WASHINGTON (March 23, 2015) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.
PRESIDENT GHANI: In the name of God, the merciful and compassionate, Speaker Boehner, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Majority Leader McCarthy, House Minority Leader Ms. Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader, ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, please allow me to thank you for your gracious invitation to address this unique forum of deliberative democracy.
Above all else, I’d like to begin by thanking the people of the United States, whose generous support for my country has been of such immense value in advancing the cause of freedom. More than one million brave Americans have served in Afghanistan. They have come to know our snow-capped mountains, our valleys, our wind-swept deserts, our parched fields, our rivers and our plains of waving wheat. But more important than knowing our geography, they've come to defend and to know our people. In return, the people of Afghanistan recognize the bravery of your soldiers and the tremendous sacrifices that Americans have made to keep Afghanistan free. We owe a profound debt to the 2,350 service men and women killed in the more than -- and the more than 20,000 who have been wounded in service to your country and ours. We owe a profound debt to the soldiers who've lost limbs, to the brave veterans and to the families who tragically lost their loved ones to the enemies' cowardly acts of terror.
We owe a profound debt to the many Americans who've come to repair wells and cure the sick and we must acknowledge with appreciation that at the end of the day, it's the ordinary Americans whose hard-earned taxes who over the years built the partnership that has led to our conversation today. I want to -- I want to thank the American taxpayers and you, their representatives, for supporting us. The service of American men and women in our country has been made possible by the bipartisan support of the Congress of the United States. On behalf of our Parliament and people, I salute and thank you.
It has always been a pleasure to receive the Congress men and women during your trips to Afghanistan. Please do come again and again. And if you are in service, please come in your proud uniforms. I had a unique opportunity that when Senator Graham was just as a colonel, I asked him to salute -- our British general and he complied. So thank you.
Veterans will always be welcomed in Afghanistan. Our deepest hope is that the time will come when Americans visiting our country will see the cultural heritage and natural riches of the valley, the ancient architecture, the fishing streams, the forests and the ancient architecture of another. Not as soldiers, but as parents showing their children the beautiful country where they served in the war that defeated terror. On behalf of my entire country, when that day comes you'll be our most welcomed and honored guests.
America's support to Afghanistan has been led by a succession of remarkable generals. I'm proud to have known and worked with Dan McNeil, David McConcernon, Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, John Allen, Joseph and John Campbell. Their commitment and dedication is inspirational. These generals lived in simple quarters. They worked tirelessly through the night, and their leadership of their troops set an example that our generals are working hard to follow.
Your civilian leaders are no less inspirational. Ambassadors such as Ronald Newman, Ryan Crocker, James Cunningham and my good friend, Michael McKinley, give American diplomacy first-class leadership and strategic understanding. And I would be remiss not to mention the stimulating conversations with my friends from this chamber like John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Carl Levin. But I must also acknowledge the deeply appreciated contribution of the aid workers who are day-to-day representatives of your country. I've met people from all 50 states of the union, from senators and representatives to construction workers and computer operators. I want to thank all of them for introducing the best of America to the people of Afghanistan.
Finally, I would like to thank President Obama. He's an admirable and principled partner. His support for Afghanistan has always been conditional on our performance. I like and appreciate his clear and disciplined approach make an engagement. Thanks to his rigor we were encouraged to build up the Afghan armed forces into the self-reliant army it is today. Because he stood firm on the deadline for the surge and the transition, the U.S. Army pulled out a logistical near-miracle, first deploying then withdrawing nearly 100,000 soldiers without a hitch. And it is thanks to his promise to America to end the active combat that we saw a seamless handover the responsibility for all combat operations from your side to ours on December 31, 2014. -- From your side to ours on December 31, 2014. U.S. soldiers are no longer engaged in combat. But we are delighted to have them in the train, asset, and advise mission.
Tragedy brought our two countries together, but our shared interest and values will keep us together. September 11, 2001 was not a distant image that I watched on the emotionless screen of television. It was horrific and personal. I was -- and it was personal. I was in my office at the World Bank when the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center and forever changed the lives of each and every one of us. New York is a special place for me and my family. My wife and I are both graduates of Columbia University. I was another beneficiary of Americans' wonderful generosity that has built so many long-standing friendships throughout its universities. I ate corn beef at New York’s greatest melting pot. Close friends were working near the trade center. My children, who were born in New York, and my daughter was living in New York when the Twin Towers fell. I visited Ground Zero that very week. Seeing firsthand the tragedy and devastation drove home the realization that after 9/11 the world would never be the same.
I went home knowing that America would seek justice and I began to write the plan for our national reconstruction. Justice came swiftly; al Qaeda terrorists were killed or driven underground. The Taliban, acknowledging their losses after the initial encounters, quickly vacated the cities with their leadership moving to Pakistan and their rank and file returning to their villages.
There was considerable anxiety about how the Afghan people would respond to the American presence. The issue was put to rest by the welcome accorded to the American soldiers and civilians as partner. Even today, despite the thankfulness, the overwhelming majority of Afghans continue to see the partnership with the United States as foundational for our future. There's no better proof of this than last October’s overwhelming and immediate parliamentary approval of the bilateral security agreement and status of forces agreement, both of which testified to our desire to continue the partnership.
Afghanistan has been the frontline of the global battle against extremism. America, as a result, has been safe, but that safety has been ensured through the loss of American and Afghan lives in the fight against terror. We have made great sacrifices. But then it's our patriotic to do so. You, on the other hand, have a choice, and when it came to a fork in the road, you chose to do the right thing. Thank you.
Most recently, due to the refusal of the government to sign the bilateral security agreement and status forces agreement with NATO, we have lost momentum. And both partners had to operate under uncertainty resulting in some eight months of lost time in the most critical moment of transition. You could have used this opportunity to end the partnership and return home in frustration, but you did not. Thanks to the flexibility showed by President Obama and Congress, we have made up for the loss and have regained momentum. Without breaking by even a day the promise of President Obama to the American people that the combat role would end on December 31, 2014. Thank you for staying.
I would like to talk a little about our partnership, because it's evolving. We are starting to balance the focus on security with a new emphasis on rule of law and justice, growth in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. The framework for our future relationship is defined by our strategic partnership agreement and the bilateral security agreement. On your side you have reaffirmed your commitment to support Afghanistan.
On our side, we will focus on self-reliance. To get there, we have initiated reforms that would create a self-sustaining Afghanistan. I know American people are asking the same questions as Afghan people. Will we have the resources to provide a sustained basis for our operation? And the answer is. Within this decade, we will.
As the current face of our relationship grows to a close, our appreciation for the depth of American contribution to our people cannot be measured in words alone, but can be seen quite literally in the number of Afghans whose futures have been changed, thanks to America and its allies. On September 10, 2001, this will no longer shock you, there were no girls enrolled in school in Afghanistan. It was illegal to educate girls. Today, more than three million girls in primary schools across the country are learning to openly and actively participate in the future of a democratic Afghanistan. Their parents thank you. In 2002, when the allies built their first clinics, the average life span of Afghans was 40 years. Today it's over 60. Their children thank you. Today the rate of maternal mortality in our poor country was unacceptably high, but thanks to the immense effort you have made to build clinics and train nurses, an Afghan woman no longer -- is no longer more likely to die because she gives birth to a child than if she had been somehow caught on the frontline of combat. Their husbands and their children thank you. Our partnership with America and its allies has brought our country hope where we -- our country -- had none. We would once again like to thank you for that wonderful gift from your people to ours: the gift of hope.
But in Afghanistan, there's a saying that no gift can remain unreciprocated. Today I would like to return that gift of reborn hope by offering the American people a partnership with a nation that is committed to the cause of freedom and that will join the fight against the growing threat of terrorism. I will use my remarks today to tell America the history of how a future of Afghanistan came to be. It is a story about how a poor country that relied on foreign help became a self-reliant nation where free trade and the rule of law create jobs and prosperity for its people. It is also a story about how a country that has been ravaged became a platform for peace and regional stability and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen, the story of Afghanistan's path to self-reliance is already started. It began with last year's election and the formation of our national unity government. Afghanistan's external image is of a traditional country that has been frozen in time. That my partner Dr. Abdullah, intense and compassionate, campaigns on the most modern officials. That is the need to end corruption. Taking the action that will build transparency into government and guaranteeing support for the impartial rule of law. Campaigns became forums for public debate, in the final election, not only more than seven million Afghans turned out to the polls, but more than 38% of the votes were cast by women. Many of them would never have previously had a chance to speak politically with their own choice.
There's no denying that the election was hard fought, but in the end we chose the politics of unity over the politics of division. The national unity government brings together all parts of the country to make the government where disputes -- an arena where disputes are resolved. Dr. Abdullah and myself may not initially agree on every issue, but we both believe deeply that spirited debate will produce better outcomes than will confrontational stalemate. We not only work together, we like working well together. Afghanistan country perception is what's suited to democracy. Like Americans, Afghans are individuals, none of us defers to anyone else. We -- persuading each other is an art form. Our key characteristics are our openness and hospitality.
We believe in equality. Even if the most traditional parts of the country, our leadership must earn rather than inherit their position. There is a strong public conscience. People are expected to act for the common good. We love debate.
Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce you to Afghanistan. We are an old country with a proud heritage and a history of trade with our neighbors. We have had exchange for at least 2,000 years. And our women could write 2 1/2 thousand years ago. For at least three millennia, we have the caravans and trade folks that spread across Asia bringing Chinese silk and Indian textiles to Rome and Renaissance Italy. The 19th century disrupted this world as it did in so many other places. Afghanistan became an isolated buffer, caught between two expanding empires. The emergence of the Soviet Union further isolated our country, culminating in the 1979 invasion and the subsequent war of resistance.
Today, however, the isolation is over. First, awareness is growing; Afghanistan is quite literally the heart of Asia. Asia cannot become a continental economy without us. Asia in the next 25 years will have the 1869 moment, the east and west coast of the United States were joined through the transcontinental but this new interconnected Asia cannot happen without us. We are in the midst of 3.5 billion people and we should be able to export something and not just import. Our fragmented geography can once again become the opportunity for integrating central, west, east and south Asia into a network that supports stability and prosperity over a vast swath of service. Diplomatic efforts cross-border trade and support, multicountry investments in energy, transport and water. And this again is beginning. The first major project between central Asia and south Asia for transmitting energy is already under way. And I truly believe that diplomatic efforts backed by the leaders of our countries was built, the peace and prosperity for south and central Asia, in the same way that the Common Market has done so for Europe and Afghanistan has done for our neighboring region to the east. We envision Afghanistan that within 20 years has become a hub of trade in gas pipelines, power transmission lines, railways, modern telecom and banking services.
American support for all of these is essential and we thank you for that commitment.
Ladies and gentlemen, if one story of our future history is bright, there is another darker cloud that is making its way towards our country. Afghanistan's security transition took place against the backdrop of the unexpected rise of religious extremism in the Middle East. The promise of the Arab Spring gave way to the emergence of Daish terror and collapse of state. But the change ecology of terror could have not formed without some states tolerating, financing, providing sanctuary and using violent, non-state actors as instruments of shortsighted policies. It is critical that the world understand the terrible threat that they pose to the states of western and central Asia. Terrorist movements whose goal is to destabilize every state in the region are looking for new bases of operation. We're the front line. But terrorists neither recognize boundaries more require passports to spread their message of hate and discord. From the west, the Daish is already sending advanced guards to southwestern Afghanistan. Without Pakistan’s counterinsurgency operations, in which more than 40,000 people have already died, are pushing the Taliban towards Afghanistan's border region. The culmination of the economy is part of this new ecology of terror. Control over the narcotics trade is proof providing the financing of these groups to find weapons. Blurring the lines between criminal economics and criminal politics. Each of these groups poses a clear and present danger to our neighbors, to the Arab Islamic world and to the world at large. Afghanistan is carrying forward everyone's fight by containing this threat. But extremism is becoming a system, one that, like a dangerous virus, is constantly mutating, becoming more lethal, well-financed and thriving on weakness and an overall lack of regional coordination. To date, Afghanistan's people have rejected the violent movement. We are willing to speak truth about terror. Military fighting may stem the advance of extremism, but it will not put an end to the anger and hatred being promulgated across majority countries from these groups. That hate must be stopped and overcome from within the religion of Islam. That hate must be challenged and overcome from within the religion of Islam. Who is entitled to speak for Islam? Leaders, intellectuals and those many millions of Muslims who believe that Islam is a religion of tolerance and virtue must find their voice. Silence is not acceptable. But silence is not what the world will hear from us. Afghanistan is joining a new consensus that's emerging in the Muslim world, a consensus that rejects intolerance, extremism and war. They have documented beautifully central Asia's long tradition of rationalism and scientific inquiry. During Islam’s golden age, they recorded all known knowledge of the medieval world giving the world advances in algebra, astronomy, water resource management, and printing. This is the Islamic civilization that needs to reinvent itself. The Islamic world must understand its own gloriously tolerant and inquisitive past. It must re-engage with the world openly and without paranoia. We, the unity government of Afghanistan, know that Islam is a religion of peace.
We are responding to extremist threats by building partnerships in the global, regional, Islamic and national levels. Afghanistan abides by national convention and the rule of law. The declaration of human rights is firmly embedded in our constitution. To achieve these rights for our citizens, we're committed to support our independent human rights commission and I’m pleased that a tireless champion of human rights is a member of this delegation and is today sitting in the audience of this great chamber. And our government will join the free trade system and harmonize investment rules that build prosperity -- harmonize investment rules and building prosperity. We are engaging people across Asia for trade. A vast region that extends from India to beyond. We are making a headway in the corridor that will link us to Georgia, Turkey and Europe into reality and thank you, members of Congress, for -- the Arab Islamic world, from the Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, is keenly aware of the new threats, and we hope they will soon agree on a framework of cooperation. The recent declaration of a council across the Muslim world may well be an historic turning point in building that alliance. Condemnation of terror by this largest gathering of Muslim is an unprecedented step and in acknowledgment of the shortcomings of Muslim majority country governments. Properly supported, Afghanistan is uniquely positioned to block the spread of extremism. We have none of the historical complexes that choose resentment across western domination. After all, we defeated most of the empires. With the bare exception of the Taliban regime, Islam has been inclusive and reflective, not violent and angry.
And after 36 years of conflict, our people are well vaccinated against the seduction of ideologically based -- our people, our children desperately want to be known. Ordinary is what has escaped us and we would really like to be leading ordinary lives. To go to school and to come back. To shop without being blown up. To play volleyball without being attacked. So many children I have held in my arms have been mutilated. That must not be permitted and cannot be permitted and will not be permitted. For Afghanistan to oppose the violence of extremists we must turn our sights to the struggle to end the condition that gives rise to extremism in the first place.
Our efforts begin with a frank recognition of our problems and the challenges that we must tackle with determination and commitment. Nearly 40 years of conflict has produced a country where corruption permeates our government. Until we root out this cancer, our government will never generate the trust to win the hearts of our people or the trust of your taxpayers. We will eliminate corruption. On our second day in office we tackled the notorious case of Kabul bank which for years -- I'm pleased to report to you that all the court systems of Afghanistan, including the Supreme Court, has now made a decision against these thieves and have allowed to collect from them and get the public purse refilled.
Ladies and gentlemen, ending corruption and impunity are the precursors of self-reliance, but the true test will be whether we can restore the fiscal basis of public expenditure. We must make sure that natural resources and critical market linking, infrastructure, development provide our youth with jobs, help us balance the budget and launch the virtuous cycle. Here I’m pleased to report that we are reversing decades of mismanagement. We have just reached agreement with the I.M.F., but more significantly we are determined to create the wealth that would not make us dependent. During this decade, we can assure you that we will be able to pay both for our security and delivery of services.
Economic growth is the first foundation block of self-reliance. The second foundation is with the educational of Afghanistan's woman. No country in the modern world can be self-reliant with half of its population locked away. Uneducated and unable to contribute energy, creativity and national development. We have a tradition of respecting women and let us not forget the largest trader was the wife of the prophet. And the greater transmitter of college, it was the second wife of the prophet. Customs do not replace the fundamental sense of justice between man and woman that societies that seek fairness are built upon. Afghan cultural tradition for women as leaders, managers, and traders. The gender apartheid imposed by the Taliban came from people outside of families in refugee camps and villages boarding schools. Our plan for restoring woman's place in society is built on three pillars. That rests on a foundation of respect for the human, religious, and constitutional value of all our citizens. First, and I want to spend a little time on this theme, educating woman is not solely a matter of right, important though they are. It is a matter of national necessity. I said in the past that educating one of a young girl will change the next five generation of a family. I would not be standing before you today as an educated man if my grandmother, an exile in India, could learn to read under the British not taken it upon herself to make sure that I would match my youthful passion for hunting and riding horses with masters the classics and striving in foreign languages. Thank you, grandmother. Afghanistan's self-reliance aligns men and woman who can run a modern economy. Basic health and education must reach all our young girls. That's a promise. But beyond providing all our young girls with these basic rights, we'll increase to parity, the number of woman graduate interesting high schools and colleges. Even as I talk to you, today in Kabul the signs are already being finished for an all-woman's university that will provide safe, top quality education for the next generation of Afghan women leaders. Let me tell you the story of a young woman from Kandahar. Her schooling began when she breaks thread of the cycle by people swearing that they will throw acid in her face before they would let a girl attend a school. She would not be dissuaded. Her uncle threatened to disown her when she applied to university, but she stared him down. She went to American University of Afghanistan where she not only top of her class but aided by a Fulbright scholarship went on to get a master's degree from the Ohio State University. Today, formerly her uncle is so proud of her that he tells his grandchildren, both little boys and little girls, they must be as brave as their mother. Like thousands of Afghan women, thanks America for those opportunities. From the primary schoolteachers, university in Kabul, for the scholarship to Ohio. That changed her life and her children's future. She has educated -- she is dedicated to create opportunities for millions of Afghan women. The second pillar is that woman must have the same access taking on the opportunities as man. Woman's full empowerment will come about not through global conventions or government programs but when they own jobs and businesses. The United States has been a steadfast supporter of the nationwide national solidarity program which for 10 years has given not thousands but millions of poor village women their first chance to have their own resource. Our third and final foundational belief is that a mental and cultural revolution must take place over treatment of women and by our society. Interest's no point talking about how much we respect woman's honor if we let threat go unpunished or allow harassment in our street. We have signed the global conventions to end violence and discrimination against woman. We will implement them vigorously, but work is still needed to convince our people that the protection of woman's right is part and parcel of their own quest for social justice. I personally, as the leader of Afghanistan, am committed to working with the activists and leaders ever our country to bring about this mental change. Both Dr. Abdullah and I will insist that the officials of our government have national standards for workplace fairness. Thanks to your help and support, the opportunities for women are indeed changing. I'm sure that many of you have seen those videos of fathers proudly taking their shiny-eyed daughters to show off their newfound skills in the ancient part of skateboarding. They are but a few of the changes that are under way and must be protected. I am meeting frequently women who are entertaining idea, seriously idea of becoming the first woman president of Afghanistan and we will support them. I am pleased to state that we fulfilled our promise to name four women to the Afghan cabinet. Raising the woman share to 20%, still too low, but at least our promise, we are determined to name qualified woman to ambassadors and increase their number as deputy ministers, and we are working hard to attract and trade our whole new cadre of woman into our government. I promise you years from now our ministry will have a whole new electorate with woman in leading position.
We are a country of young people. The absolute majority of people are under 30 years ever age. -- of age. You are invested in the future not in repeating the past. Jobs and engagement with the world are their first priority. Despite all of the assistance Afghanistan has received over the years, 30% of the population still lives below the poverty line. Lacking even basic services such as clean water or household electricity. This cannot continue. We have articulated a charter that will find investments that are needed to reduce poverty across the nation and prepare the next generation for capsulizing on the new opportunities that are thriving economy can provide.
Ladies and gentlemen, so far I have talked about how we will achieve self-reliance by ending corruption, balancing the budget, mobilizing the energies of woman and growing the economy. Let me now turn to the elephant that is in the back of the room. We must secure peace. Afghans have shown that we know how to fight. Unfortunately, we have inherited that skill for thirty year. Since as far back as invasion of Alexander and the more modern expulsion of the Soviet Union, Afghans have shown that we'll protect our country against foreign attacks no matter how steep the price or how well armed the intruder. I have no doubt that provided that they continue to receive equipment and training our formed forces will stand firm against any effort by outside extremists to build a base inside. But we must now show that we can also bring peace.
Our strategy is built around three issues. The first is to build a community of nations. We have met with the leaders of Pakistan, India, Turkmenistan, Emirates, and China, among others. Their commitment for building mutual security across nation includes ending the financing and sanctuary for extremist groups.
The second initiative is to build up the ability of our armed forces to project their elected government across our entire national territory. Our partnership with the United States now transformed into the Resolute Support mission has given Afghanistan a well-trained army that is taking the fight to the enemy. We are no longer on the defensive. On December 31, 2014, all combat operations were ended and turned over to Afghan security forces. General Campbell has publicly testified in this very chamber that the Afghan army's professionalism and morale meet all of the military man's expectation. We will meet the Taliban from a position of strength not weakness so that the hard part, gains in education, health, government, freedom and woman's rights are not lost. The third initiative will be our push for national reconciliation. The Taliban need to choose not to be al Qaeda. And if they choose to be Afghan, they will be welcomed to be part of the fabric of our society. Many believe themselves to be patriots against the corruption and criminality that they saw in their towns and villages. We can deal with grievances; provided that competence agree to respect the constitution and the rule of laws as the outcomes of negotiations we are confident that we can find a path.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not here to tell you a story about an overnight transformation of my country. You're too wise for such stories. 12 years of partnership provide evidence enough that the road ahead will be difficult. We live in a rough neighborhood. We are a very poor country. Self-reliance is our goal. We bear the scars of the fight against the Soviet Union. Scars that are in our minds as on the bodies of the Afghan farmers and American soldiers who have fought for freedom. But although we may be poor, we are very proud. Our goal of self-reliance is no pipe dream to pacify partners who are tired of hearing the promises that we failed to meet. We want your know-how, the business skills of your corporations, the innovation of your start-ups, and the commitment, but we don't want your charity. We have no more interest in perpetuating a childish dependence than you have in being saddled with a poor family member who lacks the energy and drive to get out and find a job. We are not going to be the lazy Uncle Joe.
Afghanistan can and will be an enduring success. Your support, your understanding, and your commitment to our country will not have been in vain. Afghanistan will be the graveyard of al Qaeda and their foreign terrorist associates. Never again will our country be hosts to terrorists. Never again will we give extremists the sanctuary to do their destructive plots. We will be the platform for the peaceful cooperation of our civilization. Together our two countries will finish the job that began on that clear, terrible September morning almost 14 years ago. We have the will and we have the commitment that will anchor our country and the world community of peaceful democratic nations. Knowing our condition, you, the American Congress and the American people, will decide how to ensure that our common goals and interests are written into the books that will be telling the history of our shared future. Thank you, again, and may God bless the partnership between America and Afghanistan.