Dr Spanta speaks at Stockholm University
In the honor of H.E. Foreign Minister Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta on his official visit to Sweden, the Swedish Afghan Committee
and the Stockholm Association of International Affairs organized a
seminar on Afghan foreign relations at Stockholm University on February 27th, 2008. The Minister’s speech was followed by a question and answer session. Over 300 students were present at the seminar.Read the transcript of the speech "The Challenge of Terrorism and the International Response" below.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good afternoon! Coming to your university today gives me a deep feeling of nostalgia. It reminds me of my own university in Aachen, and makes me think whether I made the right choice by leaving academia and joining politics. I usually convince myself that I did, but I am not sure I can win that argument today here!
But today I will not talk about academia or even politics. Instead, I would like to tell you about my country Afghanistan, about our experience as a nation, about our hopes and fears today and about the importance of Afghanistan for the security and future of the world at large.
Before any other discussion, however, may I tell you that we in Afghanistan are very grateful to Sweden for being a strong and steadfast supporter of Afghanistan over the years. As I often say, Sweden is among those few countries that did not come to Afghanistan in 2001, as many others did, but was there with us during some of our most difficult times, giving support to our people. You have in Sweden an organisation called the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan which exemplifies the commitment and generosity of Sweden. For years the Swedish Committee has been responsible for providing tens of thousands of our children with badly needed education and health services.
May I also recognise that, regrettably, the picture that you get from Afghanistan these days, too focused on terrorism and insecurity, is rather narrow and pessimistic. It is not very often these days that you hear about the remarkable progress that we in Afghanistan have achieved over the past six years with help from our friends in the international community.
Six years ago, Afghanistan was a country totally devastated 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. Today, more Afghans enjoy access to health and education than ever before in our history. We have cut child mortality rate, one of the highest in the world only two years ago, by 25.7 percent. 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.
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 the remaining challenges may seem unsurpassable, and when much of the world’s media is unduly concentrating on finding negative stories to tell.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Despite the progress we have made in six short years, Afghanistan today is still at a cross-roads and the direction we take, the choices we make and our success in achieving our aspirations will have important implications for you here in Sweden and for the wider world.
Let me remind you that, once before, not in a too distant past, Afghanistan stood at a similar cross-roads from which, regrettably, the wrong turning was taken. Then, in early 1990s, Afghanistan had just emerged from a destructive invasion by the former Soviet Union. Many countries around the world, from the West to Muslim nations to others, who were motivated by a common fear of Communism to support our struggle for freedom, failed to see any reason to continue their support once the Red Army had departed in defeat. Afghanistan was left to its own means, devastated, with a shattered economy and a collapsed state.
The vacuum was quickly filled. Regional states with geopolitical ambitions and international networks with global extremist agendas lost no opportunity to exploit the collapse of our state and establish their control over our soil. Our nation was helpless and taken hostage. The Taliban regime in Afghanistan was not a resurgence of rural conservative culture in Afghanistan; it was an extremist movement, alien to Afghan history and culture, propped up by a combination of political and ideological interests from beyond our borders. The Al Qaida network was among those foreign elements that found a safe haven in Afghanistan. It was from Afghanistan that the attacks of 9/11 in the United States, and many other terrorist attacks around the world before and after, were planned and implemented by our uninvited guests.
Today, once again, we are at a juncture when the security of the world is connected to ours in Afghanistan. In a unique historical paradox, international terrorism has become a unifying factor for countries across the world to unite in Afghanistan in the face of a common threat. Once again, like the struggle against Communism, the war against terrorism is being fought on the plains and highlands of my country. And once again, there is a worldwide conviction that in this battle for the future of humanity, failure is not an option.
However, this time we must learn from history. This time, we must not just succeed; we must succeed fully and irreversibly. There must be no doubt in our minds about the seriousness of the threat we are all facing.
Whereas communism was a totalitarian ideology espoused by despotic regimes, terrorism represents just a destructive force cloaked under the claim of absolute universal truth. The terrorist mindset is an extreme corruption and degradation of human existence: it denies the sanctity of life and allows killing and dying as not just acceptable but, in a dangerous way, desirable. Terrorism, therefore, is a much more sinister enemy that we share in common.
And make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, it is not just Afghanistan or its surrounding region that is threatened by this menace. I understand that there are some elements within your society here, some of your political leaders, who still do not see a direct connection between our collective struggle against terrorists in Afghanistan and the security of your own citizens here. Hear from me, as someone with experience, that threats such as terrorism can never be contained within boundaries. If you don’t fight this scourge in Afghanistan, sooner or later you will have to fight it at your doorsteps!
While terrorists may be trying to exploit the weakness of our states as an opportunity to establish safe havens and operational networks in our region, their ultimate goal is to reach you here in Europe and attack the foundations of your stability and progress. The contemporary phenomenon of terrorism is, in fact, a rebellion against the very tradition of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights, which you here in Europe hold so precious. Let me emphasise this point: for as long as there remains in Afghanistan and the surrounding region any social, political or institutional infrastructure that breeds and nurtures terrorism, it is an illusion to talk about security in Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen,
To defeat terrorism, we must remain united and unflinching and we must continue to fight them on the battle-fronts they have chosen within Afghanistan and beyond. We must also realize that the struggle against terrorism is going to take a much longer time and much more effort:
from military action to the promotion of democratization and governance, to addressing the various social root causes of terrorism such as poverty and political alienation.
On the military side, the war on terror in Afghanistan and the wider region must continue with more vigour and broader focus. The presence of international military forces in Afghanistan remains a crucial necessity for fighting terrorism and ensuring the longterm stability of Afghanistan. In this context, I take the opportunity to express the deep gratitude of the Afghan people to all the countries, including Sweden, that have committed military forces in Afghanistan. The continued presence of international military forces is required until such a time when our own institutions, our army and our police forces, are strong enough to take responsibility for fending off terrorist spoilers and enforcing the rule of law on their own.
However, terrorism was not born in my country nor can it be eliminated if our focus remains limited to Afghanistan.
In fact, much of the elaborate terror infrastructure, including their networks, is situated outside our borders. Over the past six months, we have seen a relative reduction in the number of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, but this is mainly because terrorist activities in Pakistan, across our eastern and southern border, have increased considerably. Pakistan is as much vulnerable to, and affected by, terrorism as is Afghanistan. And terrorists who attack the people of Pakistan are the same as those who come and kill the Afghan people. Therefore, we have always believed that a strong and sustained cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan is vital for success in the war against terrorism. In this context, the success of recent elections in Pakistan is a promising prospect for even stronger and broader cooperation.
Aside from the military response, it is the social and economic underpinnings of terrorism that must be addressed in order for this menace to be uprooted from our societies. While the relatively few preachers of hatred and violence who plan and finance terrorism may be easy to tackle, uplifting the millions of youth in our societies, whose poverty and deprivation makes them susceptible to radicalization, is a much harder task. Therefore, terrorism is as much a development challenge as it is a security challenge.
Terrorism is also a governance challenge. Scholars have frequently disputed the connection between poverty and terrorism. However, not many would deny that political alienation and a chronic denial of human rights lie at the heart of radicalization and extremism. Our war against terrorism must, therefore, be a struggle for democratization, self-determination and the attainment of human rights.
Coming back to Afghanistan, ladies and gentlemen: Today in Afghanistan, there is a unique opportunity for the international community to prevail over the forces of terrorism by denying them a space to exist, and by helping us build a stable, moderate and democratic state. I take heart in the fact that, over the past six years, we have together achieved important results in Afghanistan. The key is to continue along the course we have taken. To do otherwise, would be to take, once again, the wrong turning at this critical juncture for Afghanistan and for the world at large.
I thank you for your attention.