Acting Deputy Administrator John Barsa’s Remarks at 2020 Afghanistan Pledging Conference

Speeches Shim

Monday, November 23, 2020

[As Prepared]

Thank you Mr. Kabiri for that introduction. I’m honored to be here.

Many thanks to everyone participating in this conference, and a special thank you to Minister Arghandiwal and Assistant Secretary General Wignaraja.

Before I begin my planned remarks, I want to state clearly that the United States joins the international community in condemning the deplorable, indiscriminate attacks that occurred in Kabul on Saturday. We send our deepest condolences to the Afghan people, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and to all those who have suffered from terrorist violence.

I am glad we can all come together in these challenging times to talk about the path to a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan.

For those of you seeing the news about changes in U.S. troop levels and fearing a lessening of commitment to the people and future of Afghanistan, let me assure you that nothing can be further from the truth.

Our commitment remains steadfast. Let me be clear: the people and Government of Afghanistan have a true partner in the United States.

USAID believes that economic development, transparent institutions, and good governance are essential for peace. We are committed to working hand in hand with the government and with the private sector when it comes to human development and peacebuilding.

And today, I’d like to share with you some of the priorities and beliefs that will shape our actions in Afghanistan.

We share many of the same goals as the Afghanistan National Peace and Development Framework. The Framework puts an emphasis on self-reliance and increasing the economic welfare of the people in Afghanistan. And at USAID, we have a similar principle—we call it the Journey to Self-Reliance. This belief orients our work around helping nations transition from those who receive aid to independent, enduring economic partners.

This perspective is reflected in USAID’s work not just in Afghanistan, but across the world, as we help build the capacity of our partner countries to address their own development challenges.

And the lynch pin to achieving self-reliance is a vibrant private sector. One that is free, open, and inclusive of all aspects of society.

We are thankful to many of you here today—the Afghan government and the international community—you’ve done some heavy lifting in this area already. You’ve laid the foundation for economic growth and private sector development by supporting policy reform and developing market opportunities that make it possible for Afghan businesses to succeed.

And now we must engage the private sector in meaningful dialogue to discover those areas where interests collide. Neither the government nor donors can solve Afghanistan’s socio-economic challenges without the partnership and engagement of the private sector.

Entrepreneurs know how to see opportunities and not be dissuaded by risk. They know how to calculate risk and how to find success. From innovation to job training to service provision, there are multitudes of opportunities for growth and profit in Afghanistan. We are excited to be a part of this historic moment.

Enterprise-driven, market-focused development accelerates the Journey to Self-Reliance.

We’ve tested this out and have seen great results in Afghanistan—for example, in USAID’s partnership with the Kandahar Solar Plant. While electricity is obviously crucial for homes and industry, neither we nor the Afghan government have the resources to meet current needs, let alone grow or sustain capacity. To remedy this, USAID funded the Kandahar Solar Plant with $10 million alongside a private investor that matched the amount to build, own, and operate the first ever photovoltaic power plant. The government now buys the electricity from the company that runs the plant and uses it to power the country.

The successful completion of this project sent a clear signal to the private sector that Afghanistan is open for business. The result was four additional USAID projects in renewable energy. All of these projects are fulfilling the objective of economic growth and sustainable development by bringing private partners together with the government.

USAID also continues to build on gains made for women and girls over the past two decades. In 2015, USAID launched the Agency’s largest bilateral women’s program in Afghanistan, which trained over 90,000 Afghan women leaders. The program has provided them the skills, networks, and opportunities to better engage in business, government, and civil society. Afghanistan’s future peace and prosperity depends on building a society inclusive of women. If women are kept from contributing to the economy, it will stall the economic development of the country as a whole—and its journey to self-reliance.

But there is more that can be done. One of the top concerns of private sector investors in Afghanistan is corruption and burdensome administrative processes. These issues need to be addressed if Afghanistan is to become an economic hub as envisioned in the Afghanistan National Development Plan—particularly as highlighted for the energy and mining industries.

There is a real need for effective policies that counter corruption. At the same time, we need to support the Government of Afghanistan as it grows the skills and income of its people while expanding services and advancing the rights of women and minorities. The private sector can also make a critical contribution in this effort that is good for their bottom line, as well as for national development. These actions will increase the country’s chances at sustained international support and a durable peace.

This trifecta of Afghan government, the private sector, and international assistance will be key to Afghanistan's self-reliance. USAID, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, and the rest of the U.S. Government are poised to respond.

And we invite you to join us in this response.

This is how we will support the Afghan people’s efforts to transform the future of their country—to make it known not for conflict, but for concord, and renowned not for the challenges it has endured, but for the prosperity it enjoys.

Together with all of you, the United States remains committed to our enduring partnership with the Afghan people and their government as we strive to achieve this vision.

Thank you.

Last updated: November 23, 2020

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