Honourable members of Parliament, in Afghanistan, in a very respectful place, you wear your hat, so I will wear my hat as a mark of respect.
I thank you very much for this great honour and for welcoming me to the people of Canada’s House. I stand before you today with deep emotions. It is a pleasure to be among friends in Canada today and to be vis- iting a great nation that is a model to the rest of us for all that is good.
Yet, I know my visit comes at a time of sadness for a number of families across Canada who have lost loved ones in my country, Afghanistan. I also know that it is a time when many in Canada are pondering their country’s role in Afghanistan. Therefore, it is to those families and the Canadian public that I wish to address myself today. If the greatness of life is measured in deeds done for others, then Canada’s sons and daughters, who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, stand among the greatest of their gen- eration. On Saturday, four of your fallen soldiers will return home to their final resting place.
They have sacrificed so that we in Afghanistan may have security. They have sacrificed to ensure the continued safety of their fellow Canadians from terrorism. I know that there are many others who also feel the emptiness and loss of their loved ones. My heart goes to the families, the friends and the Canadian people at this time of reflec- tion and sorrow for those families.
More than anyone else, Afghans very much understand that these sacrifices are for a great, good cause. It is the cause of all of us as humanity, the cause of security for all and the cause of peace in the basics of life for Afghan children, as, Mr. Prime Minister, you earlier mentioned.
The people of Afghanistan have suffered from over two decades of invasions and destruction. The mis- eries of the Afghan people began with the invasion of our country in 1979 and continued until the tragedy of September 11, brought to the world by al-Qaeda and its associates.
The freedom-loving Afghan people, backed by supporters from what was then referred to as the free world, fought and defeated the invasion, facilitat- ing the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These were indeed significant accomplishments of our time, for which Afghans paid dearly. Over one million Afghans lost their lives, another one million were disabled, more than a quarter of our population became refugees in neighbouring coun- tries and elsewhere, and our country’s infrastructure was razed to the ground.
Whereas Afghans had fought and won the world’s war against Communism, the reward that Afghanistan received was abandon- ment by the international communi- ty. We were left with a world of destruction to rebuild and at the mercy of a predatory neighbourhood and bellicose extremist forces that had been brought to Afghanistan. Few cared about the dismal plight of the Afghan people and even fewer thought about the consequences of leaving a country so dangerously vul- nerable to foreign extremists.
It was in this environment that al- Qaeda, with supporters in the region and beyond, set up its deadly campaign of terror against Afghans and the whole world. While the Afghan people contin- ued to suffer and while we continued to warn the international community about the danger of international terror- ism that was brewing in Afghanistan, the world remained unmoved.
Both our sufferings and our warn- ings were ignored as if Afghanistan did not exist. Perhaps by the standards of today’s world we did not exist, for we had nothing to sell to the world or nothing to buy from the world, so we did not matter.
The tragedy of September 11 showed in a terrible way the flaws of the arguments against helping Afghanistan. For one thing, it showed that, in fact, the cost of ignoring Afghanistan was far higher than the cost of helping it. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 brought home to many in the West the pain of terror and the fear that we in Afghanistan had been feel- ing at the hands of foreign-sponsored terrorists for so many years before September 11. And when the interna- tional community forces, including Canadians, came to Afghanistan later that year, they came as partners under the banner of a United Nations Security Council Resolution to liberate Afghanistan from the extremist forces which had seized control of our nation many years before that.
The arrival of the international community to our rescue after 9/11, however, was not a partnership solely of military might. Over the last five years, Afghanistan and the interna- tional community have developed a remarkable partnership which I would call a cooperation of civilizations, a partnership that extends from enhanc- ing security to developing the rural areas of Afghanistan to providing edu- cation and health services to our needy people. Canada, in all respects, has been among the leaders of this partnership.
Thanks to Canada’s contributions, Afghanistan today is profoundly different from the terrified and exhausted country it was five years ago. Today, Afghanistan has the most progressive constitution in our region, which enables the Afghan people to choose their leadership for the first time in their history through demo- cratic elections. Over the past five years, our people have voted in two elections, one for the president and another for parliament.
With the inauguration of parliament, 28 percent of women were placed as members of parliament. All the three branches of the state have been established. More than 6 million children are going to school today. To bring a comparison, during the time of the Taliban, only 700,000 children went to school; only boys. Today, over 6 million children go to school; over 35 percent of them girls, from little girls to adult girls.
Once, five years ago during the rule of the Taliban, people were run- ning away from Afghanistan. We have seen in the past five years that over four and a half million of our refugees have returned to the coun- try, from His Majesty, the former King of Afghanistan, living in Italy, to the politi- cal leaders of the country, to the educated elite of Afghanistan in Europe, America and Canada, to the millions of refugees, poor ones, living in the neigh- bourhood of Afghanistan. They have all come back home. Afghanistan, because of your help, is once again the home of all Afghans.
During this period, we have also disarmed thousands of illegally armed persons, collected thousands of weapons, light and heavy. We have begun to create our national army and our national police. We have achieved fiscal stability. Our economy has grown. When we began in 2001, our income per capita was only $180. Today, it is only $355 but it is twice more than $180. In short, we in Afghanistan have embraced the vision of a prosperous and pluralistic society which Canada so richly embodies.
A democratic nation is not built overnight, nor in one or two elections. A democratic state draws its strength not only from strong state institutions but from the confidence of the people in those institutions and in the demo- cratic process. Afghanistan’s democra- cy will continue to grow, will continue to develop and will continue to gain the confidence of its people but only with patience and with the continued support of Canada and other members of the international community. As we move forward, we will continue to look to Canadian institutions, like this great Parliament, and to Canada’s pluralistic traditions to help us move forward.
Despite our phenomenal progress, our new democracy faces serious challenges and threats. Insecurity in parts of our country, as a result of the rise of terrorist activities, is our greatest challenge. Five years ago, Afghans and international forces defeated terrorists within two months because of the power of the international community and the will and desire of the Afghan people. While some terrorists were removed, most of them ran away and took refuge in neighbourhoods beyond our borders.
Unfortunately, it was in those sanctuaries beyond our borders where they were reorganized, trained, financed and provided with ideologi- cal motivation to come into Afghanistan, kill our children, kill our teachers, kill the clergy, destroy mosques full of worshippers, destroy schools, destroy clinics, kill interna- tional aid workers, attack interna- tional security forces and try to bring us defeat.
A year ago, in southern parts of Afghanistan, all schools were open. Today, all over the country, as I speak to you, more than 150 schools are burned by these terrorists and 200,000 children, boys and girls, who went to school last year cannot go to school today because of these attacks. Terrorism sees its ultimate defeat in the prosperity of the Afghan people, which is why terrorists attack.
They want the international community to fail, and I emphasize they want the international community to fail in its collective endeavour to help Afghanistan rebuild. That is why they decapitate elderly women in the name of spying for the coalition forces. A 75-year-old woman in Afghanistan rarely goes out of her house and is busy almost all the time with her grandchildren. You cannot imagine that a 75-year- old Afghan lady in the village would be in contact with either the interna- tional security forces, with the Afghan government or with any entity outside the walls of her house. However, they would kill her and then label her a spy just to frighten us all into the dark ages.
That is why, again, terrorists are killing international soldiers and civilians who have come to help Afghanistan. Clearly, unless we con- front them more decisively, terrorists will continue to attack us everywhere, in Afghanistan and in the rest of the world. We will not succeed in elimi- nating terrorism unless we seek and fight the source of terrorism wherever it might be and dry its roots.
Our strategy of fighting terrorism in Afghanistan has so far been mainly focused on addressing the symptoms of terrorism, that is, on killing terror- ists who come from across our borders. This strategy is bound to fail unless we move beyond the military operations in Afghanistan and to address terror- ism’s political, ideological and finan- cial basis. We must also show that extremism is not used by any country or entity as an instrument of policy.
Unless we go to the roots of ter- rorism, to where they are trained, where they are equipped and where they get inspiration, in other words, to the sources of terrorism, the world will not be a safer place for all of us, not Afghanistan, nor any other country. Globally that is true too. If terror- ists continue to harm innocent people around the world, which is what we have seen happen from New York, to Bali, to Madrid, to London, then it is our collective duty to stop them at the point of origin, at the breeding grounds before they can reach far and wide. Fighting terrorism collectively is also tied to our fight against drugs. The menace of narcotics feeds terrorism and threatens the foundation of legitimate economic development in Afghanistan. A combination of factors " mainly a lack of a conducive security environ- ment for our counter-narcotics efforts, absence of a comprehensive alternative livelihoods program and clandestine credit flows to poppy farmers from out- side " are behind the narcotics trade in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is committed to fighting narcotics, alongside terror- ism, with strength and determination and through a combination of law enforcement and economic measures. We expect that the international com- munity will continue to support us in this fight by enabling us to provide meaningful alternative livelihoods to our farmers.
The narcotics problem in Afghanistan is as serious as terror- ism. As an Afghan, I know, as do the members of my delegation, that if we do not destroy poppies in Afghanistan, poppies will destroy us. Therefore, trust us when we say that we will fight them, and we will because we want a country as good as yours and a parlia- ment as good as yours. We will not have that unless we have destroyed poppies. However, it will take effort in the world and many years of patience before we succeed. I hope you will have the patience to bear with us for that long, perhaps five to ten years.
Today, under the United Nations mandate and consistent with the wishes of the Afghan people, your sons and daughters are, together with the citizens of more than 35 other nations, commit- ted to security for Afghanistan, while more than 60 nations, along with mul- tilateral organizations, have pledged generously to help rebuild our wartorn country and to have a stable, prosperous and democratic Afghanistan.
Canada has made a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of Afghans already. I have described only five or six aspects of the improvement of life. I have told you of children going to school. I have told you of mil- lions of refugees coming back. I have told you of Parliament coming back. I have told you of women back in par- liament and in the workplace. There are hundreds of other examples, ladies and gentleman, honourable members, of where your country is helping us on a daily basis to secure our country, to bring us a better life, better roads, bet- ter agricultural production, a thriving civil society and press freedom that is unprecedented in Afghanistan.
Today in our country, where we had no television station five years ago, we have six television stations, private ones, all critical of me. We have more than 300 newspapers, again, almost all of them critical of me. Over 30 radio stations belong to the civil society. There is no part of the media that the government owns and the ones that we own people do not listen to, they do not watch.
Now extend that to the Afghan vil- lages and the access that Afghans in the countryside suddenly have to world news, to the rights that the con- stitution has given to them and to the awareness that this is the right they have, that the government is nobody to give it to them, that it is theirs. This has come to us because your troops are serving in Afghanistan, because your taxpayer dollars are helping in Afghanistan. That presence of your sons and daughters and your resources has enabled Afghanistan to offer this great virtue to all people.
We are proud to be recipients of your assistance. It has gone a long way, as I mentioned earlier, in addressing the needs of our people, especially with the kind of generosity that you have offered that help.
Mr. Prime Minister, you chose Afghanistan as your first foreign jour- ney and we are grateful for that. You have shown steadfast support for us and for the ideals that we share togeth- er through this Parliament and through the government.
I am also grateful, ladies and gentlemen, honourable members, to the two former prime ministers, Prime Minister Chrétien and Prime Minister Martin, for they too com- mitted to Afghanistan and for the Parliament of Canada for having made that possible.
Those of you who visited Afghanistan, from the Senate and the House of Commons, and those of you who helped Afghanistan through your work in this Parliament should know that this help may seem little to you here, but it multiplies a thousand times when it goes to Afghanistan, for you do not know, sitting in this Parliament, the desperation of the Afghan people, the need for security of the Afghan people and also the danger that the lack of security can bring us here in Canada or in the United States. Therefore, your help to us for building us into the future is much more valu- able than perhaps you can imagine. It takes us into the future, a secure future.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is much that we can learn from Canada, from a society that speaks two lan- guages, which is exactly what we do in Afghanistan. When I address the Afghan people, I do exactly as you did today, Mr. Prime Minister. I switch from one language to another. We have learned from your experience: the freedom to all the languages, the recognition of the minority languages. The national anthem of Afghanistan was a year ago in Farsi. Today it is in Pashto, another official language of ours, but the national anthem of Afghanistan, through the modern constitution that we built for us, through your help, recognizes today all the 14 major ethnic groups of Afghanistan and it is in our national anthem to mention all the 14 ethnic groups of Afghanistan. It is a beautiful song. It is not that long. It only takes a minute.
Once again, your presence there and your help there has brought to Afghanistan the stability of a political system that is working toward a better tomorrow, and I thank you for that, too.
In Afghanistan we admire your respect and adherence to the rule of law. That is what we are trying to do in our country, for justice and for human dignity " we feel so stepped upon in Afghanistan by all those invaders " of the Afghan man and woman. We are trying to do that with your help. Most important, we admire your determination to help Afghanistan, at times with the dear- est sacrifice that mankind can offer, the lives of your soldiers.
I sometimes think, what if Afghanistan soldiers were serving in Canada, what would the families of Afghanistan think when an Afghanistan soldier died in Canada? Would they jus- tify it? Would they see the value in it? Would they understand it? When I think of the interconnectedness between humanity today, the dangers and the virtues, together, I understand that, yes, it is sad but it is worth it.
Afghanistan also sheds blood there. Every day we lose the lives of our chil- dren, we lose the lives of our soldiers, we lose the lives of our teachers. We lost one of our best gover- nors, the most educated of ours, to a suicide bomber. All of that is for a common cause, the cause of security for all of us. It is this cause of security that you are serving in Afghanistan, but in Afghanistan you are not only serv- ing the cause of security for the inter- national community and your country, you are also helping one of the most oppressed societies in the world and its little children.