Mercredi 21 Août 2019  

N°116 - Quatrième trimestre 2016

La lettre diplometque
  Un nouvel élan pour l’économie afghane
  Que reste t-il de la France en Afghanistan ?
  Afghanistan : la quête de stabilité
  Une économie en transition
  Construire l’avenir et préserver le passé
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  S.E.M. / H.E. Abdel-Ellah Sediqi

Focus on Rebuilding

Interview with H.E. Abdel-Ellah Sediqi,
Ambassador of Afghanistan to France

With the election of President Ashraf Ghani in June 2014 and the appointment of a national unity government led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan has initiated a new stage in its reconstruction process. Enhanced by the third donor conference held in Brussels in October 2016, this turning point saw the implementation of far-reaching reforms: electoral system, fight against corruption, economic opening ... While commenting the security situation, H.E. Abdel-Ellah Sediqi, the Ambassador of Afghanistan to France, analyzes for us the stakes of the institutional and economic reconstruction of the country, as well as the strengths of the historical cooperation ties that it shares with France.

The Diplomatic Letter: Fifteen years after the fall of the Taliban regime, ensuring security remains the biggest challenge in the drive to rebuild Afghanistan. What is your take on the recent upsurge in attacks by the Taliban, such as the one launched on Kunduz in early October 2016? 

H.E. Abdel-Ellah SEDIQI: We have, indeed, seen an upsurge in attacks by armed Taliban groups. The summer season has always been prone to increased fighting, but the violence does not seem to be dying down as we head into winter. While the situation is clearly difficult, it shows that the Afghan government’s determination to break this cycle of violence, working through its armed forces, has unsettled the insurgents.

T.D.L.: Has the partial withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, since 1 January 2016, affected the security situation in your country? 

H.E.A-E.S.: On 1 January 2016, the U.S.-led Resolute Support Mission took over the reins from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF). We are, of course, very pleased that the U.S. will continue to keep a strong military presence in Afghanistan. 
I would, nevertheless, like to underscore the key role that Afghan armed forces are shouldering in the efforts to defend our country, institutions and territorial integrity. Out in the field, Afghan troops are now on the front lines of these battles. This reality has become increasingly evident and deserves to be highlighted. Despite the great hardship of these clashes and the many casualties they take, Afghans are taking their destiny back into their own hands. In light of our history, this is a fundamental step in the rebuilding of our country. Support from our allies remains crucial, especially when it comes to air support, one of the areas where we need the most support. This technical assistance is the crux of our talks with our allies, especially the Americans. 

T.D.L.: To what degree could the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States shift this dialogue? 

H.E.A-E.S.: The ties forged between Afghanistan and our allies, be it the United States, the countries of Europe or other partners, are trust-based bonds built on a mutual understanding not only of our security needs, but of the needs of the region and the world at large. 
We have all taken heed of the lessons of the September 11th attacks, which hit the United States extremely hard. The battle we are fighting in Afghanistan does not aim solely to defend the rule of law in our country, but, on a broader level, to defend the universal values of democracy, human rights, and, quite simply, peaceful coexistence between the world’s people.
We are very optimistic about the future of the ties we share with the United States. I think they will continue, with mutual trust and respect for our respective needs and interests. This is a long-standing relationship that is destined to live on for a long time to come. 

T.D.L.: In a speech before the Afghan Parliament on 25 April 2016, President Ashraf Ghani announced a major strategy shift in the battle against the Taliban and terrorism. How is this new tactic being put into action? Will it have implications for your country’s relations with Pakistan? 

H.E.A-E.S.: That speech was indeed a turning point in Afghanistan’s strategy for fighting the Taliban. President Ashraf Ghani has paid a heavy cost for this shift, in terms of his popularity. He very courageously stepped forward to attempt to find peace through dialogue. The door to negotiations will remain wide open, as long as we see concrete signs of good faith and good will from our Pakistani counterparts. We would like to build lasting conditions of peace and security through dialogue with our neighbors in the region. 
But President Ashraf Ghani also underscored, very clearly, that he will not make any more concessions in face of the violence being unfurled on innocent people and on our national army. During the prior administration, former president Hamid Karzai made a good twenty trips to Islamabad to bring the Pakistanis to the negotiating table. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing.
Under these conditions, Afghanistan cannot just stand idly by. We are going to continue fighting the Taliban, the insurgents, and all the enemies waging war on the innocent people of Afghanistan as long as necessary.
Meanwhile, we have launched a peace process with the various warring parties within our own country. On this level, the peace agreement our government signed in late September 2016 with the Hizb-e Islami party is a concrete step forward in our efforts to find peace. We hope it will serve as an example for all the other organizations that wish to continue expressing themselves with due regard for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s democratic rules and constitutional order. You must understand that after four decades of warfare and violence, the Afghan people simply can not take any more. Their greatest wish is to find peace. I am convinced that the same is true for all the countries in the region, because security has never been a problem inherent only to our country. Everyone is well aware that Afghanistan has never attacked another country. 

T.D.L.: How do you feel about China’s involvement in diplomatic efforts to bring the Afghan peace process to a successful conclusion?

H.E.A-E.S.: Indeed, Pakistan is not the only player in this process, though it is one of the main players. Our government turned to China, an indispensable player in this region due to its great political and economic weight.
Given our position as a strategic crossroads, ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan would benefit not only China, but also India, Pakistan and all the other countries in Central and South Asia. It is time for all of us to reap the rewards of our country’s vast economic potential.
We have also called upon other partners to join us, especially when it comes to fighting these terrorists in the ideological realm. I am thinking in particular of renowned religious figures in Saudi Arabia, who are respected throughout the region. This is very important, because the Taliban are using propaganda that calls for jihad to justify their war. Nothing can justify these suicide bombings or waging war on a legal government that has been legitimately elected by a people trying to live in peace. As you can see, we are ready to use all the means at our disposal to achieve peace, but President Ashraf Ghani has been clear about one thing: the prerequisite to resuming any dialogue is bringing this violence to an end. 

T.D.L.: What do you think of the comparison to Colombia and its peace process?

H.E.A-E.S.: It is a pertinent example that makes us very optimistic, because it reflects our own aspirations: no matter how long-standing and complex the problems may be, we must use dialogue and peace to turn the page. This violence cannot go on forever.

T.D.L.: Reforming the electoral system is seen as a vital step in rebuilding Afghanistan, but its governing branches have not been able to agree on the best way to do this. New members were appointed to Afghanistan’s two election commissions this past November. Was this a major step forward? Will the efforts to firmly anchor the rule of law in Afghanistan keep pushing forward?

H.E.A-E.S.: The creation of these two election commissions is a real step forward in Afghan political life. It is the first concrete step toward holding the legislative elections scheduled on our electoral calendar. It is the first step toward carrying out all the other reforms, starting with the constitutional reform. The President’s and the Chief Executive Officer’s teams had all agreed upon this reform before the current administration took office. 
Once legislative elections have been held, district councils – which don’t currently exist – can also be set up. Once these steps are taken, the members of Afghanistan’s two parliamentary chambers will be able to convene the loya jirga, or «grand assembly,» the traditional gathering of representatives from Afghanistan’s various tribes and factions. It is also the only body empowered to write laws at the constitutional level and thus able to create future institutions, such as the office of Prime Minister.
This process has taken time, but we should welcome its successful conclusion. It proves there is genuine complementarity at the head of our country, despite the diverging views. We must also recognize that reaching compromises takes time, just as it does in other countries governed by coalitions. The most important thing to keep in mind is that an agreement has been reached and our administration is now fully committed to rebuilding the country, which is our top priority in light of our great needs in a wide array of areas. 

T.D.L.: At the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, convened on 4-5 October of this year, the international community pledged US$15.2 billion in support for your country from 2017-2020. Given Afghanistan’s far-reaching needs, will this aid be earmarked for any specific sectors? 

H.E.A-E.S.: The Brussels Conference is an important sign of the great regard afforded to Afghanistan, as a trustworthy partner of the international community. It brought together 75 countries and 26 international organizations. The participants approved the reform program put forward by Afghan authorities for the next four years (2017-2021). This program is called The Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework (ANPDF). The end goal is to overcome all these challenges and make our country fully autonomous. The program includes a wide array of key reforms and goals, such as: anchoring civic rights; strengthening the rule of law; fostering urban development and agriculture; building infrastructure; and empowering women.

T.D.L.: What kinds of measures does your government plan to take, to keep tight control over these funds and prevent corruption?

H.E.A-E.S.: President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have made combatting corruption and ensuring the transparency of Afghanistan’s public accounts a top priority. A number of key reforms have been undertaken in this area, starting with the creation of a National Procurement Commission which operates under the direct supervision of the two heads of the Afghan government. 
This issue was obviously at the heart of the discussions at the Brussels Conference. It is one of the commitments the Afghan government made to the international community at the conference, within the Self Reliance through Mutual Accountability Framework (SMAF). In this same vein, our strategy for battling corruption will be put before the National High Council for the Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption for approval in the first quarter of 2017. This council will be co-chaired by our highest State officials: the President of the Republic and the Chief Executive Officer. The ministers involved in these matters will also sit on the council, which will handle corruption cases and serious wrongdoings.
Other mechanisms have also been set up. This is absolutely essential, in order to heighten confidence in our institutions, especially our judicial institutions, and make Afghanistan more attractive to foreign investors and as a trading partner. 

T.D.L.: Among the agreements reached in Brussels, your country reaffirmed it would make good on the commitments it made through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). 

H.E.A-E.S.: The mining industry is another sector where corruption can indeed flourish and have adverse consequences. We are thus working very hard to reform our mining law, to ensure greater transparency. We are doing everything in our power to comply with internationally recognized standards, with regard to the awarding of contracts and their transparency.

T.D.L.: How do you intend to draw in foreign investors, with your country still in the throes of armed conflict? 

H.E.A-E.S.: We are keenly aware that expanding the private sector and convincing foreign companies to invest in Afghanistan is vitally important to our economic future. With that in mind, we favor the public-private partnerships model. 
Right now, our most important task is winning over investors. Investors may be reluctant – and legitimately so, given the information they are receiving about the security situation – to set up long-term operations in Afghanistan, despite the great opportunities it holds.
The UAE’s Alokozay Group has decided to invest US$30 million to produce and distribute consumer goods in Afghanistan, testifying to the wide opportunities our country offers. The Salma hydroelectric dam, in Herat province, was built in partnership with India, offering another good example of a successful public-private partnership.
Let me also point out that Afghanistan has a one stop shop for investments – the Central Business Registry – which operates within the Afghan Ministry of Commerce & Industry.

T.D.L.: In addition to the mining industry, Afghanistan also has wide economic potential in the agricultural sector. What is being done to reform this sector, with the aim of fostering its growth while curbing the farming of poppies, the flowers used to produce opium and heroin? 

H.E.A-E.S.: First of all, let me stress that our agricultural sector has a huge margin for growth. After so many years of conflict, production has still not climbed back to the level seen forty years ago, despite improvements in the situation on the ground. Our potential is even wider now. Our growing openness to the rest of the world over the past decade has brought great advances, in terms of technological development as well as training. We have all the attributes necessary to put our country firmly on the road to development, especially in activity sectors where Afghanistan has assets that can be fostered and promoted. 
In this sector as well, we have not waited to start enacting reforms. The internal conflict in Afghanistan has resulted in many internally displaced people and led to the loss of many title deeds. The Afghanistan Land Authority was consequently set up to bring together all the administrative services involved in managing the land register. This body has been invested with the legitimate power (formerly held by our judicial authorities) to control the granting of titles establishing land ownership.
As for Afghan lands being used to grow poppies, we are obviously doing our best to eradicate poppy production, which does not benefit anyone but drug traffickers. You must understand that much of this poppy production was forced on our country by unscrupulous people, by mafia networks that use poppies as a resource for waging war. Most of the current poppy farming is being done in remote areas beyond government control.
Once we have regained control of these lands, this situation is bound to change. We are trying to effectively dissuade poppy production by promoting other kinds of farming that are more advantageous on an economic, moral and social level, such as growing saffron. To that end, we are relying in particular on the great renown of the saffron from Herat, in western Afghanistan, considered to be the world’s best saffron. Saffron is an alternative that works, because it takes less labor and it is more rewarding than growing poppies for illegal purposes.
We have begun expanding upon this experience in other parts of the country, starting with Daikundi, in central Afghanistan. At the institutional level, we have also set up a National Saffron Council to help promote this activity. 

T.D.L.: In October 2016, Kabul and Beijing opened the first railway corridor linking the two countries, between Nantong and Hairatan. How important is this project to your country’s campaign to open up and forge ties with the rest of the world? How will China and Afghanistan advance their strategic partnership in the years to come? 

H.E.A-E.S.: Geographically speaking, Afghanistan is indeed a landlocked country, but it has always been a key crossroads of civilizations. Our goal right now is to take full advantage of this asset, to help open up our country and foster its economic growth. Five different infrastructure projects have been carried out to that end. One of our most recent achievements is the new railway line built by China, which now links the Chinese port city Nantong to the city of Hairatan, in northern Afghanistan. 
We are no longer, strictly speaking, a “landlocked” country that depends solely on the route that crosses through Pakistan on the way to Karachi. This project is the fruit of successful cooperation between Afghanistan and China, the political aspect of which I touched upon earlier. This cooperation is clearly bound to keep expanding, because in order to keep growing, the Chinese economy needs a large supply of mining resources, especially precious metals, which our country has in great abundance.

T.D.L.: In addition to China, Afghanistan is surrounded by other major growth poles such as India, Iran and the countries of Central Asia. Your country belongs to SAARC and is also an observer state to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Do you see it becoming even more closely integrated into this regional space? What does Afghanistan hope to gain from the Istanbul Process, which convened its latest summit in Amritsar, India in early December 2016?

H.E.A-E.S.: As you underscored in your question, we are fostering our country’s economic development by making good use of a particularly bountiful regional situation. In addition to the new opening toward the sea through Pakistan, we have also opened up another maritime trade route that passes through the port of Chabahar, in Iran. 
With regard to electricity infrastructures, Afghanistan has improved its connectivity with other countries in the region. It has also benefited from the Central Asia-South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000), launched in 2014. This project is funded by various multilateral and bilateral organizations, including the World Bank (working through the International Development Association), the Islamic Development Bank, the U.S. government, and the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. I already mentioned the Afghan-Indian Friendship Dam, or the Salma Dam, inaugurated in June 2016 by President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Modi. There are also other projects in the works to build oil and gas pipelines that will soon link the countries in this region. All these projects open up new windows for Afghanistan onto the rest of the world and its global trade networks. But more importantly, they are laying foundations that will ensure the stability of the entire region in the years to come.
Our country is indeed involved, in varying degrees, in several regional integration processes. Without qualifying their validity, it is true that our diplomatic efforts favor processes that spark a concrete dynamic, not only on the economic level but also on security issues, for instance. You specifically mentioned the Istanbul Process, also known as the “Heart of Asia,” a very important mechanism for us. The goal is to foster wider and better coordination between the national strategies and resources of the participating countries, to the good of the region as a whole. This process is structured around specific programs, such as the Russian-led program to eliminate drug trafficking. In this perspective, we would like to see the programs implemented under its leadership expanded, to improve their effectiveness. We are also counting on our partners, such as Pakistan, to step up their involvement in the security arena. 

T.D.L.: Afghanistan became a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in July 2016. How will this move impact your country? 

H.E.A-E.S.: Before starting the accession process for joining the WTO, Afghan officials assessed both the advantages and drawbacks in great detail. We concluded that while this process requires making adjustments to our economy, being a member of the WTO gives us a powerful lever for carrying out the reforms needed to make the Afghan economy more competitive, and, in doing so, bringing our laws and regulations in line with international standards. This dynamic should also be a driving force for increasing our national production, making our country more attractive, and increasing its trade with the rest of the world. 
Clearly, the Afghan economy cannot be expected to start competing overnight with the region’s big economies. This is why a system of trade preferences has been set up, taking the unique characteristics of the Afghan economy into consideration.
Becoming a member of the WTO will also make it easer for us to craft free trade agreements with other countries. We have already made headway in this area, with the signing of a trade agreement with India for the export of dried Afghan fruit, which is one of our country’s most sought-after products on foreign markets. The agreement calls for the creation of an air cargo link to facilitate this trade. As new road and rail infrastructures are built in our country, this type of trade will surely increase. 

T.D.L.: The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has ranked Afghanistan among the countries the most vulnerable to climate change. The facade of the Embassy of Afghanistan in France was lit in green to celebrate the first anniversary of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Where would you like to see the international community direct its efforts in this arena? 

H.E.A-E.S.: Let me start by hailing the key role played by France at COP 21, enabling us to successfully reach a global agreement. We are optimistic about the talks being held in the lead-up to COP 22, in Marrakech. The issue of global warming is just as important as the issue of security. We cannot shirk the debate over the impact that human activities and unbridled economic production are having on the environment. 
Well reasoned and reasonable human beings will step up and shoulder their responsibilities. This is why we decided to join the initiative to synchronize our efforts with all the other countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement. We are also taking concrete steps at the national level, by voluntarily and spontaneously complying with the program put forward by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development to promote the environmentally-friendly use of resources. 

T.D.L.: The Afghan Embassy threw open its doors to the public during the Heritage Days events. As Afghanistan and France gear up to celebrate the 95th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations in 2017, how would you describe the current ties between our countries? 

H.E.A-E.S.: Our embassy is a concrete reflection of the long-standing Franco-Afghan friendship. France is a very special country for Afghanistan. From the outset, our countries’ bonds have had a very strong cultural dimension. Even before we formally established diplomatic ties, bonds were forged between our countries with the creation of the French Archeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA). For thirty years, DAFA had a monopoly on archeological excavations in our country, unearthing many of our great national treasures. These ties have lived on to this day, through our twin museums of Asian art: the Guimet Museum in Paris, and the Kabul Museum in Afghanistan. 
Our participation in the Heritage Days events is just one more example of our openness to the rest of the world. The Heritage Days events made a rich array of encounters possible. We were surprised and very pleased by the great interest the French public showed not only in our embassy, but also in the history of Franco-Afghan relations, which we illustrated in a display of photographs and documents.
We plan to continue along this path, organizing special culture weeks at UNESCO. For instance, we are going to celebrate Joseph Kessel’s Les Cavaliers on the 50th anniversary of its publication, as this novel helped heighten awareness of Afghanistan.

T.D.L.: At the international conference held in Abu Dhabi on 2-3 December of this year, President François Hollande announced the creation of the Fund for Safeguarding Endangered Cultural Heritage. Are you pleased with this initiative? As Afghanistan’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, what are your top priorities in this arena? 

H.E.A-E.S.: This initiative is extremely important for countries devastated by war, such as Afghanistan, if only because it makes protecting cultural heritage a major issue. In putting forward this initiative, France once again lived up to its repute. President Ashraf Ghani went to Abu Dhabi to attend the conference, which was jointly organized by France and the United Arab Emirates. 
Afghanistan’s Delegation to UNESCO is responsible for showcasing our historical heritage. We have applied for several Afghan sites to be included on the UNESCO World Heritage List, including the Babur Gardens, located in western Kabul, as well as the ancient cities of Herat and Balkh. We have also proposed that Afghanistan’s traditional folk dance, “Attan,” be added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List. We are working on another project as well, concerning traditional Afghan methods of preserving fruit.
Finally, let me add that we have very close ties with UNESCO, as illustrated once again by the May 2016 visit to Kabul by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. At the invitation of President Ashraf Ghani, during her visit the Director-General launched a multi-partner trust fund that will help finance a national program for the promotion of culture and creative industries.

T.D.L.: Five years after the signing of the Friendship and Cooperation Treaty that unites our two countries, could you describe this action plan’s biggest achievements for our readers? Do you think French companies could play a wider role in the rebuilding of Afghanistan? 

H.E.A-E.S.: In 2002, Afghanistan and France signed a 20-year Friendship and Cooperation Treaty. This is an important initiative in that it heralds ongoing political support and confirms France’s long-term interest in our country and its stabilization process. With respect to this, let me recall once again the lessons of the September 11th attacks, which must never be forgotten, lest history repeat itself. Afghanistan has tremendous potential. We are grateful to France for investing in our country and enabling us to tap that potential. Thanks to France’s vital political support, multiple cooperation projects are scheduled as part of a 5-year Action Plan. This plan covers a wide array of areas, including: security, with training programs for our police and military forces; good governance; and technical and scientific cooperation. Recent developments at the French Medical Institute for Children (IMFE) in Kabul offer a good example of this, with the construction of a Mother and Child Center which opened in 2016.
The next stage of the Franco-Afghan Friendship and Cooperation Treaty, which runs from 2017 to 2022, will focus heavily on culture. With that in mind, we hope to forge close ties between the Guimet Museum and the Kabul Museum, building upon the historical bonds that unite us. This is a very promising area for our country, as these initiatives will help Afghanistan open up further to the rest of the world. They will also enable us to use our culture as an additional source of wealth, and give us a way to bind together the diverse communities within our country. To that end, the President has asked DAFA to draw up an archeological map of the country in order to take inventory of our national treasures, so that we can safeguard and showcase them all the better.
In answer to your last question, it is true that our countries have limited economic ties. The most visible headway has been seen in the telecommunications sector. We remain very optimistic, nonetheless, about the growth potential of these ties, given the wide margins for expanding them. We must start by bringing our bilateral trade back to the level seen 40 years ago, when Afghanistan exported fabric to France and French tableware was in high demand in our country. 

T.D.L.: Afghanistan has reached a deal with the European Union (EU) on a plan to return Afghan asylum seekers residing illegally in the EU. How are France and Afghanistan working together in this area? 

H.E.A-E.S.: Protecting our citizens, whether they live inside our country or abroad, is the duty of the State. We are hence fully prepared to work with the EU on this issue, once all the conditions are in place. There is no reason for Afghanistan to shirk its responsibilities or refuse the return of its citizens, especially since this cooperation falls within the framework of a broader dialogue with the EU on a wide array of issues (security, economic development, the labor marker, investments, etc.).
To this end, we are working with France within the framework of an agreement for the voluntary return of refugees, signed by our two countries’ governments in 2002. France took in a great many of our citizens who had fled the war, and continues to do so. But once their request for asylum has been rejected, and they have exhausted all their appeal options, Afghanistan must of course welcome them back, with respect for human dignity.
We must pay special attention to the most vulnerable of these people (women, young children, handicapped persons, etc.). As you know, most of these migrants are young people and families who made the difficult decision to leave everything behind and put their fate in the hands of cruel human traffickers. They have already been punished, as it were. When they are sent back to Afghanistan, sometimes after years of wandering, they are punished a second time, so to speak, since Afghanistan still hasn’t managed to achieve peace or create the conditions necessary for economic development.
I can personally attest to our ongoing gratitude towards French authorities, who have been extremely welcoming and understanding thus far. We hope we will be able to continue working together, in accordance with the agreement that binds us, with France continuing to show benevolence and Afghanistan continuing, of course, to meet its own responsibilities. 

T.D.L.: As a fluent French speaker and a graduate of the French National School of Administration (ENA), you are a living embodiment of the link between Afghanistan and France.

H.E.A-E.S.: I have the great honor of working to foster the friendly ties between our two countries. It can, indeed, be said that I am a living example of what that friendship has to offer. I did all of my university studies in France, most notably at ENA, where I learned a great deal and forged contacts with many of France’s devoted civil servants. Thanks to this background, I have been able to take on high-level duties within the Afghan civil service. My appointment as the Ambassador of Afghanistan to France gave me a great deal of joy, since it has brought me back to the country that nourished me intellectually and has given me an opportunity to help enhance the joint journey our two countries have shared for nigh on 100 years.

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