It may come as a surprise to Americans that Algeria was among the first to step forward after the September 11 tragedy to pledge support to the United States in its fight against global terrorism, as this was not reported in the American news media. It was not a surprise, however, to most Algerians.
On that tragic day, our sympathies immediately went out to the victims of the terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania. We know firsthand the horror of sustained terrorism, as we have experienced it at the hands of radical Islamists for over a decade. These ruthless killers, intent upon tearing apart the fabric of our nation, waged war on our entire population.
Fortunately, our campaign against terrorism has reduced it to scattered pockets, mostly in remote areas of Algeria (which is about three-and-a-half times the size of Texas). The few remaining terrorists represent only a tiny fraction of the strength that terrorist groups had at the beginning of the 1990s.
This September we again stepped forward, this time to help organize all of Africa in a concerted effort to work toward ridding the world of terrorists. On the first anniversary of the attacks on the United States, the 49 member- states of the African Union met in Algiers and decided to activate the Algiers Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism which had been initiated in 1999 under my chairmanship of the Organization of African Unity. The accord will promote close continent-wide cooperation in an effort against terrorism. The pact calls for the pooling of intelligence resources, harmonizing of procedures and expanded technical cooperation to ferret out terrorists before they can strike.
In practical terms, it will mean a well-coordinated effort between African states. Many past efforts were fractionalized and ineffective. The pact also will enhance the effectiveness of Africa’s contribution to the international effort to combat terrorism.
Algeria appreciates President Bush’s remarks in support of the Algiers Convention to a group of government ministers from African countries who met in Washington a year ago. He said: “We are not immune from each other’s troubles. We share the same threats and we share the same goals to forge a future of more openness, trade and freedom.”
We are equally pleased that the State Department’s chief anti-terrorism officer recently characterized Algeria’s role in the global anti-terrorism campaign as “magnificent.”
Algeria’s long trial by terror has made it stronger because it forced us to deal with and defeat this menace with no outside support. While we were fighting for our lives, we also were working to protect the southern flank of the Mediterranean from the spread of this evil to all the area and beyond.
We are eradicating terrorism, while at the same time moving forward toward a genuine multiparty democracy. While this is a challenge, we do not recoil from it. Our recent national and local elections are milestones on the road to representative government for our nearly 33 million people. The success of the elections gives us confidence we can reach our goal of making Algeria a model for expanded democracy in our region.
Economically, Algeria’s industrious people have achieved the third-largest gross national product in Africa, even though seven other African nations have larger populations.
Our democratic bonds with the United States are strengthened by a growing trade relationship.Algeria now accounts for 76 percent of U.S. trade with the Maghreb, Africa’s northern tier of nations, and we have become the third-largest recipient of U.S. investments in the region.
With its renewed domestic security, Algeria is investing heavily in the equipment and technology needed to expand its petroleum capacity. We soon will be producing the energy equivalent of five million barrels-per-day of natural gas and oil. That makes us the largest African producer of petroleum, and has the potential of providing the United States with added energy security. Algeria is the world’s third-largest exporter of natural gas at a time when the United States faces a natural gas shortfall in relation to demand.
As we move ahead economically, we are also implementing a series of reforms in the civil service, the judiciary and our educational systems all within the framework of a competitive market economy. Algeria has reached a point of no return in the reform process. Politically, we have a number of active parties. Women increasingly participate in the government, the parliament and the judiciary. The private press is free to criticize government actions.
We still have a long way to go. We are both humbled by the task and determined to move ahead. We are keen on sharing our unique experience with the nations of our continent and with the United States. Together, we can begin to build anew a world of peace and prosperity.
Abdelaziz Bouteflika is the president of Algeria.