February 18, 2017
Distinguished colleagues, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Terrorism is a defining challenge of our time. This challenge is going to require a generational commitment to overcome. It is not a phenomenon that is going to be contained in two years, more likely two decades. The wise men and women of 1945 feeling present at creation made half the world safe for democracy, rule of law and prosperity. Being present at a moment defining the 21st century, the task requires focus at the global, continental, Islamic, regional and national levels. We are at a moment when the world order is being re-defined and it is up to us as to whether we are going to make it productive, disruptive or destructive.
We have a view from the edge because we are on the edge and we sense and respond to emerging patterns that might be difficult to see elsewhere. Fighting 20 groups classified as terrorist by US and UN, we are the frontline state in the first line of defense against terrorism. This is not a fight that we are doing just for our own liberty; we are engaged in a fight for security of the world.
What are we learning?
I would like to highlight some of the characteristics of the terrorism that we are facing. In earlier conferences, I put forward the notion that this is the fifth wave of political violence integrating and expanding the techniques of the previous waves in the past 160 years. The history of violence is a continuous history. There is no civilization, no religion, no part of the world that once in the last 160 years has not been a major center or engaged in terrorism. In no way, shape or form is terrorism related to one civilization or to one religion. The past geology of it needs to be understood because it is a series of continuous techniques. It has combined social network and virtual networks into a deadly force. The social networks are continuity of the past, the virtual networks are the new phase and that is what gives it such lethality. The previous networks were face to face, this is face to Facebook.
Its other characteristic is its inherently organic relationship to criminal economic networks, particularly the networks of drugs, as a platform for global and criminal politics. It is important that we do not differentiate criminal economics and criminal politics. Where does a cartel begin and where does a movement of terrorist end? I think we have not paid sufficient attention to the linkage and thereby closed our eyes. The vast profits from the criminal economy are circled right back to Europe and to North America; it takes three clicks of the computer. It thrives in ungoverned spaces and is keen on expansion on ungoverned spaces. The concept of ungoverned space is critical to the operation of terrorist networks. They hate order; disorder is what they thrive on and consequently the alignment of forces of order and understanding of how disorder is created is critical to this enterprise.
But probably one of the most significant areas that requires your attention colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, is states’ tolerance or state sponsorship, on the one hand, and state weakness particularly corruption to enable these networks to operate and expand. All too many times we see a state relying on malign non-state actors as an instrument of policy. They consider it an instrument of the weak states but there is no such thing as an instrument of a weak state. We are all together; we swim or sink together.
What are the targets and what is the modality?
Simply put, the social contract of the 20th century between the states and citizens is the target. Why are they attacking streets? Because they want to take freedom of movement. Why are they attacking airlines? Because they want to question our freedom to travel? Why are all religious spaces, social spaces, streets attacked? Because these are precisely what the contract of 20th century and that half of the world that Acheson so well described is the legacy.
There is an emerging consensus that it is likely to be a challenge for the next two decades. Each of the previous waves has lasted two to four decades. We, therefore, need to combine focused action in the short-term with a medium to long-term view. There are no boundaries that terrorism will not cross, and no space or social group that it will spare. And there is no precedent for dealing with it peacefully. These are not civil wars, because when you have 20 terrorist groups from all over the world, how do you deal? How do you make peace with them? Civil wars are inherently political disagreements about the direction of the future and about how to exercise power. With terrorist groups, what is the conversation? How is the conversation to be held?
But the most frightening thought, of course, and we hope we are wrong is that it seeks to replicate the tragedy of 9/11 in the days and weeks and months to come because our response to such an event is going to define the shape of the decades to come.
What is required is a focused approach building a consensus on the following:
A medium-term coordinated approach from intelligence to military action but particularly social action. Aligning global to national levels, in Afghanistan we are extraordinarily grateful for global action. NATO, contrary to assertions, has shown its full relevance in the Warsaw commitments that were made in the Brussels commitment that have been made to us are indication of a global functionality in a global consensus. Our problem is at the regional level, we live in a part of the world where there are no rules of the game defining interaction among states and no distinction between what is forbidden morally and what is acceptable as an instrument of the moment.
We require a comprehensive approach where use of legitimate force is necessary, but it is not sufficient because the platforms are the widespread poverty, alienation, exclusion and particularly government-level corruption. Unless the strata that today feel excluded and feel denied a space are brought in very consciously and coherently back into the mainstream, there will be no mainstream. And isolating states that rely on terrorism as instrument of state policy is the key challenge to institutions and organizations.
We have failed repeatedly to draw rules of the game regarding those who flout openly, systematically and consistently the agreed upon rules and obligations of statehood, and unless there are mechanisms to ensure coherence or minimally non-interference, the phenomenon will persist.
Coming specifically to Afghanistan. I would like to remind you colleagues that the world came to us to prevent another tragedy on the scale of 9/11 and I’d like to acknowledge the phenomenal work that Lakhdar Brahimi, our senior colleague and the uncle of all people of Afghanistan, made to that contribution. That issue requires reminder, because when we have twenty terrorist groups still threatening our peace, that of neighborhood, the region and the world in 2017, it shows that the task is not done. A lot has happened but the task remains undone, because this is a fluid situation and a constantly morphing situation. Terrorism is not a solid phenomenon like a column that is to be chiseled away. It is a moving dynamic phenomenon and while we hit it, it needs to be understood as a dynamic changing phenomenon.
The second point that I’d like to make. We are defending our country with one-tenth of the level of international forces operating in Afghanistan during 2009 – 2014, because often people say there is a stalemate. Yes, indeed! But it is the stalemate that now we are maintaining with one-tenth of the level of previous commitment and where our heroic forces have spared no sacrifice in fulfilling their patriotic duty.
When I was sworn in, all our interlocutors were predicting doom. They were predicting collapse, but none of the strategic goals of our enemies has been achieved. No province of Afghanistan is under enemy’s control. Yes, we are fighting, but the fight is a complex one, and I’d like to again restate; this is not a civil war, it is a drug war, it is a terrorist war, and it is also a state-to-state undeclared war. The multiplicity of these dimensions requires clarity so we can all focus on terrorism.
Our key gain, because you mention migration: 1.1 million Afghans in 2016 voted with their feet to return to our country, 650,000 from Pakistan and the rest from Iran. This is a tremendous statement regarding the future but it requires overhauling of all our approach.
We have made peace with Hizbi Islami and it is moving forward showing that an Afghan-led peace process is not just desirable, it is feasible and credible.
Recent attacks on Helmand, Kabul and Kandahar – especially Kandahar where our honored guests, the diplomats of UAE, were butchered in cold blood – as well as attacks on Lahore and the Shrine of Sindh are proof positive that there cannot be a distinction between good and bad terrorists. As long as a distinction between good and bad terrorism is maintained, we are all losers. But when we do not make this distinction and we rise and mobilize our forces together, it can be contained. We have a comprehensive plan that needs your support.
Let me conclude by saying; we can, will and must succeed against terrorism as the lives and well-being of coming generations depend on it. The way the global community mobilized against other challenges of 19th and 20th century, this challenge is within our reach and grasp.