A Plenary Speech on Regional Security at the 8th World Peace Forum

By Hamid Karzai

I am very pleased to be back in Beijing, among friends, for the World Peace Forum. I have been given a rather broad mandate for my speech, that is, regional security, and that is what I will share my thoughts on, from my standpoint in Kabul.

In my view, we are witness today to critical transformational processes that are reorienting the global order as we once knew it. This has important implications certainly for global security, and, merits serious consideration for its impact and trickle-down effects on collective and individual regional security, as well. 

We have emerging, serious non-traditional security issues that have mainstreamed, and become increasingly intertwined with older problems. In today’s frightening security landscape, one sees the potential of water being weaponised for conflict, or the far reaching consequences of climate change on a country’s economy, its people, and subsequently, its security threat perception. 

Security challenges can therefore no longer be viewed as single, distinct entities capable of being addressed on their own. Innovative, multi-pronged strategies to combat multi-dimensional problems have to be mounted. And, for this, no single country has all the resources available to go it alone. A coalition of the willing, both at the global and regional levels, must work together to tackle security challenges that do not respect borders. We are, in effect, only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. 

It is important to then ask an important question: why are global dynamics being refashioned? Why has what was for a long time a unipolar world begun to disaggregate into several different poles of power concentration? The answer, I submit to you, lies in the nature of leadership. Over time, we have witnessed the erosion of the Western world’s leadership. This bankruptcy of global leadership not only reinforced existing inequalities, they created many more. And so I say, that the new leaders, like China, Russia, and India, must put at the forefront an enlightened recognition of the kind of leadership that the world needs today; one that is based on cooperation, consensus, and respect.

We must be better equipped to deal with the problem of terrorism in the short and long-term, because of the nature in which our problems have begun interacting with a range of other security threats, and the new, daunting, compounded challenges that we now therefore face.

In this respect, I will dwell on the single-most outstanding and established security challenge that, in my view, necessitates a rethink and further investigation. I refer to religious extremism or terrorism, which, as you know, has manifested more vividly in Afghanistan than anywhere else in our region. None of this has been of Afghanistan’s own making—it has been, as history will testify, a result of the circumstances imposed on it from abroad. In fact, I will go so far as to say that if indeed my country has been a “lab” for terrorists, all the scientists who have experimented in this so-called laboratory have come from outside Afghanistan, while we have watched, like spectators in the stands. 

Throughout history, we have seen a wholesale application of foreign ideas on a traditional society for the furtherance of others’ security interests. The former Soviet Union superimposed Communism, which was at odds with the local fabric of my country. The United States then used the resistance against this for its own agenda, which later converted to an extremist exercise. This extremism was used by Pakistan even more extensively, both in collaboration with the United States and on its own. We continue to see the impact of all of these nationally-driven efforts on Afghanistan even today. 

The tragedy of September 11, too, brought about massive change. 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. 
However, America’s stated aim of fighting and defeating extremism began to falter. The conspicuous failure of the US venture in Afghanistan followed as a consequence. Extremism, unfortunately, grew further, and Daesh emerged. Doubts began to be cast on America’s intent to reach its objective. The tragic results of the bad policy decisions we see today are all thus tied to the same saga: funding for entities that mutate into agents of terror, and deliberate, bad policy that has, as a consequence, the mushrooming of extremism in countries such as mine.

This must come to a forceful full stop. After 18 long years, the US has launched a resettlement process that we fully back; one that will allow them to exit Afghanistan. For this US enterprise to succeed, two elements are absolutely crucial:
One, the peace process must demand, as a requisite, the goal of a stable, progressive, forward-looking, and Afghanistan that is sovereign in both letter and spirit. 

Two, America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan must be undertaken responsibly, in coordination with the country’s neighbours in the region, especially the major powers: China, Russia, and India. 

Recent successes on understanding between the US, Russia and China in the interest of the Afghan peace process, which they have insulated from differences in other areas, is an enlightened path forward that I would encourage Pakistan to emulate. The meetings in Washington and Moscow will be followed by one in Beijing on July 11, and we hope we will also see the participation of India, Pakistan, and Iran in this round of talks.

Any help in our peace process, from well-intentioned neighbours and stakeholders, is a move in the right direction. A partnership for peace is always welcome, and there is no denying that foreign powers have long had a presence in Afghanistan. No one is going to suddenly leave a location of such ground-breaking significance to their strategic interests. This is global politics, and it cannot be simply wished away. 

However, a design for peace that also includes Afghanistan’s own interests can – and must – be sought. Building peace and lasting stability in my country can only happen if the United States shows sincerity in this endeavour.

This needs to give way to active cooperation with major powers and our neighbours once again. China, Russia, and India, I hope, will serve as guarantors that see that Afghanistan is secured well beyond the anticipated US exit from my country.

We thus see new and different templates of negotiations for the Afghan peace process underway, and it is my wish to see them succeed. In my view, success will come if four fundamental tenets, learned from the failures of the past, inform how these negotiations are structured and conducted. 

One, it must be based on an intra-Afghan dialogue. 

Two, transparency in how the peace process evolves and is conducted is crucial. 

Three, any peace process, for reasons I laid out before you earlier, must draw on the support of the neighbourhood and the wider region. 

And four, and final, deals about Afghanistan between third parties should in no way be a measure of the peace process itself.

Afghanistan needs its neighbours to acknowledge these important tenets. In much the same way, Taliban’s inclusion in peace talks, which is now underway, is an equally important fact. 

You are aware of the several advances our intra-Afghan peace talks have been making in recent times. Members of the High Peace Council attended the November 2018 conference in Moscow with the Taliban at the same table – this was the first sign of official Afghan government involvement. Representation from the United States, India, and Pakistan was also invited. This meeting laid the foundation for the intra-Afghan dialogue in February this year.

This intra-Afghan dialogue brought together a large number of Afghan politicians and tribal leaders to discuss the end of the conflict and ways to a peaceful political settlement. The extent to which this platform played the role of an icebreaker, and its colossal significance in bringing together stakeholders that all share a common cause – our country – but have been for a long time unable sit across the same table – until now - hardly needs stating. 

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to witness, and participate in, the Moscow intra-Afghan dialogue, and it behooves me to say that the conference went well beyond tokenism and made substantial strides that have taken us a step forward towards an ultimate resolution.

The importance of an intra-Afghan process, the criticality of the goodwill of our friends and neighbours, and our own foresight in establishing even stronger foreign ties leads me now to speak to you about my country’s external relations, which, as you have seen, is quite central to the peace process. In this regard, it is important that Afghanistan engage in friendly relations with its neighbours and regional powers. 

Stakeholders must look at constructing a new geopolitics of common purpose to reach a long-term compact of peace in Afghanistan and beyond. The solution is a two-pronged approach: First is to construct a policy of peace with the people of Afghanistan playing a pivotal role. Second is international support and cooperation among key players in the region. 

This brings me to my second geographical concern, because it is a truth well-acknowledged that our neighbours play a very significant role in how this intractable conflict is resolved to arrive at a just peace. Afghanistan is grateful to Pakistan for looking after its refugees for three decades. At the same time, we must acknowledge the Pakistani deep-state's use of terror as a tool to achieve policy ends, and its provision of safe haven to the Taliban must be addressed head-on. In this regard, recent overtures by Pakistan to inject fresh, positive vigour into its bilateral relationship with Afghanistan by focusing on cooperation rather than competition is a welcome development. 

I once referred to our two countries as “conjoined twins.” This is true even today. We share deep, entrenched linkages, and positive, forward-looking action is instrumental for a transformation of ties and our security challenges. It is hoped that the recent change in Pakistan’s outlook is accompanied by substantial transformation in actual fact. Lofty rhetoric must coexist with real and fundamental revision of strategy. We look forward to a recalibration of our relationship to one based on civility, friendship, and above all, dignity.

India, a neighbour and a friend, also has an important role. 

Much of New Delhi's approach to Afghanistan is in consonance with the will of the Afghans. Of course, I acknowledge that there can be many spoilers that give other players the upper hand, such as the lack of a shared boundary and military presence. However, developmental assistance is not going to be enough for India to fruitfully expand its role. What India does have is a small but creative-thinking foreign policy establishment that must recognise that working together with like-minded stakeholders of the Afghan peace process, such as Russia and China, drives home the will and ability of the collective over that of the individual in achieving a just peace as well as securing national interests.

I think a more enhanced approach to Afghanistan, taking into account of course the difficulties also that present themselves, is crucial. This approach must do three things: one, it must envisage an expanded role for India in my country, which I believe is already in line with current Indian thinking. Two, it must seek to work with like-minded stakeholders such as Russia and China, and three, it must look towards paving the way for a process that aims to ultimately end the conflict that my people have suffered the consequences of for decades. India's ascendance must necessarily be forged in the fires of its region. Of this, its role in Afghanistan is an instrumental variable.

There is also the question of Iran, an important neighbour, as also friend. Unfortunately, we have seen recently the single biggest achievement of the nuclear non-proliferation regime – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran deal, as it is referred to colloquially, coming apart. A victory hard won, to only be quickly squandered away by an administration looking inwards, with little consideration of the devastating consequences it could wreak not just on regional dynamics but across the world and the region.

I hope for an amicable resolution of the differences we see playing out between the US and Iran. This was my government’s priority during my own time in office, and it is still as important now to disallow these bilateral differences to emerge in the Afghanistan theatre, where, after a very long time, we see stakeholders insulating their interest and investment in seeing a better future for my country from their traditional differences over other bilateral issues.
With each their own mega transboundary connectivity projects, China, Russia, and India must come together in the region. This is crucial if we seek to construct a security architecture that localizes control, and leads to the resolution of thus far intractable disputes through peaceful, collective security. 

With these connectivity projects traversing national boundaries, terrorism can no longer be a concern only if it occurs within one’s territories. With projects and investments well underway in other countries, these ambitious plans for infrastructure and development must be future-proofed against all odds, whether domestic or foreign. And, terrorism, as it occurs and manifests in what were once considered far-flung lands and therefore out of one single country’s purview, must now be addressed together, for both individual and collective success. 

Let me end by stating what I opened with. I am encouraged by the convergence seen so far between China, Russia and the US in their support to the Afghan peace process. They have set their serious differences aside to come together in enlightened service of a common goal, and on behalf of my countrymen and women, I am grateful. After all, these differences between power players are one of the several factors that held up forward movement in Afghanistan. The most decisive variable will continue to be this international consensus among stakeholders, with support from regional actors, our neighbours, and friends. In much the same way as China, Russia, and the US, it is hoped that Pakistan, India, and China are able to keep aside their differences to insulate the Afghan peace talks from any debilitating action.

There is much to be hopeful about. Our collective efforts and genuine commitment to a durable peace will see us to the end.

Hamid Karzai is Former President of Afghanistan.