Ashraf Ghani is president of Afghanistan, and Abdullah Abdullah is its chief executive.
Having chosen unity over division in the first peaceful and democratic transition of power in our nation’s history, we are visiting the United States to deepen the cooperation between our countries. With U.S. support, the hardworking people of Afghanistan can rebuild our country, develop our economy and resist terrorism.
Both cursed and blessed by its location in the heart of Asia, our country has seen too much violence. More than 1 million Afghans died, and more than 30 percent of our population was forced into exile during the struggle to defeat the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. Then came meddling regional actors, who took advantage of feuding factions and a power vacuum, only to be followed by the Taliban, which brought deadly repression and became host to terrorists.
For the past decade, Afghanistan has joined the United States and other nations in battling al-Qaeda and regional terror networks, and now Afghanistan has become the eastern wall standing against the butchery of ISIL, also known as the Islamic State.
Because Afghanistan must never again become a launching ground for terrorist attacks, we want to continue to work with the United States.
Afghanistan is not asking the United States to do our job for us. We thank the American people and remember your brave fallen soldiers who defended freedom and dignity here after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001.
Our ultimate goal is self-reliance. On Dec. 31, we fulfilled our promise to our people and our commitment to your president and to NATO by taking full responsibility for combat operations in our country. Gen. John F. Campbell, the U.S. commander of the International Security Assistance Force, has testified to the high professionalism and morale of the Afghan armed forces. A continued security partnership — with training, advice and assistance from the United States — will ensure that we will be an important ally in the decades to come.
Our partnership goes beyond assurances of mutual security. Now there is hope in a nation that once had none. Afghans protect and cherish the many schools built with U.S. assistance that are teaching more than 3 million of our daughters to read, along with the clinics that have saved the lives of tens of thousands of our wives and mothers. With peace will come development that lets Afghanistan benefit from America’s business experience.
Our first priority is to tackle corruption, waste and mismanagement. Candidates for governorships and ministries now undergo integrity reviews, and a new national procurement agency will ensure that contracting for all large public projects is clean. Afghans believe deeply in the rights of the individual, but injustice, both legal and social, abounds. Our legal system must be comprehensively restructured, and a national review of all prosecutors and judges to weed out corrupt or unqualified officials is already underway. More reforms will follow.
Political stability is built on a bedrock of economic growth. Sadly, nearly 40 years of conflict, poor governance and economic mismanagement have stifled growth in Afghanistan, leaving us dependent on outside aid. We will develop our country’s resources. But we can’t do this entirely on our own. Just as we needed America’s help to fight terrorism, we still need your help to rebuild our economy. We need know-how, not charity. We ask your corporations, your nonprofits and your start-ups to help us embed clean, efficient ways of doing business.
Too much wealth has failed to reach ordinary Afghans. Our three numerical majorities — women, youth and the poor — are our economic minorities. Over the next five years, a new Citizens’ Charter will ensure that most Afghan villages can count on having clean water, primary schooling and health care, access to a market and technology for better farming.
While the opportunities to build peace and stability have never been greater, a new ecology of terror threatens to block not just our prosperity but yours as well. Localized insurgencies and external enablers have evolved into existential threats to states. In parts of the Middle East, extremism has taken a violent form. To the east, Pakistan’s military operations are pushing a number of terrorist networks into our territory. Narcotics provide deadly criminal networks with the weapons and money to attract new recruits from around the world. We are determined to fight this scourge.
Weakened governments offer fertile ground for violent groups opposed to the democratic way of life. We are responding to extremism’s threats by building partnerships at the global, regional, Islamic and national levels of governance.
Globally, Afghanistan abides by international conventions and the rule of law. Our government will join free-trade arrangements that build prosperity and promote peace.
Regionally, we are engaging our neighbors across Asia to build trust and trade. Afghanistan will become a platform for cooperation in a vast region that extends from India to Azerbaijan and beyond.
Properly supported, Afghanistan is uniquely positioned to block the spread of extremism. With the bitter exception of the Taliban regime, Islam in Afghanistan has traditionally been inclusive and reflective, not violent and angry. And after 36 years of conflict, our people have become immunized against ideologically based conflict.
Afghanistan’s transformation will not be easy. There will be setbacks. Because we will negotiate peace from a position of strength, violent encounters may rise as our armed forces tighten their hold on security. But we will not surrender the gains that we have made in education, health, democratic development, the media, civil society and women’s rights.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that the arc of history is long but that it bends toward justice. Afghanistan’s history has been marked by violence, sacrifice and tears. But the partnership between Afghanistan and the United States can make Afghanistan an enduring success, replacing conflict and violence with a legacy of justice and peace for our children.
This column has been updated since it was originally published online.
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