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Andris Piebalgs

European Commissioner for Development, ANDRIS PIEBALGS,

at the ENNA conference on “Peace for all Afghans?” in the 

European Parliament, 3 June 2013   - Brussels. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to start by thanking the co-organisers of this conference – ENNA, Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) and ACBAR – for this opportunity. Your organisations have been tireless in raising many of the key issues on Afghanistan. You have also been vital in partnering many Afghan organisations to develop their awareness and capacity. That is a strong and important link between EU and Afghanistan civil society. And together, you have engaged and influenced policymakers both in the EU, and more importantly, in Afghanistan.

An active Afghan civil society constitutes one of the fundamental ingredients to achieve inclusive economic development and peace. And the challenge of bringing lasting peace to Afghanistan is a daunting one. You have to go back 35 years, to the late 1970s, to find an Afghanistan free from violent conflict. That isn't even a distant memory for most Afghans. It is estimated that some 80% of Afghans were not even born then. The Afghan people deserve peace, so what can be done to make peace a reality?

Clearly, if achieving an inclusive peace was simple, we would not be sitting here today. But I wanted to highlight six pillars that I see as the basis for building lasting peace in Afghanistan.

 

Six pillars for lasting peace

First, there must be a credible peace process that establishes the common ground between the main protagonists and puts in place the right mechanisms for finding consensus in areas of difference. A number of worthy international and Afghan initiatives are underway that aim to reach out to the insurgents.

The European Union made its position very clear at the Bonn conference in 2011. We support an inclusive Afghan-led process with three important conditions:

ONE: that Afghanistan can never again become a haven for international terrorists;

TWO: that all participants in the process renounce violence;

And THREE: that any settlement recognises and respects the Afghan constitution, including – specifically – the rights and status of women.

With those three important conditions, we would welcome the insurgent groups sitting down with and with representatives of all Afghans to begin to shape an inclusive vision for the country. Civil society should have a very important role in defining that vision. The EU is currently facilitating the input of civil society into the High Peace Council. We are supporting the development of a Memorandum of Understanding on the input of civil society. And we intend to monitor that process.

From an EU perspective, we hope that that vision would be one that builds on the progress made in the last decade; one that finds consensus on the role of religion in the state; one that envisages robust institutions that can lead Afghanistan's development away from some of the worst development indicators seen - not just on the Asian continent, but anywhere in the world.

Any successful peace process in Afghanistan will depend on better regional ties, and especially in improved Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. At times, both Afghanistan and Pakistan have shown an increased appreciation of their interdependence and of the collective need to combat extremism. Unfortunately, there have also been times where the rhetoric has gone too far, with lasting damage to the relationship. The recent Pakistani elections offer a new opportunity to intensify constructive dialogue on how to bring peace to the region.

Secondnext year's presidential elections will be critical for Afghanistan for many different reasons, not least the marking of a first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan's history. But it will also be critical for the peace process. The election of a president widely accepted as embodying the political will of the Afghan people will be an important signal to all Afghans that democracy is founded on solid ground. It will be a message to the insurgents that they face increasing marginalisation if they fail to lay down their arms and pursue peaceful dialogue.

The European Union is one of those in the international community pushing hardest for the elections to be as fair as they can be. Unfortunately, they will probably not be as good as the recent Pakistani elections – where so many people refused to be intimidated by terrorist acts and demonstrated their belief in democracy. But they can and should be step forward from the elections in 2009 and 2010.

For that to happen, it is vital that the Structural and Electoral Laws are passed by parliament as a matter of urgency. Without these, the elections risk going ahead without the broad political support for those bodies responsible for ensuring electoral impartiality, including the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission.

Political parties, parliament and civil society to work together ensure that the fraud prevention mechanisms are not only in place, but widely accepted as robust and effective. These steps will help build the confidence of the parties, the media and, most importantly, ordinary Afghans that these elections will really mark a step forward for the country.

Thirdthere is an urgent need to create jobs. We know from experience that one of main challenges in any peace process is to find employment for ex-combatants. Afghanistan currently risks a downward economic spiral that would undermine its aspirations for 'self-reliance'. Reducing the dependence on external funding will take many years. But it is a process that needs to start. Whatever way you measure it, Afghanistan is the largest aid recipient in the world. As the international presence reduces, significant economic growth will be needed to create the jobs to replace those funded, essentially, by the international presence.

Most Afghans work in agriculture and – in the short term – growth and jobs must come from increased agricultural productivity. Increased productivity can have a number of additional positive effects: stimulating the private sector in rural areas; and offering a viable alternative to those Afghans who want to move away from growing poppy. Supporting growth and jobs is one of the reasons that the EU has prioritised funding for agriculture since 2007. I intend that we will continue to do so until at least 2020.

To achieve growth in the more medium term, there is a critical need to restore levels of economic confidence. That means improving the investment climate, so that both Afghan and foreign investors see the benefits of starting businesses in Afghanistan, of investing in businesses in Afghanistan, and reversing the dramatic capital outflow we have seen in the last couple of years.

In the long term, reaching the desired sustained high growth levels necessary to reduce reliance on foreign aid will depend on the responsible exploitation of Afghanistan’s natural resources – oil, gas, iron and copper. A mining law to help ensure this has been under discussion, but not passed, for many months now. Passing the law will be an important signal to investors and help ensure that the jobs being created will be Afghan jobs. And that the revenues will go into the Afghan treasury’s coffers – not to a warlord or corrupt politician. Because that is a story we have seen too many times before.

Which brings me to my fourth point. Transparent flows of public funding both at the centre and at the sub-provincial level are the backbone of any functioning state. Without it, there can be no democratic oversight of government. Waste and corruption flourish. Corruption is a cancer that eats away at belief in government and the ability to deliver for its people. Corruption will impact heavily on the willingness of ordinary people in Europe and in other donor countries to continue to provide the exceptional levels of assistance Afghanistan has benefitted from in the last decade.

Fifth, more needs to be done to safeguard human rights – in particular women's rights. Human rights are always a priority for the EU. In Afghanistan, the need for action is particularly acute. Much progress has been made – thanks in no small part to the efforts of people in this room and the efforts of the organisations they represent. But the recent discussion in the Afghan Parliament on the rights and wrongs of the law on Eliminating Violence Against Women showed how far we still have to go before women are able to enjoy their full rights.

The EU will continue to argue that the rights of women can never be the price paid for a peace agreement. The ten year EU-Afghanistan Cooperation Agreement on Partnership and Development, which is currently being negotiated, will make full reference to human rights obligations, including the implementation of national and international commitments to protect the rights of women and children. We would welcome the government reiterating its commitment by making the long overdue appointments to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), and, most importantly, the Chief Justice.

Which brings me to my last, but by no means least important, pillar. I want to focus on an area that has been neglected, and yet is critical to making progress in all the other areas I have highlighted – justice and the rule of law. The failure to put in place an effective formal justice system and restore the belief of all Afghans in equality before the law is one of the worst failings of the state-building project in Afghanistan.

Of course, this was not a straightforward task. But the failure to take concerted action strengthens the pull of the insurgents and their use of summary justice; it reinforces concerns that the oversight of the elections will not be fair; it impacts on economic growth, as investors lose confidence in contract enforcement and fair dispute resolution; and it undermines the implementation of laws safeguarding the rights of women and reduces their access to justice. In short, it affects all our priorities. Which is why I plan to make support for the rule of law a key priority in our development engagement.

In this way we will be investing in civilian policing, investing in building judicial institutions, investing in the capacity of prosecutors, and investing in the ability of parliament and civil society to hold people to account.

Conclusion

I will leave you with one final thought. Once a peace agreement is in place – whenever that might be – Afghanistan will need to begin a process of nationwide healing. To start to put the past behind it and look to a future not determined by terrorism, violence and conflict. But to do that Afghanistan will need to put in place a reconciliation process in which people have confidence that the impunity for war crimes and human rights abuses we have seen over more than three decades will not continue.

Without that, I fear there can be no real peace for all Afghans – the peace which they have not had for so long, and which they deserve.

Thank you.