Afghanistan, neighbors unveil 'Silk Road' plan
Afghanistan, its neighbors and supporters on Thursday kicked off a drive to boost prosperity and peace by linking the country with markets across South and Central Asia.
"This was a great day for Afghanistan and the region," Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul said after the meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The so-called "New Silk Road" initiative is a long-term vision aimed at developing closer economic ties between Afghanistan and neighboring countries.
Like the ancient Silk Road, Afghanistan would be at the heart of lucrative trade routes between Asia and the West, but it would involve modern highways, rail links and energy pipelines.
"Our goal is to achieve an Afghan economy whose growth is based on trade, private enterprise and investment," Rassoul said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stressed the network would allow Afghanistan to attract new sources of foreign private-sector investment and access markets abroad, while generating new resources, markets, and investment opportunities for the entire region.
"For political reconciliation to succeed, Afghans must be able to envision a more prosperous and peaceful future," Clinton said, as foreign combat troops aim to leave Afghanistan by 2014.
An Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economically thriving areas of South and Central Asia would "provide the people with credible alternatives to insurgency", she said.
But she conceded the success of the initiative would require "changes in attitude and a sustained commitment of political will."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who hosted the talks, hailed the "successful and constructive" meeting.
"Strengthening regional ties will help Afghanistan unleash the economic potential of its natural assets, moving closer to a self-sustaining Afghanistan," Westerwelle said.
Other participants included the foreign ministers of France, China, India, Japan, Canada, Sweden, Norway and the United Arab Emirates as well as senior officials from Iran, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan.
The talks paved the way for high-level meetings in Istanbul on November 2 and in Bonn, Germany, on December 5, where specific projects of the "New Silk Road" will be discussed.
The meeting on Thursday began with a moment of silence for late Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani killed by a suicide bomber at his Kabul home on Tuesday.
The death of Rabbani, who chaired the High Peace Council of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, marked a major blow for the reconciliation talks with the Taliban.
© 2011 AFP