"Why the Stabilization of Afghanistan Matters for Ensuring Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean"
Colombo – Sri Lanka
April 8, 2019
Check against Delivery
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
The Honorable Ambassadors,
Director-General Asanga Abeygoonesekara,
Officers from Army, Navy, and Air Force,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, I am very pleased to be with you this afternoon and wish to thank the Institute of National Security Studies of Sri Lanka (INSSSL) for inviting me to share with you my views on “Why the Stabilization of Afghanistan Matters for Ensuring Maritime Security in the Indian Ocean.” I wish to take a second to congratulate my good friend, Asanga, on his dynamic leadership to continue organizing at this prestigious Institute back-to-back discussions by international academics and practitioners on the key regional and global issues with implications for Sri Lanka, “the jewel of the Indian Ocean.”
I will keep my remarks short to allow time for a fruitful Q & A discussion. So, let me begin by recalling one of the recent talks at this Institute, in this forum, which I also attended. On March 19, some of you may have also been here when Mr. Frederic Grare, who serves as the Charge de Mission for the Indian Ocean at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, spoke to discuss the French perspective on various issues with regards to the Indo-Pacific region.
He also touched on the maritime security threats, including terrorism and drug trafficking, which prompted me, at the end of his talk, to make a comment on the relevance of Afghanistan’s stabilization to maritime security in the Indian Ocean. In this regard, I also asked him a question about whether a premature drawdown of NATO forces from Afghanistan—currently engaged in the fight against terrorism and narcotics production—would undermine maritime security in the Indian Ocean.
He briefly answered to agree with me, noting that any faltering or failure on the part of the international community to see sustainable peace restored in Afghanistan would have far-reaching implications for regional stability and international peace, including maritime security in the Indian Ocean.
Today, I want to build on my then comment and question, as well as a Conference in Vietnam, which I attended last August. The Vietnam Conference, hosted by the India Foundation, discussed the theme of “Building Regional Architectures,” which I found consistent with the SAGAR discourse that advances “security and growth for all in the region.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Coming from a landlocked but increasingly land-sea-air-linked country, Afghanistan, many of the difficulties facing maritime security are land-based. And their resolution requires an inclusive approach—which promotes cooperation and partnership between littoral and landlocked countries to address their shared problems. Indeed, maritime security, on which much global economic growth depends, is interconnected with events in landlocked countries.
Afghanistan is a prime example: over the past forty years, geopolitical tensions have imposed destructive conflicts on what is one of the most naturally endowed countries at the heart of rising Asia.
In absence of peace in Afghanistan to enable sustainable development that secures the future of our youthful population, poverty permeates our society. And this provides an enabling environment for such maritime security challenges as terrorism, drug trafficking, arms smuggling and human trafficking—among others. These threats have been thoroughly examined and discussed here and elsewhere, which directly relate to the challenges that confront Afghanistan and our international partners.
Over the past 18 years, Afghanistan has been a victim of external aggression in the form of terrorism. As a proxy of a coastal state, the Taliban have daily killed and maimed innocent Afghans, while destroying the infrastructure that should help connect and integrate Afghanistan with our surrounding resourceful regions in the North and South for increased trade, business and investment.
The Taliban insurgency has enabled several terrorist networks with global and regional reach to operate out of Afghanistan. At the same time, this imposed insecurity has enabled a permissive environment for mass drug cultivation and production in Afghanistan, which now provides more than 90 percent of regional and global demand for drugs.
In turn, revenues from the drug trade finance terrorism and fuel dysfunctional corruption that undermines governance and rule of law, which together destabilize drug producing and transit countries alike. Sri Lanka is a victim of increased drug addiction, while serving as a transit country, through which narcotics is trafficked elsewhere.
Because of the interconnectedness of these imposed security challenges, Afghanistan is facing a complex humanitarian crisis with diminishing human security. Hence, this makes our country a major source of refugees and asylum seekers, who are often ferried by human smugglers to Europe, Australia and elsewhere. As we see, what is imposed on and happens in countries like Afghanistan directly affect maritime security.
This dangerous situation necessitates that littoral and landlocked states no longer pause but join hands, pool their resources, and share intelligence to pursue and implement a common counterterrorism strategy—one that doesn’t make any distinction between terrorist networks. Alongside this effort, they must work together to free their nations off abject poverty, knowing that a lack of human security allows terrorists, extremists, and state-sponsors of terrorism to recruit among the jobless, destitute youth to radicalize, brainwash and exploit them in conflicts of their choice.
Indeed, the best way to fight poverty that feeds terrorism is to foster political and security confidence-building through regional economic cooperation. The latter can serve as an important enabler in deepening connectivity, enhancing competitiveness and productivity, lowering transaction costs, and expanding markets in any region.
How can this be done? In fact, Afghanistan has already put forth a number of strategic solutions for support, adoption and implementation by our coastal and landlocked neighbors; these include:
• The Heart of Asia–Istanbul Process (HOA-IP);
• The Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA);
• The Kabul Process for Peace and Security Cooperation;
• The Joint Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Narcotics Strategy;
• The Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS).
We have worked hard to establish these Afghan-led processes to help secure regional cooperation for Afghanistan’s stabilization and sustainable development. It goes without saying that a stable Afghanistan at the heart of rising Asia will help ensure stability and prosperity throughout our surrounding regions. That is why it is in the best short- and long-term interests of coastal and non-coastal countries to participate in and to double and triple their efforts to achieve the shared goals of these regional security and development cooperation mechanisms.
Of course, every tangible step these countries take toward using these processes will help minimize their (and other countries’) vulnerability to terrorism and its state sponsors. That is why time is of the essence and they must reaffirm their often-pledged commitments to the implementation of the projects, programs, and policies, proposed under these mechanisms of regional cooperation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In November 2017, the 7th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) took place in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The conference focused on “Deepening Connectivity and Expanding Trade through Investment Infrastructure and Improving Synergy.” RECCA remains a major opportunity for Afghanistan’s littoral and landlocked neighbors to take stock of the progress made so far, and, besides working together to address the challenges and bottlenecks, they should move on to commit the financing and investment needed with respect to the priority projects in the key areas of energy, transport networks, trade and transit facilitation, communications, and business-to-business and labor support.
To name a few, the full, unimpeded implementation of the Chabahar Port—which involves Afghanistan, India, and Iran—deserves mention, as it will further enhance connectivity through Afghanistan and facilitate our integration with the regional and global markets. As work continues on this and other land and sea connectivity projects, we have launched air-corridors for trade, exporting Afghan products to markets near and far in the region.
Over the past few weeks, I have met with the Honorable Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe and relevant Sri Lankan cabinet ministers and the private sector to help jumpstart bilateral trade between Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, utilizing the Chabahar Port and extending the commercial air corridors to Colombo. Indeed, increased connectivity and trade between our two countries will help diminish poverty—creating jobs for our peasants, youth, and professionals. And this would have a direct, positive impact on stability in Afghanistan and the rest of the region.
Moreover, in December 2017, the 7th Ministerial Conference of HOA-IP, with its political, security, and economic confidence-building measures implementation mechanism, took place in Baku, Azerbaijan. Afghanistan aims at deepening synergies and complementarities among the interconnected projects of RECCA and HOA-IP, maximizing their impact on sustainable development not only in Afghanistan but also throughout our surrounding regions. This should encourage the country-participants to assess their shared security and development needs and to bolster their engagement with Afghanistan accordingly, in order to initiate the implementation of the proposed projects with win-win benefits.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Because sustainable development is impossible without durable stability, in 2017, we re-launched the Kabul Process for Peace and Security in Afghanistan. Through this Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process, a results-oriented peace strategy has been laid out, the key purpose of which is to engage in unconditional, direct talks with the Taliban. Just yesterday, H.E. President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani convened the first meeting of the Leadership Council on Reconciliation, as well as finalizing a list of 22 Afghan representatives, who would engage in peace talks with the Taliban.
Our peace strategy aims to separate reconcilable Taliban insurgents from transnational terrorist networks. But to succeed in this endeavor, we rely on honest and tangible regional cooperation, foremost on the closure of the sanctuaries and other forms of support, which the Taliban enjoy in the region.
In parallel to our peace strategy, we are pursuing a joint counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics strategy. The two strategies mutually reinforce one another, as our counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics efforts not only contribute to similar efforts at the regional and global levels but also advance Afghan peace efforts by increasing the number of reconcilable Taliban, who otherwise would refuse to discontinue violence.
Of course, Sri Lanka can help Afghanistan in this joint effort both by initiating counter-narcotics law enforcement cooperation with our counter-narcotics police and exchanging counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism expertise and operational experience with our army, as we continue battling these dangerous threats.
In addition to these and other peace and war-fighting efforts, we have striven to engage with Pakistan on a state-to-state basis to secure the country’s cooperation both in fighting terrorism with no distinction and in persuading the Taliban leadership to participate in the intra-Afghan peace process for a political negotiated settlement. In this regard, the inaugural meeting of the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity (APAPPS) took place in Kabul last July, as the APAPPS five working groups discussed issues of counter-terrorism, intelligence-sharing, peace efforts, trade and investment, and refugees.
For our part, the Afghan side firmly committed to working with relevant Pakistani institutional stakeholders to implement the key goals of the five working groups, in line with the core principles of the APAPPS agreed between Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, Pakistan remains reluctant to tangibly reciprocate our overall efforts, be them bilateral or multilateral in collaboration with others like the United States and NATO with forces in Afghanistan.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Considering these major opportunities for regional security and development cooperation, we welcomed and strongly support the South Asia Strategy of the United States. The Strategy has followed a conditions-based approach to helping stabilize Afghanistan, and its key objective is to have Pakistan crack-down on terrorist sanctuaries on its soil and use its undeniable leverage over the leadership of Taliban in Pakistan to engage in direct, results-oriented peace talks with the Government of Afghanistan.
At the same time, the US Special Representative for Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has been meeting with Pakistan and other regional stakeholders to build strong support for the Afghan peace process to bear fruit. Success in this necessary endeavor should help reduce violence across Afghanistan, compelling the Taliban to opt for peace through a negotiated political settlement for sustainable and dignified peace, an outcome, which every Afghan desires and demands.
That is why we believe that the full execution of the US South Asia Strategy, in partnership with and support of coastal and littoral states that share Afghanistan’s security and development interests, will not only help stabilize our country but it will also ensure security as a precondition for sustainable development across our wider region—including the Indian Ocean—in the Asian continent.