Joint Press Availability With Afghanistan President Ghani

John Kerry
Secretary of State
Dilgusha Palace
Kabul, Afghanistan
April 9, 2016

MODERATOR: (In progress) (Via interpreter) and after that we will only allow two questions. We’ll only be responding to two questions. So (inaudible) to his Excellency, president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan – your Excellency president.

PRESIDENT GHANI: (Via interpreter) The entirely merciful, especially merciful, honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State, and respective delegation with you, most welcome to Afghanistan. Distinguished members of cabinet, respective brother and sisters, most welcome to Afghanistan.

Honorable Mr. Kerry, it’s 14 years – you’ve been coming to Afghanistan for 14 years. And not only you are one of the best friends of Afghanistan, you have constantly had interest towards Afghanistan and your friendship with me, honorable Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, and with all the political leadership has been a great, a special relation. So on behalf of the people of Afghanistan and on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan, I’d like to thank you, your Excellency, and most welcome.

Your arrival this time has a special objective, and that objective is the bilateral agreement, bilateral security agreement at which a special commission should have been established as a result of which, and your arrival has laid the foundation for that and it gives us hope to look at the future. United States of America is the central ally of the people and the Government of Afghanistan. Joined interests of ours, especially in the last 14 years, have been changed into deep, wider, strategic relation. Special threats, particularly the threat of terrorism, which has become the fifth wave of violence now, and it is threatening our joint interest.

Peace is the vital need of the people and the Government of Afghanistan, and United States of America, particularly honorable Secretary of State, towards establishing the environment of peace, regional stability have always been a great partner to us. You are a great partner to us, and there is a fundamental need for peace and stability that you very well understand, honorable Secretary of State. And your emphasis on this, the fact that a stable Afghanistan is the fundamental point to the stability of the region, and has been a point that you have supported and assured us.

At the same time, I would like to acknowledge and mention of the sacrifice, support – constant support – of the United States of America. Thank you very much. Thousands of your compatriots, your children, your youth, your American youth, have given sacrifice in Afghanistan. It is a hope that you will pass our condolences, our deepest sympathy, to their distinguished families.

As an individual, the first-level diplomat of the United States of America, you have been the champion of war. And personally, you understand what it is like. And your history, your background, your interest towards the – well, it is proven to the security forces of the United States of America. I hope that you will pass our gratitudes to them while also we express our condolences for their loss. On behalf of Afghanistan National Defense Security Forces, I would like to thank the United States of America for their continuous support, particularly for the historical decision of his Excellency President of the United States of America for the extension of Resolute Support mission. I’d like to thank you all.

History will judge that this decision really has been a turning point for the region and for us. And with this assurance, we can look forward and we can think of mid-term and of long-term great goals. On behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I’d like to thank for the widespread economic support of the United States of America that has reached all the classes of Afghanistan, and particularly the support to the women of Afghanistan, to the vulnerable class of Afghanistan. Thank you very much.

And that it has been your continuous attention and will be continuous attention of your kind self. Your trip to Afghanistan is looking at the future. Our emphasis and our discussion widely have been on certain vital matters. And very briefly, I would like to mention them.

Preparation for Warsaw and Brussels international conferences based on the decision that the United States of America for the extension of Resolute Support have approved. Today we can think for mid-term, but the commitment of Afghanistan for comprehensive reforms for the improvement of Afghanistan National Defense Security Forces we have and to Warsaw, to Brussels – we will not want to go there with words only. We will not want to go there with promises only. We will want to enter in Warsaw conference with clear achievements. And at the same time, we will want to enter into Brussels with clear achievements so that to the world and to the people of Afghanistan, we show and that they believe that there are fundamental changes and reforms coming in Afghanistan.

So from here, I would like to assure people of Afghanistan and people of the world that our fight against corruption and our political will for reforms is a comprehensive one. And in this regard, reforms are not only for this, that we get more international support. It is self-reliance which is the base of our economic philosophy, economic principle and governance principle. We want to be self-reliant. And the emphasis of all the people of Afghanistan fortunately are on reforms and fight against corruption. Corruption is like a cancer which affect – which cannot be tolerated by the political system of Afghanistan. And at the same time, our contract with the world is a contract which is based on values, based on ensuring rights enshrined in the constitution of Afghanistan for the people of Afghanistan.

And the final point: Our force is in our national unity. I would like to first today from the lower house of Afghanistan – I would like to thank the lower house of Afghanistan that they have, to the attorney general of Afghanistan and to the minister of interior of Afghanistan, given vote of confidence. I’d like to thank member of the lower house, and I’d like to thank you for your national stand for having given vote of confidence to the attorney general and to the minister of interior. The fact the selection of the attorney general assures us that there will be fundamental, comprehensive reforms in the attorney general office, and soon they will be implemented. And at the same time in the ministry of interior affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, we will have further reforms brought and it will help us that people will gain the trust the fact we, the national unity government, can move forward and ensure the rights, fundamental rights of the people of Afghanistan – as for the constitution and as for the other laws, fulfilled.

Unity, empathy – and particularly the political class have to understand this responsibility. The politicians of Afghanistan are not only responsible to develop one-year vision or a six-month vision; we are responsible for 100 years and more. And that is why our work at the national unity government, considering the historical need, have to be focused on making sure that we fulfill the desires of the people of Afghanistan. We have taken them into consideration, and we will be taking them into consideration.

At the same time, from the judiciary of Afghanistan, I’d like to express my thanks. I’d like to thank the judiciary of Afghanistan for having started fundamental reforms. And they are giving us further assurance. But more important – more importantly, I would like to thank the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces and the people of Afghanistan. Thank you, Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, the fact that you have proven that yes, today you are ready with your blood – with your life, even – you are ready to defend this land that has more than thousands of years of history.

There was a great day a month back; 549 youths of Afghanistan graduated from the security academy. And you have provided a lot of support to developing that. They graduated from it, and 13 of them were women – 13 of them were women. Women of Afghanistan are standing alongside by the men of Afghanistan. Girls of Afghanistan are standing alongside the boys of Afghanistan. They all could make a different choice. They all have selected to serve the country Afghanistan. And of this choice made by the young generation and of their belief on the future of Afghanistan, we all gain further trust and confidence.

The political will of the people of Afghanistan, the fact that – well, they have tolerated violence while they are also fighting against this, need to be mentioned. Last night in emergency hospital, I was with the people who in Seya Gerd were brutally attacked. A two-years-old child, his hand was hit with the explosive, and his hand was cut. His mother asked me – he wanted to see me, she said. She wanted to see me, she said. And she said she finally got the opportunity. “How will this terror end?” she asked me. And I said, “My dear sister, we have not fought. Fight – war has been imposed on us.” And this is what all the people of Afghanistan will. And after that, I met the soldiers, I met the officers who were laying on the other bed. And the determination I saw in them was that they want peace, stability, and that we have to make sustainable move towards this. So that is why year 1395, 2016 will be the year that we will make a comprehensive move and that we will bring comprehensive reforms.

And at the end, once again, I’d like to thank you for coming to Afghanistan. This has been a very useful trip, and as always, has been a very comprehensive trip. Our friendship is continuous. Most welcome. And please, and I hope that you will do come again and again. Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, Mr. President, thank you very much. Thank you for your wonderful, generous welcome, as always. And it’s a great privilege to be here in this renovated palace which suffered serious damage previously. And I know you have worked hard to restore it, and I want to say that you’ve done an extraordinary job.

Thank you so much for your hospitality today and for the good, solid discussions that we have had. It’s a privilege for me to be back in Kabul for the third meeting of the U.S.-Afghan Bilateral Commission.

I want to begin by thanking President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah for the constructive spirit of the discussions we had today, but more importantly, for the leadership that they are offering to Afghanistan in the context of a unity government. A unity government is not easy; it’s difficult. It’s an enormous contribution that both leaders have made as statesmen to stand together despite the fact that they opposed each other in an election, but in the interests of nation to bring people together. And I want to salute the efforts they are making to overcome many years of challenges that have built up, none of which can be solved overnight, all of which require a special kind of dedication and unity to change. And President Ghani is leading the effort to create a new Afghanistan.

And I want to express on behalf of President Obama and myself and the American people our respect for and gratitude for the great sacrifices made by the people of Afghanistan. I thank you, Mr. President, for your comments about the sacrifices of American soldiers and the American people and their dollars, tax dollars. They do – they have made those sacrifices and they make the contributions they make because you have made a commitment to democracy, a commitment to peace and stability, and because you are fully joined in the fight against radical extremism. And so we thank you for the spirit of the conversations that we’ve had today.

I also want to recognize the American team here that works every single day under the leadership of Ambassador Mike McKinley, our entire embassy team for the outstanding work that they do representing the United States to the Afghan people, and in their personal work on a daily basis in order to try to help make a difference.

I know that I missed the ceremony, but there was a ceremony, because I was traveling. There was a ceremony just the other day in the State Department to commemorate the loss of Anne Smedinghoff, who gave her life here as an embassy worker trying to deliver books to a school in the Kandahar area. And so we are reminded that even for our diplomats, sacrifices have been made, and we are proud of their work, and grateful for it.

The breadth of our agenda today fully reflects the critical importance of this moment and our shared interests. With our support, Afghanistan’s government of national unity has assumed responsibility for the security of its people. And I want to congratulate the armed forces of Afghanistan and thank them for the tremendous work that they have done and are doing every single day in order to provide security and protection to the people of Afghanistan.

It is – the Government of Afghanistan is moving ahead with a reform agenda of its own design – Afghan-led, Afghan-implemented. And today I congratulate the parliament on the lower house ratification of the new attorney general, who will be able to lead that effort and move forward now. At the center of our bilateral relationship is a shared commitment to peace, a peace based on security from violent extremism, coupled with a desire to promote prosperity and social progress in every province across Afghanistan. These goals are all laid out and agreed on in the 2012 Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement between our governments, and it’s being implemented now by the bilateral commission, and that was the subject of today’s meeting.

I discussed today with President Ghani and with Chief Executive Abdullah the progress that the government is making and the challenges ahead that require continued commitment from all of Afghanistan’s leaders in order to provide national unity. We discussed our shared goal of launching peace talks with the Taliban, and both leaders recognize that achieving peace requires patience and a national dialogue, even as it requires strength and determination from the armed forces to provide security.

So again today we call on the Taliban to enter into a peace process – a legitimate process, a real process – that provides equal rights protection for all Afghans and brings to an end the violence and the suffering that the people of this country have endured for so many years. As members of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, and the United States all support a negotiated settlement. And it is time for Afghans to be given the opportunity through that kind of settlement to be able to really start building the full measure of future which we know all the people of Afghanistan want.

Meanwhile, the United States remains fully committed to the mission to train and advise and assist the Afghan Security Forces as they combat the insurgency and protect their people.

We’re also deepening our counterterrorism cooperation. In February, Afghanistan, we are grateful, became the 66th nation to be a member of the Global Coalition to Counter Daesh. And it is the first in this region to join in. That’s leadership. We hope that its membership will inspire other nations to follow suit, and the reason is obvious: Daesh is a deadly threat to everyone, and it should be opposed by all.

At the same time, we also recognize that Afghanistan cannot secure the future that Afghans deserve without continued support from their friends and their allies. And we will continue to support Afghanistan as it stays unified moving towards a unified goal.

This coming July, as President Ghani just mentioned a moment ago, the NATO allies and partners are going to gather in Warsaw, Poland to consider the next round of assistance for the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. And in October, we will meet in Brussels to review development aid.

Success in bringing nations together to donate, to give what is critical development money and security money, in many ways is crucial to our goal. And continued international support will be essential, and it is essential for these next weeks and months for Afghanistan to show the world how that money is well spent and how the purpose of Afghanistan in unity is going to earn the support and the respect of the rest of the world.

As part of this effort today, our discussions focused on good governance and electoral reform. I know that electoral reform has been a priority of President Ghani since the moment he ran and the moment he was elected, and it is a priority of Chief Executive Abdullah. Laws have been passed. Steps have been taken. The foundation for this electoral reform has been built. And now with a new attorney general and with the cabinet ready to move, it is possible to put in place the electoral process for the next round of elections that is so important.

These important appointments that have been made in the last days, the interior minister and the attorney general, reconfirmed the government’s commitment to strengthening democratic institutions, and we welcome those appointments.

Democracy requires credible institutions. Even more than that, it requires a willingness by people from various political – from different political and ethnic and geographic factions to be able to come together and work for a common good, for a shared vision, in order to build the institutions that will support that vision. It requires assertive citizenship. It’s not just up to leaders; it’s up to citizens to help shape their communities, shape their country, define the vision. That, and not more war and not more terror, is the surest way to bring about real stability and prosperity to this country.

So in our meetings today we also reviewed the process of implementing our $800 million new development partnership. This initiative, I am convinced, will promote stability, accountability by linking funds to specific reforms that promote the rule of law, encourage private sector growth, and enhance women’s rights. One of the great accomplishments of Afghanistan in these years is opening up the opportunity for women. No country can really realize its full potential leaving half its population on the sidelines – on the bench, as we say in sports. It’s just not feasible. And Afghanistan has made an enormous leap forward.

When the events of 2001 occurred that brought the United States to Afghanistan, there were approximately 900,000 kids in school, and they were almost all boys. Now there are millions of kids in school, and fully a third of them are girls. That is an enormous step forward for the future of this country.

We also strongly support President Ghani’s commitment to combating corruption at all levels. Looking ahead, we know that that road is never easy. We know that security remains a challenge. But the Afghan people are proving every day they are up to that challenge. We know that Afghans are going to continue to work to achieve further progress. That’s something we have confidence in. We also know that the world stands with you in this effort, and none more so than the United States of America.

The American people will remain committed to a country whose people have sacrificed so much in pursuit of a better future, a country for whom we too, as President Ghani graciously acknowledged, have also fought and spilled blood – a country for whom we have joined you in the sacrifice.

Mr. President, we value our friendship with you, with your government, with your people, and we will continue to work closely with you in every day to come between now and Warsaw, between now and Brussels, in between now and the long-term future of the people of Afghanistan. Thank you. Thank you, my friend.

I think we’re going to take a question. I apologize we don’t have time for more questions, but we’ve gone late, and I have a schedule in Hiroshima, in Japan tomorrow. So we’re a little bit tight.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) The respected journalist from Tolo Television, Mr. Weli Adian, we kindly request you to ask your question.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you. I’m Weli Adian from Tolo News. Mr. Kerry, you played a role in solving the electoral deadlock and towards developing the national unity government. In the next six months, this political agreement is going to reach an end. So do you think for the – what do you think for the solution of this? What other option exists? The fact so far parliamentary elections have not been conducted, the grand council Loya Jirga has not been organized, constitution has not been amended – do you think you will help the Government of Afghanistan for this problem be solved? And that the – there is a – to reach the result of that agreement or other issues exist.

Another thing is based on the bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States of America, armed forces of Afghanistan should be equipped, trained according to the NATO standards. In the last 18 months, Afghanistan Security Forces are concerned about the lack of equipment. And at the same time, Taliban then ever seems more stronger. Daesh, ISIL has been another threat; al-Qaida seems to be emerging again. So again, in this fight against the terrorists – so will it be that you will be doing a military action?

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Could you please make it short or brief?

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) And also the other thing –

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Well, no. Your question already has been one question. It has already (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) There is hope for peace or not?

PRESIDENT GHANI: I thank that was directed towards you, Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY KERRY: Yes, it was. Let me answer it quickly. Let me make this very, very clear, because I brokered the agreement, President Ghani signed it and Chief Executive Abdullah signed it, and I was there to witness the signing, and I had the privilege of joining them in announcing it. There is no end to this agreement at the end of two years or in six months from now. This agreement ends – this is an agreement for a unity government, the duration of which is five years.

Now, the agreement did mention the effort to try to have the potential of a Loya Jirga at some point within two years. That was a goal. It is clearly a goal that has been made difficult as a result of the process over the course of the last year and a half, but I am absolutely confident that with the appointment now of the attorney general, the interior minister, and the efforts the government has committed to make leading up to Warsaw and leading up to Brussels, that there is going to be an acceleration and a momentum created and movement not just in the efforts to make sure that the armed forces have the equipment and have the ability to do what they’re doing, but in the implementation of the policies that President Ghani ran on and that together with Chief Executive Abdullah they are committed to implement for the people of Afghanistan in the next days. And as we put the new development policy that I just talked about into effect, and as we continue with the train, advise, and assist, I am confident the people of Afghanistan will feel and see the difference.

In addition to that, General Nicholson, who has just taken over command from the excellent work of General Campbell, has committed to a review over the course of the next 90 days. He will report to the President of the United States. The President of the United States has made a commitment to keep 9,800 troops in place at this moment in time, and so I think people need to have confidence about the direction we are moving and the direction that the government is moving. And the key now is obviously to make certain that over the course of the next weeks and months, those services, those programs, those policies that have been awaiting both the financing as well as the ministers and leadership – that is going to begin to flow and be implemented.

But we are – in no way does the agreement itself have some particular termination. The constitution has elected a president. The president has agreed to a unity government, and a political agreement was made between Dr. Abdullah and President Ghani for how they would go forward in a unity government. But it is our understanding that that is a mandate for five years and there’s no termination whatsoever in six months.

MR KIRBY: Our final question tonight comes from Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.

SECRETARY KERRY: I didn’t answer the second part. Is there hope for peace? Of course there’s hope for peace, absolutely. The government has made it clear they’re prepared to sit down and have a clear negotiation, and the key to that negotiation is that the Afghanistan constitution is respected, that violence is denounced, and that association with terror is ended. Under those circumstances, there’s absolutely hope for peace, and the people of Afghanistan should be demanding that the Taliban, who are the only people holding out on that possibility, actually engage in a process that would provide them peace.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, with regard to your view that the agreement does not have a termination date, many people in the Afghan opposition believe that it does end in two years. Are you afraid by taking that position that it could go on, the national unity government? You might end up with a backlash from the opposition.

And President Ghani, you said that it was a historic turning point that President Obama decided to keep the 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Would you like those troops to stay beyond the end of this year at 9,800 of the conditions warrant it?

And Secretary Kerry, do you see any possibility of that?

SECRETARY KERRY: So let me just quickly speak to the issue of the opposition. We welcome and respect in a democracy the notion of a loyal opposition. It’s an important element of a democracy, and the reality is that what happens with respect to the unity government is really up to Afghans. It’s up to President Ghani and his partner in the unity government, Dr. Abdullah, and ultimately the one that was mentioned, obviously, is the possibility or target of trying to have a Loya Jirga at some time – point in time. But it’s the people of Afghanistan and the president and his government who will make any decisions regarding where they go with respect to the government. But it’s not specifically terminated within the context of the agreement, and that’s the only point that I’m trying to make.

With respect to – the second part of your question was –

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY KERRY: Oh, on the troops, yeah. Let me – look, I’m – President Obama has made his policy very clear. His policy is to extend the period of time for the 9,800, and he has stated his intention to move thereafter to the 5,500. But he also has always said he will listen to his commanders on the ground and he will evaluate the situation, and he has commissioned a review by General Nicholson. And I am absolutely confident that whatever the President is going to do in the future is going to be guided by the people on the ground and by General Nicholson’s report, so I’m not going to speculate beyond that.

QUESTION: And President Ghani, would you like (inaudible)?

PRESIDENT GHANI: Well, first of all, let me express our most sincere thanks to President Obama and to his team. Also let me thank the team on the ground – Ambassador McKinley, but also Ambassador Olson, Dr. Lavoy, and General Nicholson. The United States has given us its best, and we are very privileged to be working with them.

Partners listen to each other and partners do not interfere in the internal processes or suggest things that are purviews of the partners. President Obama listened very carefully to us and made a decision that I think in retrospect is going to be proving historic in terms of a turning point. What the number of troops will be, what the duration will be is up to the internal processes of the United States. We have a reliable partner, a strategic partner, and a foundational partner in the United States, and we trust that our dialogue will always be constructive and focused on our mutual interests.

MR KIRBY: Thank you, everybody.