Remarks by President Ghani at the 20th JCMB Meeting
9 July, 2017 | Char Chinar Palace – Kabul
In the Name of Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful
Minister Hakimi, Ambassador Yamamoto, Attorney General Hamidi, members of Cabinet, distinguished ambassadors, distinguished representatives, governors, members of Civil Society, women activists, friends, fellow citizens.
It is a distinct pleasure to welcome you to this JCMB and to thank you for your empathy and commitment. You have come to a city that is in mourning. Kabul is still grieving over the loss of our fellow citizens. The heinous attack of May 31st was not just an attack on the peaceful citizens of Kabul. It was also an attack on the accepted norms, conventions, treaties, and cultures of global diplomacy. Had it not been for the bravery of seven Afghan policemen, whom we mourn in an honor, even more lives could have been lost, including those of our international colleagues.
But what type of human being would engage in such criminal, barbaric, illegal behavior? Who would sponsor such acts of terror? How can they be given sanctuary and support? And what type of cynicism and indifference to the global community of law-abiding nations would rely on instruments of policy that allow criminal organizations to deliberately target and butcher civilians like those innocent victims, whose only crime was to be ordinary Afghans going to work to feed their families and raise their children?
You in the world community, we here in Afghanistan; we have all learned at great pain that when terrorism is allowed and even encouraged to flourish, terrorists will soon be defying their sponsors and spreading their destruction far beyond one country’s borders or people.
But the Afghan Spirit in general, and the spirit of the citizens of Kabul in particular is one of resilience and determination. We are recovering. Last week, I visited two schools – one of boys, one of girls – near to the site of the attack. The physical signs of destruction were everywhere, but all the young children assured me that their nightmares had stopped. When I asked how many wanted to be president one day, more than half raised their hands. Children have overcome; adults are still living with the nightmare, and we have to do a lot to end the nightmare of the adults and the youngsters.
Our spirit of determination is reinforced by the type of partnership that you, our international colleagues across the table and in this room have displayed.
First, you stayed united with us to convene the Kabul conference and renew the Kabul process. We stand united in a quest for peace because peace is the first priority of all the citizens of Afghanistan.
Second, you have been unanimous and clear in demanding adherence to the international norms of conduct that bind civilized communities together.
Third, you have shown your staying power. I want to thank each member of the international community, diplomats, development specialists and civil society activists, for your empathy, shared grief and resilience. You have earned the full right to be considered citizens of Kabul and as a Kabuli, I welcome you to the community of Kabul.
You have legitimate concerns about your security. I speak for all citizens of Kabul in saying that your security is our top priority. We have already introduced new security measures. Over the next weeks we will increase security in the city through more rigorous inspections; better traffic control to allow better monitoring and block infiltration; and stepped up training for the security and intelligence forces operating in Kabul. As the initial months will be difficult, I ask the citizens of Kabul to grant the government of national unity six months to ensure the security of this city.
But we also need better intelligence and more resistance from a citizenry that is mobilized to stop terrorists from entering the city. My consultations with more than 7,000 citizens of Kabul reveal a deep frustration with disorder and a consensus on the need for key reforms in security and development. The people need jobs. Without jobs, there will be a bottomless supply of collaborators and suicide bombers all too ready to join these well-financed groups. Based on this feedback, in addition to implementing drastic reforms in the ministries of Interior and Defense, we are implementing an emergency job creation package in Kabul that will be launched in the coming weeks.
Across the country, our people crave stability. Delivering on the desire requires to engage us in reinforcing processes of state building, market building, nation building, and peace building.
The majority of Afghan citizens have said multiple times that they want a state that can protect their constitutional rights and provide every Afghan with justice.
Corruption, bad governance, impunity, and reactive politics, however, are fundamental obstacles to achieving the type of state that the citizens desire.
Reform is not an option, it is an imperative. Without comprehensive reform, we will lose both the patience of our citizens and the support of our international partners – you have been very generous in blood and treasure. It is time we took our destiny in hand and took full responsibility for ourselves. For reform to be meaningful, it cannot be driven by one person, or one office. It must be nationally owned. The commitment to reform must come from the whole of government and reform must be seen across the whole of the state, from its national leaders to policemen and teachers.
I want to use the rest of my remarks to focus on some of these significant upcoming reforms.
Our state building efforts are directed at building a democratic state whose authority would be derived from the rule of law. The first core function of the state is to provide security to its citizens.
Since 2014, Afghanistan’s army has fought back terrorists, and bravely fought for a democratic and free Afghanistan. In the past weeks alone, our police have done a heroic job in the counter-terrorism arena, as manifested both by their heroism on May 31st, and in the subsequent foiling of a suicide attack targeting a mosque in west Kabul. However, the central structures on the security institutions have at times failed to provide systematic support to our brave soldiers and police and are in need of reform.
Our four-year security plan will ensure that we systematically convert the security forces into efficient, incorruptible defenders of the nation. Let me thank all men and women in the Resolute Support Mission and particularly General Nicholson and his colleagues for their steady partnership and commitment. Over the last 2.5 years, the Ministry of Defense has been substantially reformed, and with help from our partners for training, technology, and better coordination, we are confident that the ANSF will soon be meeting all international standards for professional armed forces. The judgment of Minister Bahrami, who is doing an excellent job leading the Ministry [of Defense], and our partners in the Resolute Support Mission is that the remaining reforms, in both leadership and management, and systems and processes, can be completed within the next three years.
With Defense reform already well underway, our top security sector reform priority is reform of the Ministry of Interior. Thirteen senior positions have been changed since we last met, and reform will be accelerated. The citizens of Kabul as well as citizens across the country have repeatedly endorsed the need for a police force that is trained, neutral, and engaged with the whole community, regardless of private interests that try to subvert them from within for their own ends.
This reform will be difficult, and there will be backlash. When is reform easy? It is always difficult, but difficulty should focus us on finding solutions, not finding excuses. Reforming Interior is the key to both stability and the rest of our anti-corruption agenda. In the immediate term, to ensure a unified command and control, the ANCOP and the Border Police, which are the most problematic elements within MOI, will be transferred to MOD commencing this coming October. This change will be accompanied by a full-scale review by MOD to ensure that leaders meet the highest professional and ethical standards.
Supporting the new leadership requires that we civilianize the core systems for resource management. One thousand civilians trained in financial management, procurement, and human resources management will be assigned to MOD and MOI over the next six months, where they will be further trained in fiduciary systems, monitoring, and audit. Our soldiers and policemen deserve this. They cannot be cheating on their rations or on uniforms or logistics and support.
Linked closely to security sector reform is the need to conceptualize law and order in a systematic basis. In less than a year, the Supreme Court, and I welcome Dr. Kamawi’s presence, and the Attorney General’s Office have already made significant progress. New staff trained in the law who get tested and evaluated; better case tracking and monitoring; a reinvigorated effort to end impunity for crimes against women; and much more public engagement with the justice sector are all part of this program. Both the Court and the AGO have articulated a full reform agenda for the year 1400 [of the Islamic Calendar] – the 1,500th anniversary of our holy religion of Islam. And we very much look forward to our partnership with the international community to make sure that the reform momentum is consolidated and sustained.
A revitalized Civil Service Commission is empowered to recruit and carry appointments through a fully transparent process. I congratulate Mr. Naderi for the recent experience of appointing more than 400 – exactly 492 – people to the e-Tazkira office is a harbinger of things to come. 25,000 people applied for these positions. Individuals from 33 provinces passed the exam. 5,000 more positions will be recruited through the same process in the coming months. Additionally, 8,000 teachers will be recruited through the same process. All posts of deputy ministers of Finance and Admin all across the government as well as senior positions in the Office of the President, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Supreme Court, and AGO, will be subject to the same transparent system of recruitment. Transparent recruitment has to be the norm, not the exception. I am fully prepared to allow all senior positions that require my signature to be appointed through a competitive process, and I hope everyone can reach consensus on this.
Decision making is overly concentrated in Kabul. To better deliver security and services and to recognize the need for local knowledge and understanding, we are shifting our structure of governance, and placing a much stronger focus on the local level. From the Citizens Charter to reforming the sub-national governance policy, we will make sure that citizens are at the center of the developmental process, and play a key role in ensuring government accountability. My quarrel with my colleagues working on sub-national level governance has been always the problem “sub”. We have to restructure the center to serve the village, not subordinate the village to the whim of the center. This is a democratic country inherently participatory and it is imperative that the right level of decision rights are delegated and ensure support our weakest level of governance and the key to our security is the district-level administration. Our weaknesses, our absence of law and order institutions at the district level needs to be our top focus and remedy.
As we strengthen the foundations of a better governance structure, we will need to also ensure market building and development. We need to move from a model of stabilization to one focused on growth. I am extraordinary grateful to Minister Hakimi and his colleagues for ensuring revenue collection at the time of austerity, but now growth – sustainable growth – needs to become our priority. Revenue is not everything. Sustained growth that would ensure sustainable revenue is everything.
My colleague Ajmal Ahmadi will speak to you about a model of investment to ensure that we can move forward.
The government will take immediate actions to reduce regulatory burdens and, within the boundaries of our Constitution and regulations, promote private sector investment. We will be forming a high-level foreign investment promotion board that will be empowered to support international investors who come to Afghanistan, cut red tape, and stabilize property rights. And on property rights, my colleague Mr. Paikar will speak to you. There is fantastic program now underway to ensure that Afghan citizens enjoy firm property rights.
Afghanistan has large reserves of minerals, coal, and strategic metals such as lithium, copper, and gold. With our dynamic new Minister of Mines, Ms. Narges Nihan, we anticipate a major expansion of mining offers under a transparent and favorable investment regime that brings revenue to the state for public purposes while encouraging investment in state-of the art extractive technology, legal exploration, and an end to mineral smuggling and abuse.
Water is another major resource for Afghanistan. The government will develop a legal foundation to better capitalize on this resource. We are already investing in dams and irrigation infrastructure to raise agricultural productivity, and as technical designs are completed we will be accelerating investment in this sector that is key for both growth and poverty reduction. Our target is to harness 18 billion cubic meters of water and that we will and we must.
One of my proudest achievements from the time when I was Finance Minister was opening up the telecommunications sector to private providers. The result has been the dramatic uptake of smartphones, internet connectivity, and the ability of Afghans to hold conversations across the country and overseas. We must now move to the next level. Last year we passed an open access policy. By the end of this week, I will be signing the decree that turns the policy into open access implementation, and if that sounds like an obscure bit of bureaucracy, some smart people already estimate that this simple decree will add $200 million or more in private investment as well as reduce costs and improve quality for Afghan consumers within its first three years.
And we will continue to invest in assets that enable regional cooperation, including transport corridors, power lines, pipelines, railways, and roads. TAPI and CASA-1000 are very large projects that are advancing well and will be the backbone of our long-term growth strategy. They must succeed. We will make them the living stories of how a stable Afghanistan makes all of us in Central Asia better off in a way that an unstable Afghanistan never would. I want to congratulate my colleagues, particularly Dr. Qayumi, for ensuring that in two and half years, Afghanistan after 130-year interval firmly joined Central Asia. Our economies are now linked; they are becoming our largest trading partners, and their trust in us whether is CASA or TAPI or the railways, is showing a remarkable change in orientation. Key to connecting Central Asia and South Asia is full adherence of all the region to the rules of WTO. Trade must flow openly and not be based on origins or restrictions. All of us will be winners in a system that joins trade and transit. We are working on a vision of transferring between 5,000 and 50,000 megawatts of power from Central Asia to South Asia. The revenue even from 2,000 megawatts transfer will match our revenue in Customs. We have think in new ways and we are dedicated to that, but then the investment regime needs to be prioritized.
Currently, the IMF projects a 3% growth rate for Afghanistan, based on government and private investment. Moving forward, capitalizing on the opportunities before us, speeding up reforms, and improving budget execution rates, could potentially increase our growth by a further 3% to 6%. A model of investment to ensure efficient allocation of resources and effective implementation is developed by Mr. Ajmal Ahamdi, and he will be sharing it in his remarks with you.
From building our markets, we must also create a unified nation.
A nation is a moral community. Nation building requires cultivation of a deep sense of tolerance for open dialogue and discussion. A society like ours that has experienced nearly 40 years of continuous conflict, and needs to cultivate the capacity for hearing and understanding the hurts and wounds from the past that haunt our future. If we don’t overcome our past, it will rob us of our future. And all of us and I in particular and Dr. Abdullah are determined to make sure that we own the future and are not the victims of the past.
Afghanistan is a stakeholder society. Consultation in this country is a must. Both as a citizen and as a president, I have learned that collective wisdom is great and very constructive. I am therefore committing myself, to a country-wide strategy of outreach – particularly engaging the ulema, elders, youth, women, the poor, and our business community.
This sense of grievance is taking linguistic, spatial and identity forms. We cannot underestimate the potential destructiveness of identity polarization. As always, a polarized society can be manipulated by unscrupulous individuals and entrepreneurs who would sacrifice the national interest for the personal gain.
We cannot allow this.
But we must also acknowledge that identity-based grievances are complex, deeply felt, and often based on real slights and discrimination from the past.
The National Unity Government cannot allow this poison to spread. As part of my consultation and outreach to the people, I will be leading a national dialogue that will bring people’s concerns into the sunlight so that we can debate them freely, and collectively stop the polarization of our country. In the areas that are under our direct control – our government policies, investments, and staffing – we will be keeping a close watch to make sure that all groups are treated fairly and represented as the equal citizen that is the birthright of every Afghan and is the guarantee of our Constitution.
In a democracy, the key mechanism for holding government accountable are open and fair elections. The Independent Election Commission has made and announced its decision on holding parliamentary elections in July 2018. The IEC has my full support and that of the National Unity Government for holding fair and inclusive elections with full impartiality and autonomy. To realize this objective, there must be intensive consultation between IEC, civil society organizations, women and youth organizations, political parties, ulema and other stakeholders in our society and international community. I urge the media and our political parties to use the forthcoming parliamentary election for launching a comprehensive national conversation, our problems, and potential solutions.
Preparation for presidential election of 2019 must also commence shortly. We will ensure that the timetable and benchmarks articulated by the Commission are implemented. An action plan will be shared with the public, and the international community within three weeks. This action plan will include rules around fair access to media. The election presents an opportunity for a generation that has come of age to enter the political arena. Creation of a public discourse of ensuring there is a level playing field for all must therefore be a priority.
Monitoring will also be crucial to credibility of the elections. We call on all groups in our society, particularly civil society, to participate in the discussion of monitoring the election and to create fair processes and systems. We equally ask the international community to help us and participate in a robust and credible mechanism of monitoring.
The government of national unity has been committed to a vision of peace since its inception. We have put our political capital and our lives on the line to seek peace, but our extended hand has not been shaken yet. And our request for ensuring the neutrality of state-to-state relations with Pakistan is yet to be realized. We are determined to seek peace, but the international community must understand that the tolerance of our people for these senseless destructions is coming to an end.
Taliban groups, must know that time is not on their side. They either have to embrace genuine peace and reconciliation, or be ready to be classified by the world community as a terrorist organization.
The international community must also make a first determination, that when all of the accepted norms are violated, and diplomats and embassies are deliberately attacked, silence cannot be the answer.
We are the front line and the first line of defense of our own freedom and global security. The challenges are clear, and they will get worse, if we do not act with determination, coherence, and a sense of direction.
The nation has shown us determination. It is now up to us, the public servants—their servants, to make this state the instrument to transform the country to what its citizens—our fellow citizens—wish it to be.
We must end corruption.
We must bring justice.
We must educate our children.
And we must have peace.
That which that the international community wants from us is what our people want. The international community has no external agendas, the conditions that we propose are our conditions, therefor, our determination is to meet the very conditions that we have proposed ourselves. Let us unite to secure the future for generations to come. A stable Afghanistan is in everybody’s interest and it will be an anchor of global security and a place where the East and West, North and South will again meet as they have met for millennia.