For the first three years, we did not have a good assessment of the degree of devastation and did not have a coherent policy on development and reconstruction. Neither did the IMF, the World Bank or anyone else. We lacked the foundations. For example, roads were destroyed but we didn’t know what roads we truly needed, what standards to build to, and how much it would cost. All indicators show that we are rich in resources – water, minerals, possibility of gas and oil that have yet to be explored and will take time to come on line. But the need is immediate. Energy shortages limit reconstruction. Afghan leaders realize we have to create a strategy that is responsive to our peoples’ needs and demands, but is also feasible and sustainable for donors.
In March we began work on an interim National Development Strategy, to be presented in London. We think the international community understands what needs to be done to solidify the political gains, to improve security, to fight poppy cultivation and drug trafficking, and to send a strong signal to those terrorists and illegal armed groups who still want to destabilize the country. We will seek endorsement of the plan and commitment of funds. London will provide us with the opportunity to renew commitments. We have achieved many goals, reached many benchmarks. We need to push forward the process of democratization, the rule of law, good governance, judicial reform and other issues such as human rights. We need the assistance of the international community for the next five years or so to enable us to provide for our people priority items such as roads, electricity, revitalization of agriculture and access to natural resources. The army and the police are functional but there is still a long way to go. The judiciary will be a very important part of reforms. Agreement on the process and targets for capacity and institution building is part of what we want to achieve in London.
There was a lot of scepticism about whether we would be able to realize the goals set at the Bonn conference. Four years later we are witness to successful implementation of a modern constitution, presidential elections, parliamentary elections, local elections and many other benchmarks that were set. Now we have to build on those gains and coordinate the capacity of government, donors and institutions to ensure those resources are spent wisely. You can build new schools and hospitals, but if you don’t have enough teachers and doctors, the prioritization may be off and money may be wasted. We need the international community to stay with us as partners so we can achieve these goals. The worst thing would be to give up half way, to have the focus shift. Then you’re back to square one. We don’t want Afghanistan to fall into the category of a failing state, because then there are larger issues to tackle such as regional security and international terrorism.
Afghanistan has suffered brain drain over the past 20 years. It’s not just a matter of having desks and chairs and shiny computers; it’s a matter of building up competency and people to manage it. How long does it take to train a diplomat or an IT person or an engineer? We need to find solutions to these problems. In my talks with Afghans this issue always comes up. There are roughly 100,000 Afghan expatriates in Canada. I encourage them, especially those who are young, single, have learned new technologies and are professionals, to at least go for a while, even if it’s just for a year or two. Most who have returned are very satisfied and feel they are contributing to a historic situation where they are rebuilding a country. This unique occasion doesn’t present itself very often. It’s an exciting proposition.
Canada has been very generous and engaged through its 3D sphere of focus, and has played a positive role in encouraging democracy and rule of law, in helping with elections and allocating some resources for reconstruction through the Ministry of Rural Development. The military’s peace-building efforts have been outstanding. Now may be the time to think about how the rest of Canada’s resources might best be disbursed to create institutions, rebuild infrastructure, help us with those functions we both agree are important. Unfortunately, nothing in Afghanistan is short term. I wish that weren’t the case. Security, defence and development issues are long-term projects. We want Canada to have a strong presence and leave behind signs of its commitment that we can all be proud of. Canada has had a significant impact, and I would like Canadian aid to be felt and seen for years to come.

I don’t know anyone who has returned from Afghanistan who has not been impressed by the way they were welcomed. Afghanistan is an old country – many ancient civilizations have come through it. It is rich in culture and heritage, and we’re trying to restore some of that to again make it hospitable to tourism. It’s a very beautiful and rugged country and its topography is of interest to many people around the world. People-to-people contacts are very important and we need to promote that at all levels.
The role of the private sector is also important. I would like to see Canadian investors look at Afghanistan as potential for making profit, for investing in many areas, especially natural resources, trade, transport. We are located in a very strategic part of Asia – we connect South Asia with Central Asia and the Middle East. We are building new roads, airports and transport infrastructure to allow trade to flourish. But security is still an issue.
We are wary of the continued presence and infiltration of terrorists. It’s our goal to eventually defeat this menace. But for too many years they had free reign in this part of the world. They established networks and are well rooted. We have been successful to a large extent at uprooting them, but we have long, porous borders with several nations and we still have a problem controlling parts of our borders. We’re counting on the continued cooperation of our neighbours, especially Pakistan and Iran to fight terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking.
Afghans don’t want to see extremist and militants return to power. Whenever there has been a problem, Afghans have been very forthright in picking up arms and defending themselves or making a statement. We have never subscribed to these tactics that are used in other parts of the world, such as suicide attacks. They are un-Islamic and un-Afghan.

We don’t want our country to step into another quagmire. We’ve seen what it means to become a narco state in other parts of the world – it’s the wrong place to be. The drug problem may be the result of war and poverty, but we cannot blame the poor Afghan farmer for this menace. We need to come up with practical means of combating narcotics at different levels. If you put all your weight on eradication, you create other problems. We have to address the problems of the farmer, and that requires alternative crops, rural development, market access. And we have to go after the moneymakers in this long chain. Afghans may be the cultivators and producers, but if there is no market for it, the product will not sell. We have to address the consumer market and everything in between. We’ve achieved some results: a 20 per cent decrease in the amount of land that has been cultivated and a slight decrease in the volume of heroin. But it is an enormous challenge that has to be tackled by all of us collectively, with determination.
Our desire is to one day soon rely on our own fully trained army and police, judiciary, institutions; to have our own economic productivity and capacity. Our president and our leaders always remind our people and the international donor community that we would like to reach that point as soon as possible. A lot depends on the decisions we take today and at the upcoming London Conference. It also depends on how we implement those decisions. It is important to review what we have done together and bring any type of correction that is needed in this process of making Afghanistan self-sufficient.