Thank you very much, all of you, for being here. And thank you for the privilege of being part of this very important conference. And I want to thank Prime Minister Cameron for hosting and, you, President Ghani for cohosting this effort. We saw each other in Brussels. You’ve been on a whirlwind tour, and I will tell everybody here that everywhere that he Chief Executive Abdullah are going they are impressing people. And I will tell you this is one person who is not surprised.
I had the privilege of spending quite a few hours in Kabul during the post-election period, prior to the creation of the unity government. And during that time, I saw two men, both of whom were convinced, and took steps to prove it, that Afghanistan was far more important than them personally. And we are here today at a very different kind of meeting than might’ve taken place because they were both willing to exhibit enormous leadership, statesmanship, and were prepared to put their own political interests, as manifested through many of their supporters, behind the interests of unity and of country. And I will tell you, I think that augurs enormously well for the future. That’s why I think we can come to this conference with considerable confidence.
At the Tokyo conference two years ago, we all agreed that we would meet this year here in London and take stock. And we are taking stock in a very different place than we might have been were it not for their choices. Since the time of Tokyo, Afghanistan has obviously made enormous progress. It’s just a transformation taking place, and you have to go there to see it and feel it, notwithstanding the difficulties of security, the difficulties of an insurgent force that still chooses to kill people randomly rather than offer a platform for progress and for the future. So Afghan forces have now assumed responsibility for security across the country, with the United States and our international allies shifting to a supporting role.
Politically, Afghans achieved something incredible. They achieved the first democratic transfer of power from one elected leader to another in their entire history. And they have continued to work to improve governance. They have committed not just to maintaining but to building on the progress that was made in the last decade, including continued advances in respect to the rights of women and girls. I was there last year and met with 10 women entrepreneurs, who were among the most remarkable women I’ve ever met, each of whom were taking extraordinary risks to be leaders, but they were making a remarkable difference. Their voices and their votes gave Afghans the clarity that they will not tolerate any backsliding, and nor should we. This is a country whose leaders and whose people are wisely focused on the future.
In Tokyo, Afghanistan and its partners pledged to go forward based on mutual accountability and sustainability. That framework remains the touchstone for gauging progress. President Ghani and CEO Abdullah have presented a reform agenda that commits to these principles, and they’ve begun backing up these words with action already. During their short time in office, they’ve taken steps to combat money laundering and corruption, improve the country’s fiscal situation, and foster better relations with their neighbors, including importantly – perhaps most importantly – Pakistan.
One specific area where the new Afghans’ Government’s engagement has made a meaningful impact is in expanding economic connectivity across the region. I welcome the agreement yesterday between Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan on the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project. Advancing this project to completion would make real the idea of a regional energy market connecting South and Central Asia. This project is important because Afghanistan’s economic future depends on improved connectivity with regional and international markets. And to facilitate that broader goal, I am pleased to report that the United States and Afghanistan have agreed to improve private sector links between our countries by issuing visas that will be valid longer and will allow for multiple entries for eligible business travelers, students, exchange visitors, and tourists.
The United States has met the commitments that we made in Tokyo to support Afghanistan’s development, and we are convinced that this extraordinary commitment of U.S. support serves our long-term national security interests in Afghanistan, in the region, as well as assists Afghanistan to stand on its own two feet. And we are committed to ensuring that Afghanistan can never again be used as a safe haven from which terrorists can threaten the international community. We know that the most effective way to advance this objective is to support Afghanistan’s political unity and its security. Between 2012 and 2015, we will have provided more than 8 billion in civilian assistance, and the Administration will continue to request from Congress extraordinary levels of assistance through 2017 and gradually declining levels beyond that date, consistent with the terms of the Strategic Partnership Agreement signed by our two governments in 2012. And we will continue, clearly, to invest in Afghanistan’s growth and development.
Looking ahead, we will engage regularly and constructively with Afghan leaders both in government and civil society to assist where and when we can. And we are confident that the policies outlined today by President Ghani and CEO Abdullah will result in a more stable and prosperous Afghanistan. So this is really an extraordinary moment of transition. It’s a moment of transformation, and the possibilities are so enormous. It’s hard to think that those who want to go backwards have the ability to interrupt progress in the way that they do, but what is clear to me is the majority of the people of Afghanistan by vast proportions – 85, 90 percent – are supporting this president and supporting the current direction of Afghanistan. While recognizing this progress, we also need to be realistic and remain conscious that there are these threats. And we need to recognize the urgency, therefore, of continuing to back the Afghan people, which is what brings us here to London for this conference.
My friends, we have a government in Kabul that merits our confidence and our support. And never before has the prospect of a more fully independent and sustainable Afghanistan been more clear than it is at this moment as we assemble here in London. The Afghan people should be very proud of this progress. And as they continue to move forward, they can be confident of the support of the international community. The many countries represented here today have been and must continue to be generous in our financial commitment. We must all help the Afghan people to build the future that they deserve through sustained assistance, but also with the determination to respond to Afghan reforms with private investment, improved market access, and deeper economic engagement. A stable and a peaceful Afghanistan that is at peace with its neighbors is in the interests of all of us, and we all expect and hope for sure that the authorities in Kabul will make good on their promises.
One thing I have learned about this region is it’s a region of unbelievable guts and grit and determination. There’s no question in my mind that the pride of the people of Afghanistan, the people of Pakistan, the people of India could have a very different future facing them. This can be a powerhouse of an economic region, and with our help, with our ability to help this government to deliver the promises it has made, we can, I think, write a very different future for all of us for the long term. We have to be faithful to our commitments as our part of that bargain, and I’m confident that everybody here will do so, and together we will write a very different history for South Central Asia. Thank you. (Applause.)