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Transcripts and Remarks

Remarks by Ambassador Eikenberry on the Future of U.S./Afghan Relaitons

June 19, 2011

Salaam Alekum, I am honored to be here today, especially with Herat Deputy Governor Assilludin Jami, Herat University Chancellor Mir Bariz Hossaini, distinguished diplomats of the international community and, most importantly, students and all you professors, who have the important task of shaping Afghanistan’s future by training and teaching its young people.  I envy you working in this prestigious university in one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the world.

The Masjed-e Jam’ah, the Citadel, the Minarets, the golden light in this ancient cross-roads, remind us of the majesty and rich cultural history of this great city, Herat-e Baastaan, this great country, situated at a strategic crossroad in the region.

Let me up front recognize, Governor Saba, who could not be here, for his vision, courage, and dedication in helping transform Herat into a beacon of hope and an example of Afghanistan’s future.  Your success is leading to international private investment, which will bring more success.

Here at Herat University, we see the future of Afghanistan in its classrooms.  We see future teachers, future entrepreneurs, future agronomists, future engineers, future ministers, and yes, even future Ambassadors.
That is why we have partnered with Herat University in bringing the internet to your classrooms, building a journalism and media center, creating an English language and computer teaching center, sending agriculture and engineering faculty for master’s degrees, in addition to funding the architecture and engineering labs that I will formally open today.
I believe that together we can create a prosperous and peaceful future for Afghanistan, one that has immense opportunities for the young generation and those that follow.

How can we do this?  By focusing on our common mission and our common goal of ensuring that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for terrorists and violent extremism.  Our overarching objective is to harden the Afghan state so it is strong enough to reject terrorist sanctuaries, fend off insurgency, and guard against foreign interference. 

For that, we need to achieve certain conditions here on the ground.  We need to enable Afghanistan to provide its own security against insurgents and foreign invaders.  Second, the Afghan state must be financially viable, able to generate its own revenue, distribute it fairly and provide its citizens essential services, such as education and healthcare. 

Third, Afghanistan needs to govern in a way that is acceptable and accountable to its people.  Fourth, there must be national political cohesion, enabling the government and people to forge national bonds across political, tribal and ethnic divides.  This will require an open hand extended to those who formerly took up arms, but who are now prepared to break ties with terrorism, renounce violence, lay down those arms and support the Afghan constitution. 
Have we completely met all these objectives?  No, not yet.  But we are at a phase where we can transition more and more security, governance and fiscal responsibility to the Afghan institutions. 

President Karzai’s goal is to complete the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of his second and final term, in late 2014.  The United States and our international partners have endorsed this target. 

Last December President Obama, said something very important about our approach here together.  He said, and I’ll quote, “From the start I’ve been very clear about our core goal.  It’s not to defeat every last security threat to Afghanistan because ultimately it’s the Afghan people who must secure their country.  And it’s not about nation building because it’s Afghans who must build their nation.”  (end quote)

Transition is based on the progress we, in partnership with the Afghan people, have made in achieving those conditions I just laid out.  The American people have endorsed this partnership.  They have committed billions of their tax dollars and supporting our “surge” of military forces, civilian experts and diplomats to assist in areas your government and ours have identified as critical to the future stability of Afghanistan. 
When I first came here some nine years ago as a soldier, I found a country that had just been liberated from the grip of a despotic and brutal regime.  Afghanistan was divided, poverty was rampant, life expectancy and literacy were among the lowest throughout the world.  Young men and women both were deprived of the right of education.  Afghanistan and its people had suffered enormously during two decades of occupation and conflict.  Terrorists living here were targeting my own country, the United States. 

The need to address and defeat that evil is one of the many things that forged a partnership between the American and Afghan people.  Our sons and daughters joined your own, and those of the international community to defeat this enemy and work to re-build the Afghan National Army and Police, which had been torn apart by war and division.

These forces together ensure safety in places throughout the country, including here in Herat City.  This ancient city is one of seven municipalities and provinces identified by the Government of Afghanistan as ready for your army and your police to entirely shoulder the responsibility of security, which they had previously shared with the international coalition.  In fact, all of us witnessed the effective way that Afghan National Security Forces took the lead in responding to the destructive, tragic May 30th attacks on Herat City, neutralizing the attackers and rounding up the rest of the terrorist cell.  Herat IS already in Transition.  Facts on the ground have proven it. 

But as I said before, this transition is not just based on the improved capacity of your nation’s army and police, but on commensurate improvements in the areas that ultimately make any society strong:  fiscal responsibility, education, health, economic growth, accountable government and the rule of law.

The civilian “surge” I mentioned earlier meant that thousands of civilians have come here from the United States and other countries, bringing their expertise in farming, banking, government, the law, business, health, education and communications to help Afghanistan build capacity in all those areas.  While you still see some from abroad carrying a gun as part of the international military forces, I am sure you are also seeing many others carrying a notebook and a laptop.

Let me provide one example of how we are building capacity within Afghan government institutions.  Our development agency, USAID, is helping the Ministry of Education implement programs to improve access to and quality of education across Afghanistan, including here in Herat Province. 

More than 12,000 teachers in Herat province have been trained through these programs, and we are also assisting with the construction of a new building for the Education Faculty here on campus.

Much of our assistance in the field of education will soon be “on-budget,” meaning U.S. funding will go directly to the Ministry.  We hope and expect to reach an agreement next month to transfer school textbook production, community-based education programs, and other education activities to the direct management of the Ministry of Education.    

We’re undertaking this exact same process with five other important ministries of your government.

But just like with security, we don’t transfer those resources without an extensive examination of the Ministry’s resources and capacity to manage the funds and implement the program successfully before that transition takes place. 

As capacity builds in other areas, we will increase direct, on-budget assistance, handing over direct responsibility of those funds to Afghanistan’s own decision makers. 

Our mutual challenge is to ensure that the progress of the past nine years continues, and that it is sustainable.  And that brings us to the last condition necessary for stability:  political cohesion forged by Afghans and supported by its neighbors and the international community as a whole.

The gains we’ve achieved through our partnership can only be secured through a true and just peace born not from force, but from reconciliation.

Those who know the horrors of war often make the best advocates of peace, and the people of Afghanistan now have faced three decades of war. 

President Karzai has called for reconciliation with all those who will renounce ties to al-Qaida and their campaign of violence, and support the constitution of your land.

My government shares and endorses this view.  Earlier this year, Secretary Clinton sent a message to the Taliban, “Break your ties with al-Qa’ida, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution and you can rejoin Afghan society.  Refuse, and face the consequences of being tied to al-Qa’ida and remain an enemy of the international community.”  She declared that “the Taliban cannot wait us out.  They cannot defeat us and they cannot escape this choice.”

Reconciliation will depend on the resolve, hard work and determination of your own government and people.  But our diplomatic surge stands ready to bring international and regional support to the framework for peace that you design.
In the final analysis, only the Afghan people can choose how to make a just reconciliation. This is your choice.  As the Kabul Conference communiqué put it, “Peace yields a much higher dividend than conflict.”  And as a former soldier, I can attest to this.  It’s time for the Afghan people to reap that dividend of peace and not the failed legacy of war.

And while not all your country’s problems will be solved when the transition process is over, Afghanistan will be stronger. Complex issues will remain, but you will be more secure.  And there’s going to be hope for all of your citizens and especially your students, its future engineers, teachers, architects and leaders. 

Let me take your questions . . . .

JUNE 19, 2011

I would like to add, to my prepared remarks, a few additional words spoken from my heart as I, together with my wife, soon complete my tenure as ambassador.  I have altogether served in your country three times and have lived here in Afghanistan for over five years starting in 2002.

I believe in this mission and the need for us to prevail against terrorism.  I also believe in the goodness of the Afghan people.  Having travelled continuously throughout your country – all 34 provinces where I have reached out to Afghan brothers and sisters from all walks of life – I know of where I speak through firsthand experience.

At the same time, I believe in the goodness of my own people – the American people.

And – as we prepare to return home to my family after my most recent two years here – I must tell you that I find occasional comments from some of your leaders hurtful and inappropriate.

When Americans, who are serving in your country at great cost – in terms of lives and treasure – hear themselves compared with occupiers, told that they are only here to advance their own interest, and likened to the brutal enemies of the Afghan people … they are filled with confusion and grow weary of our effort here.  Mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers, spouses of soldiers who have lost arms and legs, children of those who lost their lives in your country – they ask themselves about the meaning of their loved one’s sacrifice.

When I hear some of your leaders call us occupiers, I cannot look at these mourning parents, spouses, and children in the eye and give them a comforting reply.

We came here in 2001 to defeat international terrorism and help lift the dark veil of over 20 years of conflict from the Afghan people.  Together with you, we have accomplished so much.    Of course, over the course of our time here, our learning curve has been steep.  That is because Afghanistan’s political, social, and economic situation is complex, we do not speak your language and are far from home.  But – in spite of our mistakes – we are a good people whose aim is to help improve our mutual security by strengthening your government, army and police, and economy.  And we know that there have been many accomplishments.

We have built schools and clinics; trained and equipped your army, police, and NDS and fought and sacrificed with them battling the enemy of your state; we have constructed roads and power stations; trained midwives, engineers, and journalists; offered scholarships to my country; helped organize and advise your counter-narcotics police, judicial security units, and elite Major Crimes Task Force; improved your Customs Service; helped facilitate the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement; renovated the Herat Citadel and many historical sites in Afghanistan; installed a world class Air Traffic Control radar at Kabul International Airport; invested hundreds of millions of dollars in bettering your agriculture system; helped renovate the Kabul museum; supported the revival of music, sports, and culture in your country; constructed roads –even while being attacked by insurgents.  I could go on, but will stop here.

Yet, when we hear ourselves being called occupiers and worse, our pride is offended and we begin to lose our inspiration to carry on.  Let me be clear – America has never sought to occupy any nation in the world.  Nor do we seek to do so here.  In fact, we serve here as friends.  At the point your leaders believe that we are doing more harm than good, when we reach a point that we feel our soldiers and civilians are being asked to sacrifice without a just cause, and our generous aid programs dismissed as totally ineffective and the source of all corruption . . . especially at a time our economy is suffering and our needs are not being met, the American people will ask for our forces to come home. 

I would ask, as the outgoing Ambassador, that your leaders please bear this in mind when they speak of my nation, my armed forces, and my people, as well as those others who also are making contributions to and sacrifices for your country.

Thank you.