Recent gains threatened by terrorism and drugs, Afghan leader tells UN Assembly

Afghanistan’s economy is posting serious gains, its nascent institutions are taking root and its health indicators are on the rise, but the twin perils of terrorism and illegal drugs place enormous obstacles to any further improvements, President Hamid Karzai told the General Assembly today.

Thanking the international community for its “steadfast support” since the fall of the Taliban in 2001 and the subsequent establishment of democratic government, Mr. Karzai said “the journey of Afghanistan’s stability and reconstruction is resolutely apace.”

More Afghans now enjoy access to health and education services than ever before, he said, noting that the child mortality rate has been slashed by over 25 per cent in two years, ensuring that at least 85,000 children remain alive today.

The country, which was torn apart by decades of war and misrule, is once again about to become self-sufficient in cereal production, according to the President, who said “already the fruits of relative stability and increased prosperity in Afghanistan are spilling over our borders to the wider region.”

Afghanistan joined the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) earlier this year to help with its plans to eventually serve as a commercial bridge between South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Mr. Karzai told the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate that while the economic and institutional gains have been impressive, so too are the “momentous challenges” that Afghanistan still faces. He cited poverty, underdevelopment and climatic hardships as well as the leading threats – terrorism and narcotics.

The President denounced the sharp rise in terrorist attacks within Afghanistan in the past two years, and particularly the “new and brutal tactics such as beheadings, kidnappings and the burning of schools and clinics.”

Stressing that “terrorism was never, nor is it today, a home-grown phenomenon in Afghanistan,” Mr. Karzai said the threat can only be truly overcome if dealt with regionally and internationally.

He described the recent holding of a joint peace jirga between Pakistan and Afghanistan as a symbol of the benefits of constructive cooperation in devising a counter-terrorism strategy. Sustained international support so that Afghanistan’s national army and police can lead anti-terror efforts was also necessary.

Turning to the issue of illegal drugs, Mr. Karzai said his Government would prioritize the provision of alternative livelihoods to farmers and speed up its poppy eradication programmes and interdiction of traffickers.

But other countries needed to play their part in defeating the global narcotic trade by battling international drug mafia and crime groups, strengthening border controls and reducing the demand for illegal drugs in foreign markets.