Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to speak to you here today.
A little over four years ago representatives of Afghan groups and delegates of the international community met on the Petersberg near Bonn for the first major Afghanistan Conference. They did not, however, come totally unprepared, as during the preceding years meetings had taken place in Germany between Afghans and the international community to discuss the country's future following the end of Taliban rule.
But the Petersberg Conference marked the beginning of a new era, since it set the course for Afghanistan's comprehensive reconstruction after decades of war and civil strife and following the terrible repression by the Taliban. The task to be addressed in Bonn was huge, and it posed unimagined challenges to both the Afghans and the international community.
Today, four years later, we have entered a new phase. The convening of the Afghan Parliament on 19 December last year meant the end of the Bonn process – and I am convinced that it ended successfully.
To realize just how successful it was, we must recall the situation in 2001: After 22 years of war and civil war Afghanistan's material and institutional infrastructure had been almost completely destroyed. Large sections of the population had fled to neighbouring countries. No schools or universities had been operational for years. Instead, children had to constantly experience fighting. Women and girls were systematically excluded from public life. Ethnic minorities were repressed and had almost no options for influencing public affairs. The country was internationally isolated.
Since then Afghanistan has undergone an impressive change. The steps determined in the Bonn Agreement have been implemented without exception: The Afghan people have adopted a new constitution. On 9 October 2004 you, Mr President, became the first freely-elected head of state in Afghanistan's history. On 18 September 2005 parliamentary elections were held after a 36-year break. The reconstruction of infrastructure and institutions, for example of the army and the police force, is progressing. The civil-war militias have been disarmed. The security situation remains difficult, but it has improved in many parts of the country – not least thanks to the presence of ISAF, the coalition forces and their PRTs. The central government is increasingly able to extend its monopoly on the use of force into the provinces.
What are the reasons for this success? I would like to underline the following points:
- First: The Bonn Agreement contained a prime example of a clear and systematic political agenda with precise deadlines.
- Second: The peace and reconstruction process was based on a comprehensive approach, the political process being flanked by a military and a development-policy component.
- Third: The approach to resolving the conflict was multilateral and multinational: No country and no international organization would have been able to bear the burden of Afghanistan's reconstruction alone. For that reason the process is today characterized by a high level of well-coordinated commitment on the part of the international community. This successful coordination is steered by the UN and is therefore particularly legitimated.
- And fourth – and this is especially important: The reconstruction process has an Afghan face.
Of course there were setbacks and delays. The country's reconstruction was and remains a learning process for both the international community and the Afghans themselves. But the broad-based cooperation at both national and international level has become a highly trustful collaboration.
Today, Mr President, the conditions have been created to enable the Afghans to guide their own destiny. The Bonn process has turned into a "Kabul process". The "Afghanistan Compact" which we are discussing here was drawn up in Kabul.
But in spite of these successes, we know that there are still many challenges ahead on the way to a peaceful, prosperous and socially-secure Afghanistan. We must continue our committed efforts to ensure that the people in Afghanistan see the democratization and stabilization process as an opportunity for a better life, for a life in freedom and dignity, in security and without violence. They should see that they have the chance to develop their capabilities, as well as the prospects to use these capabilities to the best possible extent.
In this regard democratically-legitimated, functioning institutions are vitally important. They are also the best insurance against crises, as is a state structure pledged to uphold human and civil rights and which implements that pledge day by day. This is the best way to combat internal confrontation and terrorism in the long term.
The international community will continue its commitment to supporting Afghanistan because we want to see the reconstruction process successfully concluded. The scope and pace of that process will depend more than ever on the decisions of the Afghan government and parliament. I am also sure that regional integration will be vital to the success of the process. A peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan can become the driving force behind real regional cooperation.
Over the last few years Germany has been particularly committed in and for Afghanistan:
- We are the largest ISAF troop contributor.
- We provide two PRTs.
- We have assumed the coordination role for ISAF in northern Afghanistan.
- We coordinate police training for Afghanistan and also implement it, alongside the USA and other partners.
- We have provided considerable funding for development measures.
- And Germany is prepared to make its contribution towards the Cologne Debt Initiative, as freeing the country from its huge debt burden is a major step on its return to the international community.
Afghanistan forms one focus of our international commitment, which we will continue, since we are convinced that the road embarked upon by the Afghan people four years ago will lead to success. In this connection we are pleased that a German, Tom Koenigs, will shortly take over the leadership of UNAMA in Kabul. I see his appointment as a recognition of our work in Afghanistan, and I am sure that he will continue the splendid work of his predecessors Francesc Vendrell, Lakhdar Brahimi and Jean Arnault in a responsible manner.