The second day of the 6th Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan started off with a high-level press conference in Kabul on Friday morning.
Keynote speakers included Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs Salahuddin Rabbani; President Ashraf Ghani; Tajikistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sirodjdin Aslov; Turkmenistan’s Minister of Finance Muhammetguly Muhammedov; Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli; Pakistan’s Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz; Arjun Thapa, Secretary General, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and Sujata Mehta, Indian Ministry of External Affairs Secretary.
All high-ranking officials pledged their support to Afghanistan and concurred that a stable Afghanistan would benefit the entire region.
The agenda, under the theme “The Silk Road through Afghanistan” is currently being held in Kabul. A total of 30 countries are represented and delegates from 40 organizations are also participating.
The summit’s agenda is focusing on discussions around Afghanistan’s economic projects, transit and trade cooperation, customs systems, employing of Afghan workers in Gulf countries, connecting Afghanistan with regional countries and ways to find alternate transit routes.
In addition, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) officials have said RECCA-VI aims to be a breakout RECCA, focusing foremost on connecting funding sources with a short list of bankable infrastructure projects that have significant value add for Afghanistan and its partners in the wider region.
They emphasize that situated at the crossroads of Eurasia, Afghanistan can now access some of the world’s fastest growing markets, as well as serve as a transit hub for expanding trade between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.
Besides raising living standards and spreading ideas and culture, increased economic connectivity through Afghanistan builds confidence and trust across the region, said MoFA.
Opening Friday’s early morning session, Afghan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Salahuddin Rabbani said Afghanistan was in complete favor of developing regional cooperation.
Rabbani said government supports economic development, especially in the private sector but added that he hopes stronger support and cooperation will be forthcoming from regional countries.
President Ashraf Ghani then addressed delegates present and thanked them for attending the summit. He said their mere presence in Kabul was testimony to their commitment to the betterment of Afghanistan.
Pointing out that the Central Asian economy is growing, he said Afghanistan has no other choice but to work towards a better future.
Ghani said that in order for the country to overcome problems it needs to recognize key partners and to find common ground between them in order to solve issues.
Ghani said that everyone agreed that Afghanistan could become a prime tourist destination. Even China has told him if there is stability, thousands of Chinese would visit the country each year, he said.
On the matter of infrastructure, Ghani said production of electricity is key to moving forward and that having so much water, Afghanistan is in a position to provide enough energy to sustain itself.
Ghani says the mining industry is another key sector which can be developed to bring in much needed revenue. In addition, he said that over the next few months, six airports will be handed over to the private sector.
On other developments he said about 200 irrigation projects are to be implemented soon. He then thanked Germany for all the assistance it has given.
Ghani also thanked Iran and said it had taken the lead in helping Afghanistan develop a railway network.
He went on to say transparent monitoring and assessment processes have been implemented in some sectors, including that within the logistics arena.
This, he said, has been done in a bid to stamp out corruption.
In conclusion, he thanked the delegates present for their commitment to helping secure and rebuild Afghanistan and said that a large number of Islamic countries reject the message (going out) of violence in the region.
The next speaker was Tajikistan foreign minister Sirodjdin Aslov who thanked the Afghan government for hosting the summit. He said that while there is no security, no development will take place in Afghanistan and that cross-border cooperation is needed.
Aslov says the region can bring about stability and security if there is strong cooperation among the countries. He also said training centers should be established in Tajikistan for Afghans to receive further education.
Following after Aslov, the Turkmenistan Minister of Finance Muhammetguly Muhammedov spoke and urged Afghanistan to use them to mediate in the peace process because of their impartiality.
He also said his country supports the peace process, and called for the Afghan situation to be resolved diplomatically and peacefully.
Muhammedov said his country’s key cooperation was with regards to the supply of electricity but stated that key to development for Afghanistan was that within the transit sector. He said Turkmenistan would appeal to the United Nations General Assembly to help Afghanistan.
Next up was the Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli. He said Iran and Afghanistan share a common language and culture and that his country has always supported Afghanistan.
Fazli also came out in support of the National Unity Government and said that a stable Afghanistan would benefit the entire region.
Fazli says Iran believes terrorists cannot be divided into good and bad but that they are a big threat to the region.
He said Iran is committed to assisting Afghanistan develop its transit systems and that the Chabahar port is critical for the region.
He called on the international community however to increase its support to Afghanistan – especially in terms of aid for development projects.
Wrapping up his statement, Fazli emphasized Iran’s commitment to helping Afghanistan develop its railway system and said a new railway project – that will connect Iran and Afghanistan – in Farah province is 57% complete.
Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz then spoke and thanked Kabul for hosting the summit. He said his country supports regional cooperation.
Aziz said a key railway project from Peshawar to Jalalabad will be completed next year and that his country is trying to overcome obstacles between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Also addressing delegates was Secretary General of SAARC Arjun Bahadur Thapa who said the organization has good measures in place for Afghanistan.
Thapa says Afghanistan could one day become the regional hub for Central Asia but that a priority right now was electricity supply projects.
He also said a lot of work was needed among regional countries to forge closer ties.
Thapa said that SAARC has nine regional projects and 56 organizations are working to implement them.
The final speaker to address the delegates was Sujata Mehta, Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ Secretary.
She said the implementation of CASA-1000 and the TAPI gas pipeline project are both long-term projects that don’t bring much economic relief to the people.
She said there should instead by more short term projects, which would help create jobs.
According to her India has always believed that with stronger ties, Afghanistan’s economy would improve. She said her country is working tirelessly on the Chabahar port project to provide an alternate transit route
India’s Mehta says that the need to connect Afghanistan to the world market is of critical importance.
Following the press conference, delegates adjoined to plenary sessions which are scheduled to be held during the course of the day.
Later this afternoon, delegates are however expected to adopt conference resolution in order to determine their way forward.