Foreign Minister Spanta gives lecture at Royal Danish Defence College
During his visit to Denmark, H.E. Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, was invited to give a lecture at the Royal Danish Defense College. Minister Spanta was received by Acting Commander for the Royal Danish Defence College, Colonel W Iversen. The lecture gathered some 100 Officers from the Royal Danish Defence College. Below is a transcript of Minister Spanta's lecture "Afghanistan Today: Progress and Challenges" that he gave on March 4th, 2008.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning! Thank you for this opportunity to be with you this morning and to speak to you about Afghanistan, a country that has come to hold so much importance to you. About ten of your fellow soldiers have shed their blood on that land – we have a saying in our language that the bond that is created by blood rarely breaks. I have no doubt that Afghanistan will, sooner or later, emerge from the present challenges into a successful future. When that happens, I am absolutely sure that this bond between us, the bond of friendship and solidarity, the bond of international responsibility in the face of common challenges, will always remain strong. We will never forget it.
I am here in Denmark, ladies and gentlemen, foremost to express the gratitude of the Afghan people to the people of Denmark for what has been a truly exemplary role your country has played as part of an international effort in support of Afghanistan. Afghanistan today is one of the largest recipients of Denmark’s development and security assistance. Your sons and daughters in uniform are currently serving in Helmand Province, perhaps the most critical battle-field in our collective war against terrorism. Let it also be acknowledged that Denmark was among a small handful of countries that did not abandon Afghanistan through some of the most difficult times we have seen in recent history.
Today too your country has a very distinguished place in the international effort focused on stability, democratisation and economic development of Afghanistan. Let me simply say that we are very grateful for what you have done for us, and for what you are doing today.
Secondly, I came to Denmark to reassure you that your contributions, alongside those from many other nations around the world, are making a difference in the lives of the Afghan people.
Over the last six years, the people of Afghanistan have been witness to a unique historical concurrence of our interests with the collective interest for security of the international community. We have also been witness to many remarkable achievements that have become possible as a result of this concurrence of interests.
Six years ago, Afghanistan was a country totally destroyed by invasions, wars, foreign interference, terrorism and oppression; one third of our population were either refugees outside our borders or displaced internally; our people were denied even the most basic human rights including education and health.
Six years on, the picture is very different. Today, our people are taking part in a genuine political process to shape their own destiny as a nation. A new constitution has been adopted, new democratic institutions created, and a new, democratic government has been elected. The freedoms enjoyed by our media and civil society organisations are totally unprecedented and unparalleled across the whole region. You in Denmark may take these basic attributes of a democratic society for granted; for Afghanistan they are simply historical.
In addition, millions of children are going to school today who would not have the opportunity to do so six years ago; over five million of our refugees have returned home; we have implemented more development projects during the past six years than the previous three decades put together. Two thirds of Afghanistan’s villages have now been covered by the National Solidarity Programme, one of our rural development initiatives which has received generous support from Denmark and other Nordic countries. This level of developmental reach down into the deep rural Afghanistan has never been experienced before.
These are just a few examples of the progress Afghanistan has achieved in six short years. Those of you who know Afghanistan well or have spent time there in recent years would have a much better, more complete picture of the changes in the lives of our people. I believe it is vital for the continuation of our efforts to remind ourselves of these remarkable accomplishments we together have achieved, particularly at a time when our media today is consistently interested in finding negative stories to tell.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Needless to tell you that, despite our successes, many significant challenges remain. Our initial victory over the Taliban and Al Qaida, our continued military efforts in the fight against terrorism, and our investment in rebuilding Afghanistan’s national army and national police, have not yet produced the assured security and stability that we desire.
On the political and governance side too, Afghanistan has a very long way to go before our institutions take root, before our democratic gains become irreversible and before our people can finally enjoy their full rights and freedoms.
On top of it all, Afghanistan remains among the poorest countries of the world. A vicious narcotics industry is suppressing the growth of our nascent legitimate economy. Addressing these challenges adequately will take more time and effort.
Among the challenges, terrorism is by far the most significant. Over the past two years, a continued terrorist offensive, originating from sanctuaries that terrorists enjoy beyond Afghanistan’s borders, has created much anxiety. Many lives, both Afghan and those from the outside who had come to help us, have been lost. Terrorists have attacked our schools and mosques and killed our students, our aid workers and our community elders.
The challenge is much greater if we take a regional perspective and watch the worrying developments in Pakistan too. Over the past five months, the relative reduction in terrorist violence in Afghanistan has been balanced out by the increase in terrorist activities in Pakistan. Unless adequately addressed, the threat of terrorism that is spreading rapidly in the region will reach very menacing proportions, bringing along unprecedented destruction and violence. A strong and sustained cooperation at the regional level is vital for our efforts to contain the spread of terrorism and remove its sources. In this context, I welcome the success of recent elections in Pakistan and hope this development will contribute to better regional coordination and cooperation at a regional level.
May I also point out that the threat of terrorism cannot, and will not, remain confined within national or regional boundaries. In the war against terrorism, it is not just the future of Afghanistan and the wider region that is at stake, but also the security of Europe and the world at large. Indeed, terrorists may be trying to establish safe havens and operational networks in our region, but their ultimate goal is to reach you here in Europe and attack the foundations of your stability and progress.
Terrorism in its contemporary form is, more than anything else, a rebellion against the very tradition of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights. Against this determined and dangerous enemy that we all as civilised societies face, we must remain strong and united.
Ladies and gentlemen,
On the battle front in Afghanistan, the way forward is for us and our friends in the international community is to continue and further expand the existing international cooperation aimed at fighting terrorism, promoting democracy and the rule of law, and creating economic opportunities for poor and disadvantaged communities. Whether it is in the framework of NATO or the United Nations or individual nations fulfilling an international obligation, international cooperation must be nurtured.
Above all, the deployment of military forces in the fight against terrorism and the stabilisation of Afghanistan must continue until such a time when our own military and other institutions can face the challenge on their own. Few would understand the importance of international military presence in Afghanistan better than some of you in this audience who may have had the opportunity to visit or serve with your forces in Helmand. With any doubt, Helmand today represents the bastion of a poppy-based agriculture that is connected to world market by a big and dangerous network of traffickers, as well as the most vital battlefield against international terrorism. On the other hand, Helmand also illustrates how the international military contribution is essential for the fight against terrorism, for securing the lives of ordinary people, for creating a space for governance and for civilian existence.
We are particularly grateful that Denmark and a number of our NATO allies, such the United States, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia, are making a vital contribution to our security in Helmand and the southern areas of our country.
But Afghanistan’s plight is not just about insecurity and terrorism, and military action is, therefore, not a sufficient solution. Only a fully democratic, irreversibly stable and economically prosperous Afghanistan can withstand the forces of terrorism in the future. Thus, economic development, the empowerment of improverished communities, uprooting the narcotics economy, reducing poverty and restoring the Afghan people to their inalienable rights must make the corner-stone of the international community’s assistance strategy for Afghanistan.
Put shortly, Afghanistan must not be seen as a purely, or even largely, military intervention case; it must also be seen as a development intervention case of significant importance for the world. At a time when the attention of media and much of our publics is concentrated on the security agenda in Afghanistan, making a case for development is not easy. Your experience in Helmand shows that, at any given time, military and development efforts are complimentary, not contradictory. People need both. Sometimes, when you work in a challenging environment, building a school or clinic is not enough. They must be protected too. In this context, initiatives such as CIMIC, which is pioneered by the Danish forces in Helmand, can be a useful approach.
As for as the process of development overall is concerned, the role of the Nordic countries together becomes very significant. Denmark, alongside your fellow Nordic countries, has played a truly exemplary role in both military and development aspects of the international cooperation. However, needless to say that the comparative advantage of the Nordic region as a whole lies in the development effort. When it comes to aid effectiveness, these countries have set an example that can, and must, be replicated.
It was in this context that I used the opportunity of my official visit to the Nordic region over the past week to explore the possibility of getting our Nordic partners together in a more organised effort, alongside the Afghan government and other partners from around the world, to lead the development agenda in Afghanistan.
We believe there is added value to be had from an ever more coordinated involvement by the Nordic region in Afghanistan. We don’t just wanted the generous contributions you are able to make individually; we also need your strong, collective voice in support of aid effectiveness.
Together, you and us can work to make the development process in Afghanistan more coherent, more efficient and more result-oriented. Together we can ensure that the development process becomes a linchpin for long-term stability in Afghanistan. Given what is at stake in Afghanistan, the future of an entire nation as well as the security of the whole world, this cause is worth any contribution you are able to make.