US now focused on South-Central Asia economies
WASHINGTON (Pajhwok): Preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by this year’s end, the US is now focused on connecting the economies of South and Central Asia, a top President Obama administration official said Wednesday.
“While the transition in Afghanistan is the cause of much angst and anxiety, we are focused on the opportunities and imperative it creates for connecting the economies of South Asia and Central Asia,” the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, said in her address at Harvard University in Boston.
Through the New Silk Road vision, she said the United States was focusing its efforts in four key areas.
She identified the areas as creating regional energy markets that link central Asia with the south, boosting transportation routes and investing in critical infrastructure, improving customs and borders, and linking businesses and people.
“Afghanistan and its neighbours are now championing that New Silk Road vision themselves. The region is reducing barriers to trade, investing in each other’s economies, and supporting cross-border projects,” Biswal said.
From CASA-1000 – which will bring surplus hydropower form Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to Afghanistan and Pakistan – to TAPI – the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline – the United States is supporting the countries of the region as they build the economic and energy linkages that will transform their individual and collective economies, the US official said.
“We have focused on easing the constraints to trade in this least connected part of the world. US technical assistance has helped reduce custom procedures by nearly half in Afghanistan, dramatically reducing border release times,” she said.
However, she said, the biggest constraint to boosting trade and energy flows is in addressing the barriers between India and Pakistan.
“We are encouraged by the economic progress that Pakistan has made in the past year, though it still faces many challenges ahead,” she said.
“An improved climate between Pakistan and its largest neighbor can pay enormous economic dividends. India-Pakistan trade in 2013 was still a paltry USD2.5 billion.
“There’s no reason that number can’t quadruple in a few years’ time to USD10 billion. We have heard some positive murmurings in Islamabad and Delhi that both governments are moving in this direction and we are hopeful that they will make progress after the Indian election,” Biswal said.
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