Regional Summit Meeting of Afghanistan and Neighbors
(Istanbul, 26th January, 2010)
The honourable President,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a matter of great privilege for me to participate in this “Regional summit meeting of Afghanistan and Neighbors” being held in this beautiful city of Istanbul-the city which is redolent of its rich cultural heritage and magnificent history. I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to His Excellency President Abdullah Gul and His Excellency Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey for hosting this august gathering to reflect upon an important issue which has a strong regional dimension. I would also like to extend a very welcome to high-level delegations from the neighboring countries and from international/regional organizations.
We are meeting at a crucial juncture when Afghanistan along with its neighbors is facing the menace of terrorism and grappling to achieve peace and stability. Afghanistan has been a victim of extremism and terrorism for quite a long time. This scourge has ripped apart the peace of this country-the country whose history is characterized by rich culture, peerless hospitality, and fortitude. Today, not only Afghanistan but its neighbors are equally affected by the evil of terrorism. The ripples of instability caused by this menace are hitting the whole region. This meeting reminds us of the importance of the issues and of our collective responsibility to address the challenges whose negative impacts transcend the boundaries of Afghanistan.
We have daunting challenges ahead of us. The most important is that of bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan. This stability is vital for the uplift of the people of Afghanistan. It is pre-requisite for sustained socio-economic development in the region. Stability in Afghanistan would spur economic activities in the whole region, the dividends of which would be shared by all.
There is a strong need to adopt a well-coordinated multi-faceted approach to help Afghan nation in their efforts towards rebuilding and reconstruction. In this context Regional Organizations have a strong role to play. ECO being a regional body of the ten countries of the region has been aware of its responsibility to contribute towards the reconstruction and development of Afghanistan. We are committed to play a more active role towards this end under the patronage and guidance of our leadership.
Afghanistan is of the most valuable member of our organization. It is our land-bridge to Central Asia, to South Asia. ECO makes a modest contribution to Afghanistan’s reconstruction. A Special Fund has been established for Reconstruction of Afghanistan in 2004 and to date, total contributions and pledges of the ECO’s member states for this fund exceed US$ 11,150,000. Within this framework, we are pursuing the four projects in the field of health and education sectors in Afghanistan. These are Construction of Deh Mazang Public Park and Rehabilitation of Kabul Zoo , Construction of a Maternity Hospital in Faryab Province, Construction of a School in Bamian Province and Construction of Block A of the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation Training and Research Center in Kabul.
Since ECO as a region is unfortunately the most drug affected region of the world, anti narcotics measures constitute an important corner stone of the activity of ECO. More than 50% of world opium seizures are in the ECO region. More than 90% of world opium is produced in the region and most of the ECO countries are used as transit.
The ECO Secretariat in collaboration with European Commission is in process of implementing a joint project titled “Fight against Illicit Drug Trafficking from/to Afghanistan”
Afghanistan’s lasting peace and stability can be best achieved through increased cooperation of Member States in areas of trade and investment. One of the ways to uplift Afghan economy is to develop appropriate strategies for eradication of poverty, creation of employment opportunities and ensuring congenial environment for expansion of trade.
Afghanistan’s neighboring states are in a good position to help the economy by extending their support different projects proposed to be undertaken by ECO:
In the field of transport and communication, the Secretariat is currently working on the launch of the ECO truck caravan to run from Turkey through Iran and Afghanistan to Central Asia. A wing of this truck caravan will run from Pakistan to Central Asia through Afghanistan. Such effort, if successful, will add value to Afghanistan’s competitiveness as a regional transit country with the estimated potential of 20 to 30 million tons of annual transit throughput to Central Asia, South Asia, Middle East and Europe. Similarly, in the field of railways, to enable Afghanistan’s effective exchange of goods and commodities with neighboring economies, the ECO is helping the country in connecting it to regional rail road system. Afghanistan’s railway lines are projected to run along the main regional transit routes stretching through Iran, Pakistan and Central Asia. Specifically, the rail segment en route Shirkhan-Bandar-Kondoz-Mezare Sharif-Herat is being considered for construction. It will connect Afghanistan’s rail system through that of Tajikistan with China’s railway network. A number of other projects/activities are also being worked out/planned for Afghanistan in the area of transport.
Agriculture has a significant share in the GDP of Afghanistan. Twenty-five years of war have heightened the concerns for food insecurity and poverty in Afghanistan. Around 80% of the rural population suffers from poverty. ECO Regional Programme for Food Security (RPFS) prepared with technical assistance of FAO contains concrete regional and national projects for food security. The RPFS comprises nine regional components and one specific programme on Community Based Food Production in Afghanistan. Under the ECO Regional Programme for Food Security Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has recently approved financial assistance for a smaller National Food Security Programme in Secondary Schools (Phase 2) of Afghanistan with the contribution of $ 300.000 USD grant. FAO has recently initiated a project on Stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan Bordering Areas for Agricultural/Rural Sector Recovery and Food Security.
Regarding Industry and Tourism sector in Afghanistan, ECO Secretariat is providing training to Afghan Officials in its Workshops and various events on privatization and private sector Development, Industrial Property Rights, Technology Transfer and Management, as well as SMEs. In the ECO tourism cooperation, Afghanistan is very active especially on revival of Silk Road route.
Afghanistan faces myriad challenges. Yet these challenges are no match to the will and determination of a nation as resilient as Afghans. We all have a responsibility and a role to play in helping Afghanistan overcome these challenges. In conclusion, Excellencies, I would say that regional cooperation is an effective way to achieve this goal.
Thank you all.