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Statement by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Kabul Conference on Afghanistan - 2010-07-20

Tuesday, 2010, July 20
Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

(Delivered by Prince Amyn Aga Khan on behalf of His Highness the Aga Khan)


Mr. Chairman, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

On behalf of the Aga Khan Development Network, I should like to join the previous speakers in expressing our gratitude and congratulations to the Government of Afghanistan for hosting this impressive gathering in Kabul. We welcome and support the Government’s efforts to bring about real change to the lives of the Afghan people, perceptible change, a tangible improvement in the quality of their daily existences.

The Aga Khan Development Network welcomes a strong continued support for the development of a stable, progressive and pluralistic Afghanistan. Pluralism-ethnic, linguistic, cultural and confessional- is critical for this country: mutual trust and respect amongst ethnic groups are essential if peace, stability and equitable development are to be achieved. In diversity lies strength.

It is also vital for local government and development actors to work closely with local communities to identify and to meet pressing needs. Low execution of the development budget must be a cause for concern. The Government’s ability fruitfully to absorb outside funding is dependent on the creation of Afghan-driven mechanisms to address security, justice and socio-economic growth. Not only should Community Councils be responsible for the stability of their respective communities, but communities themselves need to be engaged in the process of prioritization of programmes as well as in the delivery of those programmes.

Initiatives such as the National Solidarity Programme, which promotes the direct involvement of communities, has demonstrated tangible progress in improving the quality of life of the Afghan people, arousing their strong spirit and their entrepreneurial instincts. Results change minds, not rhetoric. We must avoid that there be to the Afghan citizen a visible gap between the promise of services and their actual delivery on the ground. The philosophy, the policy must be to under-promise and to over-deliver.

The Community Development Councils, which are elected by the communities themselves, are part of a civil society that must make an essential contribution to human development, to nation building and to ensuring that an insurmountable gap does not develop between Government on the one side and the business sector and private enterprise on the other. AKDN is of the view that investing in the institutions of civil society and in their capacity to deliver services deserves far greater priority, attention, support and resources than has hitherto been the case, even as investments in rebuilding the State’s institutions continue. Civil society institutions are best able to take into consideration, to reflect, specific provincial or local political situations and socio-economic needs and opportunities. They are well placed to ensure that progress is both public and transparent, that good governance is observed as the norm, just as they are the best tools for ensuring better impact and for hastening visible socio-economic development. There is need for a sub-national governance structure that is clear, efficient and transparent. There is no reason why planning or programming at the provincial or local level need either contradict or undermine central authority. On the contrary, bankable programmes need to be evolved and implemented that are synchronized with sub-national governance and policy and with the reintegration programme.

Afghans must take increasing responsibility for their affairs. In this regard, strengthening the police force and equipping it are vital if civil society is to function effectively and civilian order is to be ensured. It is my personal view that military withdrawal and meaningful reintegration can only take place when Afghanistan has a sufficient and sufficiently equipped police force.

In areas of the country which have remained relatively stable, we hear concern from the local residents that resources are increasingly being directed away from them towards the less secure parts of the country. We believe that ensuring equity of investment across the country is essential. The Afghan Constitution itself requires this. Accelerating development where conditions are most propitious creates beacons of success for the other parts of the country and can catalyse progress in those more challenging districts and provinces by showing that progress, stability and security are possible.

The Government should also give priority focus to creating an enabling environment for private sector development. The Enabling Environment Conference held in Kabul back in June 2007, co-hosted by the Government of Afghanistan, the AKDN, the World Bank, UNDP and ADB, defined a Roadmap of specific, practical actions for private sector and economic and social development, which Roadmap has, I believe, largely been adopted in the Afghan National Development Strategy.

The Roadmap was intended to provide a preliminary framework for engaging the private sector more in impact oriented and effective programmes and for providing concrete regulatory and other conditions to attract and support private investment. Due to constraints within the banking and land registration regulatory frameworks entrepreneurs still have difficulty accessing credit to enable them to transform from micro-enterprises into small and medium-sized enterprises, although it is generally acknowledged that the creation of a solid structure of SME’s underpins most healthy economies. We believe that implementing the priority issues identified in the Roadmap will accelerate existing and unleash new socio-economic growth and development in Afghanistan.

Another concept that our Network is coming to resort to more and more is what we call Multi-Input Area Development (MIAD). Our experience has illustrated to us that when we work simultaneously and synergistically on several fronts (economic, social and cultural), progress on one front spurs progress on the other fronts. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. An example has emerged from our work on restoration and reutilization of historic monuments: while undertaking the restoration work of, say, a monument or an historical building, one can create nearby a minor medical facility, launch educational programmes for adult education, literacy and early childhood education, undertake to improve the infrastructure around that monument, provide microfinance to the local citizens, help them maintain or upgrade their dwelling, and their shops, etc. Such MIADS repeated elsewhere by others, in urban areas as in rural areas, can play a part in overcoming long-standing problems and can have an immediate impact on the quality of life of the citizens benefitting from these MIADS, thus generating greater public confidence in the future and in the inputs which have generated positive change.

Afghanistan is recognised as a regional land bridge, east to west, north to south. However, few tangible projects as yet speak to the realisation of this regional potential. The AKDN, in partnership with the Governments of Afghanistan and Tajikistan and the provincial governments of the Badakhshans of the two countries, has taken a regional approach to health, education, tourism, trade, energy and infrastructure, which has begun to yield tangible improvements in the lives of the local communities. Surely connecting Kabul to China through Tajikistan should open new trade corridors and multiply social and economic fallout benefits for the communities of those areas and thereby for the country as a whole.

How can we link the poor to growth and growth to the poor? There needs to be a willingness to support small-scale and medium-level investments in the short term that may not immediately be considered financially sustainable by conventional measures, but which experience demonstrates are necessary to achieve medium to long-term returns and benefit.

It is our hope that the forthcoming parliamentary elections will be carried out in a climate of peace and with the security and supervisory agencies indeed satisfied that these elections can be carried out peacefully. It is of the utmost importance that in the post-election Afghanistan development should be stimulated and accelerated rather than delayed.

The Aga Khan Development Network remains committed to the stability and growth of this important country and its people and we strongly support a significant acceleration of socio-economic development process. We stand ready to do whatever we can with that objective.

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