ESCAP to Support Afghanistan Transition From Conflict to Development

Foreign Minister Zarifi,
Foreign Minister Rassoul,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

Let me begin by thanking President Rahmon and his Government for the warmth of their hospitality and their commitment to regional economic cooperation.

If there is one clear message from this conference it is that Afghanistan matters. Not only for geopolitical and security concerns, but as a full and valuable member of the community of nations.

The future of Afghanistan is of importance to the Asia-Pacific region and to our world. Regional economic cooperation, in turn, is key to ensuring long-term stability and prosperity in Afghanistan.

As the regional development arm of the United Nations, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) stands ready to support Afghanistan by building regional and strategic partnerships in its transition from being a conflict-affected state to being a developmental one, in charge of its own destiny and bringing about real change in the lives of its people.

The vision articulated by President Karzai - of Afghanistan as a land-bridge at the heart of Asia - translates its historical strength as a geographical crossroads, into significant economic and social potential. ESCAP, and all our other member States, will work with the people of Afghanistan to unlock this potential, through a renewed partnership.

Speaking at the Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn last December, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, made the point that development and security are fundamentally connected, and that violence cannot be allowed to hijack the reconstruction and development agenda.

Putting this fundamental principle into action, I wish today, to reaffirm ESCAP’s commitment to Afghan development by proposing three areas of work in which we will help to coordinate Asia-Pacific regional resources, to assist in nation building: resilience, connectivity and greater integration into the Asia-Pacific regional economy.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Resilience, Development Gaps & Final Push on MDGs

An important message to be drawn from other successful transitions in our region is that positive transformation requires the strengthening of the social fabric. This means placing people – especially the most vulnerable people – at the centre of the policy agenda. It also entails building social and economic resilience – to ensure that hard-won development gains are not wiped out by external and internal shocks and upheavals.

Afghanistan’s National Priority Programmes, following the principles of the Kabul Process, have already emphasized basic social services – like the provision of electricity and education. Health services have been improved – and fewer mothers and children die from preventable causes. More than 7 million additional children are in school, but addressing gender gaps and the empowerment of women still remains one of the most pressing social and economic challenges.

These are important first steps, but the reach of social investment is largely determined by the extent of development gaps. With just three years left to the 2015 global deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) we are in a race against time to meet what are actually very minimal development targets across our region.

We know that Afghanistan lost over two decades of development to war, and is aiming for achievement of the MDGs by 2020. We stand ready to help the Afghan people to redouble their efforts, and to integrate this work with the post-2015 development agenda. ESCAP is well positioned and committed to sharing the key learnings of other Asia-Pacific experiences in the economics and social investment of successful transitions, in effective governance, rooting out corruption, tackling the scourge of drugs and building the institutional capacity necessary to deliver the benefits of development to the widest possible range of communities and people.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Regional Connectivity Key to Sustainable Economic Growth

As Afghanistan and its partners move to complete the process of transition by 2014, it is clear that increasing Government revenues and achieving inclusive and sustainable economic growth are key priorities – especially to sustain and accelerate social investment.

Least developed and landlocked developing countries, like Afghanistan, are at the centre of ESCAP’s focus on improving regional economic connectivity. We have already made great progress on initiatives such as the Asian Highway and the Trans-Asian Railway networks. By providing essential links, transport can transform landlocked countries into ‘land-linked’ countries – connecting dry ports with sea ports and helping to integrate them with regional and global production and supply chains.

Connecting countries like Afghanistan with the regional engines of economic growth requires more than just the physical infrastructure or hardware of connectivity however. We also need the software of connectivity – harmonization of regulations, training and skills development, and the forging of people-to-people connections across regional borders. In both these areas, ESCAP will work with Afghanistan to help enhance it’s linkages with broader Asian growth.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Forging Regional Economic Integration

The Asia-Pacific region has emerged from the global economic crisis as the most dynamic in the world. The key to sustaining this dynamism, in light of reduced demand from the West, is the development of our own regional markets. Central Asia is a critical part of this development.

This is why the focus of the 68th ESCAP Commission Session this year is regional economic integration, and why we have also established a new ESCAP sub-regional office for North and Central Asia in Kazakhstan. The mandate of this office is to explore opportunities for strengthening regional economic cooperation with countries like Afghanistan through trade and investment, infrastructure development, and sustainable management of energy, water and other natural resources.

ESCAP and the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) are also working to invigorate the United Nations Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA), to involve Afghanistan and the other SPECA countries more closely in regional economic cooperation. I look forward to ESCAP hosting the Governing Council of SPECA in Bangkok in November this year, which will include a special event focused specifically on Afghanistan.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

It was the 13th century Persian poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, born in what today is Tajikistan, who wrote: “Friends, be careful. Don't come near me out of curiosity, or sympathy.” For too long Afghanistan has been the focus of both – viewed even by friends as a country more in need of assistance than real partnership based on mutual cooperation, trust and respect.

This conference, and our deliberations, signals a very different phase in Afghan development – one premised on the recognition of the value and potential of Afghanistan.

ESCAP, and the countries of Asia and the Pacific, remain committed to supporting this development and look forward to the deepening of ties between Afghanistan and the Asia-Pacific region.

Thank you.