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Astana conference, 2 others are vital for Afghanistan’s future, foreign minister says

31 october 2011, 16:50
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Kazakhstan will lead one of three important Afghanistan-transition conferences over the next five weeks and play an active role in the other two, Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov said over the weekend.

The conferences in Istanbul on Wednesday, in Astana on November 15 and in Bonn on December 5 are aimed at producing a blueprint for helping Afghanistan stabilize and prosper after coalition forces withdraw in 2014, Mr. Kazykhanov said in an interview.

A common theme in all three conferences will be developing a coordinated regional approach to assisting Afghanistan – that is, countries in the region joining together to play a larger role in the country’s future.

Underlining the importance that Kazakhstan attaches to the meetings, Mr. Kazykhanov will be attending all three.

The conferences are expected to cover ways to ensure Afghanistan’s security after 2014, ways to foster reconciliation with insurgent groups and ways to achieve regional economic cooperation.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are among those expected to attend both the Istanbul and Bonn gatherings.

The three conferences are evidence of the international community’s determination to stand by Afghanistan after 2014, Mr. Kazykhanov said in the interview. “Those coalition forces will be replaced by economic cooperation, trade activity,” foreign aid, humanitarian assistance and other kinds of support, he said.

Foster Kazykhanov

Tengrinews.kz columnist Hal Foster interviews Foreign Minister Yerzhan Kazykhanov

Kazakhstan supports America’s New Silk Road initiative on creating infrastructure such as roads and rail lines to link Afghanistan with its neighbors, Mr. Kazykhanov said. The idea behind the initiative is that the transportation links will help spark Afghanistan’s economy.

Kazakhstan has already been building infrastructure to help connect the region, Mr. Kazykhanov pointed out.

A major effort is Kazakhstan’s portion of an international highway corridor that will connect western China with western Europe through Russia. Kazakhstan has already spent $3 billion to build the longest stretch of the corridor -- 2,800 kilometers inside its territory.

A rail line between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan that is expected to be completed early next year could be extended into Afghanistan, Mr. Kazykhanov noted.

And Kazakhstan supports the idea of oil and gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, particularly the Asian Development Bank-backed Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project.

“We need more and more countries to join in these efforts (to help Afghanistan),” including nations in the Islamic world and the West, Mr. Kazykhanov said. “And of course we understand the responsibility of the countries in the region near Afghanistan.”

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, said two months ago that the United States hoped to see “Afghanistan’s neighbors and near-neighbors – countries around Afghanistan” – make a “written commitment” to “work for the security and stability of Afghanistan.”

Kazakhstan and some other neighbors have already indicated a willingness to make that commitment.

It’s significant that two of the three impending Afghanistan conferences are in Istanbul and Astana because many countries view Turkey and Kazakhstan as influential moderating forces in the region.

The Astana conference on November 15 will bring together more than 50 national coordinators on Afghanistan – diplomats whose main function is helping the country now and after 2014.

“We agreed to host this group meeting on Afghanistan because we think that the role of regional countries (in achieving a solution to the Afghan situation) is growing, and we should be involved in that process,” Mr. Kazykhanov said. “Any formats, any meetings that can lead to the stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan should be supported, in my view.”

He added:  “The role of the neighboring countries of South Asia and Central Asia, and the role of the big powers – including the United States, the Russian Federation and China – are extremely important for stabilizing the situation.”

Mr. Kazykhanov stressed that any multilateral effort to stabilize Afghanistan should be transparent and comply with United Nations “purposes and principles. There should be no hidden agenda.”

A coordinated post-2014 effort to help the country must include a commitment to ensuring that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity” of Afghanistan, he added.

Other nations also need to support Afghanistan’s reconciliation process and help it rebuild its economy, he said.

And, he noted, “we need to look seriously into the ways and means of combating illicit drug production and drug trafficking originating in Afghanistan.”

The narcotics scourge has become an increasing problem in Kazakhstan because the country is a major smuggling route between Afghanistan and Russia and Western Europe. In fact, Kazakhstan’s drug-trafficking arrests have increased annually for several years, an aide to Mr. Kazykhanov said.

The conference of national coordinators that Astana hosts this month will be the third in the series. The others were in the Afghan capital of Kabul and in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah.

“We think that this contract-group meeting (of national coordinators) will pave the way to the Bonn conference,” Mr. Kazykhanov said.

Many diplomats view the gathering in Germany as an all-important “final chance to unite our efforts and help Afghanistan become a stable country,” he said.

The Bonn conference will be a huge affair, attracting more than 1,000 participants from 90 countries. It will have both practical and symbolic importance.

The practical importance is the imperative to lay the kind of groundwork necessary for Afghanistan to stand on its feet after 2014. The symbolic importance is that Bonn was the site of a conference 10 years ago that helped establish Afghanistan’s current government.

The U.S.-led coalition that entered Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks was surprised to find itself toppling the Taliban government in just a few weeks -- so quickly, in fact, that there was no time to line up a replacement government. The Bonn conference was convened to establish the new regime.

In December of 2001, conference participants chose Karzai as the head of an interim government. Four years later, Afghans elected him president.

Karzai asked for a second Bonn conference this December to deal with Afghanistan’s post-2014 transition.

Kazykhanov said he’s optimistic about the country’s future.

Afghanistan has a chance to be “a stable and vibrant country moving in the right direction,” a nation that can “be our economic partner in the region,” he said.

“But of course much will depend on how countries in the region” work together, “how we manage to coordinate our efforts to help Afghanistan,” he added.

What happens at the conferences in Istanbul, Astana and Bonn will go a long way toward determining whether a regional approach toward helping Afghanistan will be successful.

 


Additional excerpts from the interview with the foreign minister

 

Here in Kazakhstan we clearly understand that the period between now and 2014 is crucial for the countries of the region because the coalition forces will be leaving Afghanistan. But it in no way means that the international community is leaving Afghanistan.

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Kazakhstan has been and will continue providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, supplying grain, flour, rice and other goods. In 2008, Kazakhstan sent Afghanistan 2,000 tons of wheat, in 2009 – 1,300 tons of dry milk, in 2010 – 6,000 tons of rice and in April 2011 -- 5,000 tons of rice flour.

We think it’s important that the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) and other international food organizations increase their procurement of Kazakhstan grain when they are buying grain and sending it to Afghanistan. We want to reclaim our place in the Afghanistan market, and Afghans know very well that Kazakhstan’s wheat is of great quality. (Kazakhstan’s bumper harvest of 25 million tons of grain this year has left it with 15 million tons available for export.)

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The more stable Afghanistan that we have on our southern borders, the better it will be for everyone -- and for Kazakhstan as a big economy in the region. Although we do not have direct borders with Afghanistan, we think our country cannot be prosperous and successful having poor and troubled neighbors along its borders. We want to stretch a helping hand to our neighbors.

 


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