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Thank you very much, Mr President [of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani].
I am very glad to be in Kabul for the first time during my mandate, even if we meet very often and regularly in discussions that are always extremely friendly and productive. And I want to thank you for your friendship and your leadership.
I belong to a generation that has always looked at Afghanistan as a beautiful and proud country, torn by too many years of war over its recent history. I had the privilege to visit Kabul already a few years ago, when I was still a member of the Italian Parliament and I was fascinated. I was fascinated by the beauty of this country and by the strength, the intelligence and the talent of its people.
At that time, just a few years ago, talking about peace seemed to be completely out of the vocabulary - and we discussed this with the President today. But today Afghanistan finds itself at a critical moment in its history.
You are faced, with a unique window of opportunity to start discussing the perspectives for peace in the country. And let me say that this is the direct result of your [Ashraf Ghani’s] courageous offer last year to start peace talks. I think that if today we are discussing about the possibility of entering a phase of peace negotiations for bringing sustainable peace to this country and its people, this is thanks to your visionary leadership last year and the years before to open the way for the perspectives of peace talks that would not be conditioned, but obviously with a clear conditional set-up for the outcome of this process. I will say a few words about this.
I think that this moment of opportunity, especially being the result of your courageous leadership, now also requires your leadership to help this country make the most of this window of opportunity for peace.
The time has come for all Afghans, none excluded, to take the future of their country in their hands. For a peace process that can be really sustainable, we see the need to meet some conditions. As I said and as you [President Ghani] said, no conditions for starting the talks, but conditions to make the result of any negotiation sustainable over time. These are all points on which the European Union will always be on the side of the Afghan people, never leaving any of them alone:
First of all, a ceasefire agreed by the Taliban and peace talks with the Afghan government.
Second, an inclusive negotiation team to be established, with representatives of all Afghan society, including women – and I want to stress this point, because women have proven to be able to play an essential role in peace negotiations worldwide. It is internationally proven that any peace agreement that has been negotiated also by women has 40 percent more chance of standing the test of time. So, it is in the interest of the result of the negotiations and not for good feelings that we need women at the table. And also here in Afghanistan women are a very relevant part of society and their inclusion in any peace process is the guarantee that peace is owned and led by Afghans.
Third, the upholding and the strengthening of the political, economic and social achievements of the last 18 years, in particular regarding, again, the rights of women, girls, children and minorities. I would say the upholding and strengthening of the constitutional framework and the democratic set-up of the country.
For peace to be durable and sustainable, Afghans and Afghan people are called to be not the spectators, but the authors: to write their own present and their own future. Yet, even if the Afghans are and have to stay the owners of the process, we know that there are other players that are crucial. I am regularly in touch with the United Nations and regularly discuss Afghanistan also with our partners and interlocutors in the international community, starting from the United States - whose efforts we support, but also with the Russian Federation, with China, with Iran, with the Central Asian countries, to name only a few. My Special Representative [EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Roland Kobia] had, just three days ago, a meeting with his American, Russian and Chinese counterparts in Washington. Yesterday, in Islamabad, I had extensive talks with the Pakistan leadership, who clearly delivered to me a message that you can see reflected in a Joint Communiqué we released yesterday evening that fully supports negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government to start immediately, and expresses one basic interest that I believe is the national interest of Pakistan: that is starting to build peace in this region.
The dividend of peace is evident for everybody, and nobody can afford - even economically - the cost of continuing not to have peace in this region.
Indeed peace is important for Afghanistan, for the neighbouring countries, for the region and also for Europe. Our peace, security, growth are deeply interconnected, even if, I want to stress this, the European Union has no particular agenda here, if not the agenda of the Afghan people. Our only agenda is peace, security, and the development of Afghanistan and of the Afghan people - all of them.
At the Geneva Ministerial Conference last November, together with the President [of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani] I put on the table on behalf of the European Union a concrete five-point offer in support of peace, that by the way, I also discussed yesterday in Islamabad evening, being welcomed by the Pakistani authorities:
First, helping the Afghan government to make the peace process more inclusive;
Second, supporting reforms, including in the security sector;
Third, providing incentives for the reintegration of ex-combatants and their families;
Fourth, having the European Union, if required, as a guarantor of the peace process, as we are in many other processes especially in Asia, but not only;
And last but not least, maybe most importantly, supporting cross-border trade and infrastructures, as well as regional connectivity. Here we can have a huge agenda of investments that could be beneficial both for Afghanistan and for all its neighbouring countries.
During my meetings today, with President Ghani but also with Chief Executive Abdullah, I have confirmed this offer. The attention and the priority that the European Union has given to the Afghan people is not only something that we have consistently and generously sustained during the past years, but it is also something we are ready to continue: to accompany the institutions and the people of this country in this difficult but hopefully promising beginning of a new phase, having – as I said – no other agenda than peace.
I also discussed with the President [of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani] the need to uphold the electoral agenda. I would summarise it with one simple and very easy to understand sentence: enter negotiations as if there were no elections, united as a country; and do elections as if there were no negotiations.
We will be at your side in this difficult but important journey and we will as always do all we can to accompany the Afghan people and their democratically elected institutions at this particular moment of their history.
I thank you very much.
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