The Keynote Speech at the “Plenary: Trends in Global Normative Order”

World Peace Forum, Beijing, China
July 14, 2018

By Hamid Karzai 

I am very happy to be here amongst such a distinguished gathering organized by the venerable Tsinghua University. Indeed, I can think of no better symbolism than this: to discuss a subject as serious and deserving of high-level attention as the Trends in Global Order which also relates closely to peace in the region that I come from, in an institution renowned for excellence in critical academic enquiry. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts, and thank you for the warm traditional Chinese hospitality.

Since the Cold War, we have borne witness, for many decades, to the reorienting of the world order. At the time, we didn’t know precisely the kind of new world this geopolitical churning would leave us with, although the hope was that it would lead to one that was inclusive, rules-based, and just – certainly more so than it was then. 

We now see the slow but definitive shifting of the balance of power from the West to the East. 

Regrettably, however, the multipolar jostling for supremacy by certainbig powers that this shift has resulted in, beholden as such a struggle is to narrow national interests, continues to compromise the constructive, multilateral contribution that these powers could make to global peace and security. 

Many believed that the tension between America’s pivot to Asia policy under the previous administration and China’s rise would lead to a severe challenge from a rising China to the established power of the United States, leading to conflict. This has not happened. And as we all know, with the advent of the new administration under President Donald Trump, unprecedented developments have since characterised American politics, with ramifications for not just the country, but also the world.

Some in the West, including through the course of several American administrations, have weakened countries they thought they would altruistically set out to fix. As a result of yet another misguided policy, governments that were functioning well despite all their faults were overthrown on exaggerated – sometimes fabricated - charges; capable and qualified professionals were ejected onto the streets and left without careers and resources; countries were left in a far worse state than they were in before the interventions. 

These formerly stable countries became cesspools of sectarianism and extremism, giving rise to dangerous entities like Daesh. This template has borne out everywhere I look from my vantage point in the Middle East and broader West Asia whether it is Iraq, or Syria, or Libya.

A more recent negative example of attempts to weaken rules-based international order and diplomacy is the unilateral abrogation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) by the United States administration. We don’t want our good neighbourly relations with Iran to be impacted by such decisions. Instead, it is my firm conviction that the only way to resolve any differences between these two countries is through peaceful means.

There is thus no better example of misguided Western interventionism than our own broader region, and west Asia. If the same errors are repeated over and over again, it is no longer simply a strategic mistake. No one can be let off that easily; or a mistake absolved so quickly. This is in actual fact decades of ill-advised bad policy, and it has come together in a toxic mix of support toviolent extremism that has unleashed ruin and havoc across many countries including my own country, Afghanistan.

I submit that this is precisely where the emerging new powers can play a critical role and design a new compact for peace. For me, personally, and given my own investment in securing peace, nowhere is constructive engagement more relevant than in my own country, Afghanistan, which continues with the hope of one day, once again, becoming a place of international and regional cooperation rather than confrontation. In a world characterized by multilateralism, after all, it is in the interest of all to reach out across political divides for the sake of peace and stability.

Having been a witness of international politics, I say with a degree of certitude that in international relations, it is possible to have real politik and rationality side-by-side with ethics and idealism. As much as the rise of different centres of power can lead to conflict, it can be similarly argued that the same set of circumstances could also lead to concerted, affirmative action for the common good of all.

In this regard, the rise of China is a critical and instructive development that can, by facilitating multilateralism, fundamentally and positively contribute to a better world order. 
My country, in the process of what is often referred to as the great game, has been, through the circumstance of its location, both a victim and a player. 

The tragedy of September 11 brought a sudden and massive change to Afghanistan. The US and its allies, backed by the UN and major world powers, arrived in Afghanistan and were welcomed by the Afghan people in the hope of peace and a normal life. This cooperation between the international community and the people of Afghanistan brought many achievements, as well as hope for an even better future. During my own time in office, my government promoted and implemented - under difficult circumstances - a policy of friendship and partnership with all countries, including all our neighbours. This brought us considerable stability in our relations as well as considerable reconstruction assistance. 

Since then, however, the prolongation of war in Afghanistan, alarming spikes in violence across the country, the absence of results, and lack of clarity of purpose have only added to the suffering of the Afghan people. In addition, the ambiguous and equally misguided relationship that certain countries in this region have had with violent extremism has also contributed to the worsening of security and stability in Afghanistan and the region.

Despite early positive achievements, mistakes by Western powers and the wholesale use of violent extremism as an instrument of policy in our region have resulted in this: furthering of Afghanistan’s spiraling descent into insecurity and suffering, and the expansion of the menace of terrorism to the entire region, which can cause much further chaos still. Just as much as America and its allies must hold up a mirror to themselves, it is equally important to remind our neighbors in Pakistan that the path they have taken with regards to extremism is the road to ruin as proven by the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Pakistan itself. The despicable terrorist attack in Mastung, Baluchistan yesterday which caused massive casualties to innocent people in Pakistan underlines the urgency for all of us to work together in sincerity and good intentions.

I submit that China, together with Russia and India, which are in the region of the conflict, can, in aproactive engagement, makea long-term contribution to the search for peace. These major powers must act together to deal with the transnational violence that threatens our common stability, and work towards the development of a collaborative security mechanism. 

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where Afghanistan is an active Observer State, can be an effective framework for this, where these countries can enhance their cooperative efforts to finally create a strategy of collective and effective engagement with us, the Afghan people, and the international community. Critical to this enterprise, of course, is the recognition that success will not come if the compact for peace does not have, above all, Pakistan’s sincere and unequivocal cooperation. And the US, we hope, will begin to act in tandem with other stakeholders to craft a genuine design for peace. 
In this connection, it is very clear by now that the resolution of the conflict cannot come through the use of violence, or the
bombardment of Afghan homes and villages. The idea of a military solution is now more unthinkable than ever before. Peace will only come when the Afghans are truly in charge of the entire Afghan peace process.

Afghanistan and China are historic friends, close neighbours and strategic partners. We in Afghanistan have always steadfastly stood by our One China policy, and we appreciate China’s generous support to the development of Afghanistan. Afghanistan and China also share close economic ties; China is one of our most important trading partners. 

What for years was a relationship based on development assistance is transforming into comprehensive ties covering the gamut of economic and strategic cooperation. An expanding sphere of mutual interests brings us ever closer together. China’s contribution to our reconstruction and its efforts for bringing peace to our country are highly appreciated by the people of Afghanistan. 

Specifically, we in Afghanistan have made our best efforts to expand and deepen our ties and cooperation with China in a comprehensive manner. For example, following the steady growth of our relations since 2001, our two countries upgraded our bilateral relationship to a strategic level through a declaration of strategic cooperation in 2012. At the same time, we awarded the two largest natural resources contracts in Afghanistan – in the copper and oil sectors – to Chinese companies. In addition, Afghanistan has done far more than any other country in the region to combat international terrorism that poses a threat to China as well, including the East Turkistan Islamic Movement terrorist group. 

In my opinion, and building upon the significant progress we have achieved in relations between the two countries, there are three areas common - and critical - to Afghan and Chinese interests and cooperation going forward:

One, Chinese support to peace efforts in Afghanistan. Chinese facilitation and support to efforts to help ensure lastingpeaceand stability in Afghanistan is instrumental. In other words, in addition to what China has already done in the form of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group and other mechanisms, we believe more active engagement and concrete measures by China will ensure ongoing peace efforts are successful. This can best be achieved in collaboration with the major powers of the region, something that I have already referred to.

Two, Counter-terrorism and security cooperation. There is much overlap in what China deems the “Three Evils” – terrorism, separatism, and violent extremism – and the problems that the wider region and my own country are confronted with. We all recognise the transnational nature of the problem. In fact, our insecure regional environment, marred by terrorism, which poses a great threat to all of us in the wider regionmust provide an urgent ground for China, together with India and Russia to act to address those that wield violent extremism as an instrument of policy.

Three, economic and connectivity cooperation. It is important to leverage Afghanistan’s critical geographic location as the crossroads of the Heart of Asia region to enhance connectivity and economic integration between China, South, Central and West Asia. 

Several major powers in the region have their own ambitious plans in this sector in order to expand their reach and grow their economies through trade and connectivity enterprises. Of course, no initiative in this regard has commanded as much attention as China’s Belt and Road Initiative, in which Afghanistan as a partner and land bridge in the Heart of Asia region wishes to see its place in the realization of the common objectives. A peaceful, prosperous and stable Afghanistan is thus as much in the interest of China and the region as it is in the interest of the Afghan people.

We therefore wish to see the stepping up of practical steps in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative with regards to Afghanistan, especially in the areas of railway and road infrastructure, energy and trade facilitation. Such concrete cooperation at the very least can do two things: bring about positive change to help secure a future truly worth looking forward to for Afghans, and at the same time help achieve an external environment that is beneficial to the economic and security interests of China and the region. Indeed, what has so far been viewed as competing interests can instead become the first step towards instilling trustpolitik in the region.

The time has come, therefore, for a compact that brings us all together with the resolve to demonstrate cooperation in dealing with common challenges. As the new international order evolves, it is my hope the new rules of engagement will enable countries like mine to take charge of their own destinies, and the shifting of the balance of power and emergence of a multipolar world orderwill lead to more cohesion, cooperation and concord – which President Xi Jinping has termed as a community of shared destiny for mankind.

Hamid Karzai is Former President of Afghanistan.