Opening Remarks by H.E. Dr. Zalmai Rassoul
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan
Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan:
Security and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia
2 November 2011
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear brother Foreign Minister Davutoglu, please accept my sincerest condolences for last week’s tragic earthquake in the Province of Van that took so many lives and inflicted huge losses. We pray for a quick recovery for all those affected.
It’s a great pleasure to join you here today in welcoming our colleagues and friends from countries with whom we share our region. I wish to express heartfelt appreciations to the Government of Turkey for hosting today’s Conference for Afghanistan which focuses on “Security and Cooperation in the Heart of Asia”. Your personal efforts, Foreign Minister Davutoglu, have been crucial in shaping this important regional gathering for which I am immensely and genuinely grateful.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As mentioned in remarks by both His Excellency President Gul and His Excellency President Karzai, today’s gathering presents an important opportunity; an opportunity to broaden the horizons of regional cooperation for our mutual benefit. We owe it to our peoples and their future to cooperate with each other so we can realize our true potentials and our children can enjoy a safer, more prosperous life.
Recognising how crucial regional cooperation is, it is a responsibility – a collective responsibility – we all have to do what we can in order to bring about an environment that is free from the perils of terrorism, extremism, narcotics, organized crime – these are the examples of the kind of common and real challenges we face as a region today.
You heard His Excellency President Karzai this morning describing the challenges that our country is facing today. Indeed, over the past ten years, we have come a long way in making lives better for the Afghan people. However, significant threats and challenges remain. The region that surrounds Afghanistan has been a great supporter in our efforts, and remains a huge factor in our ability to overcome the challenges that remain.
Therefore, over the past decade, the Government of Afghanistan has put the task of building regional confidence and cooperation at the centre of our vision for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan. The Kabul Declaration on Good-Neighbourly Relations of 22 December 2002 laid the foundations of Afghanistan’s new relationship in the region – a relationship that is based on respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, peaceful co-existence, refraining from interference and respect for international law.
Over the past ten years, we have actively engaged in all regional organisations which have a role to play in strengthening regional cooperation in various fields – from our active participation in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – which we are hoping to join as an observer country in the near future – to other regional organisations that deal with furthering cooperation in economic and other field, such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC).
There have been specific regional initiatives to help Afghanistan, such as the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA), which we value and are committed to maintain. We are committed to exploring new and effective ideas that could be translated into workable strategies in the interest of regional economic integration. In this respect, we welcome the New Silk Road initiative and look forward to a fruitful dialogue with our neighbours and regional partners.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our gathering in Istanbul is a recognition that, building on our progress of the past ten years in terms of strengthening regional cooperation, we must take bolder and stronger steps in order to make regional cooperation more effective. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, we view the Istanbul Conference as one of the most important opportunities for Afghanistan and our regional partners to reaffirm our mutual commitments to cooperation, and chart a way forward for building greater confidence and understanding across the region.
Together with our friends and supporters from outside this region, our gathering today is taking place in a unique format – the Heart of Asia – which brings together all the major countries of the wider region surrounding Afghanistan, from South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Given the increasing interdependence and commonality of interests and concerns across the wider region, it is important to broaden the geographical, as well as substantive, focus of our cooperation at the regional level.
The Afghan Government aims for the Istanbul Conference to be a successful turning point with a tangible outcome that helps build a common regional vision for peace and stability. The Conference will be a significant milestone to recognize Afghanistan’s long quest and desire for stability, as well as the region’s growing need for confidence building and cooperation against the common challenges we face, notably terrorism, extremism, the drug trade, and obstacles to legitimate interaction and movement, to name but a few.
I am satisfied with the huge amount of intensive preparatory work that has gone into making this Conference a success. Indeed, it has been a truly participatory process where the views and concerns of all the neighbours and fellow regional countries have been taken into account. From the various preparatory meetings, including Dubai, Oslo and Kabul, to the visits by Afghan and Turkish officials to major capitals of the region, this has been a very meaningful dialogue.
I thank the Republic of Turkey again for the leadership role they have in strengthening regional cooperation and, in particular, in making this important conference the turning point it should be. We Afghans are honoured and blessed to have a friend like Turkey.
I also express deep gratitude and appreciation to Afghanistan’s other neighbours and near neighbours for supporting the vision of regional cooperation, and for taking an active part in this process. Your presence here today is not only a testimony to your friendship and solidarity with Afghanistan, but also your commitment to strengthening and deepening cooperation at the regional level.
May I also thank all the supporter countries who are so strongly represented here today. Indeed, without support and solidarity from friends and partners from outside the region, our region will not be able to make the vision of regional cooperation and integration a reality. In particular, I wish to say a sincere thank you to the Kingdom of Norway for being a great friend and supporter of regional cooperation in the Heart of Asia. In particular, the role that Norway played in facilitating dialogue in the run up to this conference is highly appreciated.
The role of the United Nations has been extremely useful. We are all members of the UN and, as such, the role of this global entity is one major common bond that ties us across the region. In particular, the contributions from the Secretary General’s Special Representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador Staffan de Mistura, have been substantial and commendable.
For regional cooperation to be meaningful, it must deliver results. For all the goodwill and desire that exist across our region for strengthening regional cooperation, the progress we are making in tackling our common challenges is relatively modest. Therefore, today’s conference must be the beginning of a process that involves tangible steps and credible results. I appeal to Afghanistan’s neighbours and fellow regional countries to rally behind the Istanbul Undertaking we are hoping to adopt today.
In conclusion, I thank all of Afghanistan’s partners in the international community, its neighbours and partners in this Heart of Asia region for your continued support and solidarity with Afghanistan. In particular, I thank you all for attending this historical conference and contributing to its success.
Thank you for your attention and I invite you far an active participation in today’s meeting.