Afghan neighbours join forces to tackle problems
Kabul: Afghanistan and regional heavyweights have agreed to work together to fight terrorism and drug-trafficking and pursue economic development, a formidable agenda in a neighbourhood fraught with power struggles and rivalries.
Yesterday, the Afghan government played host to 14 other countries in the region, a peculiar role for a nation at war for more than three decades.
The issues they discussed were not new. What is new is that these countries agreed to work as a team to solve common problems.
The hope is that regional cooperation will build confidence and erode decades of mistrust. And that, in turn, could help foster stability and greater prosperity.
"Afghanistan recognises out of a grim experience of the past that it is only in stability and harmony and peace in this region that Afghanistan can prosper and be stable,"
President Hamid Karzai said in his opening remarks.
The conference, held under heavy security in Kabul, was a follow-up to the first "Heart of Asia" meeting held in November in Istanbul.
Both sessions took place after the US-led NATO coalition decided to end its combat mission in Afghanistan by the close of 2014.
While that deadline likely hastened work to foster more regional cooperation, the meetings are more of a recognition that an unstable Afghanistan threatens the entire region.
"Whatever happens in Afghanistan affects us in one way or another," said Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Turkey and co-chairman of the event.
"In order to build confidence, one needs to commit to working together, to leave past negative memories behind and positively reconstruct future expectations."
The 15 nations that participated in the conference were: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates and Uzbekistan.
Representatives of 15 other countries, most of them Western, and a dozen regional and international organisations also attended.
Rivalries abound. Pakistan and India, for instance, have fought three major wars since the two were carved out of British India in 1947.
India and Afghanistan recently signed a strategic partnership agreement, adding to concerns in Islamabad that New Delhi was increasing its influence on Pakistan`s western flank.