INDIA-AFGHANISTAN RELATIONS

Extract of the address by The President of Afghanistan, Mr Mohd. Ashraf Ghani, at the civic reception hosted in his honour by India Foundation on 19 September 2018 in New Delhi

Let me begin with Thanks. First I would like to thank PM Modi, my friend and the friend of Afghanistan, for his steadfast attention to nurture this historic relationship. A billion ties will grow to billions more of hope in common understanding. I would like to thank the Indian people. The welcome that has been given to Afghans, the billion dollars that India committed is an indication of the commitment of every Indian to the future of Afghanistan. I would also like to thank Indian businesses. In Mumbai last week, the economic corridor resulted in 120 million dollars in contract and close to over 400 million dollars in MoUs. Indian business is very welcome and on Digital India and Digital Afghanistan, I would like to thank Dr. Mohammad Humayon Qayoumi, former President Emeritus of San Jose State University and currently Minister of Finance of Afghanistan for having created a very special relationship with Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Business. As a result, there are going to be at least 1000 virtual labs for the remotest schools in Afghanistan. We have turned technical assistance by its head by agreeing to virtual courses where instead of hundreds, now tens of thousands of young Afghan men and women will take courses, will be intensely examined and in the end instead of spending 4 years, will come for two months to India and get joined certificates. This is the new India partnering with new Afghanistan and there are no limits to understand it.

With respect to industry, commerce and all other related aspects, we would like India to consider Afghanistan as a platform for the global world. Like the air corridor, now to jump to territory, invest in Afghanistan to look towards Central Asia and beyond. This is the way to proceed. But I would like to thank Indian  educational  institutes.  Approx. 15000 Afghans are studying here, forming deep relationships and friendships that are going to be enduring.  Not only are our graduates from Indian institutes of  higher learning now serving in Afghan cabinet, but are working across the board.  A young Afghan who wrote an MA thesis with  93  percent  originality  on  water resources  is  now  Deputy  Minister  of water and energy in Afghanistan. I have also been  given a list of 100 Afghans who have topped in Indian Universities. As soon as I return I am going to invite them collectively and appoint them to positions    across    the    board.    But particularly I would also like to thank Indian  democratic  institutions.  What India and Afghanistan share is a deep and    abiding    trust    in    democratic institutions and the will of the people. I am here because I am the elected leader of Afghanistan speaking in the world’s largest democracy and forging relations between these two democratic nations.

Today,  there  are  two  contending views  on  the  future  of  Afghanistan. What are these views?

The first is what our relationship with India illustrates, that Afghanistan serves as a platform for regional and global cooperation. Toynbee coined a term for us, he called us a Roundabout, a place where ideas, people and goods flow, interact and inform each other. Throughout 2000 years, we were a roundabout. The contrasting term he developed for our present situation was cul-de-sac, where things get stuck, where walls are built and where exclusion is practiced. Afghanistan firmly believes in becoming the roundabout. But the contending view also exists. That is why there is a war waged against us, and Afghanistan has become a stage for regional and global instability.

Let us understand what is at stake. Afghanistan, by networks of violence, transnational terrorist and criminal networks, has been offered nothing but blood, destruction and more destruction. We need to understand that what is at stake today in Afghanistan is the stability of the region and of the world. To deliver and realise the wishes and aspirations of our people, the government of national unity is working relentlessly to ensure that we become an Asian roundabout and a platform for cooperation. Next year is going to be the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and also the 100th anniversary of our independence. When we gained our independence, we were the only country in the region that had both stability and prospects of modernity. Unfortunately, the 20th century was extremely cruel to us. We intend to make the 21st century a century of success for us in the region. Despite the fact that I am 69 years old, I speak for the generation that is below 35.I am proud that we are the youngest cabinet in the region. I also speak for the women of Afghanistan. We are extraordinarily proud of our ministers and ambassadors. But we are also particularly proud of our women social activists. Afghan women no longer need voices of others to represent them. They can speak for themselves with clarity, compassion and conviction. I salute the Afghan women for their extraordinary courage and determination. The Afghan women will no longer be put in a cage again. No one can do that, because they are determined—and God help a person who crosses an Afghan woman! They are very similar to their Indian sisters.

What is the nature of the war that is being practiced on us? It is an unrestricted war waged against both secular and religious spaces. It is a multi-dimensional war that is fought both on and off the battlefield. It is a political fight, a war of intelligence, a war  of  political  destruction.  Most fundamentally, it is not just a war against the state or the political system. It is now a war against our society. In the past week, the 20th attack on West Kabul by terrorist group took place. Particularly distinguished Afghan men and women who ethnically call themselves Hazaras, a lot of whom profess to be Shia Muslims were subjected to these attacks. This is a war against our national unity and our religious freedom and religious accord. We will not tolerate it, we will not allow it, we will contain it and we will defeat it. Afghanistan’s national unity is where every Afghan believes in the equality of other Afghans. This is enshrined in our Constitution as is the equality of Afghan men and women. In order to not make accusations, we ask for an international commission of civil society, security sector experts from the world to investigate this crime that we consider a crime against humanity. And I hope the world would respond. We ask for a civil society commission because the international bodies are bound by other sets of rules. And the international civil society must be heard to know what is happening and how to contain it.

Let me now get to the question that might be on some people’s minds. Given the news headlines, is the state of Afghanistan at risk of collapse? My answer is a categorical no. Why, you may ask? Because we have the forces and the resources, and the public will not allow for a collapse. We are fighting for survival and for the future but we are not at the risk of collapse. There are many reasons for this confidence in our ability, but I will enumerate just one. We have a 40,000 strong Commando and Special Forces. They can reach any place in Afghanistan within 12 hours. State collapse is thus not an alternative. The main reason that the war has become unrestricted is that our opponents have not been able to defeat Afghan security and defence forces. But the cost we are bearing is high, in terms of casualties—both civilians and security personnel—as also the casualties suffered by our opponents.

At stake for us is the lives of our future generations. We are not fighting just for the current generation. We are fighting for our children and for those not yet born. We are fighting for those Afghans whose families come from the remotest parts of the country. We are literally fighting for the next five generations. But we are an extraordinarily resilient people. When Afghans as a nation make up their minds they are headstrong and they can do the impossible. The enemies of peace ought to know that this is not a nation which will surrender, accept defeat or act with cowardliness.At stake for us is the lives of our future generations. We are not fighting just for the current generation. We are fighting for our children and for those not yet born. We are fighting for those Afghans whose families come from the remotest parts of the country. We are literally fighting for the next five generations. But we are an extraordinarily resilient people. When Afghans as a nation make up their minds they are headstrong and they can do the impossible. The enemies of peace ought to know that this is not a nation which will surrender, accept defeat or act with cowardliness.

What is at stake for the region? Today, the region is at a crossroad. South Asia is the least economically explored region of the world. We need to overcome the present turmoil we face to create a different future. This wasn’t our past. South Asia for thousands of years was a region of connectivity, and 3000 to 5000 years of history join us together. Through the earlier Silk road, a great set of common activities have bound us together. This place that we call India and Afghanistan has been a place where pilgrims, traders, Sufis, Jogis — all sorts of people, and of course some armies too — have moved forward and interacted. But the rich fabric of the past has been a fabric of networks and activities. In the 16th century trade had nurtured. As an example, the Bills of exchange from far parts of Bengal were accepted not only in Kabul but also in Bukhara and  in Baghdad. We need to renew that past. A stable Afghanistan will allow uplifting the country and the region from poverty to prosperity, from dis-connectivity to connectivity and shared understanding. This is what Afghanistan and India are practicing. This is where our common vision unites us. But we have to fight and defeat the forces that seek to establish a network of violence, else they rob the region from the generation of connectivity, mutual prosperity and growth.

Today, Afghanistan is defending itself. Over 100,000 international troopshave left and I had the honour of leading the security transition. We have demonstrated that we can defend ourselves, we can die for our nations, and we are willing to fight for it. The fight is no longer of that of the state, the war is no longer that of the international community. The Afghan people have now become the key stakeholders in this conflict. They are not fence sitting and they actively articulate. And because of this, Afghan peace is our most significant national priority and part of the consensus. A recent survey carried out by a very distinguished institute of civil society concluded that 93 percent of Afghans desire peace.

Surveys are one thing and behaviours are another. Why do we believe that internal Afghan peace is possible? For that we carried out a very simple controlled experiment — We declared a ceasefire. We did so because 2907 clerics of Afghanistan convened and issued a united Fatwa and asked me to declare a ceasefire. And within 4 days I acted on their request which was accepted by the Taliban. What did we learn? A week earlier, about 1000 Afghans from both sides had died in the country. But during the ceasefire, over 30,000 Taliban came to the cities. They were not greeted with hatred nor were they lynched or shot at. On global television channels, we saw scenes of Afghans joining in the celebration and accepting each other. This was indeed very encouraging. We learnt from the ceasefire that Afghans as a nation are willing to forego the past in order to gain the future. About four decades of conflict could lead to theories that we are not ready for peace, but this bold experiment showed that we are now ready for social peace and we are indeed ready to brace the future. It also shows that the ceasefire was 98 percent implemented.

The Afghan society has a consensus on making peace but does not have a consensus on the cost of it. What does it mean to be a stakeholder society? Consensus cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be reviewed. And peace must be an Afghan-inclusive peace and not a partial peace. Why is peace with Taliban important? Because if we arrive at peace with Taliban we can concentrate on counter-terrorism in earnest. No matter how long the conflict has gone on for and how much blood has been spilt, Taliban are a part  of Afghan society. But foreigners, members of Daesh and other international terrorist networks are not. So we need to devise a system to separate what is internal from what is regional and global. The consequence of this will enable us to embark on the real task that Afghan society demands, which is the empowerment of the poor. 40 percent of Afghans live below poverty and we need to lift this segment.

A question often asked is, will we be able to pay for our security? Our current security bill is $6.2 billion a year whereas our national revenue is $2.4 billion. So, will we be able to pay by 2024 and are we committed to do so? The answer is Yes, absolutely. We carried an intense examination for a month and we have realised we could do savings of $2.2 billion in the two remaining brackets or $2 billion for counterterrorism and $2 billion  for police and others. Where India again becomes important is helping in the growth of the economy. In that regard what happened in Mumbai and what we have offered today will enable us to truly develop the underdeveloped resources of Afghanistan. That’s where every Afghan is a stakeholder in the society and the economy.  The consequence will be that every Afghan will become a stakeholder in regional peace, cooperation and global security and prosperity. It’s with that hope that I again thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak to you. To thank the Indian people and the Indian government for embracing Afghanistan in a mutual vision of the future where reinforcing actions creates a virtuous circle against a vicious circle that for the past 40 years has prevailed.

Jai India, Jai Afghanistan.

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