Foreign Minister Spanta speaks at Finnish Defence Minister Seminar

On his official trip to Finland, H.E. Foreign Minister Dr Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, delivered a speech at the Finnish Defence Minister Seminar. Below is a transcript of Minister Spanta's speech "Afghanistan Today: Progress and Challenges" at the Parliament House in Helsinki on February 28th, 2008.

Updated: (2.28.2008)

Distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to be here and to address a seminar on Afghanistan on my first stop, on the first day of my first visit to Helsinki. I am really pleased to be visiting Finland, and especially so because my visit is also the first of its kind between our two nations and, hopefully, will lay the foundations of a strong, mutually rewarding relations between Finland and Afghanistan.

I am here in Finland, ladies and gentlemen, foremost to express the gratitude of the Afghan people to you, the people of Finland, for your contribution Afghanistan over the past six years. From military deployment in the framework of the International Assistance Force, to financial contribution to the process of development, Finland today is an active part of the international effort that is helping Afghanistan achieve stability, democracy and prosperity. And we are grateful for what you are doing to help our country.

Secondly, I came to Finland 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 opportunity as our interests have coincided 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 geography without a state; a country 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. Despite all the odds, the freedoms enjoyed by our media and civil society organisations are totally unprecedented and unparalleled across the whole region. 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.

Ladies and gentlemen,

While our achievements are enormous indeed, the challenges that remain are equally daunting. 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 that we desire. Despite our economic growth in recent years, Afghanistan is still among the poorest countries of the world. Narcotics remain a dangerous threat. Fighting the production and trafficking of narcotics, as well as the turning around of a legitimate economy, will take much more time and effort.

On the political and governance side too, Afghanistan has a very long way to go before our institutions take root, before our progress towards democratisation becomes irreversible and before our people can finally enjoy their full rights and freedoms. In this context, the weakness of our judiciary is a case in point.

In recent months, here in Finland, you heard about a serious case of judicial abuse in a case that concerned the death of one of your soldiers in Afghanistan. A group of individuals, who were suspected of carrying out an attack on the ISAF military convey in Faryab province received summary death sentence, later reduced to long-term prison, from a suspiciously rapid court process. The defendants were not provided with defence lawyers, nor were any compelling evidences presented by the prosecutor to implicate them. Such abuse of judicial power is totally unacceptable, even by the standard of our judiciary in Afghanistan. The situation had to be rectified by a decree by the President who cancelled the judicial process, nullifying the sentences, and the suspects had to be released.

I understand the alarm this incident raised here in Finland as the case concerned the death of one of your citizens. But this case illustrates the reality that our judiciary is still weak and very vulnerable to abuse. It also illustrates the need for continuation of the work we have start in reforming and strengthening our institutions.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Among the challenges, terrorism is by far the most menacing. Over the past two years, a continued terrorist offensive, originating from sanctuaries that terrorists enjoy beyond Afghanistan’s borders, has created much worry. 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 hike in terrorist activities in Pakistan. Unless adequately addressed, the threat of terrorism that is spreading rapidly in the region will reach unprecedented proportions, wreaking unprecedented destruction and violence.

Furthermore, the threat of terrorism cannot, and will not, remain confined to 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.
In many ways, terrorism in its contemporary form is a rebellion against the 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.

On the battle front in Afghanistan, 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. However, we must also realise that 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 be a sustainable defence against the forces of terrorism in the future.

It is in the context of the broader development agenda, that I am visiting Finland and other countries in the Nordic region. My purpose is to explore the possibility of organising our Nordic partners in a more organised effort, alongside the Afghan government and other partners from around the world, to lead the development agenda 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.

Thank you.

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Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Oslo
Gange-Rolvs gate 5  -  0244 Oslo  -  Norway  -  Phone: + 47 22 12 35 70

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