Ashraf Ghani

Former President of Afghanistan

July 17, 2021 at an international conference

President Mirziyoyev, Prime Minister Khan, Mr. Borrell, Distinguished Ministers, heads of international and regional organizations, ladies and gentlemen, friends;

Dictionary definitions of connectivity are dominated by the “means by which individual terminals, computers, mobile devices, and local area networks connect to the global network”. Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things and the converging technologies of the 4th industrial revolution are accelerators that are likely to make 2030 radically different from 2021. The world is on a speed.

Each of the preceding three industrial revolutions were also deeply transformative of space, time, and power relations between regions of the world and within states. A major difference is that the Euro-Asian continent, this time, is a central hub of these accelerators, making the transformation of the Euro-Asia from a geographic notion to a continental economy one of the most significant transformations of the 21st century. With the reset caused by COVID-19, it is clear that regions and states are going to loom large in all of our lives. 

For millennia connectivity referred to human relationships and networks established through the medium of culture and civilization, allowing people to establish reference points for identities in cooperation and opposition with others. As the first and second industrial revolutions provided the tools for subjugation of large parts of the world, cultures became arenas of confrontation. The possibility of combined development opened up by the 4th Industrial Revolution can provide the needed acceleration. But if our regions miss the opportunity during the next decade, the gap will be much wider.

This open moment, like all such moments, is, therefore, a mixture of opportunities, risks, turbulences and threats. How the region deals with the opportunities and challenges defining the context in Afghanistan after the departure of the US and NATO forces could have a significant impact on the prospect of regional cooperation or confrontation. 

My week of July 8 to 15 offers us a window to the opportunities and challenge, captured through my interactions with my fellow Afghan men and women in Kabul and provinces that I visited. The opportunities can be summed up as follows:

First, the US and NATO partners have left behind considerable assets, provided concrete commitments in assistance and support, and are framing the future as a new chapter of the relationship. Mr. Borrell, I thank you. Bagram airport, which I visited on the 9th, alone has an estimated $3 billion worth. It used to be the busiest airport in the world for ten years. We plan to turn Bagram and other military airports into hubs of trade and connectivity. The investments made by our people, as illustrated by my visits to the thriving cities of Khost in the east and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north, provide for lives with dignity. Our people have put all their resources into creating livelihoods for themselves in a platform for eradication of poverty and living with dignity.

Second, as a state, we are dedicated to a clear vision of peace, stability and prosperity through internal reforms and regional cooperation. Our reforms, ranging from digitalization of the government to the overhaul of our budget and revenue to construction of major irrigation and development projects are in implementation. I was delighted to welcome 161 people on the first direct flight from the UAE to the brand-new airport in Khost—a dream come true—on the 10th. I associated myself with President Mirziyoyev’s full proposal for regional projects. 

Third, as a people and state, pursuit of a political settlement to the conflict with the Taliban has been our national priority. The end-state of a sovereign, united, democratic, peaceful and connected Afghanistan has been endorsed internationally and regionally. We have offered a clear roadmap, particularly in my article in the Foreign Affairs, consisting of making peace, forming a government of peace and sustaining peace through the will of the people, meaning there must be elections to elect my successor to the highest office in the land. We are also building consensus for the permanent neutrality of Afghanistan and we need your support for this.

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