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Excellencies, dear colleagues,
Welcome to Berlin, welcome to the Foreign Office. I would like to thank Vice Minister Karzai and all distinguished members of the Afghan delegation for honouring this meeting of the International Contact Group with their presence.
It is my pleasure to formally introduce Ambassador Sabine Sparwasser, who has succeeded Michael Koch as our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Chair of the ICG.
Again, the ICG meets in challenging times. Since the previous meeting last May in Kabul, we have witnessed hopes for reconciliation and security being raised and dashed again. We are now at a critical juncture where much depends on our next steps – steps that we should take together, especially with regional partners.
Both transitions, the democratic transition and the assumption of full security responsibility, have proved much rockier in 2015 than many of us had hoped. The security forces have had to repel violent attacks on a large scale, and they have done so at a very high price. The absence of efficient governance in numerous districts is a concern.Renewed fighting in Kunduz and in Helmand is testimony to persistent shortcomings in leadership and capabilities within the security forces. Meanwhile Da’esh, is stretching its tentacles to Afghanistan.
Dire economic prospects and persistent security challenges have led tens of thousands of Afghans to choose the dangerous way of leaving their country towards Europe - mostly members of a generation that has benefited from peaceful developmentand international engagementand who are needed to play their part in Afghanistan´s future. Many expectations are misplaced – many asylum seekers will face long procedures and often repatriation. We are intensifying our efforts to make sure that expectations conform to reality.
But first and foremost, it is up to the Afghan state to provide perspectives and opportunities for its people.
We do see those potentials: President Ghani has pushed on to realize his vision of regional cooperation, and he has taken courageous steps towards improving the relationship with Pakistan. The Heart of Asia summit in Islamabad has refreshed hopes for a region preparing to tap its potential of trade and investment, from China, India, Pakistan, Central Asia, Afghanistan, all the way to Iran and further on. As sanctions are lifted on Iran, opportunities for economic ties with Afghanistan's eastern neighbour will also grow.
Most importantly the efforts of President Ghani, of Pakistan, China, the United States and others, are creating a framework for a peace process in Afghanistan. For many it will be difficult to accept, but we are convinced that a peace and reconciliation process is the only way to achieve a sustainable solution to the conflict. The Taliban are now faced with a choice: will they pursue the path of violence and compete with Da’esh in brutality, or will the change in leadership allow them to turn a page and pursue their interests by political means. This will neither be easy nor quick: if a peace process gets on track, nobody should be surprised if there are set backs and attempts to derail it. Whether it can succeed will largely depend on our perseverance and unity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we look ahead, the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July and the Afghanistan Conference in Brussels in October will set the course for the next few years. In a world beset by a multitude of crises, keeping the high investment in Afghanistan will be a challenge.
It is our task here at the ICG to revisit and renew the rationale for international engagement, reflecting the developments of 2015. The key question is: will we be able to counter temptations of disengagement and create a positive dynamic?
As for Germany, we are marking 100 years of friendship with Afghanistan, we have made a long-term commitment, and we will continue our support, especially in this critical phase.
International engagement can only buy time - time which must be used to put the country on its own feet. Donor governments cannot ask their citizens to contribute to rebuilding Afghanistan if at the same time significant goals in fighting corruption and impunity have not been met. Afghan leadership in implementing its political and economic reforms and in fulfilling the promise of its name – real national unity – will be crucial.
We are now moving into year twoof the Transformation Decade. Tasks remain complex:
What timeframe should be envisaged for the Resolute Support Mission, what – if anything – will replace it, and how would this best complement the sizeable civilian engagement of the international community?
How can Afghanistan secure and further the achievements we have witnessed over the past 15 years, be it in the field of human rights, education, health or infrastructure?
And, what reforms need to be implemented before parliamentary elections cantake place?
I trust the ICG to discuss many of these issues.
I have no doubt that we can take significant steps together in the year ahead and prove many alarmist wrong. It is for all of us today to discuss the necessary means to get there. With this I would like to hand over to Vice Minister Karzaiand wish you a successful ICG.