Secretary Kerry’s Remarks at the UNGA High-Level Event on Afghanistan

September 26, 2015

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.)

Remarks at the High-Level Event on Afghanistan: