April 4, 2005

Mr.President's speech in KIDF

Afghan president addresses Kabul international development forum (KIDF)
Excellencies, Distinguished guests,

I would like to welcome the participants in this year's Afghanistan Development Forum, the third since the historic Bonn Agreement, and the first to be hosted by Afghanistan's elected government. I thank the organizers, including various ministries of our government, and their colleagues from the international organizations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

For more than two decades, factional conflicts, interference from abroad, and the neglect of the international community had turned Afghanistan into a failed state, a shelter for international terrorism, and a centre for poppy cultivation and drug production. When we began three years ago the task of rebuilding a country that had suffered more destruction than any other in the 20th century, we were aware all too well that the journey was going to be long and difficult. Nonetheless, we were encouraged by people's determination, as well as by the sincere support of the international community.

Progress so far

Over the three years, with the cooperation of the international community, we made significant progress. Security, a precondition for our accomplishments in other areas, has greatly improved. As part of the international coalition against terrorism, we have fought and weakened the terrorists in Afghanistan. The training and development of the Afghan National Army and the National Police is improving well. The collection of heavy weapons has been almost completed, about 45,000 former combatants have been disarmed, and the lawless armed militias throughout the country are being decommissioned.

Over the last three years, some 3.8 million Afghan refugees returned to the country. Two Loya Jirgas [grand assemblies] were held; Afghanistan's new constitution was adopted; our first presidential election was held with a turnout of men and women across the country. As the independent election commission has recently announced, our parliamentary elections will be held in September this year. Today in Afghanistan, democracy is struggling to take roots; our media is free and the people enjoy the freedom of expression after years of oppression.

Afghanistan's economic growth was 29 per cent, 16 per cent and 8 per cent in sequence over the last three years. This growth was facilitated, among others, by financial reforms, including the introduction of a new currency, institutional reform, and improving the legal framework for investment in the private sector. The Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, created almost two years ago, has proven itself a reliable source to the investors who are exploring opportunities in Afghanistan. Employment has been expanded, and likewise the average labour wage. Our trade, in particular, with our neighbouring countries, has grown substantially. For example, the transactions with Pakistan, which was less than 50m dollars three years ago, is currently around 1bn dollars. Our trade has also reached 300m US dollars with China.

We have improved and expanded health, education as well as other services to the people. Through the National Solidarity Programme, we have reached 7,500 villages, which constitute a quarter of our population, including, the remotest areas of the country, for the first time. Over six million children throughout the country received polio vaccinations last year. Basic health services have been extended to over half of the country. School enrolment has gone up to the highest in the history of Afghanistan. Today, almost six million children are attending classes at more than 7,000 schools across the country. Enrolment in higher education institutions also increased from 4,000 in 2001 to 40,000 today, of which 19 per cent are women.

We have priorities the rebuilding of infrastructure and institutions. Roads are being rebuilt throughout Afghanistan. In addition to the primary roads, consisting of Afghanistan's national motorways, and roads connecting us to our neighbouring countries, over 2,500 km of secondary or provincial roads are also being rebuilt. The communication sector has made considerable progress, with Afghanistan being the largest and the fastest growing market for the mobile phone industry in the region. Since creating the infrastructure for power generation within Afghanistan requires more time, we have responded to the need of our people by importing electricity from our neighbouring countries.

Challenges

Despite these accomplishments, the challenges are still major in Afghanistan. Human development indicators for Afghanistan remain among the worst in the world. Poppy cultivation is threatening Afghanistan's potential to prosper through a legitimate economy. We have expanded education and health services, but improving the quality of these services remains a substantial challenge. The job market in Afghanistan has grown substantially, but much of the market for skilled and semi-skilled labour has been filled by labour imported from abroad. The scale of foreign investment has remained very small, largely hampered by the absence of infrastructure, such as roads and electricity, and administrative corruption.

Priorities of national development strategy

Ladies and gentlemen, In my election's manifesto, I declared to the people of Afghanistan my vision of a stable, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan, and promised that I will lead Afghanistan towards betterment. I pledged that, over the next five years, Afghanistan's income per capita will be increased from today's 200 US dollars, to at least 500 US dollars that poverty will be reduced by half, and that education, health and potable water will be made available to a much greater number of people in Afghanistan. Today, we are well aware of our people's expectations, and our responsibility towards them.

In order to follow our manifesto's agenda for economic growth, we must accelerate the process of rebuilding Afghanistan and focusing chiefly on two areas: first, rebuilding the infrastructures, and second, developing human and institutional capacity. Over the next few months, my government will review and improve its national development strategy with the help of our partners in the international community. Meanwhile, in the context of the above two priority areas, let me to outline a number of specific areas of priority:

First: In the area of rebuilding the infrastructure:

1. We need to accelerate the construction of physical infrastructure of the country and will provide the foundation for economic activity. Roads will be our priority. However, now that our major roads are either being, or planned to be, rebuilt, our emphasis will be on an equally vital field: water and electricity. We need to concentrate on energy generation and transmission, as well as irrigation and to make sure that water resources are used more effectively.

2. In order to strengthen the economic foundation of our country, we should fight poppy cultivation and enhance opportunities for making a living in the countryside; we will continue to focus on developing rural infrastructure. Our rural development programmes will continue to grow, and will be complemented by a national agricultural programme, aimed at increasing agricultural output, and a programme of providing alternative livelihood to the poppy affected communities. To take advantage of our agricultural output and commercialize the agriculture sector, we must speedily lay the foundation for strong agriculture business.

3. To enhance Afghanistan's potential as a trade and transit route in the region, it is a must that we improve our transport capacity, including the aviation industry, and our communications facilities.

4. Housing in urban areas of the country is totally inadequate. We will struggle to address this need. The implementation of our plans will lead to a considerable increase in economic activity and growth of the overall economy.

5. To ensure that adequate attention is paid to the priority projects and areas, we will work with donors to establish an office of national programme support. This office will help the relevant ministries to pursue priority projects.

Second: In the area of human and institutional capacity building:

1. We need to invest further in the development of our human resources. Our people are our greatest capital, and must become able to engage in modern economic activity. We need to continue to invest heavily in education and health and improve the quality of these services. At present our institutional efficiency is hampered by a lack of human capacity, which we must overcome by utilizing Afghan expatriates and employing international experts when necessary. However, our main focus should be on training our present and future labour force using a variety of experiential and university-based education methods. We also need to develop the managerial skills needed to plan, organize and carry out economic activities.

2. We will intensify our work to reform and strengthen the institutional capacity of the state. We must draw on international best practice to reshape our public institutions and to meet the needs of economic development. The creation of the Civil Service Reform Commission has been an important achievement, but more work is required to reform the administration, as well as the judiciary. Combating corruption, nepotism and red-tape will continue to be our priority. These are the factors that hinder foreign investment and the growth of a vibrant private sector. We also need to strengthen our administration at the provincial, district and village levels so that the government works coherently to serve the needs of our people.

3. We will adopt pro -active policies to diversify the Afghan economy and strengthen the private sector as the engine of economic growth. We will continue to improve the regulatory framework, improve the already existing legislation for promoting investment security, and substantially simplify the government procedures.

4. Generating domestic revenue is crucial. Over the past couple of years, we have achieved our domestic revenue generation targets, but we must do more. With increased trade and continued taxation reform we can ensure that, over time, we will generate sufficient revenue to meet the operating expenses of the government.

5. And last but not least, we will remain focused on developing the capabilities of the Afghan national army and our police force to ensure that our people live in safety and peace. We will complete the existing programmes such as Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration [DDR] and the expansion of government's effective presence in the provinces. In the coming six months, we will concentrate on providing a safe, secure and conducive environment for parliamentary elections to be held in September.

Afghanistan's role in the region

These priorities do not exhaust the list of what needs to be done in Afghanistan, but they do represent the best reasons why Afghanistan needs to continue on the path we have chosen. Our priorities must also be seen in the context of Afghanistan's place in the region, and the essential contribution that Afghanistan's economic development will make to this region. Afghanistan's unique position as the crossroads of southern and central Asia can be exploited to trigger better economic relations across the region. We facilitate trade among our northern, eastern and western neighbours, acting both as a transit country as well as a participant in areas where we can develop a competitive advantage.

Let me also emphasize that our strategy for economic growth and political stability will continue to be informed and complemented by the fight against narcotics. The recent report about the reduction in poppy cultivation following our pronouncements shows that Afghans have decided to eradicate the cultivation of poppy, but they must be assisted in a practical way. My government and I are committed to a total eradication of illicit poppy cultivation and drug production in Afghanistan. However, we all must recognize that the poppy-based economy represents nearly half of the real economy in this country. To prevent a new humanitarian crisis, it is important that measures to eradicate poppy production are accompanied by measures to offer alternative livelihoods and economic opportunities to farmers and rural communities.

Responsibility of government, international community

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today's forum is an excellent opportunity for us in the government, together with our partners in the international community who have supported us wholeheartedly over the past three years, to review our priorities for taking forward the task of Afghanistan's reconstruction and development. I hope that this forum will also enable us to move towards addressing these priorities, by building on our existing accomplishments, learning our lessons from our successes and failures, and continuing to work together.

Today, I thank the international community once more for its support to Afghanistan, and request them to invest even further in order to accelerate Afghanistan's reconstruction and development. The Afghan people and the international community have collaborated successfully in the past three years to establish the basis of an open and democratic society. We must now work together to overcome chronic poverty, and build Afghanistan into a stable and successful economy in the region. We must also definitely ensure that the economic benefits of an open and democratic society with a market-based economy reach all Afghans.

I also encourage our partners in the international community to work with us in making the development process more accountable to the Afghan people, and in making sure that the hard-earned money paid by tax-payers in their own countries is not wasted. Together, we need to develop a clear and robust process for monitoring and follow up of reconstruction programmes aimed at ensuring effectiveness and minimizing wastage. It is our strategy to enable the private sector to lead Afghanistan's development. However, the Afghan government, as the ultimate body accountable to the Afghan people, must also be better informed about, and play its due role in steering the development process. The government must become the anchor for a more integrated, transparent and accountable development effort.

Afghanistan's success, ladies and gentlemen, is owed primarily to two factors: the Afghan people's determination, and the international community's support. Today, Afghanistan illustrates how best can international cooperation be utilized to fight a global challenge, such as terrorism, and help rebuild a nation once devastated by foreign interference and violence. If we recall where we were three years ago, our accomplishments to date are truly significant. Together we have steered Afghanistan rather successfully through a tortuous journey over the last three years. Today we celebrate together not the end of our journey, but a very good beginning.

Thank you.

Source: Afghanistan Television, Kabul, in Dari 1543 gmt 4 Apr 05 and quoted from Afghaniyat digest.