Washington — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says building a web of economic and transit connections across South and Central Asia with a central hub in Afghanistan would help the transitioning country to build a sustainable economy, in turn ensuring a more prosperous future for the region as a whole.
“An Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economic life of a thriving South and Central Asia would be better able to attract new sources of foreign investment, connect to markets abroad and provide people with credible alternatives to insurgency,” Clinton said of the so-called New Silk Road initiative, a name that references the ancient trade route through the region. She said increasing regional trade could also “open up new sources of raw material, energy and agriculture products for every nation in the region.”
The secretary spoke September 22 during the New Silk Road Ministerial, which she co-chaired with Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. The high-level meeting took place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, and participants included officials from Afghanistan’s neighbors, near-neighbors and international partners.
Clinton said the initiative is critically important as Afghanistan works toward political reconciliation, as lasting stability and security are closely tied to economic opportunity.
“People need a realistic hope for a better life, a job and a chance to provide for their family, and that is especially true in Afghanistan,” Clinton said.
She said that for political reconciliation to succeed, Afghans must be able to envision a more prosperous and peaceful future. To do so, Clinton said, the country will need to build a sustainable economy through strong government leadership and considerable investment from the private sector.
Clinton said that to attract private investment, the nations of the region need to offer lasting stability and security by putting aside rivalries, focusing on new opportunities and welcoming the full participation of women in both the economic and political spheres. The secretary also called on countries of the region to “remove bureaucratic barriers and other impediments to the free flow of goods and people that currently stifle trade and cooperation” to promote sustainable cross-border economic activity.
She said that while the long-term vision of the initiative may seem detached from the everyday concerns of South and Central Asians, it has the potential to drive tangible progress on the ground and make a difference in people’s lives in the short, medium and long term.
“Turkmen gas fields could help meet both Pakistan’s and India’s growing energy needs and provide significant transit revenues for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tajik cotton could be turned into Indian linens. Furniture and fruit from Afghanistan could find its way to the markets of Astana or Mumbai and beyond,” Clinton said.
She called on regional and international partners to join the United States in supporting the Afghan people as they meet the most immediate security and economic challenges that come from transitioning from the military mission there. Clinton said the United States will continue to shift its efforts from short-term stabilization projects to “longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth, creating jobs, invigorating the private sector and integrating Afghanistan into the South and Central Asian economy.”
She said the group will meet to discuss next steps in Istanbul in November, followed by a December summit in Bonn, Germany.