Representatives from 30 countries have met in Kabul to discuss regional development and cooperation. The 'Heart of Asia' conference focuses on the future of Afghanistan and stability in the region.
The famous Pakistani poet Iqbal Lohari described Afghanistan in one of his poems as the "Heart of Asia." The same name was adopted for the conference that has taken place in Afghanistan on regional cooperation.
It was the first "Heart of Asia" conference since the inaugural in Istanbul last year. In addition to discussing fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, the conference also focused on closer economic cooperation. Turkish Foreign Minsiter Ahmet Davutoglu emphasized the importance of Afghanistan:
"Afghanistan is the heart of Asia and without stability and security of Afghanistan, there cannot be security, stability and prosperity in Asia all together. With this understanding, we started this process of regional ownership and based on three dimensions."
Fourteen regional countries as well as 16 others participated in the conference in Kabul. In the conference declaration, they agreed to more "enhanced political dialogue" through "Political consultation involving Afghanistan and its near and extended neighbors" and to the implementation of Confidence Building Measures (CBMs).
The agreement was a follow-up to the one signed in Istanbul last year and is aimed at better integrating Afghanistan into the region. It included seven confidence-building measures such as cooperation in the field of disaster management, enhanced cooperation for fighting terrorism and drug-trafficking, enhanced cooperation among chambers of commerce, the improvement of trade and infrastructure, and "broadening cooperation and exchanges in the field of education and science on a short or long-term basis.
These measures were not only created to improve cooperation with Afghanistan but also to build trust among regional players, especially Iran and Pakistan. Both countries feel threatened by the presence of the United States in the region.
Iranian Foreign Minister criticized US presence in Afghanistan during a speech he delivered at the conference, saying that the presence of "a particular country … in pursuit of its extra-regional objectives" actually worsened security in Afghanistan and led to a surge in drug production and trafficking there.
Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul countered these skeptical remarks by saying a joint effort to counter terrorism was "in the benefit of all the region."
He added that despite the military presence in Afghanistan in the past years, there was no "threat for the Islamic Republic of Iran." "In the agreement we have signed with the United States of America, it is clearly written that …" there would be no danger for the neighbors of Afghanistan. That went for Iran as well as Pakistan.
Furthermore, he pointed out that Afghan President Hamid Karzai would conduct talks in Pakistan as soon as possible on fighting the Taliban.
Improving economic ties
A key tool in fighting terrorism is the improvement of economic conditions in Afghanistan, noted German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. At the conference in Kabul he emphasized that improved regional trade and cooperation would considerably speed up the process of gaining stability.
"Regional cooperation is a key element for the framework for peace and economic development created last November in Istanbul," said Afghan Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahady.
"This year," he continued, "we don't only wish to attain peace in Afghanistan, but also prosperity in the entire region."
A "healthy heart"
Farida, an Afghan MP, pointed out the fact that it was unclear how increased regional cooperation would affect the people of Afghanistan.
"The conference failed to take into account the Afghan government's obligation to the Afghan people. Instead, the conference focused on the objectives of other countries," she said.
Nonetheless, she said the conference was a step in the right direction for the future of Afghanistan and thus for the entire region. Or, to put it in the words of the Pakistani poet Iqbal Lahori, the healthier Asia's "heart" beats, the better it is for the entire region.
Author: Waslat Hasrat-Nazimi / sb
Editor: Grahame Lucas