Speech at the Meeting of the International Contact Group, 17.6.2012, Helsinki

Dear Minister and Vice-Minister, your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to warmly welcome you all to Helsinki. I know many of you have travelled a long distance to get here in the middle of a period congested with meetings. I hope the results of today’s meeting will make it worthwhile. I would like to particularly welcome our honorable guests from Afghanistan, Minister Zakhilwal and Vice Minister Ludin.

This Finlandia Hall where we are gathered today, was the venue of the Summit level Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975, which turned out to be a milestone event after a difficult period of European history. I hope this memory inspires us to work efficiently and contribute towards the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan and the entire region.

As we all know, Afghanistan is at an important juncture. The coming years will be critical for Afghanistan’s future in many ways. The transition is proceeding quite well. In Chicago it was agreed that Afghanistan would take responsibility for their security already next year, while the ISAF mission itself would end in the end of 2014. Nations also agreed on a follow-up mission to ISAF, which would focus on training, mentoring and advising the Afghan security forces.

However, this does not and should not mean the end of the international support for Afghanistan. It is absolutely crucial for Afghanistan’s stability that a strong development effort will continue and that we have sustainable progress with Afghanistan’s economy.  No single sector alone will solve the problems and uncertainties Afghanistan is facing. Development and security are closely interlinked. The basics have not changed: development and security remain closely interlinked. It is very difficult to have development without security. And it is very difficult to have security without development. Moving the entire society in the right direction and people seeing positive changes is vital to the stability of any country. Whatever the main objectives or priorities for each of us are in developing Afghanistan, it is all the elements together that matters most in the end.

We all know Afghanistan faces big fiscal challenges as the ISAF economy is winding down and international development aid may decrease. The consequences of a persisting large budgetary deficit can be unpredictable. In fact, without continued support, we risk jeopardizing the significant progress achieved in Afghanistan during the past decade Development does not rest solely on assistance. The private sector should play an increasingly important role in the economy. Particularly Afghanistan’s mining sector holds great promise, and if managed well, could fill a significant part of the budget deficit and contribute to the overall sustainabilityof Afghan economy. Creating an inclusive economy means als0 creating more opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.

One of our key tasks here in Helsinki today is to prepare for the Tokyo Conference, which will be looking for solutions to all these challenges. The July Conference continues from where we left off at Chicago,  addressing the challenges related to the development, governance and economy of Afghanistan.

The overall aim of the Tokyo conference will be twofold:  Firstly, to reaffirm the partnership between the international community and the Afghan Government beyond 2014.  Secondly,  to agree on a sustainable development strategy of Afghanistan and to affirm mutual long-term commitments in implementing this strategy.

This development strategy should include a sequencing of National Priority Programmes which were initially agreed upon already in Kabul Conference in 2010. The key is to select the most crucial priorities among these programmes and address them first, as it is probably unrealistic to tackle everything at once. For their part, the international community must recognize Afghanistan’s continuing need for fiscal assistance and commit to continued support.

At the same time we also expect a concrete commitment from the Government of Afghanistan in improving governance. Despite hard work and progress in many other fields, remarkable challenges remain in governance, and they may risk derailing other parts of the effort. We encourage the Government of Afghanistan to set concrete long term goals in governance and make a firm commitment in achieving them. As a representative of a Nordic country, and against our own experience in developing the society, I could not stress this more.

Finally, I would like to highlight some issues of particular importance:  

Firstly, I would underline the need for progress in a reconciliation process and in creating better confidence and understanding among all Afghans on shared goals and common future. The efforts of the Government have to be planned so that people can trust there will be rule of law, good governance and improvement in peoples’ lives in the end.  If people lack trust in their rulers and reconciliation among Afghans does not progress, all will be on the losing side – in particular the ordinary people of Afghanistan. For sustainable peace and long-term stability, I see no alternative whatsoever to hard work in reconciliation and overall confidence-building. We Nordics are sometimes blamed for giving too many advise, but in fact we ourselves learnt the hard way. The conditions for any peace negotiations have to be kept, of course: renunciation of violence and terrorism and respect of the Constitution, including the rights of women and girls.  

And there comes my second issue: women and girls. Encouraging developments have of course taken place, particularly in the field of women’s and girls’ education. But great concerns remain. Coming from a Nordic country I want to say this: based on our experience, full and equal participation of women at all levels of society is not only a prerequisite for democracy and human rights, but also the key to sustainable development, economic success and social stability. Statistics show it: the better the position of women, the better the society is for everyone. Women and girls of Afghanistan are gifted, active and very resilient. Things do not change overnight, but there should be constant development in the right direction. There should not be a turn back.

Finland is doing her best to enhance the situation of women in Afghanistan and we plan to increase development funding in this area. In 2010 we started twinning cooperation with Afghanistan in the implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 1325, “Women, Peace and Security”. This cooperation aims to raise the awareness and improve coordination among Afghan civil service regarding 1325 issues. The ultimate aim is to produce a 1325 National Action Plan for Afghanistan. In Finland, we have just issued our second National Action Plan for the implementation of resolution 1325 and I would like encourage other nations to draw up similar plans on this important issue.

Finally, regional cooperation is one of the key factors that can contribute to stability in Afghanistan. Im am sure we will hear more of the Kabul Ministerial Meeting, in which the Heart of Asia countries agreed upon a set of confidence building measures.This is a very important area and I wish the Parties every success in their work to build a more secure and prosperous region – and I am very happy to say this in the Finlandia Hall, which once served as a venue for confidence-building and better future in this part of the world.

Thank you for your attention. I wish you all a productive meeting and endurance in your work to build a better future for the people of Afghanistan and the entire neighborhood.