3 April 2008


3 April 2008
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks to the Conference on Afghanistan in Bucharest, today, 3 April:

It is an honour to address you.  Let me start by paying tribute to President Hamid Karzai and by commending the unwavering commitment shown by NATO and the member States present here to peace, security and development in Afghanistan.  The United Nations fully shares this commitment:  we shall not leave Afghanistan as long as we are needed by the Afghan people.

A little over two years ago, Afghans inaugurated a new Parliament following presidential and parliamentary elections.  This represented the culmination of a long process in which the Afghans defined the legal foundation of their State through a consensual constitutional process, and legitimized State authority through elections.  At that time, the leaders of the Afghan Government and more than 50 nations met in London to sign a Compact to promote security, governance, economic development, and to combat the production and trafficking of illegal narcotics.

Significant progress has indeed been made since.  Gross domestic product growth was around 13 per cent in 2007.  Infant and maternal mortality rates have fallen by one quarter, meaning that 89,000 lives are saved every year.  The construction of infrastructure -- the building of roads and the rebuilding of cities -- has been astounding.  Gross enrolment in schools has increased in 2007 to nearly 6 million, of which 35 per cent are girls.

But these welcome indicators of progress must not obscure the obstacles that we still face.  Foremost among these is the threat posed by the continuing violence and militancy in various parts of the country.  The activities of anti-Government elements have caused greater and longer-lasting damage to the fabric of the nation than earlier anticipated.  The ruthless tactics adopted by the insurgents have kept much of Afghanistan destabilized, impeded Government access, and left a large part of the population hostage to intimidation, fear and vulnerability. 

Another obstacle is the constantly growing drug economy.  Opium grown in Afghanistan is now responsible for nearly 90 per cent of global production.  According to the World Bank, the opium economy accounts for one quarter of total economic activity in Afghanistan.

There is a nefarious link between the insurgency and the drug phenomenon.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, anti-Government forces take a tax of approximately 10 per cent on opium cultivation in areas where they exert control, and use these proceeds to further destabilize the country.

The question of illegal narcotics has many dimensions.  We need, in particular, to look at more effective ways of targeting those who benefit most from the illegal narcotics trade, in particular the traffickers and sellers rather than the farmers -- especially the poorest farmers who often have no alternatives.

These obstacles are well-known and have been much-discussed.  But at such an important gathering as this one, given the stakes we face, we need to acknowledge certain other obstacles within our operations that may undermine our goals.  We need to address them forthrightly and learn lessons from them.

Let me mention three in particular:  one that is primarily the responsibility of the Afghan Government; a second that is primarily the responsibility of the international community; and a third that is a joint responsibility.

The first lesson we need to learn is that posed by the pervasive problem of corruption.  On one level, we should not judge too harshly the Afghan Government.  The administrative capacity of Afghanistan was greatly diminished by decades of war, much of the State infrastructure was destroyed and many of the educated cadres left the country.  Yet the problem of corruption is not one of a mere lack of capacity.  If anything, it could even be viewed as an indication of a lack of confidence in the future among Afghan Government officials themselves.

The second lesson to be learned is that of coordination among members of the international community.  Too often, we do not have a clear and full picture of what we are doing, we do not provide consistent advice to our Afghan counterparts, and we put our own interests before those of Afghanistan.  We must make a more serious effort to ensure that aid is driven by Afghan needs, and we must focus on those areas where each of us has specific expertise and capabilities, adding value to the work of others rather than duplicating it.

Finally, we need to learn that the partnership between the Afghan Government and the international community has not yet measured up to the principal mission before us -- that of being able to affect the lives of a critical mass of Afghans, and especially Afghans in the rural areas.  In some respects, the insurgency has grown in strength partly because of the weak results from international assistance and of the shortfalls of Afghan governance.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of Afghans would never wish to return to a Taliban-style Government.  At the same time, we have not been successful so far in offering them the security and the economic opportunities that would allow them decisively to reject such a regime.

Afghan security forces must increasingly take the lead in stabilizing the country.  The Afghan police, in particular, must become a protective force that the population can trust.  And Afghan Government institutions, at national and subnational levels, must be able to better deliver basic services to the population.

There have been some reassuring examples of greater Afghan leadership in security and governance, especially in the Afghan National Army and the Independent Directorate for Local Governance.  Further meaningful progress requires our joint, sustained and concentrated effort.  Above all, it is necessary because it is the only way to avoid the trap of permanent dependency.  The Afghan National Development Strategy, which will be presented at the Paris Conference in June, should provide a reliable guide to lead us towards a recovery process managed by Afghans under Afghan priorities.

I believe that, implicitly, we have acknowledged these lessons to be learned.  I see evidence of this in your presence at such a high level at this Conference.  I also see that you are determined to find a way to surmount the various obstacles before us.  I am confident that NATO’s new military-political strategy will help provide a more comprehensive approach to International Security Assistance Force efforts.  It must also address the underlying issues that have prevented past efforts from achieving the degree of success we have desired.

As for the United Nations, I am here to assure you, personally, that we will do our part.  We recognize that we have not been as effective as we need to be in coordinating the international community.

In my latest report, I made a number of proposals on what the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) should do to achieve the results we have pledged to the Afghan people.  I was pleased to see these endorsed in the latest Security Council resolution renewing UNAMA’s mandate.  This will lead to a stronger UN presence that will take a more assertive role in coordination, both in the civilian and civil-military field, and strengthening Afghan leadership through political outreach and support for national and subnational governance. 

My selection of Ambassador Kai Eide as my Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA was guided by a frank assessment of the changes we need to make.  Ambassador Eide is an experienced diplomat with deep knowledge of Afghanistan.  He is no stranger to either NATO or the UN.  I cannot think of anyone better to handle the complex issues surrounding the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact, the deepening of civil-military coordination, and the promotion of a constructive dialogue among Afghanistan and its neighbours to achieve a regional stability that will be of national, regional and global benefit.  From the many public and private statements welcoming Ambassador Eide’s appointment, I know that you, and many others beyond this room, share this confidence.

In my latest report, I particularly stressed the need to trust the legitimate Afghan institutions in which we have invested so heavily, and for which Afghan voters have risked so much.  As we renew our partnership, those Afghan institutions must also demonstrate that our trust is well-placed.  Beginning today, let us pledge to work together to convert this trust and this partnership into something that truly lifts the lives of Afghans and redeems the commitments we made, in their name, six years ago.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.