Statement by His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference
13 May 2009
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Honorable Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani
Excellencies heads of delegations
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me and the Afghan delegation to see many friends and partners of Afghanistan gathered in the beautiful city of Islamabad. On behalf of Afghanistan, I welcome our neighbours, countries of the region, member countries of the G8 and the various international organizations for attending today’s conference. It was almost four years ago in Kabul that we first came together to discuss the opportunity that Afghanistan’s re-emergence as a stable country presented for economic cooperation and integration in our region. We met again Delhi in November 2006 to reaffirm our commitment to regional economic cooperation and to discuss specific measures to that end.
I am grateful to my honourable brother, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for pushing this initiative ahead by hosting this Conference in Islamabad today.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Economic integration in our region, where each and all of our nations would have a part to play, is an achievable vision. The next step is to take careful stock of where we are, and to move to a higher level by focusing on practical objectives.
To achieve our goal of greater regional economic cooperation, we have eagerly participated in multilateral trade negotiations. We are also engaged with many of our neighbors through bilateral and multilateral trade and economic agreements. Afghanistan is an active member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and SAARC. We have taken serious steps to gain membership in the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement.
Afghanistan is also a member of the Contact Group of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Moreover, through active membership in Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Central Asia and South Asian Transportation and Trade Forum (CSATTF), and UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), Afghanistan is focusing on various projects and activities that promote enhanced regional cooperation within our region. Key among these projects are CASA-1000 which will transit 1000 MW energy from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline which will transit natural gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. In line with our goal of promoting regional cooperation and to include regional actors in our economy, we concluded a major contract with a Chinese consortium to undertake exploration, smelting and sale of the Aynak copper deposit. As part of this contract the consortium will build a railway line which will connect Central Asia to South Asia and expedite the transport of people and goods within the region and beyond
Within our country, we have taken serious steps to encourage and facilitate the establishment of new businesses, to widen trade opportunities, to promote foreign and domestic investment, to build roads and improve transportation, and to provide efficient communication networks for businesses and for the society at large.
Moreover, we have overhauled our laws, including our corporate and commercial laws; we have revised and simplified our customs procedures and reduced tariffs, we have passed new laws promoting direct foreign investment and portfolio investment; we have established a dependable banking system; we have provided for a stable exchange rate and stable money; and we have expanded and improved our educational system to create a pool of employable, skilled labor force. Above all, we have institutionalized and consolidated our nascent democracy, permitting our people to become true stakeholders in our country’s political and economic destiny.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today there are a host of factors – from the fragility of security, to inadequate physical infrastructure, to inconsistent policies – which play to the detriment of regional economic cooperation. Many of us are plagued by poverty and environmental degradation; for some of us, trafficking in illegal drugs, corruption and red-tape are among significant obstacles to development and upholding the rule of law.
Perhaps by far the most menacing challenge to the region’s prosperity today is extremism and terrorism which threaten our people’s lives and livelihoods. It is with tremendous trepidation, ladies and gentlemen, that we have been watching the wildfire of terrorism spreading across the region. The increasing number of suicide attacks and other forms of violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are grim reminders of the terrorists’ growing reach.
In addition to suicide attacks against innocent civilians and security personnel, attacks have been launched against hundreds of vehicles transporting Afghan merchandize or NATO supplies on the road from Karachi to Kabul. Trucks have been burned, drivers have been killed, and merchandize have been looted and set on fire. Such terrorist atrocities have had a serious affect on trade and commerce.
There is more to this: terrorists and extremists are extending their reach in whole areas of our habitat and hindering our progress towards peace and prosperity. Today, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fallen victim to the atrocities of the militants and terrorists, forcing hundred of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes and become refugees in their own countries.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The current situation has become intolerable for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is time to combine our energies and make sure that the forces of mayhem and death are defeated once and for all. It is time to take back our valleys and villages from terrorists; it is time to get serious about keeping our roads open to trade; it is time to open our schools and send our sons and daughters back to classes; it is time to secure the lives of our women and children.
It is for the sake of our common security, ladies and gentlemen, and for the future of our children that we must counter the spread of terrorism, urgently and decisively. We must open our hearts and our minds to the prospects of a new, better and more prosperous future. It is time we focused, together, on fighting extremism and terrorism, as the enemies that work against that future and as enemies that we have in common. It is time we all realized that a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for our children will only be attained by espousing the progressive ideals of regional cooperation and interdependence.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
While we marshal our joint efforts to fight terrorists and remove their sanctuaries, we must also offer protection for the civilian population and prove that our efforts provide for a better future, a promise of life and opportunity for them and their children.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we are here in Islamabad to recommit ourselves to a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous region, built on the principles of the rule of law and friendly co-existence with the outside world; and to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan that would be an important contributor to the economic integration and prosperity of the region. We must commit ourselves to dispense with the stereotypical and narrow-minded politics of the past and start afresh in building a peaceful and prosperous region. With this commitment in mind, today’s conference is a landmark event both for Afghanistan and the peoples of this region who share our vision of security, progress and prosperity. Therefore, for the sake of the legitimate aspirations of our peoples, let us resolve to make our common vision a reality.