we suffer from poverty, and are vulnerable to violence, conflict and extremist tendencies. The solution to our common challenges, be it poverty or extremism, lies in deepening our social and political ties, as well as increasing economic convergence in our region. Our people already share much in common historically and culturally. We must deepen this interconnectedness, and broaden it economically. But to do this, we should look forward beyond the constraints of today's reality; perceive a better, more prosperous future for our people; and then together make our transition towards that goal.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Afghanistan has been called the world's newest democracy, due to our successful presidential election last October. Democracy as a system of government may indeed be unprecedented in Afghanistan, but democracy as a way of life, a set of principles and values, is deeply embedded in our society. We are a country of councils; the Loya Jirga (Grand Council) has been a time-tested institution contributing, for centuries, to the political life of our country. Our people value traditions and find strength and comfort in community, but we are also an individualistic society, that respects personal choices. Afghanistan is a devout Muslim country, and Islam teaches us that the state and society must be just; that the law must be honoured by all; and that men and women must fulfill their responsibilities towards humanity as well as Allah. The October election in Afghanistan, therefore, was the fulfillment of the tenets of our faith, at the same time as being a victory for democracy and its universal values. But, equally, the success of our election was an emphatic rejection by Afghans of the menace of extremism.

Speaking of extremism, in Afghanistan this phenomenon was a legacy of the tribulations of the past twenty five years. The Taliban phenomenon did not originate from the Afghan society, nor did extremism. Afghanistan's troubles, ladies and gentlemen, began at the height of the Cold War when the former Soviet Union invaded our country trying to impose an alien ideology on a population that was deeply religious, and strongly jealous of its sovereignty. We waged a 10-year Jihad, in which we received backing from our neighbours and the Western world. While the world's help was crucial in enabling us to push back the Red Army, it also opened the country to a parallel invasion, this time by radicals and extremists. Many of our benefactors in the war against the Soviet Union either actively propelled extremism as an instrument to fight communism more zealously or ignored it. And in the midst, the Afghan people endured unspeakable horrors.

Our miseries were compounded when, after the withdrawal of the Soviet army, the world turned a blind eye to the residues of the war. Foreign extremists found a haven in the war-ravaged Afghanistan, where the state was crippled and the society reduced to bankruptcy, to wage their wars against the world. And, when extremism grew too much in strength, and when it showed the world its horrible face on September 11 th 2001, the world ultimately woke up to this menace. We Afghans knew the nature and force of the menace long before 9/11, and we fulfilled our responsibility of warning the world about it over the years. Regrettably, each time we voiced our alarm over the danger that was brewing in Afghanistan, we were listened to with doubt and disbelief.

Today, we know better; we must continue to fight extremism collectively and decisively wherever it may be found. We must defeat those who seek to use terror and violence to dominate societies, but equally, we must address the root causes of extremism. This struggle, in both of its dimensions, demands broader global participation. And our recent history teaches us that acting at the dictates of narrow self-interest is the wrong way. Only a strategy that emphasises morality, and our responsibility towards each other, and towards those who suffer, is the way forward. The threat is global, and so must be our response.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We in Afghanistan, with the help of the United States and the rest of the international community, have fought and won the first part of the battle with extremists. We are now working to win the more long-term struggle, the struggle of rebuilding Afghanistan so that our country will never again be a safe haven for groups that define themselves by terror.

Today, in Afghanistan, I witness the future of my country unfolding. It is a future full of promise and opportunity, but it is also a future that we Afghans will not work alone to create. Since the liberation of my country three years ago, we have taken steady steps toward creating a legitimate government, putting in place strong and effective institutions, and reviving a war-shattered economy, with the help of the international community, including India. During this period, we held two successful Loya Jirgas, ratified a new constitution, conducted national Presidential elections, and established a new Government.

Our new Constitution is enlightened and progressive. It recognizes our cultural and religious heritage, while safeguarding the rights of all citizens and celebrating our rich diversity. Our election, with an almost 80 percent voter turnout – 42 percent of whom were women – was a milestone, unparalleled in its political and historical significance for our country.

Our people will, in a few months, elect their representatives to the parliament which will, according to the constitution, include at least 27 percent women representatives. A permanent independent election commission has been established to hold the elections. The inauguration of the newly elected legislature will complete our state structure, and provide greater stability to our democracy.

We have also prioritized the reform of key state institutions, including the civil service, the national army, and the national police which were destroyed during the war. The national disarmament program, aimed at reintegrating former combatants into civilian life, is progressing steadily, with more than 40,000 soldiers demobilized so far. Our judiciary is recovering from the damages of the past, increasing in competence and credibility. Stability, and an enhanced confidence in the rule of law, has helped the return of normalcy to our cities and countryside.

Long before our elections were held, three and half million of our refugees voted their confidence with their feet by returning home. I thank our neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, for graciously hosting millions of our refugees for decades. Our refugees have returned to a country where agriculture has been revived, and construction is booming.

  • Income for skilled and unskilled labour has quadrupled, in the last three years;

  • Living conditions have improved in both cities and rural areas;

  • Tens of thousands of skilled and semi-skilled labourers from our neighbouring countries are working in Afghanistan;

  • After many years of stagnation, our economy enjoyed an annual average growth of 20 percent over the past three years;

  • We have reformed our currency, facilitating commerce more efficiently and controlling chronic inflation;

  • The rebuilding of infrastructure, particularly our road network and communication industry, is creating the potential to facilitate regional trade at an unprecedented scale;

  • Once our road network is complete, Afghanistan will regain its former status as a land-bridge in the region, connecting Central Asia, South Asia and the Middle East;

  • Afghanistan is a vast market, largely unexploited, where investment has very high returns;

  • Hundreds of foreign companies, including many from India, are finding themselves lucrative deals, while also contributing to the reconstruction of Afghanistan;

  • Indeed, we are hoping that India will support the idea of a trans-Afghanistan natural gas pipeline, and that Indian firms will be involved in its construction.

Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, Afghanistan is not yet out of the woods, as they say. The effects of massive devastation caused by 25 years of war are very much present in our country. By many development indicators, Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries of the world. Our institutions are not yet adequately strong. Poppy cultivation and the drug economy, which thrive on the poverty and exploitability of our farmers, still remain obstacles to stability. These are tough challenges, but they are surmountable. They are surmountable in the face of the determination of the Afghan people, and the support of our international partners.

In short, ladies and gentlemen, Afghanistan is emerging from a painful past, and moving towards a better future, a future which sparkles with hope and promise, a future of peace and of prosperity. Since embarking on this new journey, many helping hands have been extended to us. I am very grateful, as are all Afghans, for the generous commitment and support we have received from the United States, Europe, Japan, our neighbours, including India, Iran, Pakistan, China and other countries.

And let me take a moment to especially highlight India's excellent contribution to Afghanistan. Your country is helping us build a major highway in the west of our country; construct the Salma hydro-electricity dam near Herat; build the power transmission line to Kabul from the north of Afghanistan; and – more notably – construct the building for Afghanistan's future parliament. Another crucial area of assistance is the contribution to our radio and TV stations that were destroyed during years of war. The Afghan people are grateful to you – the people of India – for your contributions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is time that we, together, articulate a new vision for our region. Our people need, and deserve, to be uplifted economically. We need to remove political barriers between us. Where extremists have tried to build walls, we are building bridges. We must harness and share our capacities for the benefit of more people in this region. We must seize the opportunity of the 'global village', by creating our own 'regional village' of peace and prosperity first.

In the same spirit, I am delighted to hear of the steps towards better relations that India and Pakistan have taken over the last few months. We all realise that establishing a bus link between Sri Nagar and Muzafarabad is not simply about ferrying people between the two cities; it is also a highly symbolic step showing the desire of the people of India and Pakistan for better, more interconnected and more prosperous lives. Such steps are vital if our region is to enjoy stability and prosperity.

And finally, ladies and gentlemen, the emergence of a stable, democratic, and thriving Afghanistan, eager to cooperate, is a great opportunity for the region. Afghanistan is keen to play its part in promoting economic convergence in our region. We are constructing our highways, so that markets and capitals in the region can be connected. We are working on the oil and gas pipeline project, so that energy reservoirs in one part of the region can be linked, through the shortest and quickest route, to consumer markets in other parts. Afghanistan will once again become a crossroads of trade and commerce, bridging South and Central Asia and the Middle East. We do this because it is our future, but we also realize that it is a future we share with you in this region. And, just as India and other countries of the region have joined in rebuilding Afghanistan, may we hope that a shared vision for the future of this region will bring us firmly and determinedly together.

Thank you!