I think there are many misconceptions about Afghanistan. Probably the biggest misconception is that nothing has changed for the better in the last 19 years. Since the international community began its engagement,
- life expectancy has risen by twenty years,
- the number of children going to school has increased nine-fold,
- per capita income has grown by 400 percent,
- women and girls have access to education and work – although much remains to be done,
- and basic health services are available throughout the Country.
This has transformed the lives of millions of Afghans. But this new Afghan society stands at a critical juncture today. For the first time in decades, delegations of the Islamic Republic and the Taliban are holding negotiations about peace. We cannot afford to waste this unique opportunity. And I call on both parties to show maximum flexibility and to enter into substantive talks now. We will continue to facilitate these talks in any way we can. However, ladies and gentlemen, many Afghans are following the talks in Doha with mixed feelings. To gain their trust, the Taliban must put an end to the violence, which is totally unacceptable. This could open the way towards a comprehensive ceasefire. Afghans should also know that the international community stands by their side in these times of uncertainty. We are ready to enter into a renewed partnership until the end of the Transformation Decade in 2024. This partnership depends on Afghanistan’s commitment
- to democracy and the rule of law,
- to good governance and the fight against corruption,
- to the protection of human rights, especially the rights of women and minorities,
- and to the political will to move forward in the peace process and not to play for time.
It is in this spirit of mutual responsibility that we will provide up to 430 million euro in civilian assistance for the coming year. And we intend to maintain this level until 2024, if conditions allow.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Together, we have achieved more than it sometimes seems in the past 19 years. Now we should join hands once more to preserve these gains – for a peaceful Afghanistan. And I would like to thank our co-hosts from Finland and Afghanistan, as well as the United Nations, for giving us the opportunity to do so today.
Thank you very much!