Regional connectivity in Asia seen as difficult
WASHINGTON (Pajhwok): The United States on Wednesday acknowledged regional connectivity between Central and South Asia was difficult to achieve. But the good part is that countries in the region have started an initiative in this regard.
“As you know, Afghanistan has made tremendous strides over the past 12 years. As a result of that progress, the region now has the opportunity to establish a new set of economic, security and political relationships,” a senior official told lawmakers.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Fatema Sumar hoped regional ties would support sustainable security and stability in Afghanistan.
“There's no doubt that regional connectivity between Central and South Asia is difficult. This will take many years; it is the least economically integrated region in the world, and geopolitical tensions abound,” she said.
Barriers to trade remained high and many economic reforms were needed, she said, adding progress would depend on countries themselves deciding that it was in their interests to work together to adopt global best practices.
But despite many challenges, Afghanistan and its neighbours were championing certain aspects of the initiative, the official said.
Under the leadership of Secretary of State John Kerry, the New Silk Road initiative focuses on four areas, she said. The first is creating a regional energy market, bringing surplus energy from Central Asia to South Asia.
The second is improving trade and transport routes across the region; the third is streamlining customs and border procedures to reduce the costs of doing business; and the fourth is connecting people and businesses across new regional markets.
Testifying before the Congressional committee, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jarrett Blanc said the Afghan National Security Forces had progressed from supporting ISAF operations to conducting them jointly, to leading complex operations and taking over the lead for security.
“Since June of last year, they have held their own against the insurgents and have successfully planned and carried out a highly complex effort to protect polls and voters on Election Day, thwarting Taliban attempts to disrupt the first round of the elections,” he said.
Blanc said the electoral process to date is further reason for measured confidence in Afghanistan's future. For the first time in their history on April 5th, Afghans led every component of the electoral process: The security forces provided the security; the electoral bodies planned and administered the process, meeting nearly every deadline throughout the calendar, he said.
Afghan media provided platforms for reasoned debate about policy and generally avoided inflammatory rhetoric. Afghan political elites formed multi-ethnic tickets and campaigned all across the country. Most importantly, enthusiasm for the democratic process and hope for their future brought millions of to the polls, despite bad weather and, of course, Taliban threats, he said.
Blanc said sustaining progress through 2014 depends on the continued growth of Afghanistan's governance and security institutions and continued support by the international community for a sovereign, stable, unified and democratic Afghanistan.
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