Sunday, November 23, 2014

3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan

Statement by His Excellency Hamid Karzai
President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan

At the
3rd Regional Economic Cooperation Conference
on Afghanistan

Islamabad, Pakistan
13 May 2009
Please Check Against Delivery
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Honorable Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani
Excellencies heads of delegations
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me and the Afghan delegation to see many friends and partners of Afghanistan gathered in the beautiful city of Islamabad. On behalf of Afghanistan, I welcome our neighbours, countries of the region, member countries of the G8 and the various international organizations for attending today’s conference. It was almost four years ago in Kabul that we first came together to discuss the opportunity that Afghanistan’s re-emergence as a stable country presented for economic cooperation and integration in our region. We met again Delhi in November 2006 to reaffirm our commitment to regional economic cooperation and to discuss specific measures to that end.
I am grateful to my honourable brother, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani for pushing this initiative ahead by hosting this Conference in Islamabad today.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Economic integration in our region, where each and all of our nations would have a part to play, is an achievable vision. The next step is to take careful stock of where we are, and to move to a higher level by focusing on practical objectives.

To achieve our goal of greater regional economic cooperation, we have eagerly participated in multilateral trade negotiations. We are also engaged with many of our neighbors through bilateral and multilateral trade and economic agreements. Afghanistan is an active member of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and SAARC. We have taken serious steps to gain membership in the South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement.
Afghanistan is also a member of the Contact Group of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Moreover, through active membership in Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC), Central Asia and South Asian Transportation and Trade Forum (CSATTF), and UN Special Program for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), Afghanistan is focusing on various projects and activities that promote enhanced regional cooperation within our region. Key among these projects are CASA-1000 which will transit 1000 MW energy from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Pakistan via Afghanistan and the Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (TAPI) pipeline which will transit natural gas to Pakistan and India through Afghanistan. In line with our goal of promoting regional cooperation and to include regional actors in our economy, we concluded a major contract with a Chinese consortium to undertake exploration, smelting and sale of the Aynak copper deposit. As part of this contract the consortium will build a railway line which will connect Central Asia to South Asia and expedite the transport of people and goods within the region and beyond

Within our country, we have taken serious steps to encourage and facilitate the establishment of new businesses, to widen trade opportunities, to promote foreign and domestic investment, to build roads and improve transportation, and to provide efficient communication networks for businesses and for the society at large.

Moreover, we have overhauled our laws, including our corporate and commercial laws; we have revised and simplified our customs procedures and reduced tariffs, we have passed new laws promoting direct foreign investment and portfolio investment; we have established a dependable banking system; we have provided for a stable exchange rate and stable money; and we have expanded and improved our educational system to create a pool of employable, skilled labor force. Above all, we have institutionalized and consolidated our nascent democracy, permitting our people to become true stakeholders in our country’s political and economic destiny.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today there are a host of factors – from the fragility of security, to inadequate physical infrastructure, to inconsistent policies – which play to the detriment of regional economic cooperation. Many of us are plagued by poverty and environmental degradation; for some of us, trafficking in illegal drugs, corruption and red-tape are among significant obstacles to development and upholding the rule of law.

Perhaps by far the most menacing challenge to the region’s prosperity today is extremism and terrorism which threaten our people’s lives and livelihoods. It is with tremendous trepidation, ladies and gentlemen, that we have been watching the wildfire of terrorism spreading across the region. The increasing number of suicide attacks and other forms of violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India are grim reminders of the terrorists’ growing reach.

In addition to suicide attacks against innocent civilians and security personnel, attacks have been launched against hundreds of vehicles transporting Afghan merchandize or NATO supplies on the road from Karachi to Kabul. Trucks have been burned, drivers have been killed, and merchandize have been looted and set on fire. Such terrorist atrocities have had a serious affect on trade and commerce.

There is more to this: terrorists and extremists are extending their reach in whole areas of our habitat and hindering our progress towards peace and prosperity. Today, parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan have fallen victim to the atrocities of the militants and terrorists, forcing hundred of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes and become refugees in their own countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen:
The current situation has become intolerable for the peoples of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

It is time to combine our energies and make sure that the forces of mayhem and death are defeated once and for all. It is time to take back our valleys and villages from terrorists; it is time to get serious about keeping our roads open to trade; it is time to open our schools and send our sons and daughters back to classes; it is time to secure the lives of our women and children.

It is for the sake of our common security, ladies and gentlemen, and for the future of our children that we must counter the spread of terrorism, urgently and decisively. We must open our hearts and our minds to the prospects of a new, better and more prosperous future. It is time we focused, together, on fighting extremism and terrorism, as the enemies that work against that future and as enemies that we have in common. It is time we all realized that a stable, peaceful and prosperous future for our children will only be attained by espousing the progressive ideals of regional cooperation and interdependence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
While we marshal our joint efforts to fight terrorists and remove their sanctuaries, we must also offer protection for the civilian population and prove that our efforts provide for a better future, a promise of life and opportunity for them and their children.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, we are here in Islamabad to recommit ourselves to a stable, secure, democratic and prosperous region, built on the principles of the rule of law and friendly co-existence with the outside world; and to a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan that would be an important contributor to the economic integration and prosperity of the region. We must commit ourselves to dispense with the stereotypical and narrow-minded politics of the past and start afresh in building a peaceful and prosperous region. With this commitment in mind, today’s conference is a landmark event both for Afghanistan and the peoples of this region who share our vision of security, progress and prosperity. Therefore, for the sake of the legitimate aspirations of our peoples, let us resolve to make our common vision a reality.

Thank you

Why the Pentagon Axed Its Afghan Warlord

By MARK THOMPSON / WASHINGTON Mark Thompson / Washington–

Public beheadings in Afghanistan are usually associated with the Taliban, but on Monday it was Defense Secretary Robert Gates metaphorically wielding the axe from the Pentagon platform. Gates announced that he had asked for and requested the resignation of his top commander in Afghanistan, Army General David McKiernan, after only 11 months in that theater. The 37-year veteran will be replaced by Army Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal. Army Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, the Defense Secretary’s own top military aide, is to serve in a newly created post as McChrystal’s deputy.

The move was yet another dose of accountability from Gates, who has previously cashiered officers for failing to tend to hospitalized troops or to secure nuclear weapons. But Monday’s action was more momentous: It marked the first time a civilian has fired a wartime commander since President Harry Truman ousted General Douglas MacArthur in 1951 for questioning Truman’s Korean War strategy. (See pictures of U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan.)

The Obama Administration has made Afghanistan the central front in the war on terror over the past month, it had concluded that McKiernan’s tenure there had involved too much wheel-spinning even as the Taliban extended its reach. There was not enough of the “new thinking” demanded by Gates. “It’s time for new leadership and fresh eyes,” Gates said, refusing to elaborate. He noted that Joints Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen, and General David Petraeus, who as chief of U.S. Central Command oversees the Afghan war, had endorsed the move. Officers have typically served about 24 months in the slot, meaning McKiernan had served less than half his expected tour.

Military experts anticipate that U.S. policy in Afghanistan more militarily pointed as well as politically deft, once McChrystal and Rodrigues, his 1976 West Point classmate and fellow Afghan vet, are confirmed by the Senate. “McKiernan did his best – he was just the wrong guy,” says retired Army officer and military analyst Ralph Peters. “McChrystal will ask for more authority, not more troops.” By the end of this year, the U.S. expects to have close to 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, including 21,000 ordered there by Obama. While that’s just half the 130,000 troops the U.S. maintains in Iraq, Gates has been leery of sending further reinforcements. (Read TIME’s 2-Min. Bio of McChrystal.)

McChrystal proved adept at using intelligence to multiply the impact of the troops at his disposal when he commanded U.S. Special Forces in Iraq as they hunted down and killed al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. And unlike what some call McKiernan’s “shy” demeanor and his desire – in Army parlance – to “stay inside his lane,” McChrystal is eager to take the spotlight. He’s also expected to challenge behavior of the Afghan government that undermines the war effort: One official on the Joint Chiefs of Staff expects McChrystal to warn President Hamid Karzai to shut down drug running operations that fund the Taliban, even when their networks run uncomfortably close to his government. “[McChrystal] will tell him: ‘If you don’t clean this up, I will.’ ”

Not everyone welcomed the change, however. Some viewed McKiernan’s firing as unfair, noting that he had inherited command of an under-resourced Afghan theater that had been a secondary priority to Iraq. “In Afghanistan, we do what we can,” Mullen himself had said in December 2007. “In Iraq, we do what we must.” And while McKiernan was given his Afghan command during the Bush Administration, it had been Gates who had appointed him – at Mullen’s recommendation.

Gates took pains on Monday to avoid criticizing McKiernan. He told the four-star general that his Army career was effectively over during a face-to-face meeting in Afghanistan last week. “This was a kick in the teeth, but McKiernan took it extraordinarily well,” a senior Pentagon official said. Other military officials were less courteous. “I still can’t figure out why they put an armored guy with no Afghan experience in charge” one said. A second senior official said “Dave McKiernan is clearly part of the Army’s old guard – he led troops in [1991’s] Desert Storm, for pete’s sake. But if things were going better over there, he’d be staying.”

Gates has long demonstrated an impatience with war-time commanders who passively wait for the military hierarchy to give them what they need. He was stunned at the military’s foot-dragging when he ordered additional armored vehicles and drone aircraft to the Afghan and Iraq wars.Even though McKiernan’s dismissal had been in the works prior to Gates’ trip to Afghanistan last week (Mullen had warned McKiernan two weeks ago that it was coming), Gates was incensed by some of what he witnessed during that visit. Several troops complained that they lacked basic gear after arriving in Afghanistan. “It is a considerable concern to me,” he said last Thursday, brushing off a suggestion that the Taliban or the priority given to Iraq had been to blame for the Afghan shortfalls. “It’s more, really, a logistical challenge than it is anything else,” Gates said. That, one of the defense chief’s top aides said, is an unacceptable failure in a theater of war. “McKiernan never quite figured out how to ensure that he would succeed – he was still too dependent on the organization coming to his rescue,” he said. “Sadly, this institution doesn’t always do that.”

Time.com:

Ethnic Groups in Myanmar Hope for Peace, but Gird for Fight

By THOMAS FULLER–

LAIZA, Myanmar – The Kachin tribesmen who inhabit the hills along Myanmar’s border with China have a reputation as stealthy jungle warriors, famous for repelling Japanese attacks in the Second World War with booby traps and instilling terror by slicing off ears to tally their kills.

Now, as they have many times in their war-scarred history, the Kachin are hoping for peace but are prepared for battle with Myanmar’s central government.

“Whether or not there will be war again, we have to be ready,” Maj. Zauja Nhkri, the head of an officer’s training school that is part of the Kachin Independence Army, which has around 4,000 men under arms.

“If our army is strong, we can maintain the peace.”

As Myanmar’s military government prepares to adopt a new and disputed Constitution next year, a fragile patchwork of cease-fire agreements between the central government and more than a dozen armed ethnic groups is fraying.

The new Constitution would nominally return the country to civilian rule after four and a half decades of military government and, in theory, could formally end the now dormant civil war that has plagued the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1948. But as a precondition for what they portray as a fresh start, Myanmar’s ruling generals are ordering the Kachin and other groups to disarm and disband their substantial armies.

So far, the answer is no.

“There is no good road map for the future of Burma,” said Gen. Gam Shawng Gunhtang, the chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army, which has fought the government on and off since its founding in 1961. Myanmar used to be known as Burma.

The ethnic groups control large pockets of territory in the northern and eastern borderland areas, and, if they disarm, they risk losing control over their lucrative trade in timber, jade, gems and, in some cases, heroin and methamphetamines. They are loath to give up their hard-won autonomy to the Myanmar military, which is dominated by the Burman ethnic group they have long resented.

“We ethnic peoples are trying to form a federal union,” Gen. Gam Shawng Gunhtang said. “They don’t want to hear about it.”

The demands to disarm are “not acceptable,” he said.

The volatile and remote northern reaches of Myanmar are rarely reported on in the Western news media because of the difficulty accessing the armed groups. The visit by this reporter to Laiza was the first by a foreign newspaper correspondent in several years.

By the tumultuous standards of Myanmar’s six decades of independence, the country has been relatively peaceful over the past decade and a half, thanks to the cease-fire agreements.

Myanmar captured the world’s attention when the government quashed the uprising of Buddhist monks in September 2007 and when it refused to allow some international assistance after a deadly cyclone last May.

But those events only served to underline the firm grip that the generals have over the low-lying parts of the country, where the majority Burman population is concentrated.

It is a very different picture in the upland regions, where the government’s control has always been tenuous. A resumption of civil war in the north and east is by no means a foregone conclusion – the generals could back down from their demands to disarm, or the ethnic groups might relent and decide to fully adopt the new Constitution.

But if the conflicts re-ignite, which some analysts say is likely, it could resonate well beyond Myanmar’s borders, resulting in outflows of refugees into neighboring countries like Thailand and China and a resurgence of the heroin business, which in the past has thrived under the cover of war.

“I think you will hear a lot of gunfire next year,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former soldier in the now defunct Burmese Communist Party who is in contact with leaders of the ethnic groups. “The Burmese government is unwilling to give autonomy.”

The largest borderland groups, drawn from ethnic groups like the Wa, Shan and Kokang, are united in their bitterness over their historical domination by the Burman.

During the Cold War, China, Thailand and the United States supplied arms and other assistance to some borderland groups. Now commercial interests, including many shady businesses, have replaced ideological ones.

The Kachin hills are home to the world’s most lucrative jade mines. The area inhabited by the Shan has the largest and best-quality rubies found anywhere. All the territory controlled by the ethnic groups has prized varieties of tropical hardwood.

And drug syndicates, many of them with ties to the ethnic groups, profit handsomely from the trafficking of both illegal and counterfeit drugs.

Adding to the complexity of the situation, Myanmar, by the nature of its location between India and China, is now the focus of a geopolitical contest for influence by the region’s big powers increasingly hungry for natural resources.

Chinese companies are building a series of hydroelectric dams on northern tributaries of the Irrawaddy River (despite Kachin objections) and have helped finance and build roads inside Myanmar, facilitating both the sale of Chinese electronics and clothing in Myanmar and the export of timber and other commodities into China.

China recently beat India in securing a 30-year concession on natural gas from Myanmar, and construction will reportedly start soon on twin pipelines crossing Myanmar from the Bay of Bengal and connecting to the southern Chinese city of Kunming.

In March, China and Myanmar signed a “cooperation agreement” on the oil and gas pipelines, but key details are vague.

The strategic objective for China is access to the Bay of Bengal, thus avoiding having to ship oil through the Strait of Malacca, a costly detour and a security threat if that choke point is ever blocked. But the project is seen by many as a risky venture.

“Burma is not a stable place when you get out into these remote areas that the pipeline is going to have to traverse,” said Priscilla A. Clapp, a former American diplomat who spent three years as the chief of the U.S. mission in Myanmar. “It’s going to have to go over mountains and through remote areas of the country that are barely controlled by the military. It could very easily be blown up, and then you’re out of luck.”

Gam Shawng Gunhtang, the Kachin general, is worried that the pipeline will marginalize the borderland ethnic groups and give the upper hand to Myanmar’s junta, also known as the State Peace and Development Council, or S.P.D.C.

“The S.P.D.C. is trying to convince the Chinese government that the borderland armed groups are not political groups – just insurgents or terrorists,” the general said. “The pipeline will be a tool and an opportunity for the S.P.D.C. to eliminate the armed groups.”

The Constitution, which Myanmar’s generals say was adopted by more than 90 percent of voters in a referendum last year and will take effect after elections next year, prescribes “genuine multi-party democracy” and recognizes what it calls “self-administered” areas. But ethnic leaders say this falls short of the autonomy they want.

They also point out that the document preserves a dominant role for the military, including the right of the commander in chief of the armed forces to appoint a quarter of the Parliament and to remove the president.

And because the Constitution mandates that only the national armed forces provide defense and security, the junta is demanding that all other groups disarm.

The most heavily armed group along the Chinese border is the United Wa State Army, which has about 20,000 soldiers and new armaments including field artillery and anti-tank missiles, according to Bertil Lintner, an expert on Myanmar’s ethnic groups and co-author of the book “Merchants of Madness,” which deals with the drug trade among ethnic groups.

Very few of the armed groups will accede to the government’s demands to disarm, Mr. Lintner believes.

“Some of the smaller groups might hand in their weapons, but they don’t matter anyway,” he said.

In Laiza, it is easy to see why the Kachin want to maintain their autonomy.

Residents escape many of the deprivations so common in other parts of Myanmar, one of the world’s poorest countries: Electricity from a nearby hydroelectric dam is reliable, cellphone service provided by Chinese communications towers across the border is cheap (obtaining a cellphone number inside Myanmar typically costs $2,000), and the local administration even stamps out its own vehicle license plates, skirting Myanmar’s highly restrictive car ownership policies.

In addition to its own army, the Kachin have a police force, schools, a teacher’s training college and their own customs agents, who monitor the border crossing with China.

Laiza is no Shangri-La – the town struggles with drug addiction and other social ills common to many border areas – but it feels more free than the military-controlled areas in Myanmar, where dissidents are repeatedly rounded up and sentenced to long jail terms.

“The S.P.D.C. has one last chance to win the hearts of the people,” said Thar Kyaw, a jade dealer now based in the southern Chinese city of Ruili. “But we are not very hopeful.”

Source: The New York Times