The international community, with Italy’s convinced participation, has contributed to a series of changes in Afghanistan over the past 10 years: a modern Constitution has been approved; 7 million children (35% of which female) are going to school, as compared with 900,000 males only during the Taliban regime; university education for women rose from 0% in 2001 to 19.3% of total students in 2010; healthcare services reach 64% of the population (up from 8%); infant mortality rates are down 20%; 68 women are seated in parliament (out of 249, higher than the world average); the growth rate has levelled off at an approximate annual 10%; tax revenues have increased 400% as compared with 2006 – a sign that the State is beginning to function; 16,000 Afghans are being trained: 6700 km of roads have been built or rebuilt; over 80% of the country’s villages have had the benefit of local-level micro-projects; and the capacity for generating electrical power has increased from 243 to 1028.5 megawatts.
The results of international assistance in matters of security have also been significant: not only have ANSAF (Afghan security, army and police) forces increased by 100,000 over the last 18 months (up to nearly 300,000, to which 46,000 will be added within October 2012), but levels of operational preparedness have also risen.
Much remains to be done, however, for one of the world’s poorest countries, where tragic social inequality, human rights violations and fragile and inadequate institutions persist; drug trafficking accounts for 9% of GDP, and is alone worth €1.4 billion; there continues to be a serious lack of healthcare; and corruption rates are among the highest in the world. This confirms the need to pursue international commitments with conviction in order to achieve sustainable endogenous development in the not too distant future.
The handover of power to the Afghan government
The handover process, which began in July 2011 in some areas of the country that include Herat, involves Afghans’ gradual assumption of responsibility for their own security, which will spread progressively to the rest of the country. At the same time, institutional and development progress has rendered that process irreversible. The goal has been set: within the year 2014 Afghan institutions will have to be capable of independently handling their country’s security, and international assistance will have to be limited to support, and not substitution.
Italy, which holds the ISAF command of the Western region, will continue to support the transition’s spread by increasing its number of trainers, and through new development and institutional support initiatives run by the Italian Cooperation; by dedicating attention to transversal themes such as justice and human rights; and through support to the private sector. We will also continue to contribute to a political/diplomatic solution to the Afghan conflict that embraces all ethnic and social components of the society and all the country’s regions.
The second Bonn Conference and our partnership agreement
The Bonn Conference on Afghanistan held on 5 December, exactly 10 years on from the one that redesigned the country after the end of the Taliban regime, approved the “mutual credible commitment” by Kabul and the international community that has led up to the current phase of transition. Common awareness of the importance of remaining committed in Afghanistan on the civil level even after 2014, when the last military coalition engagement will end, was cited. Nevertheless, it is expected that the Afghan authorities embrace what must be a continuous and concrete commitment to internal reforms, human rights protections, development and good governance. As a demonstration of good will, numerous partners have made bilateral assistance agreements with Afghanistan as proof of the fact that the international community has no intention of leaving the Afghan people alone after 2014. For Italy’s part, Premier Mario Monti and President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai signed a long-term partnership and cooperation agreement in Rome in January 2012, at the start of Karzai’s European tour.
Reconciliation, reintegration, regional cooperation
The political process of reconciliation with the Taliban insurgents is the only possible instrument by which to achieve true social peace in Afghanistan. Prospects for this still seem fluid, but the international community, in accordance with the Afghan government, remains firmly convinced that this process must take place on the condition of rupture with Al Qaeda and the renunciation of violence, in compliance with respect for human rights and the Afghan Constitution. I also remains essential that reconciliation be inclusive of all the country’s ethnic and social components. A reintegration programme, to which Italy contributes €4 million, aims to make that reconciliation operative and targets medium to high level insurgents.
The theme of reconciliation is also linked with that of regional cooperation, since Afghanistan stabilisation cannot disregard the involvement of all the countries of the region. It is, therefore, necessary to encourage parallel progress in economic cooperation, infrastructure links and the region’s economic integration.
An important step in strengthening the regional dimension was the “Heart of Asia” conference on security and cooperation held in Istanbul on 2 November 2011, which led to the launch of the “Istanbul Process”, intended to encourage cooperation among the region’s countries on stabilizing the area; some of the measures include confidence-building and the dismantling of terrorist “sanctuaries”.
In the same cooperation framework, Italy actively participates in the periodic sessions of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA), an annual international conference organised by the Afghan government, generally hosted by and co-managed with a regional partner. Discussions focus on regional economic integration themes such as infrastructure and transport and trade networks. The 2012 RECCA meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, will be the conference’s 5th edition.
Italy’s civil commitment: development cooperation
In order to sustain the peace process in Afghanistan it is necessary to look at the medium- to long-range picture and at ways to trigger endogenous and sustainable growth, thereby rendering the country increasingly less dependent on international financial assistance. To that end, we are concentrating our efforts on strengthening economic and trade relations, as well as on financing (very low-interest loans for €150 million) major infrastructure projects for the economic development of Herat province and the Western region.
Italian development investments in Afghanistan have been on the order of €50 million per year; initiatives valued at €545 million have been approved since late 2001, €456 million of which has been disbursed to date (€80 million in emergency interventions). Principal sectors include good governance (at national and local level), rural development, support for vulnerable segments of the society (e.g. healthcare programmes for regional and paediatric hospitals) and roads (with a focus on the Western region). Italy immediately endorsed the Afghan National Development Strategy by channelling a substantial portion of funding for national development programmes through the Afghan budget, as recommended during the Kabul Conference in 2010. Some of the main projects completed include those administered by the Afghan ministries of public health (€4 million), rural development and agriculture (€6.2 million) and public works (€14 million for rural roads).
With the transition, Italian investments will further target Herat province, where approximately €80 million worth of initiatives are under way. New initiatives in the province are envisaged in 2011 planning documents, to be funded through the budget decree on missions. Also foreseen is a package of governance and rule of law programmes (including support for the Herat Prosecutor’s Office) to supply professional support to the governorship and provincial ministerial departments. Italy has granted very low-interest loans (€120-150 million) to the Afghan government’s infrastructure investments aimed at modernising the Herat airport and the road linking Herat with Chest-i-Sharif.
Bilateral relations and visits
Diplomatic relations between Italy and Afghanistan date back to 1921. Italy offered asylum to Afghan King Zaher Shah, who lived for many years in exile in Rome, and before him King Amanullah. As one of Afghanistan’s main donors, Italy has been a “lead nation” and later “key partner” in the justice sector, and has contributed to the reform of justice institutions and legislation, the training of institutional personnel, and the dissemination of the principles of formal justice and human rights in the provinces and districts, as well as assisting the parliament in its first legislature. The July 2007 Conference of Rome marked an undeniable turning point in that sector of reform, with its decision to draft a National Justice Programme, which was introduced in early 2008 and incorporated into the Afghan National Development Strategy (ANDS) and is financed through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. Today we are working in Afghanistan – through policy and diplomacy and with the deployment of our military forces and cooperation activities – on the country’s material and institutional reconstruction.
On the diplomatic plane, the two nations had a vigorous visit exchange between late 2010 and early 2012. In October 2010, Afghan Foreign Minister Rassoul met in Rome with then-Foreign Minister of Italy Franco Frattini, with whom he signed a development cooperation agreement; on 2 June 2011 Afghan President Karzai, in the company of Minister Rassoul, met with then-Premier Berlusconi in Rome, where they signed a political memorandum of understanding and a cooperation agreement on combating international drug trafficking; finally, President Karzai visited Italy again on 25-26 January 2012 to sign a long-term partnership and cooperation agreement with Prime Minister Mario Monti. The Governor of the Province of Herat, Daud Saba, has visited Rome twice to date, once in April 2011 and again in January 2012.
In 2011, then-Minister for Economic Development, the Hon. Paolo Romani, made a series of visits to Kabul and Herat, which laid the ground-work for achieving a leap in quality in economic cooperation between the two countries. The results achieved included an economic memorandum of understanding and the completion of a feasibility study for the modernisation of the Herat airport. Finally, a group of Italian business persons made a mission to Herat representing various sectors that included marble and mining, farming/food production; textiles, university studies and trade unions.