Keynote Speech at the 6th World Peace Forum
(23 June 2017,Beijing)
Hamid Karzai , Former President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
It is a distinct pleasure to be here in Beijing, an ancient seat of civilization and culture. I would like to express deep appreciation to Tsinghua University and the Chinese People’s Institute for Foreign Affairs for organization this timely and important 6th World Peace Forum and for inviting me once again to come to this country. Afghanistan and China are historic friends and strategic partners and we are proud of that.
I come to you in that spirit of sober reflection, and sincere and open discussion. It is my desire that together we try to make sense of the troubling international scene in which deadly attacks on the weak and the innocent have become the order of the day.
The wretchedness of the present must give way to a future in which we can breathe free. In recent years, the world has become a more dangerous place, not less. Our aspirations and dreams stand betrayed.
It is possible to reverse this, or at least it is possible to nurse the hope of reversing this, if the principal players in our region and beyond can decide that it is cooperation, rather than confrontation, that unlocks doors to a better world.
I come from a region, which remains in turmoil, and from a land that has not known peace for four decades. In Afghanistan, in the final days of the Cold War, contending superpowers, driven by antagonistic ideologies, brought conflict and destruction to my country. When that painful phase, in which my country was made the battleground and devastated, came to an end, our neighbors sought to capitalize on our difficulties in an effort to extend their hegemony.
The US, which arrived in the wake of September 11, 2001 to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and to help us regain our poise has been in Afghanistan for 16 years and is yet to achieve that self-professed aim. My country remained a battleground, and we continue to be devastated in every sense of the term.
The initial victory against the radical extremism was swift as whole-hearted support was given to the US forces and the international coalition by the people of Afghanistan. American troops were welcomed with open arms by the common Afghan. But not long after this, the US watched as the extremists reconstituted beyond our borders. The US brought in tens of thousands of more soldiers, ostensibly to fight terrorism. But it is the ordinary people of Afghanistan who began to be killed in their thousands as collateral damage whereas the terrorism grew from strength to strength, untouched in their external sanctuaries. So much blood has been split in Afghanistan and it is that of our people.
Recent developments bring more worry. Earlier this year the US detonated the world’s biggest non-nuclear bomb, known as the Mother of All Bombs, in my country for reasons that remain wholly unclear.
Ostensibly, the detonation was done to stop the Islamic State or Daesh in its tracks. This task has not been achieved, as subsequent deadly Daesh attacks in Afghanistan testify. What is more, we learnt a week ago that Daesh has now come to occupy the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan on the Durand Line with Pakistan. This was once a hiding place for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda followers.
Daesh itself made its entry in Afghanistan in 2014 under the nose of the US troops stationed in my country. It is far from certain that any efforts were made to check its arrival by those who should have been alert. Also, for 16 years the US has failed to check the spread of extremism and violence, and this arouses suspicions among the Afghan people.
My country is rocked by explosions and gunfire practically every day, thanks to the malignant forces that are able to conduct their activities unhindered.
Neighboring Pakistan, which remains a sanctuary has been, unfortunately, also suffering as a victim of terrorism. And now, terrorism has impacted Iran, our other close neighbor, as the recent attack by Daesh on its parliament and the Imam Khomeini shrine show. The tentacles of the disrupters of peace, and those who pull the strings from the shadows, have grown. The three ‘isms’ that SCO hopes to check and roll back are a clear and present danger to our broader region.
This is a frightening scenario for a region in which nuclear weapons are not in short supply and one in which violent extremism comprehensively thwarts the development paradigm.
Concerns about irretrievable or long-term destabilization can indeed become real if we lower our guard. The fate of Syria, Iraq and Libya should be a warning to us. Meddling by powerful foreign elements, in order to advance their interests and to hurt those they view as rivals, cannot be allowed to succeed in our region.
It is my fervent hope that the new SCO- which has just added India and Pakistan as the newest permanent members - will play the role expected of it in bringing stability to our region, and help usher in peace.
It has the necessary resources. Together, SCO countries represent more than 40 percent of the world population and a significant part of its GDP, their peoples are in the forefront of striving for economic development for which peace is a necessary condition, they have command international respect.
It is important to note China’s and Russia’s unique and historic responsibilities within and outside the SCO framework towards peace, security, integration and economic development in our region. The ability of these two powers to work together and bring along the rest of the region with themselves around the joint program of action to this end can help cool many of Asia’s hotspot and bring about a new era of common security and prosperity. I am confident that the rest of the region will be more than willing to work with these two countries to achieve this common goal.
It is also important to keep in mind that each one of the SCO members is threatened by violent extremism. Terrorism and radical extremism is no longer country-specific, although it may maraud some countries more than others. The stark truth is all countries of our region are at risk. Now Europe is at risk too. There are painful reminders all the time.
This is more the reason why regional and global players should cut through the thicket of their divergences and differences to arrive at a field of practical convergence with a view to rolling back the creeping spread of extremism and terrorist violence. They will be serving their self-interest in doing so, and doing no one any special favors.
Another area where the whole region must accelerate its collective and practical efforts is economic cooperation and integration. I am delighted to note that today we have a truly visionary framework for this purpose, the One Belt and One Road initiative. This Chinese-led, regionally-owned and globally-supported initiative can transform connectivity and economic ties among its participating countries.
This historic initiative, which aims to revive the glorious legacy of the ancient Silk Road, cannot ignore or bypass Afghanistan, a land that constituted a key artery and hub of the ancient Silk Road. It will be impossible to achieve this noble 21st century vision without acknowledging and realizing the essential role of Afghanistan as a key land bridge and round about in the One Belt and One Road Initiative. Afghanistan can easily reconnect the four key sub-regions of Asia with each other directly, namely China with West Asia and Central Asia with South Asia, thus unlocking tens of billions of dollars’ worth of win-win economic interactions in the region. The successful implementation of the BRI with lift up millions of people out of poverty, improve living standards, deepen positive-sum cooperation and directly impact cooperation on peace and security in a positive and constructive manner. I am happy to note recently that good progress has been made in this area and would like to underline the need for more energetic and active implementation of this initiative.
America, we may remember, came into Afghanistan to fight radical extremism. In the early part of its stay, as I said earlier, the USA’s efforts appeared to bear fruit. And, in furtherance of that mission, it chose to come into a relationship of positive engagement with China, Russia, India and Iran, although these countries were not necessarily on the same page in respect of other regional and international questions. The quality of their engagement mattered to the success of the enterprise.
The prolongation of the conflict in Afghanistan even as the US established military bases there, and the further spread of extremism and terrorism in spite of it, also caused the relationship of key SCO nations began to falter, and their cooperation gave way to mutual suspicion.
Sending more US troops to fight in Afghanistan at this point in time without a clear strategy for bringing the war to a responsible end that has the endorsement of the Afghan people and the backing of the region will bring more sufferings to our people. When more American soldiers take part in operations, more innocent Afghans die in our villages and cities. That has been our experience.
Please allow me to say few words about our relationship with Pakistan and the key role it can – and must- play in ensuring peace and security in Afghanistan and the region. We in Afghanistan have always been clear about our desire for a close, strong and special relationship with Pakistan. We consider such a relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan as vital to the legitimate interests of both countries. But such a relationship must be based in clear principles, including mutual respect and shared interests. The abandonment of the use of extremism as an instrument of policy is imperative. Unfortunately, Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism where the people of Pakistan have suffered almost as much as the people of Afghanistan have suffered, and we commiserate with our brothers and sisters in Pakistan.
In this connection, I am delighted about the recent farsighted initiative of President Xi Jinping to mediate between Afghanistan and Pakistan at the highest levels.
I have no doubt, given its all-weather relationship with Pakistan and deep traditional friendship with Afghanistan, China is the country best suited and able to handle this matter with the required wisdom, pragmatism and finesse. China also enjoys the trust of the people of both countries. I earnestly hope that this effort led to Foreign Minister Wang Yi on behalf of President Xi Jinping will bear fruits.
In my view, our region will be calmed greatly if the earlier relationship between the US and our principal neighbors can be restored.
The US should also reassure the Afghan people that it is ready once again to play a constructive part in building bridges of common understanding with the regional powers. This by definition requires an urgent, serious, and sustained diplomatic effort with major countries in the region towards peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region. Going forward, the US must put the hard but necessary task of diplomacy firmly in place rather than detonating bombs. The US, which justifies its military presence in Afghanistan in the name of campaign against military extremism, should also take concrete and urgent steps to reach a new compact with the Afghan people. That is the way to work for peace and against conflict and instability in Afghanistan and the region. In the absence of such an approach on Washington’s part, it will not be serving its stated purpose.
As President Xi Jinping once pointed out, and I quote, “Security must be universal. We cannot just have the security of one or some countries while leaving the rest insecure, still less should one seek the so-called absolute security of itself at the expense of the security of others.”
When synergies are established among the leading powers, a bridgehead to peace will be established. Let us resolve to put an end to war and to war-mongering and extend the frontiers of peaceful cooperation.