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26.04.2013 18:39 News >> İstanbul Process Countries Offer Support To Afghanistan At Critical Stage

İstanbul Process Countries Offer Support To Afghanistan At Critical Stage

Afghanistan is at a critical stage in its history, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at the İstanbul Process on Afghanistan conference on Friday in Kazakhstan, with Afghan security forces preparing to take over security and military issues...

Afghanistan is at a critical stage in its history, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said at the İstanbul Process on Afghanistan conference on Friday in Kazakhstan, with Afghan security forces preparing to take over security and military issues from foreign troops, a great many of which are to leave the country by the end of next year.

The next two years will be formative years for Afghanistan, given that not only will NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) leave the country within a year and a half, but Afghanistan is also to hold presidential elections in April of next year. Meanwhile, to further complicate matters, the peace process the Afghan government has been trying to launch doesn't seem to be welcomed by the Taliban.

Noting that the Istanbul Process is the response of the region to shared challenges faced by the region as a whole, "A region that has Afghanistan firmly integrated into it can face these challenges more confidently and effectively," Davutoğlu said.

At the end of the conference, a Declaration of the Almaty Conference was prepared and accepted, prescribing that six confidence-building measures -- the fight against drugs; combating terrorism; boosting trade and investment; improving regional infrastructure; advancing education and enhancing disaster management -- are to be put into effect for the development of the region as whole; economic development is seen as the best method of fighting against terrorism, extremism and illicit drug-trafficking.

Fourteen ministerial and high-level delegations from the Heart of Asia countries -- nations surrounding Afghanistan in the region from India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Iran to Azerbaijan and China -- got together in their third ministerial conference to pave the way for war-torn Afghanistan to achieve security and stability, while integrating it into regional projects for economic development.

Speakers at the conference often stressed that a credible presidential election in Afghanistan next year is essential for Afghanistan to achieve stability. Besides the elections, the government's peace efforts with the Taliban, as well as economic development for Afghanistan are crucial to strengthening the country.

"It has been one and a half years since the İstanbul Conference took place to establish a platform for regional cooperation with a focus on Afghanistan. We have made important progress since then despite the hesitations and doubts," said Davutoğlu.

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul affirmed that the country is doing its best for the elections to be reliable and free, noting that Afghan security forces can now ensure the safety of nearly 90 percent of the population in the country. But he complained at the same time that the region is suffering from a lack of sincere cooperation. He didn't elaborate, but he said this is to the detriment of all countries in the region.

Pakistan, which Afghanistan accuses of giving support to Taliban insurgents to counter India's influence in Afghanistan as well as providing a safe haven for them on its territory -- accusations which are flatly refused by Pakistan -- is seen as a major player in Afghanistan's striking peace with the Taliban.

Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan, who inaugurated the third of the Heart of Asia ministerial conferences in Almaty, emphasized that regional countries should boost efforts for the integration of Afghanistan into regional projects so that stability and economic development become possible in Afghanistan. By converting Afghanistan, a landlocked country, into a hub of energy, pipelines and transportation in the heart of Asia, countries offering support to the İstanbul Process believe that much can be achieved.

Kazakhstan, which is working on regional projects to connect Afghanistan to other regional countries, is an active supporter of such efforts, Nazarbayev affirmed. Kazakhstan, which has offered 1,000 Afghan students scholarships to study at Kazakh universities, is also preparing to make Aktau, its port on the Caspian Sea, available for NATO operations in Afghanistan.

The İstanbul Process, launched by Turkey and Afghanistan in November 2011, is important because it brought all the countries surrounding Afghanistan together for the first time at the same table to produce a joint solution to Afghanistan's problems; problems which also negatively affect neighboring countries. Davutoğlu also underlined that the İstanbul Process doesn't compete in any way with any other regional initiatives which strive for the establishment of a stable and secure Afghanistan.

Most of the foreign troops fighting the Taliban under ISAF will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, following which, it's feared the civil war in Afghanistan may flare up and see the Taliban fighting the Afghan government. As Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Margulov noted in the meeting, national reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan are practically stagnant at the moment, with the Taliban seemingly unwilling to cooperate.

Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Salehi expressed concern for the future of the region, saying that there were indications that the areas where opium is being cultivated in Afghanistan would triple, but the Afghan Foreign Minister said the government has managed to decrease the amount of opium cultivated on land under its control, with opium production having increased in recent years only in areas where the government does not have complete control. But he assured everyone that the Afghan government is determined to fight the cultivation of opium.

Efforts to put an end to the civil war in Afghanistan and to urge the Taliban to join the reconciliation process in the country have also increased. In December, Turkey hosted the seventh trilateral summit between Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan, in which the presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai, respectively, came together to resolve differences related to the Afghan civil war.

The two leaders also met in London in February for talks hosted by British Prime Minister David Cameron. In the most recent effort, US Secretary of State John Kerry brought Pakistani and Afghan officials, including Karzai and Pakistan's army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani, together in Brussels on April 25 in an effort to end the mutual mistrust between the two countries so that they could improve cooperation on the Afghan peace process before foreign troops leave Afghanistan.

Cooperation and joint projects among countries in the region were widely discussed at the conference, in which 16 ministerial and high-level delegations from countries supporting the İstanbul process, as well as 12 high-level delegations from international and regional organizations such as the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also participated.

Afghan military and police forces are expected to take over security and military issues in the coming months before the withdrawal of foreign troops. But the approximately 1,800 Turkish troops serving in the country and some of the American troops will remain in the country to support Afghan security forces.

Turkey, which will take on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Kabul regional command in November, offers support to Afghanistan in various areas such as the training of police cadets, education and health. As part of an extensive training project launched in mid-2011 as part of a NATO plan, 15,000 Afghan police cadets are to get training in Turkey in areas such as human rights, close combat and security precautions against terrorist attacks.

Afghanistan is one of countries that has received the lion's share of development aid offered by the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA) in recent years. TİKA has carried out more than 800 projects, varying from education to health-related work, in the country since 2004. The United Nations, for its part, provided $900 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan in 2011 and $484 million in 2012.

(Cihan/Today's Zaman)



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