Remarks at Breakfast with Afghan Civil Society Representatives
Secretary of State
Thank you very much, Ambassador Grossman, and let me also thank Lady Ashton and the European Union for the excellent work that they are doing and, as you just said, they will continue to do in Afghanistan. And let me thank Foreign Minister Baird from Canada, which has been a stalwart supporter for the development of your country. I also want to thank everyone from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Afghan Women’s Network. I think the Bonn Civil Society Forum was a successful effort, for which you deserve the credit. There are some important recommendations coming out of it that we will pay close attention to.
I want to make five quick points, starting with the importance of what you do as representatives of civil society in Afghanistan and a request that you find ways to unify around specific priorities. There are many interests around the table, from agriculture to economic development to the protection of women, the importance of good governance, ending corruption, a reconciliation process that is inclusive and respects the rights of the people of Afghanistan under your constitution and your laws.
So there are a number of critical priorities, and I would hope that out of your working through this Civil Society Forum and the work that you do back home, you will set some priorities that you will focus on to be sure that attention is paid both by your government and by the international community.
Secondly, I think we’ve learned a lot in the last 10 years, and I want to be sure that we apply those lessons. So one of my hopes is that working with you and others who are actually on the ground throughout the country, we can review what works and what doesn’t work. The question about agriculture: We have made some real progress together; let’s look at what we should do to strengthen that and what we can do to change what is not working. When it comes to health or education, fighting corruption, there are, within your priorities, areas where we’ve had some success together and areas where have not. So I would like to be sure we know how we can work effectively together. Because it is not only the international community that must pledge our continuing assistance after 2014, we have to strengthen civil society to be a strong partner with us in making sure that money is spent well, that the kinds of political changes you want to see are underway.
So we have a lot of work ahead of us. And I am certainly, on behalf of the United States, committed with my colleagues around this table to working with you, but I ask that you help us by being organized and as unified as possible, because we will do better together if we are working on specific outcomes in these areas that will make a difference.
Third, there is always a tension in this kind of work for a government like mine or the EU or Canada or the World Bank or any other institution who wishes to support your development politically and economically: Do we focus on building the capacity of the government, or do we focus on building the capacity of civil society? We are trying to do both. And I think your sitting around this table is evidence that, with support, civil society is flourishing against some quite difficult challenges throughout the country.
We also see progress in certain capacities of the government, but we need to see more. And we need your best advice about how we can help the government, which ultimately does have responsibility for the country, develop the kind of professionalism and abilities that you would like to see it have. You have to help us with that. And it’s not only the government of ministries, it’s also the parliament, it’s also the judiciary. Each has a very important role to play. And we will stand ready to help build the capacity of these institutions, but we have a duty to our taxpayers to make sure that money is spent well, and I very much appreciate that point that you raised.
And the corruption problem is a real one. You know that as well as anyone. What can we do to try to tackle it together? Because we want to make changes that will be lasting and will benefit the people of Afghanistan. We have ideas, you have ideas; let’s be sure we’re coordinating on that.
Next, the reconciliation process is one that we believe, if pursued properly, holds promise for the kind of political settlement that would resolve much of the ongoing conflict. But we are also very conscious that any such reconciliation cannot be at the cost of the gains which you have suffered for – not just the last 10 years but the last 30-plus years, which is why I think it’s so important that your voices be heard in that area as well. You don’t make peace with your friends, but you also cannot make peace with those who refuse to rejoin society and behave in a peaceful manner. So how we test that and how we proceed is something we’re going to need your support for and your understanding of.
Finally, we have to do a better job on behalf of the international community of making clear that we are looking to support Afghanistan not for any of our own agendas but because, number one, we want to see Afghanistan secure and peaceful and, number two, we want to avoid another conflict in the future which could come if the state is not strong enough and if the people do not support it.
So we know we have a lot of work ahead of us, but I don’t think that we can be successful in doing that work if we are not having conversations like this. And therefore, I am very grateful that all of you came for this Civil Society Forum. I appreciate the work that you have put into making your presentations. But this is just the beginning of the hard work, and what I’m hoping is that through our coordinated efforts we can make specific progress on all of these points.
And I think we should get a document that comes out of this, building on the recommendations of the forum, and we should be very clear about what we can do and what we cannot do together, what is possible and what is something that we can’t achieve, so that we then know what are the specific steps we should take in order to assist you in your development and your support for a peaceful and secure Afghanistan.
So let me thank you all, and I think we have some concluding remarks.