Remarks at the High-Level Event on Afghanistan

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Afghan Foreign Minister H.E. Salahuddin Rabbani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
New York Palace Hotel
New York City
September 26, 2015

FOREIGN MINISTER RABBANI:  In the name of God, the most compassionate, the most merciful, Your Excellency Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Excellencies Secretary Kerry, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, distinguished foreign ministers and heads of delegations, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

First of all, please allow me to extend my sincere gratitude to my dear colleagues Secretary Kerry and Minister Wang Yi for your friendship and continuing commitment to the stabilization, reconstruction, and development of Afghanistan.  I thank our diligent teams for convening today’s high-level meeting on Afghanistan.  Despite your heavy schedules these past few days, our gathering today truly speaks to your nation’s enduring friendship and partnership with the Afghan people as we strive to consolidate and sustain our shared and hard-earned gains of the past 14 years. 

I also wish to extend a very warm welcome to distinguished representative of all friendly countries, those in the region and beyond.  And let me thank you for your participation in this meeting today.  Each and every country represented here today has made an important contribution for the stabilization and reconstruction of Afghanistan.  Together, we have come a long way, securing substantial progress in various domains, all of which have vastly improved the lives of the Afghan people.  Having said that, we are all aware of the challenges that Afghanistan is confronted with, and that overcoming these obstacles and challenges demand your continued support during the transformation decade.

We, therefore, attach high importance to this meeting, which marks a unique opportunity to discuss issues of crucial importance in the context of our continuing efforts to realize an Afghanistan that stands in peace, security, and prosperity.  And what can be more inspiring than having two great nations – the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China – co-chairing this event with us. 

Today’s meeting is also a testament of the renewed spirit of partnership that has emerged between these two countries, whose commitment to Afghanistan is greatly valued and appreciated.  It is also a manifestation of the reality that the benefits of the enhanced cooperation and collaboration in an increasingly interdependent world are many. Afghanistan continues to be a point of convergence for the global community, working together to ensure a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan.  We look forward to continuing our partnership over the coming years and completing the mission we began 15 years ago. 

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have a substantive agenda for discussion this afternoon. We will hear an address by His Excellency, Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, followed by remarks by Secretary Kerry and Minister Wang Yi.  We will also hear statements from Minister Sartaj Aziz of Pakistan, the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as well as the ministers of foreign affairs of Turkey, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Australia, Kazakhstan, and Norway. 

So without further ado, I now invite His Excellency, Dr. Abdullah to deliver his keynote address.  Your Excellency, the floor is yours.  (Applause.)

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER ABDULLAH:  Secretary of State John Kerry, Minister Wang Yi, excellencies, ministers, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon to all of you. 

I extend my sincere appreciation to the United States Government and to the People’s Republic of China for co-chairing alongside Afghanistan this essential meeting.  I commend both leaders, Secretary Kerry and Minister Wang Yi, for their result-oriented diplomacy and constructive leadership in regards to issues surrounding Afghanistan in our neighborhood.  I am also thankful to all friends and partners of Afghanistan represented here and look forward to hear your views on what is an optimal, yet realizable, wish of the Afghan people: peaceful development and regional cooperation. 

Earlier this month in Kabul, we hosted senior officials meeting to assess Afghan progress and remaining challenges aimed at promoting self-reliance since the London conference in 2014, which was preceded by RECCA VI gathering of our regional partners to enhance Afghan and regional economic integration.  The Self-Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework, an expanded version of our agreement signed in Tokyo in 2012, guides our partnership with the international community over the next four years.  This framework will help all sides deal more effectively with all prioritized sectors.  I want to thank the international community not only for working with us on accomplishments, but also on remaining challenges and shared goals, especially with our future needs in security and development sectors as part of a defined roadmap of self-reliance. 

However, for peaceful reconstruction and regional cooperation to actually work and produce tangible results, we in the region need to experience an actual paradigm shift in how we resolve contentious issues, whether in the context of counterterror, in radicalism, or other lingering disputes.  The lesson from Afghanistan is that we cannot allow radical and terrorists to violently impose false brands that deny human rights, a legitimate order, and popular aspirations, in the same manner that no state should tolerate or facilitate the use of terror in the pursuit of foreign and military policy objectives.  If we fail to do so, nation-states will have a lot to lose.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we have a twin strategy: pursuit of peace, at the same time through developmental economic activities help unleash untapped economic potentials that exist in our region, which would enable Afghanistan and the whole neighborhood to experience more prosperity and growth and less violence and destruction.  To that end, with the generous help of the international community, we have built a resilient national security force that can proudly claim to have withstood major attempts by spoilers at trying to destabilize Afghanistan and to be a threat to the others. 

The national unity government of Afghanistan opened a new chapter in our relationship with our neighbors and allies to demonstrate our firm commitment to global and regional security cooperation.  His Excellency President Ghani and I took all necessary measures to ensure that our relationship with one country would not overshadow our relationship with the others.  In this regard, we believe that both Afghanistan and neighboring countries, especially Pakistan, can do much more to deal with the threats posed to nation-states, legitimate governments, and society as a whole by radical terrorist groups that use violence to impose their will.

At the same time, at some point, hopefully fast, we would need to reconsider our options as well as opportunities before us, which bring us back to the paradigm shift that is required to assure peace and progress in South and Central Asian region.  We see a very important role for several of our international friends, among them the United States and China, who can facilitate, encourage, and verify the engagement of the main parties to stay focused, true to their words, and accountable. 

Meanwhile, we welcome holding of the next ministerial meeting of Heart of Asia in Islamabad by the end of this year, and look forward to the adoption of a roadmap with clear benchmarks for collective action against terrorism, radicalization, and organized crime.  Our message today is clear:  We will continue to lead a genuine and inclusive Afghan peace process; closely monitor developments on the ground; we will expect to see the dismantlement of terrorist outfits wherever they may exist; seize upon trust-building and peace-building opportunities, small and large; and work towards a more comprehensive denouement.  But we will also do everything in our capacity to protect our people and to defend our national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

I thank you all for your support to Afghanistan and hope that the co-chairs of this high-level meeting and other concerned stakeholders will continue to stand by our common objectives and support our endeavors to guarantee regional stability and prosperity, which in turn help the solidification of security across oceans and continents.  Thank you.   (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER RABBANI:  I thank his Excellency Dr. Abdullah Abdullah for his statement.  And now I have the honor to invite Honorable Secretary Kerry to deliver his remarks.  Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Well, thank you very much, Minister Rabbani.  And welcome to all of our colleagues to New York, to the annual UN diplomatic speed-dating derby.  We’re delighted to have you all here.  Chief Executive Abdullah, thank you very much.  Minister Wang, thank you for your participation in this.  And friends of Afghanistan, friends of all of us, we are really happy to welcome everybody here. 

I want to begin by thanking Minister Wang Yi for agreeing to co-chair this event.  I think it’s fair to say – I think many of you observed the very successful meeting that we just had over two days in Washington with President Xi in which we made major announcements regarding climate change and regarding cyber security and other very important initiatives between our countries.  But many of – much of our discussion really focused on global responsibility, on development goals, and I think it’s fair to say that there really isn’t a major challenge in the world today that can’t be addressed more effectively without China’s help. 

And so we welcome China’s participation, particularly as a near neighbor and as a country that understands very, very deeply the crosscurrents that are at stake in Afghanistan today.  The United States, I want to make it clear, welcomes China’s engagement on all of these issues, and we look forward to working with every single country here as we work to support President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah as they strive to build a more stable and united, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan. 

And I think the breadth of our agenda today – and I look forward to hearing the interventions of everybody here, including hopefully some spontaneous ones – because it really reflects the critical nature of this particular moment.  Afghanistan’s government of national unity has assumed full responsibility for the security of its people.  That’s an enormous step from where it was.  And it is moving ahead with a reform agenda of its own design.  It fully warrants the continued assistance of the international community for the simple reason that Afghanistan’s success is our shared goal.  And most of the countries around this table have had deep – almost every country around this table has had a deep commitment to that, whether with people on the ground or with assistance and help to the country.

I had the privilege last year of spending quite a significant number of hours with President Ghani and with Chief Executive Abdullah, who I’m delighted is here with us today, which really helps stress the importance of this meeting.  And a lot of people felt at that time that because of the hard-fought nature of the presidential election contest, that people could never come together, that the country might have been literally on the verge of a potential division, and that Afghanistan itself as a result would split open as a consequence, and everything people had worked for would be lost.

I have to tell you that, close up, that is not what I observed.  I saw two men who understood very clearly what the stakes were for their country, and both of whom were determined to put national priorities ahead of personal political ambitions.  It’s easy to underestimate the courage of the decision that they made when they came together to create this unique government of national unity.  So clearly, even with the best initiatives of their leadership, we all know that Afghanistan continues to face enormous challenges. 

The Afghan people are still threatened by the Taliban, and other violent extremists have entered the fray.  Governing and judicial institutions still need to be strengthened.  The electoral system is still in need of serious reform, a major objective and goal of CEO Abdullah.  The economy is barely scratching the surface of its potential.  Corruption and abuses of human rights are matters of grave concern to everybody, and we know they have to be addressed.

And these and other problems obviously can’t be underestimated, but – but neither should we ignore the remarkable gains that are being made which defines the promise and future of Afghanistan.  The development trends in Afghanistan are positive.  It wasn’t long ago that Afghan girls received little or no formal education.  Today, millions sit in classrooms, and that matters because access to education for girls has proven to be one of the most important measuring sticks for progress in any developing country.  It matters as well that Afghan women, once confined to their homes, now serve as cabinet members, judges, army generals, and business leaders.  And it matters that a whole new generation of Afghans is eager for the chance to move their country forward, to find a place in the global community and the global economy, to innovate and to start new businesses that will create jobs for decades to come.

On the political front, President Ghani has filled the top positions of government in close coordination with Chief Executive Abdullah.  Ministers are implementing hundred-day plans.  Governors have been appointed in most of the provinces and they are working to improve the delivery of basic services.  The government has also taken steps to strengthen cooperation and build a stronger foundation of trust with their counterparts in many of the neighboring countries represented here today.  We have a true partner in this government, and that is why the United States strongly backs all of these efforts together with all of you. 

Now, clearly, security remains a grave concern.  The Taliban, including the Haqqani Network, continue to perpetrate outrageous acts of violence against innocent civilians, Afghan security forces, and U.S. personnel, in addition to other targets of opportunity.  And while al-Qaida remains a threat and the presence of Daesh – ISIL – has brought a new and unpredicted element of risk into this already volatile environment, the United States, I want to make it clear, strongly supports President Ghani and CEO Abdullah in their call for reconciliation talks with the Taliban.  My country has long maintained that an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process is the surest way to achieve stability and end the conflict.  I emphasize, however, that no peace agreement should come at the expense of Afghan women and civil society or fail to take into account Afghanistan’s minorities and those protections that have been put into the constitution by Afghans themselves. 

Meanwhile, President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, and their cabinet have put forward an ambitious set of economic reforms.  The government has made it a priority to expand connectivity across the region.  Numerous energy, trade, and infrastructure initiatives are underway, including the CASA-1000 electricity transmission line.  And I hope that at the Heart of the Asia conference in Islamabad this December, we will all consider further ways to make progress on a comprehensive regional economic agenda.  As everybody here knows, nothing changes opportunity, perceptions, people’s lives, and ultimately, therefore, politics more than the capacity to take part in the world through economic development and to improve people’s lives.

So let me be clear:  We, the United States, have confidence in the president and the chief executive.  We have confidence, most importantly, in the Afghan people.  And we believe that the vast majority of Afghans want to build a society that is united, increasingly prosperous, secure from the dangers posed by terrorists and criminal organizations, and they want one that is respectful of each of them as a human being.  That’s why we’re here today and why this moment is so critical.

Next year, with two pledging conferences on the horizon, the region and the international community will be asked to renew and extend our security, economic, and political commitments to Afghanistan.  I know there are many competing demands on our collective resources, but I urge all of you to keep Afghanistan among the highest of our international development and security assistance priorities.  We have won an amazing battle these last years to get to where we are.  It would be a tragedy to just turn around and walk away and abandon this effort.  Time gets measured in many ways, and it seems to me the fact that it may take a few years longer is not important if you know you can actually reach your destination.

Again and again in my visits to Afghanistan, I found people who want to live without fear, to have the best possible education for their children, to have access to basic health care, to have the chance for a rewarding job, and to be able to look forward to the future with a sense of real possibility.  Ultimately, that future will be shaped by Afghan hands, but all of us have an ability to help, and some countries around this table have an ability to help a lot more than others.

The world is watching to see whether the builders – the people who want to construct a future in Afghanistan – prevail over those whose primary purpose is to destroy, and whether those who honor the rights of others will succeed against those who recognize no rights except those that they define.  Make no mistake, the future of Afghanistan matters to every single one of us here.

So I thank you and I’m pleased now to yield the floor to my colleague, Minister Wang Yi.  (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER WANG:  (Via interpreter) Well, good friends around this table, it’s my great pleasure to co-chair this high-level event together with Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Rabbani.  This conference matters to Afghanistan’s future and destiny, and I welcome you to this high-level event.  When I look around this room, I can see that all the important neighbors of Afghanistan are represented here, and there are some important countries from outside the region who are also here today.  We are all Afghanistan’s neighbors, partners, and friends.

Secretary Kerry just mentioned the President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the United States.  The state visit was concluded last night.  It was a great success, and we reached a number of important results in addition to climate change, which Secretary Kerry mentioned.  The presidents of China and the United States also exchanged views on Afghanistan and both of them pledged their support for Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction.  And China, United States will each play our part and work with each other to that end. 

So I think the meeting today cannot be more timely.  Afghanistan is situated in the heart of Asia, and it’s a country with a long history.  Well, this year marks the first year of Afghanistan’s decade-long transformation period, and it faces an important opportunity to achieve unity, stability, peace, and reconstruction.  Yet it also faces some daunting challenges.  The Afghan people, having suffered enormously from conflict, aspire for enduring peace and prosperity in their country.  And to realize that, the first priority should be on improving the people’s livelihood, developing the economy, constructing infrastructure so as to create the necessary conditions for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.  Only by effectively promoting the peace and reconstruction process, as well as regional connectivity and economic integration in the region, can the Afghan people truly enjoy a prosperous and happy life and share in the peace and development of the region.

China has always believed that to advance the peaceful reconstruction is what the Afghan people fervently hope for.  It is also the unshakable responsibility of the international community, especially countries and parties represented today.  And all of us must agree at some basic points and provide essential support for Afghanistan’s priorities.  And in China’s view, first and foremost, we need to support the national unity government in Afghanistan.  Under the leadership of President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, the national unity government is building consensus at home and pushing forward peace and development.  We welcome the smooth operation of the national unity government, and the international community should truly respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity, and increase the resources made available to the country to help its government enhance its governance capacity and help it improve its ability to address political, economic, and security challenges.

My second point is that we should help foster a peaceful environment both in and outside Afghanistan.  To realize broad-based and inclusive political reconciliation is, in China’s view, the only way for realizing enduring peace in Afghanistan.  All factions in Afghanistan need to put the future of the nation and the interest of the people above everything else and join in the political reconciliation process expeditiously.  As we understand it, the Afghan Government and the Taliban share a desire to resume political discussions, and it’s China’s hope that the other parties will come together to support and encourage this process and encourage the government and the Taliban to meet each other halfway and create necessary conditions for the next round of discussions.

The international community need to support Afghanistan in developing good relations with its neighbors.  And in that process, it’s very important that we support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve and develop their good neighborly relations so that will contribute to a peaceful and stable regional environment.

My third point is that Afghanistan should explore a path of development with its own characteristics.  Afghanistan has a significant geographic location, abundant water and mineral resources, and a huge potential in terms of human talent.  The international community should  step up strategic communication with Afghanistan and help the country fully tap its potential, harness its advantages, and explore an effective development path that fits the country’s reality and actual needs, and draw up a master plan for national development.  The focus of assistance may be put on institution building, personnel training, infrastructure, agriculture, irrigation, mineral resources, and other development areas.

My fourth point is that we should help Afghanistan integrate into the international community.  We should actively fulfill our assistance commitment and we should help Afghanistan get deeply involved in international and regional cooperation for various means and help the country play its due role in regional connectivity, energy transportation, and regional trade.  And we should continue to support the UN’s major role in coordinating international assistance to Afghanistan.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Istanbul Process, and other international mechanisms and Afghan-related cooperation mechanisms may also play a bigger role in this process.

China is Afghanistan’s direct neighbor.  Peace and stability in Afghanistan have a direct bearing on China’s own security and stability.  China appreciates the Afghan Government’s efforts for achieving stability and development, and we would like to reiterate our support for the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace and reconciliation process.  And China will continue to play its constructive role in this process.  China has supported Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction with concrete actions.  We have undertaken a number of major projects in medical care, irrigation, culture, education, and so on to the betterment of the Afghan people.  We have trained more than 1,000 Afghan professionals in various fields, and we have implemented the agreement reached between our leaders and made active progress in implementing the new assistance program we have announced.  We have sent Chinese experts to Afghanistan to help Afghanistan develop a plan for infrastructure development. 

And China has played an active part in Afghan-related international and regional cooperation.  We have actively participated in the CBMs under the Istanbul Process.  And in the course of this year we have held training programs on counterterrorism and counternarcotics.  Next month, we will hold a seminar for Afghanistan on disaster management, and we will actively advance trilateral cooperation involving China, U.S., Afghanistan and China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and to help forge synergy among the various assistance efforts.  For four years, China, United States have held joint training programs for Afghan diplomats.  These have proven useful, and we will extend the program to help train Afghan agricultural and medical personnel.  We welcome Afghanistan to fully leverage its natural resources and take an active part in China’s Silk Road Economic Belt Initiative and to contribute to regional peace, development, and prosperity.

Well, on issues of peace and development, we are bound together in a community of shared future.  The Afghan people aspire for stability and prosperity, but that goal is also shared by the broader international community.  China will continue to work with the international community for sustained peace, development, and prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.  I believe our efforts will bear more fruits and I wish the Afghan people a better and more promising future.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

FOREIGN MINISTER RABBANI:  I thank Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Secretary Kerry for their very useful remarks.  We will now proceed and hear remarks from the participant inscribed on this list of speakers, but after the press has left the room.  So we’ll have a few minutes for that.