Press Releases

    22 January 2002


    NEW YORK, 21 January (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the address by Secretary-General Kofi Annan to the International Conference on Reconstruction Assistance to Afghanistan, held in Tokyo, 21 January 2002:

    In recent decades, the people of Afghanistan have suffered virtually every privation known to humankind. They have known the ravages of war. They have been subjected to foreign occupation. They have endured tyranny, misrule and neglect.

    And they have seen shocking violations of human rights –- especially the rights of women and girls -- become the norm. Nature, too, has shown little mercy, inflicting on an already harsh landscape drought, famine, earthquakes and extreme winter weather.

    A generation of Afghan children has grown up surrounded by despair and disarray. Many of them, living as refugees, have seen their homeland only in photographs.

    This, however, is a proud nation. The people of Afghanistan have a long and rich history and refined culture. They are open and hospitable to friends and partners, but fiercely hostile to anything or anyone that threatens the independence of the country or the unity of its people. It is thanks to its qualities of courage, patience and determination that Afghanistan has defended its sovereignty throughout its often turbulent history. And today, these same qualities give us real hope that Afghanistan will now emerge from its long night of darkness.

    Today in Afghanistan, a window of opportunity is opening. Through it, we can see a country drawing back from the brink of devastation. For the first time in decades, Afghanistan is not being torn apart by war. For the first time in many years, the international community is united around a vision of the country's future. The tumultuous events of recent months have created hope for a new Afghanistan. They have given the Afghan people a chance to rebuild a State at peace with itself and its neighbours; a State capable of providing security and services such as shelter and schools; a State, in short, that has not "failed", but can fulfil its responsibilities and achieve its aspirations.

    Afghans from every part of the country, and from all of its ethnic groups, have voiced an intense yearning to seize this opportunity, and turn today's adversity into tomorrow's achievements.

    But what happens next is by no means predetermined, and success cannot be taken for granted. More than once in recent years, countries have sunk back into conflict just when peace seemed to be taking hold. We are here today to do our part in making sure that does not happen in Afghanistan. We have come together to stand with the Afghan people in their effort to make the most of this unique moment.

    Let me thank the Government and people of Japan for generously hosting this conference, which demonstrates yet again the country’s vital role in the world’s affairs. The other co-chairs -- the United States, the European Union and Saudi Arabia –- have also earned our gratitude, not only for their role in making this event possible, but also for acting so fast. But the true test, of course, is not how quickly we can pledge our help, but whether we will make good on those pledges -– whether we provide the aid that is desperately needed right now, and whether we stay engaged for the long haul.

    Our challenge is to help the Afghans help themselves. Neither the United Nations nor anyone else can be a substitute for a functioning State with popular support. Afghanistan’s course must be determined by Afghans. It must be led by Afghans, and it must be implemented by Afghans.

    Fortunately, we are not starting from nothing. A range of formidable expertise already exists in Afghanistan, and I hope many Afghans living abroad will return home to join in this effort. The United Nations, for its part, has some 2,200 national Afghan staff -- and the non-governmental organizations many thousands more, including nearly 5,000 brave deminers. These Afghans have had to overcome enormous difficulties, and have seen many colleagues lose their lives serving the cause of peace and working to alleviate the suffering around them. I would like to pay tribute to them today.

    The strength of Afghanistan’s women is another enormous asset to be developed and drawn upon. Not so long ago, women held positions of leadership in Afghanistan, and made up a large share of the country’s doctors, teachers and government workers. In recent years, Afghanistan’s rulers denied the country the benefit of these women’s services. But today, they are able to serve again, and are eager to do so. I know Chairman Karzai intends to give them every opportunity. No one knows better than he does that Afghanistan today needs the energy and talent of every one of its people.

    The country’s reconstruction needs are immense. They are spelt out in the main document before you today. They include:

    • the reintegration of former combatants as productive participants in the country’s economic recovery;
    • the revival of economic activity;
    • a fairer justice system, democratic institutions, and mechanisms for the protection of human rights;
    • basic services, such as clean water, sanitation, schools, health care and roads;
    • means to ensure that the country is no longer a haven for terrorists or drug traffickers –- and I am delighted that the Interim Authority has made a good start with its decree last week banning the cultivation of opium poppy;
    • there must be an end to the culture of violence against women;
    • a guarantee that children and their rights will be protected; and
    • security throughout the country, not just in Kabul, without which none of the things in this long list are going to happen. A national security force and a professional police service are urgently needed.

    An estimated $10 billion will probably be needed in the next five years to meet these challenges. That is the estimated cost of reconstruction, and it is that sum we hope will be pledged at this conference. This is separate from, and must be additional to, any commitments already earmarked for humanitarian relief. Moreover, support for Afghanistan should not come at the expense of aid to other poor and vulnerable countries. We have all seen, in recent months, the dangers that arise when States and societies disintegrate.

    Experience elsewhere has shown that recovery and reconstruction cannot be separated from the restoration of legitimate national political institutions. The agreement in Bonn on a framework for a broad-based government was a milestone from which all else now flows. It expresses the will of the Afghan factions to end, once and for all, the war among themselves, and to accept a political solution to their conflicts. I would like to congratulate Chairman Karzai on the courage and determination he has shown since he was chosen as head of the Afghan Interim Authority. My Special Representative, Lakhdar Brahimi, and his team have been working very hard to support the Authority and its steps towards peace and stability. But we all know that this is only the very beginning of a long and difficult process.

    Indeed, we are not even past the emergency phase. Eight million Afghans depend on food assistance. Five million people are having to endure another winter as refugees or internally displaced persons, and should be helped to end their odyssey as soon as possible. A fourth year of drought seems possible. Quick-impact reconstruction projects are needed that will make the benefits of peace real and tangible to ordinary Afghans. Landmines and unexploded ordnance need to be cleared in virtually every part of the country, and the disabled survivors of these weapons need support. And the Interim Authority must be able to pay salaries and meet other immediate funding needs; otherwise, Afghans will lose faith in it.

    That is why, even before spending plans for the longer-term needs can be worked out, Afghanistan needs $1.3 billion right now to cover its immediate needs. That includes $237 million for the recurrent costs of the Interim Authority, $376 million for quick impact and recovery projects that are ready to go, and $736 million for humanitarian assistance which has yet to be funded.

    Relief, recovery and reconstruction are inextricably linked. We must respond to these needs concurrently -– and avoid the gap that too often occurs between short-term demands and long-term programmes. Only by providing immediate support can the country be stabilized in the short term, thereby setting the stage for long-term reconstruction.

    An Afghanistan at peace, protecting the rights of its people, carrying out its international obligations, denying terrorists a safe haven, and enjoying the respect and support of its neighbours, is an achievable objective. The wounds of illegitimate, exclusionary, violent and repressive rule will not heal overnight. But we can help Afghanistan gain the political and economic breathing space to begin again.

    Two months from today, some 1.5 million Afghan girls and boys will return to school, to start a new school year in a new Afghanistan. For many girls of primary school age, it will be the first time in their lives that they have been allowed to attend school. Supplies and safe learning spaces are needed. Teachers will need to be deployed and paid. If we want to help the next generation of Afghans improve upon the country’s recent history, surely this is one place where our efforts must begin -- and then be consolidated, through capacity building and curriculum renewal. A country’s best investment is in its greatest resource, its people –- men and women, girls and boys.

    Here in this hall are represented the collective weight and will of the international community. The people of Afghanistan, battered yet resilient, are looking to us for assistance. We must not and we cannot turn our backs on them. The many entities of the United Nations system are committed to working as a team. Afghanistan will no doubt require our attention and engagement for many years. But I hope that we will be able to look back on this conference and say that the international community recognized its responsibilities, heeded its conscience, and showed –- by its overwhelming support for a country in need -- the compassionate face of our common humanity. The people of Afghanistan have a hard road ahead of them. Let us not leave them to travel it alone.

    Thank you very much.

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