Last week, President Ashraf Ghani delivered his speech to the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Unable to travel to New York due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, like the rest of world leaders, President Ghani’s pre-recorded video address, screened in the Assembly hall, was closely watched by the international community, well aware of its historical significance, just as the intra-Afghan peace negotiations continue its course in Doha.
“I have the pleasure to represent a new Afghanistan, a democratic republic with constitutional rights for women and minorities, and youth at the forefront of its society,” said Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to the U.N., as she introduced the President statement in the UNGA Hall. Ms. Raz herself is only 34 years old and the first woman to hold this position.
President Ghani’s address to the world’s greatest diplomatic show window was built over ‘five sources of turmoil’, as he characterized them:
- The COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed the world’s fundamental vulnerabilities to the point that the global community could no longer afford to ignore them.
“We Afghans were fortunate to have contained the first wave of the pandemic through close government, business and societal cooperation, with minimal input from the UN agencies,” stated Ghani. “But the pandemic has exposed gaps in our systems that must be addressed,” went on to say the President.
- The 4th industrial revolution, another driver of inequality and unemployment. According to Ghani, Afghanistan is trying to adapt to this revolution, so that it can be wielded both: as an economic opportunity for the country’s overwhelmingly young population, and as a way to strengthen Afghan governance and rule of law.
— “We are living – and dying – inside the 5th wave of global terrorism,”stressed the President.Mr Ghani said that,as a state and society, Afghanistan has demonstrated the necessary commitment, compassion and courage to take the hard decisions that led to the ongoing direct peace talks with the Taliban.
But “this won’t be enough,” he said, acknowledging the difficulty of the current negotiations in Doha. He also stressed that for a stable Afghanistan, the country must get to the root of the terrorism problem battering the region, and address it as the global threat that it is.
- “Climate change has effected another type of violence and suffering on our people,” warned President Ghani, as he told the General Assembly that Afghanistan is the world’s 17th worst affected country by the repercussions of global warming.
To illustrate his global audience the perverse impact of climate change in the country, Mr Ghani explained how last month, hundreds of Afghans were killed or injured, and had their entire homes and livelihoods destroyed, when massive flood waters ripped through Parwan province, as well as other thirteen provinces.
“Two years before, other extreme—drought—led us to nation-wide wheat shortages and upended the livelihoods of the majority of our population who rely on jobs in agriculture to put food on their tables,” he lamented.
- An unprecedented explosion of inequality, was Mr Ghani’s firth source of turmoil. “In Afghanistan we are focusing on human capital and human security to create the equality of opportunities for our fellow citizen and societal stability for our people,” stated the President about the need to address the acute levels of poverty in the country.
The ambition of becoming a modern country
According to Mr. Ghani, Afghanistan is moving into the next five years with a clear plan to progress the values of the U.N., which are enshrined in the constitution, as the country works toward prosperity, security and peace.
A plan “based on building our markets for economic development, moving from an aid to a trade model, increasing our labor and capital productivity in key areas in which we have a competitive advantage,” asserted the President in his pre-recorded video message.
Well aware that the donor community was closely following his speech, Mr. Ghani wanted to bring some conform to the overstretched international aid coffers: “the objective is self-reliance, moving away from donor relationships to mutually beneficial partnerships.”
President Ghani told the delegates present in the UNGA Hall and the global audience watching online, that Kabul will invest in strengthening state governance structures to create an environment conducive to growth. For the President, this means continuing to combat systemic corruption, improving the country’s public financial management systems, and strengthening provincial and district level governance.
“Though we are facing multiple drivers of turmoil all at once in Afghanistan, above all, peace remains our most urgent and important priority,” recognized the President.
Mr. Ghani stressed that the Afghan people have a clear and urgent priority: a ceasefire.
“A democratically stable and prosperous Afghanistan will be an example of how our collective will can overcome the turmoil and uncertainty that defines our world today,” voiced President Ghani as a concluding remark.
A hope by all means shared, not only by the 37 millions of Afghans, but also by the global diplomatic corps glued to the President’s speech.
Javier Delgado Rivera is a New York-based freelance journalist writing about the United Nations. His articles have appeared in Carnegie Council, Huffington Post, South China Morning Post, Bangkok Post, Middle East Eye, Asia Times, and Jakarta Globe, among many others. You can see his work at his portfolio delgadorivera.com.