By Afghan ambassador Eklil Hakimi - 01/18/13 11:00 AM EST
With the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) in May, the Chicago NATO Summit in June, the Tokyo Conference in July and the launch of the U.S.-Afghanistan Strategic Bilateral Commission in October, 2012 brought many historic achievements in Afghan-U.S. relations. This year began with President Hamid Karzai’s successful visit to the United States where he met with President Obama, top administration officials and leaders on Capitol Hill. As a result, the partnership between our two countries has coalesced into an enduring commitment on which we will build in the coming years.
For the past decade, the people of the United States and the international community have invested immensely in Afghanistan’s future. As we go into the transitions of 2013, the Afghan government, its security forces and its economic initiatives are ready to lead the way forward to a stable Transformation Decade beyond 2014.
The coming months hold significant changes for Afghanistan. Just last week, both President Karzai and President Obama decided the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) will assume the lead across Afghanistan this spring while the International Security Assistance Force moves into an advisory support role. We all agreed that improving the quality of the ANSF, including the accelerated provision of appropriate equipment and enablers, remains a key priority. The presidents also committed to conclude the Bilateral Security Agreement negotiations outlined in the SPA as soon as possible, and U.S. Ambassador James Warlick and I are well under way to laying the vital groundwork for enduring defense and security cooperation after 2014.
In addition to the ANSF assuming primary responsibility for the country’s security, the government of Afghanistan has substantive plans in motion to foster continued economic development, fair and open elections in 2014 and peace and reconciliation efforts for sustained stability.
In the economic sector, my government aims to fortify businesses through the encouragement of international private-sector investment in Afghanistan, especially in the agricultural, energy, transportation and mining sectors. Private-sector development will be crucial to counteract the reduction in security-related and contract-based businesses. One of our most promising economic opportunities actually lies untapped and buried in the ground — Afghanistan possesses mineral and hydrocarbon resources estimated to be worth $1 trillion to $3 three trillion. Greater foreign investment in Afghanistan’s mining industry will enable us to support further development of infrastructure, the overall economy and many other initiatives already under way.
On a national level, we have developed 22 National Priority Programs (NPPs) designed to generate revenue, job creation, sustainable economic growth and human development. These NPPs exist within the “Afghan National Development Strategy” to efficiently allocate the $16 billion in international aid pledged at the Tokyo Conference. These efforts, in conjunction with the Istanbul Process and Heart of Asia Conference in June calling for expanded regional economic connectivity, construct a framework for a strong and ever so crucial economic transition.
The third pillar in our vision for a flourishing Transformation Decade demands a particular focus on continued capacity building, improved local governance and overall reforms. As a first step towards fulfillment of this vision, President Karzai recently outlined the government’s plans to continue work with our international partners to hold free, fair, inclusive and democratic elections on April 5, 2014. Equally as important, concerted efforts to negotiate a political settlement and bring about sustained peace have seen encouraging movement lately through the Afghan High Peace Council’s “Roadmap to Peace” plan. These efforts will continue in the right direction now that both President Karzai and President Obama support an office in Doha for the purpose of negotiations between the High Peace Council and the authorized representatives of the Taliban.
As all of these transitions begin to gain momentum throughout this year and next, I look forward to working with new and returning members of the 113th Congress, as well as members of the new administration, to bolster an already enduring partnership forged over the last 10 years.
The sacrifices made by the Afghan and American people, thus far, have been made for our shared belief in a safer tomorrow. That tomorrow is now on the horizon. Despite the challenges, with the steadfast support of the United States, the government of Afghanistan stands ready to answer the call of responsibility and opportunity.
H.E. Eklil Hakimi is Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States.