Afghanistan: don't jeopardise the achievements
DI Amb Dr Zia Nezam

What follows is an article by Afghanistan's Ambassador to Italy, His Excellency Dr Zia Nezam.

Afghanistan has suffered more than three decades of foreign interferences, occupation and conflicts, but Afghan people have never given up. Over the past 12 years our country has overcome serious challenges and strived to move ahead. With the support of the international community and thanks to the mobilization of the Afghan people, Afghanistan has tried to restore Democracy and sustain reconstruction.

Few countries have experienced an equivalent transformation in such a short period of time. We don't have to forget that in 2001 Afghanistan started from scratch; it was one of the poorest countries, with the highest illiteracy rates, and women were denied education and employment and were not allowed to show themselves in public.

Still a work in progress, the advancement of Democracy is effective. Afghan institutions are functioning with some checks and balances mechanisms. Elections have strengthened the Afghan leadership legitimacy. The principles of governance permeate all levels of the administration. The fight against corruption is a national priority that enforces new rules of responsibility and accountability in both the public and private sectors, but the result is not efficient.

With an average double-digit growth over the last 10 years, the Afghan economy is booming. International aid is still necessary but domestic revenues are increasing. Afghanistan will generate about 80% of the national budget capacity in 2014.

The achievements in social progress are also impressive. Changes are perceptible in all districts with better infrastructures, universal education, and more opportunities. Civil society has emerged as an influential actor. Women's rights and female empowerment are progressively transforming social relations.

Today all Afghan citizens are enjoying relatively equal rights, irrespective of differences in gender, social status, and beliefs. For the first time, Afghan people are walking together in the same direction. They express a strong attachment to their national community and they are bound together by a common destiny.

Yet, this national recovery is being jeopardized by instability originating from volatile regions beyond our Southern and Eastern borders. These areas offer sanctuaries to extremists, terrorists and traffickers of all types. From these rear bases, extremists conduct operations across the Afghan territory.

Their presence causes a permanent threat not only against our security but also against the security of our partners. Criminal activities are flourishing. Arms are flowing across the region. Drug production is booming. Unsecure roads are disrupting the transport of goods and the movements of people. Regional terrorists have been active since 2001 with improving capabilities. It is widely acknowledged that terrorists receive a substantial support from abroad with fresh recruitment, additional money, advanced weapons and intelligence sharing.

Taliban leaders conduct operations from HQs located hundreds of kilometres away from the Afghan border. In this chaotic environment, Taliban are waging a proxy war to regain leadership over volatile regions of Pakistan. Now enjoying a dominant position in the mountainous region of Waziristan, their next objective is to reinstate Taliban rule over Afghanistan. 17 Afghan Provinces suffer regularly from Taliban attacks and Kabul is only 100 kilometres as the crow flies from the Pakistani border.

This surge of violence has two main reasons.

First, the Afghan government has opened a constructive dialogue with repentant Afghan Taliban who rejects violence and extremism. The effort to recapture loyalties and to reintegrate insurgents is encouraged as a major step ahead for national reconciliation. The objective is to prepare the peaceful participation of all Afghans in the political process. This inclusive strategy of dialogue is fuelling the hateful reactions of terrorists with the support of some foreign institutions. Second, the Afghan government is sustaining a substantial agenda for security.

The perspective of the withdrawal of foreign combat troops in 2014 has been prepared by the development of a national capacity. Now the Afghan Security Forces are in the lead throughout the country and they continue to make progress. Afghan forces are at 96% of their strength of 352,600 and these forces are conducting almost all the operations independently. Thanks to the ISAF led surge over the past three years and more capability of Afghan Security Forces, now the Afghan Government controls all major cities and more of 90% of all districts.

NATO and the coalition have achieved a successful education and training of Afghan forces. This support should now be completed with additional capabilities to deal with our border threat. Afghan soldiers badly need better military equipment with surveillance systems to improve situational awareness. They also need weapons to engage in rapid response operations whenever necessary. The purpose is not to escalate tensions but to reinforce the counterterrorism presence and capabilities of our forces in a deteriorating environment.

Time is running short. In 2014, Afghanistan will face the double challenge of organizing the presidential ballot and achieving the responsibility of security. Discussions with NATO and the US are currently exploring the best option for Afghan stability in a post-2014 perspective. There is no doubt that a balanced and constructive consensus will emerge. In this regard, sending a strong message to all the countries in the region is becoming urgent.

On the other side of our Southern and Eastern borders, there is much speculation on the future presence of our allies in Afghanistan. Such conjectures create a strategic void that undermines the joint efforts to build Afghan stability.

Neither Afghanistan nor the international community can accept that a neighbouring region serves as a breeding ground for terrorists. Therefore, the nature and the extent of our allies’ commitment to Afghan security should be clearly articulated to prevent further attempts to destabilize Afghanistan.