Thank you very much, Minister Rassoul. And I am honored to join representatives from more than 70 countries and organizations to stand in strong support of a peaceful, prosperous, and stable Afghanistan. I want to thank President Karzai and the Afghan Government for hosting us today and for the months of preparation that were needed to make this conference a reality. And before I begin, I want to join the secretary general in congratulating the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan for the successful negotiation of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement earlier this week. This is the most significant achievement between these neighbors in nearly 50 years and it will go a long way towards strengthening regional economic ties, creating jobs, and promoting sustainable economic development – all of which are critical to the people of both countries.
Today’s conference represents a milestone in a long and difficult journey. Here in Kabul, we are following Afghanistan’s lead. The Afghan people and government have charted a comprehensive strategy for their future. Their plans are detailed, practical, and reflect a great deal of work and consultation. And we are here as representatives of individual nations and as members of the global community to offer our support and align our resources behind Afghan goals and Afghan policies.
Now, we know the road ahead will not be easy. Citizens of many nations represented here, including my own, wonder whether success is even possible, and if so, whether we all have the commitment to achieve it. Well, we will answer these questions with our actions. Today, we join in launching what the Afghan Government has termed “the Kabul process.” It is a process that reflects a commitment to accountability, including clear benchmarks and milestones. And indeed, this conference is about accountability – accountability for the United States, for the United Nations, for members of the international community, and for the Afghan Government. We are called not only to voice support for the people of Afghanistan, but to honestly assess the progress we’ve made, identify the gaps between our expectations and our performance, and resolve to close those gaps together through patient, persistent efforts.
But it is important to note that we are making progress. Resources and personnel are flowing into the country, including almost 10,000 new international troops for ISAF. We are working around the clock to strengthen Afghanistan’s security forces. With our Afghan partners, we are on the offensive in parts of the country where the insurgents have gone unchallenged for too long. And we are matching our military efforts with an unprecedented civilian surge to help create stronger institutions and economic development.
President Obama has said that we will begin a responsible, conditions-based transition to Afghan security leadership in July 2011. Toward this end, the Afghan Government, working with NATO, has developed a broad framework for the process that will help create conditions for transition, province by province, district by district, so the Afghan security forces can assume full responsibility for security in the transitioned areas.
Now, the July 2011 date captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve. The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely, but this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement. We have no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving the kind of Afghanistan that President Karzai set forth in his speech.
Too many nations, especially Afghanistan, have suffered too many losses to see this country slide backward. We intend to continue our economic development assistance and our support for training, equipping, and assisting the security forces of Afghanistan for a long time to come.
But our progress in the months and years ahead will largely depend on the people and Government of Afghanistan as well as the international community. So let me address the Afghan side of the partnership first.
The Afghan Government is stepping forward to deal with a multitude of difficult challenges, and I have to say some of their challenges have been made more difficult by the international community’s intervention. And I think recognizing that and accepting the analysis that was present in President Karzai’s address is very important. We are encouraged by much of what we see, particularly the work to improve governance. The government has created a new task force, new offices, and new legal tools to combat corruption. And President Karzai recently issued a decree prohibiting nepotism in government.
Now, these steps are important, but we know much more work remains. There are no shortcuts to fighting corruption and improving governance. On this front, both the Afghan people and the people of the international community expect results. As the government takes the steps it must to address this challenge, it can count on the United States for support.
We are also closely following the efforts to reintegrate insurgents who are ready for peace. There have been positive steps since last month’s consultative peace jirga. President Karzai’s decree establishing the Afghan peace and reintegration program has created a useful framework, but progress will depend on whether insurgents wish to be reintegrated and reconciled by renouncing violence and al-Qaida and agreeing to abide by the constitution and laws of Afghanistan.
I also want to emphasize the importance of President Karzai’s recent statement that the rights of women, Afghan ethnic groups, and civil society will not be sacrificed in pursuit of reintegration and reconciliation. Over many years, I have observed and participated in post-conflict reconciliation efforts – in the Balkans, Northern Ireland, Africa, Latin America – and I speak from my own experience when I say that the work of Afghan women and civil society groups will be essential to this country’s success. If these groups are fully empowered to help build a just and lasting peace, they will help do so. But if they are silenced and pushed to the margins of Afghan society, the prospects for peace and justice will be subverted.
Earlier today, I met with a number of Afghan women leaders who are doing heroic work to strengthen their communities and country, and I was privileged to announce several new programs that the United States will fund to support women and families by improving maternal and child health in pursuit of Afghanistan’s desire to move closer to the Millennium Development Goal. We will double our support for the Ministry of Public Health’s Community Midwifery Education Program and begin a new Community Nursing Education Program. And we will increase funding to programs that support gender equality in Afghanistan and an advocacy campaign to encourage religious leaders and influential members of communities across the country to encourage women and their families to access maternal health services.
I think that it is only fair for the international community to set forth its expectations, and the more we can speak with one voice, the less the confusion on the part of the Afghans themselves. And I appreciate the recommendation that President Karzai made that we do even more to try to unify our actions so that there are not so many voices speaking at once about what should and must be done inside Afghanistan.
Because the international community bears responsibilities as well. As we look at the more than 70 nations and international organizations helping Afghanistan move forward, we have to recognize the invaluable work that the United Nations is performing in Afghanistan, NATO allies, ISAF partners – all making extraordinary sacrifices and financial contributions. There are more countries and international institutions here today than were at the Bonn conference eight years ago.
This is all cause for optimism, but we have to resolve to work more effectively together. And I think beginning to understand the importance of supporting sustainable democratic institutions inside Afghanistan is a big piece of that responsibility.
So this conference makes it clear the world is with Afghanistan and the world stands in opposition to the common threat and the common enemy that stalks us all. There will still be too many days when we wake up to news of violence, conflict, and loss of life. But we must not forget that not only are millions of Afghans working to lay the foundation for a better future, but tens of thousands of young men and women from across the world are as well. Some might carry a gun as part of the military forces, others might carry a notebook as those who are attempting to improve governance or work on education or health, but so many around the world are counting on the success of what we can achieve together here in Afghanistan.
History will hold us accountable for our efforts, and here today we must do the same for each other. President Obama and I look forward to working with the Afghan Government, the United Nations, and all of you in seeing this mission through to completion.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)