Ambassador Mohib’s Remarks at the United States Institute of Peace on the Afghan Peace Process

Ambassador Mohib provides remarks at the United States Institute of Peace during the Afghan Peace Process conference on June 7, 2018. Watch his speech here. Click here to watch all of the multi-panel discussions.

Colleagues and distinguished guests, thank you all for being here today. To Nancy, Andrew, Scott, Johnny, and all of our friends at USIP,  thank you for hosting today’s event.

Thank you also to all of the panelists.

I would also like to thank Stephen Hadley who is a dear friend of Afghanistan.

USIP is one of the most important places in Washington to have a public discussion about peace in Afghanistan. So I thank you for your commitment to this issue.

I would like to close today’s event by expanding on two areas of a complex and multi-layered concept of peace— first, what achieving a sustainable peace in Afghanistan entails, and second, what the Afghan government has put on the table and what we are doing to pursue peace.

Sustainable peace will not be delivered in negotiations and a political settlement with the Taliban alone. A political settlement is but one part of a complicated and layered process of achieving sustainable peace. What matters equally is the peace-building work that precedes a peace deal, and the maintenance work that follows it.

Afghanistan is dealing with multiple issues which have manifest over the decades as a legacy of violence—warlordism, impunity, corruption, injustice, insurgency, international terrorism, a drug mafia that continues to respond to a growing global demand. 

All this, and we are still a very young democracy grappling with providing services to our people, ensuring the integrity of democracy, and building our institutions.

Within this context, there are six core building blocks which must be considered in the peace-building process.

One: We must focus on those reconcilable Afghan elements of the Taliban who have legitimate grievances. This is our target audience for a peace deal.

We must address the legitimate grievances of those Afghans who have taken up arms against their government and fellow countrymen.

We must answer those difficult questions—logistical, practical, and emotional—of how a nation forgives, how an insurgent is re-integrated, and what drove him to the gun in the first place to make sure he is not driven to the gun again.

The government’s successful peace deal with Hizb-i-Islami a couple years ago gave us experience on how to structure a deal and what questions need to be addressed.

Two: We must create a regional consensus on peace, stability, and economic growth. The region can either be divided by conflict or united by shared economic benefit.

There is a regional component to the conflict playing out in Afghanistan, which the US administration and the Afghan government are both taking very seriously, so this element cannot be overlooked.

Three: We will maintain political stability and democratic integrity through elections, which we will hold in October and again in 2019. This is not easy to do in the current security situation, but we will and we must.

The Afghan people are proud of their right to vote and they are risking their lives to claim that right. By casting a vote, we as a nation are making a commitment to democracy, so that peace will be maintained through the ballot, not the bullet.

Four: The government, with support from the international community, must continue to earnestly and diligently implement President Ghani’s rigorous comprehensive reform agenda, which is articulated in the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework.

We will present our progress on reforms and emphasize their centrality to peace at the Geneva ministerial conference in November.

Through reforms, we are improving governance, rule of law, and service delivery, thus rebuilding the bruised and battered social contract between the Afghan government and the Afghan people. The goal is to reform institutions to serve the Afghan people and create citizen-focused governance and trust-building.

I would like to thank your colleague here at USIP, William Byrd, for being one of the only analysts in Washington (or anywhere) to scrutinize some of these very important reforms. They are a critical part of sustaining peace.

I want to emphasize rule of law, justice and anti-corruption here, which are hugely underestimated components of peace.

Criminality and warlordism come from a legacy of violence that my generation is dealing with now.  There are groups and individuals who have gotten wealthy from this war and continue to. There are warlords and strongmen who continue to terrorize the Afghan people and perpetuate a culture of impunity and corruption.

Such criminals also include the drug mafia who perpetuate the conflict and corruption. The drug trade and the transnational criminal networks are responding to a global demand, and thus the issue requires a global response.

We cannot overlook these issue. It’s not easy and it takes time to bring systemic and sustainable changes, but we are seeing progress already from the government’s anti-corruption and justice sector reform efforts, and we are pushing forward, with support from the international community.

In short, we must confront impunity, terror and violence in all its forms.

Five: We must continue to build the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to ensure strong defense of citizens and nation. We will continue to pursue a military campaign against those combatants who simply are not reconcilable and have no place in Afghan society or politics. Those include Daesh, Al Qaeda elements, and other foreign fighters.

Six: We must create economic opportunities, especially for those marginalized, including youth, women, and those living in poverty.

You have seen the numbers—almost half of the children in Afghanistan remain out of school because of conflict, and the number of those living in poverty increased since 2012. We will continue to invest in our people’s welfare with education, healthcare, and economic prospects so that any peace deal we reach will not be in jeopardy.

These are the essential elements, and the government is proceeding on each front simultaneously.

In terms of a peace deal—what have we, the Afghan government and people, put on the table?

Earlier this week, the High Peace Council convened a gathering of over 3,000 Islamic scholars from across Afghanistan. They issued a fatwa against suicide attacks and terrorism and called for a ceasefire.

Today, President Ghani showed the government’s strong support for that unprecedented fatwa, by ordering a ceasefire against the Afghan Taliban from the 27th of Ramadan until the 5th day of Eid-al-Fitr.  Our operations will continue against ISIS, Al-Qaida and other transnational terrorist groups. The ANDSF will take action if attacked and will continue to protect civilians; however, we will not target Afghan Taliban during the ceasefire.

President Ghani’s decision to declare ceasefire is rooted in the government’s firm commitment to peace and is an act of support for the fatwa issued by the Ulema.

This follows President Ghani’s unconditional offer of peace to the Taliban at the Kabul Process conference in February this year.

There is now a national and also international consensus for peace. In May, Indonesia hosted a conference of Islamic scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Indonesia in support of the Afghan peace process. Similar gatherings will follow to maintain the momentum gathered by the international community in working for peace.

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The Afghan people are also absolutely fed up with being caught in the crossfire. I am 34 years old—I have never seen a day of peace in my country in my entire life. My generation is absolutely fed up with this and we are deeply invested in peace. It unites us.

Peaceful civilian protests and sit-ins around the country have emerged, from Helmand, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Herat, and Kabul.

A group of young men marching—one of them on crutches!—from Helmand to Kabul to protest violence will reach the capital city in the next few weeks. They will be warmly welcomed by young peace activists and all citizens of the capital city.

Afghans want peace and my generation are taking great risks to stand for it. These Afghans and our security forces are our heroes.

And what has the Taliban put on the table?

Further death and destruction.

Since January, they have pursued a brutal new strategy of directly targeting civilians in crowded urban spaces, killing hundreds of innocent Afghans.

Shortly after the Afghan Ulema issued a fatwa against terrorism this week, they were attacked. Taliban have attacked hospitals, schools and school children, sports games, civil society organizations, media and journalists, and citizens registering to vote.

Moving forward, we must stay the course of building our security forces and maintaining pressure on the Taliban, while keeping the door open for peace talks.

At the same time, we continue to earnestly implement our reforms agenda to deal head-on with corruption in our government; to deliver services; and to offer economic opportunities. We must repair the social contract between the Afghan people and government.

Peace-building is an inter-connected process that is at once urgent, yet at the same time, complex and multi-layered. If we ignore any part of this puzzle, we risk compromising its legitimacy and sustainability.

We are looking now to other countries that have dealt with the same issues, for example, Colombia.

I will also take this opportunity to make a request to my distinguished colleagues here today. Your knowledge on Afghanistan is perhaps unrivaled in the United States, so please use your expertise to also examine and think through these building blocks of peace and continue to contribute in a constructive way to the Afghan-led peace building efforts.

I thank you all for your time and contributions to this important issue. Once again I would like to thank the panelists and my colleagues at USIP. May you go in peace!