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Brussels, 5 October 2016
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Excellencies, dear colleagues, distinguished speakers,
Afghanistan is a land of immense opportunities. Immense opportunities that have been and to a certain extent still are held back. But if we are all here today, 100 delegations from all around the world, it is because we believe that this potential can be fully developed to the benefit of all Afghans and also to the benefit of all of us.
Change is coming to Afghanistan. Since 2001 Afghanistan has achieved incredible progress. And when I say incredible, this does not mean that everything is rosy today, on the contrary. But it is impressive that 15 years ago what is happening today was something unbelievable, something unimaginable. Nobody in this room and in Afghanistan would have believed that changes like these, of this magnitude, would have happened in 15 years.
The country’s domestic product has increased ten-fold. The life expectancy for Afghan people has grown in 15 years from 45 years to over 60 years. In 2001, one of every four children born in Afghanistan died by the age of five. Today this number is still too high, but it was cut from one every four to one in every ten. Ten times more children go to school in Afghanistan, and over three million girls are finally getting the education. We still have a lot of work to do, but these are incredible numbers.
So change is possible. And this is what brings us here today. Change has been possible first and foremost thanks to the efforts and the determination of the Afghan people. But it also owes a lot to the unique and extraordinary support provided by the international community. Today we renew our commitment to stand united on the side of the Afghan people; united the entire international community and the regional players to counter the forces that oppose growth and reconciliation, and to keep sustaining change. It is not an easy process but it is a crucial one for all of us and we all need to commit to a new deal for Afghanistan.
This new deal has to begin inside the Afghan society. The country has gone through the first democratic transition of power in its history, with the formation of the current national unity government that is here with us. And the peace agreement that was signed just last month with Hezb-e-Islami is an encouraging sign that can become a model forward on the road to peace.
Now the reform package proposed by the government has to turn into action and it is also essential that the peace process resumes and brings about substantial results.
To this aim, we know that the regional dimension is also crucial. Afghanistan stands at the crossroads of Central Asia and the Indian Ocean, of South Asia and the Middle East. It can become a crucial hub for economic growth in the area and for connectivity among different parts of the world. Today, in these hours here in Brussels, we see an emerging regional consensus for greater economic but also diplomatic and political cooperation towards a stable, secure, democratic Afghanistan. And here in Brussels we can set the stage for a new regional political deal for Afghanistan.
The third most evident reason for us being here today, is to renew an international deal for peace and development in Afghanistan. Change is possible, change is happening, but it will for sure not happen if we stop supporting the Afghan women and men who are investing in it and it is a collective responsibility we all share. And there is also a very clear interest, direct interest, for all of us. So the main objective of today's conference is that we commit to support Afghanistan "at or near" the current levels until 2020.
Change does not happen overnight, but it is happening over time. And we all have a responsibility to support this change, inside Afghanistan, in the region and on the international arena. The European Union feels such responsibility, and is standing up to it. And the impressive, really impressive turnout here today tells me that we are all well aware of the task ahead. So let us match our responsibilities with a practical commitment to a better future for all Afghans, and for the whole region.
I have the pleasure today to share with the Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Rabbani, the pleasure to take you through the programme of today, the presentation of the government reform program as well as the economic outlook and the first round of participants’ statements. Let me say also that we count on all of you to flag a lasting financial commitment as much as the political determination to make a difference.
And let me also stress how pleased I am, I can say, knowing the determination in this respect of President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah that we are pleased that today, the civil society organisations will be with us. It is absolutely clear that there can be no new deal inside Afghanistan without engaging with the civil society, with the citizens, with the NGOs movements and with all citizens and minorities. So I am very glad that we will also get to hear their views on the way ahead.
It is now my pleasure to ask Foreign Minister Rabbani to make brief welcome remarks on the Afghan side and then we will start our programme with the two Presidents addressing us.
Link to the video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I126984