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International Conference on

"Partnership, Trade, and Development
in Greater Central Asia"

Kabul, Afghanistan, April 1-2, 2006


Richard A. Boucher
U.S. Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs

Remarks at the conference “Partnership, Trade, and Development in Greater Central Asia” Kabul, Afghanistan, April 1-2 2006 (Transcript), 16 m 23 s.

Thank you very much Dr. Starr, I would like to thank you and the Senior Minister for having me here. It is such a pleasure to be in Afghanistan, with all of you speaking Chinese with the Kazakh Foreign Minister about regional integration, I think we really have something here that really transcends anything that any of us have done before, and that is why it is so exciting for me to be now in charge of a bureau of South and Central Asia. Perhaps the most important word is the and, and that is where we have to figure out the conjunction and we have to figure out how they join together. We have, I think, seen copies of the map of my new bureau passed out and I could immediately sit down and hear a session saying that my map is not big enough. That South Asia and Central Asia are much greater than I thought, so whether it is Great Central Asia, South Central Asia, or Greater Central Asia, the possibilities are many and the difficulties are enormous, but I think we all realize that the potential is there and if we work on it we can make something of it.

We look at this as a historic opportunity and as a strategic opportunity for everyone because there are a couple of factors: one is the end of the Soviet Union and as you know since the fall of the Soviet Union we have treated the countries in Central Asia in various ways, we have had offices called, you know, FSU, Former Soviet Union, we have had the CIS, Office of Commonwealth of Independent States, and then we had for a while the NIS, Newly Independent States, which was a separate entity and we moved it back into the European Bureau. Now I think we are finding a place where they can stand on their own and they can stand with their friends in the south, and be a strategically important part of the world in their own right, and not be former anything or dependents on anybody else. And that is in our mind what this means.

But it is also possible to think in these ways because Afghanistan is no longer a barrier, Afghanistan was an obstacle, to any kind of interaction in this corridor by virtue of its history, by virtue of the wars, and invasions, and the civil wars, not to mention the mountains. And now suddenly Afghanistan looks like the pivot, and every organization in the world, in the region, seems to need Afghanistan as one of its key members, so I think this bodes well for an expansion of the Afghan Foreign Service, not least because there might be plenty of people needed to go to all these conferences. But I think it also speaks of how we ourselves are thinking, and how many different groups in the world are thinking about the possibilities here, and it is an exciting time. And it all goes back to the fundamental fact that the Silk Road had a reason, the Silk Road has now an even larger logic to it, of Asia and Europe, of North and South, of Central and South Asia, the great civilizations of the world finding ways of things moving back and forward between Asia and the Middle East, and Asia and India. It was a place where markets met, it was a place where trade met, it was also a place where ideas met, and once again it is a place where all the ideas of the world are meeting and hopefully contributing to the development of this region. United States has very serious and long-term interests in this region and I think this is shown by the pattern of our interaction, with official visitors, Secretary Rice’s trip last October to Central Asia, the President’s trip just last month and early march to Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and India. It was such a thrill for all of us to be here with the President, to have Air Force One sitting on the tarmac in Afghanistan, and to show in that way, as well as the involvement of our military forces and others in the stability of this country, how important it is for the United States that Afghanistan is able to rise as a stable pivot point for the entire region. Our interests are interlinked, in the whole region, obviously in the area of security but also economic development, and the reform process, both political and economic reform. There is progress in all these areas we know is go is going to be vital for long-term stability and prosperity. I have to say there is a lot said about us, in this region, and I say it straight out: We are not here to overthrow governments, we are not here to disrupt governments, we are here to try to emphasize the independence, the prosperity, the integrity, of the states in the region and help them achieve what we would call democratic stability, through process of change. It is based on the feeling that potential is here, that those ideas are in this region, and that all the people in this region and elsewhere have a god-given right to decide their own mind, to educate their children, to open businesses, to find jobs, and to live in peace, and nobody in this region is any exception to that.

We think the way to achieve these goals is by giving nations and people in this region options and opportunities, and I think those are the two words you will here a lot from me today, that you will hear a lot from us in the future, as we talk about strategy in this world. Nations should not be left with only one market, they should not feel squeezed between two powers, they need other options and the United States is here to maximize and provide other options, India is obviously on the horizon, and Japan and other places like that. People who have goods that needs to be sold, needs to be able to sell them wherever they want, not be stuck with one set of pipelines, or one set of trading routes, and that is why we think these routes to the south really can make a difference. The regional integration that we are talking about and that has come up today has been transportation, it is energy, it is trade, it is communication, it is cooperation, it is free trade, and we are looking really to maximize the movement of energy, people, goods, of information, from the Kazakh steppes to the Indian Ocean. In doing so we think we can jumpstart the economy along this access, as well as give Afghanistan the access it has not had for a long time to a much wider world.

We recognize first of all that we are not doing this alone, signs of the interests in a conference like this, are clear. The conferences the Afghan government itself has held attracted a lot of interest in the region, and from far away, and I think everybody is working on some of the same ideas. What we all need to do is take a lot of these concepts and turn them into reality, and we are really joined by the international financial institutions--ADB, World Bank are really active out here. We want to continue to emphasize the ties that the nations of Central Asia have developed with Turkey, and with Europe, the EBRD, with NATO, with the OSCE, all of these ties are very important. And again, options and opportunities, it needs not losing the aims and connections that anybody has now, we are not challenging them. But inviting the expansion of all those ties, including the new ones to the south. We also emphasize our cooperation with governments, and of governments with their neighbours, regional institutions, SAARC, and their free trade zone—very, very, important to us. And we start making links into the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation and their trade and investment framework agreement, that we have helped creating, and talked about.

Also remember, despite all the trouble we read about in the newspaper, this region is very dynamic right now economically, Pakistan and India are growing at 8% per year, and I think the numbers of Afghanistan were 14% last year or something like that, which is pretty astounding and very impressive. I think the private sector economic opportunities here are quite strong, and that we need, as we open up the avenues to the private sector get rid of the government barriers, and impediments to trade. The private sector money will flow--entrepreneurs will find the opportunity and see the opportunities of regional trade as well. Our contribution from the United States is that we think of ourselves perhaps as an engine of change or facilitator, a convenor, for all these opportunities that exist. We are involved in each of these specific areas.

Transportation, with the Afghan ring-road along with some of our partners and trying to get that road down the connections, onward connections, through the bridge to Tajikistan, a $33 million project that should open in 2007. Part of that is to work on the customs facilities, the border crossing facilities, so that the border crossings from Afghanistan to its neighbourhood are very smooth and expedient.

Energy, as you know we have worked long and hard on various pipelines from Central Asia, now we are looking at how to help the links from Kazakhstan and other places across the Caspian and into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan link. We are making contributions, major contributions to the electricity grid in Afghanistan because like the ring-road, we see that as a pivot point to bring electricity from the north down into the markets in the south, not only Afghanistan, but also Pakistan and onward to India. We are working with International Financial Institutions, and with U.S. investors on the Afghan-Tajik links for the electricity exports, and we hope that will blossom. We are sponsoring a major conference in Istanbul in June with the U.S. Trade and Development Agency and we hope that will be a successful conference with attendance from countries all over the region, because there really is a lot of potential on the electricity side.

On trade, we are working with the Central Asian nations and Afghanistan to lower regional trade and investment barriers and the Agency for International Development is also working on the customs size, customs reform in order to harmonize, streamline, and strengthen customs clearance. There are a lot of other areas we are looking at-- railroads, this morning we talked a little bit about air traffic possibilities, and an integrated air traffic network is obviously something that is needed and to maximize the flow of ideas, communications, energy, goods through this region. Underlining all this we see a couple of keys to success, keys to success for the whole region, and keys to success for individual nations in the new economy in the new region, to really make something of these possibilities. It is good to have roads, it is good to have electricity, it is good to have customs and border posts, but somebody has got to do the trade, somebody has got to find the opportunities and to do that we have talked about four fundamentals that could help support anything, any new opportunity in the region.

The first is education, and I think we have been investing a lot in education in the region, there are tons of numbers you can use, for example the 48 million text books in Afghanistan alone that we have helped produce. We spend about $100 million a year in Pakistan on education, from primary level and now increasingly in the other upper levels of sciences. We have you know in this region, countries with a long and very important tradition of education, the people in Central Asia and some of the classical learning from there or the Indian achievements not only in ancient days but also in some more recent days. So, again the Indian example shows what you can do when you build your education system and that is something we want to help do throughout the region.

The second one is the investment climate, domestic reforms, economic reforms, making it attractive, if possible, for investors, not only foreign investors, but domestic capital investments. Usually if you can retain your own capital, if you can create the right conditions for domestic peoples who invest, and then you open up the same conditions to outsiders, you will attract the outside investments. Having a good investment climate is a catalyst to the kind of reforms and contributes to the diversification of economies and the diversification of exports, and trade. The third is transparency and anti-corruption efforts. Corruption steals, corruption steals from economic growth, and most studies say at least 1% or 2% a year. It steals from the people who are most disadvantaged in society. It steals from the reputation of integrity and honesty that people in government should have, and it is probably one of the most pernicious and undermining effects of any growing economy and I think we all know that in this region this is something we need to attack. And a lot of that corruption is coming through the narcotics trade.

Narcotics, one of the most corrosive things for any society, also even in neighbouring countries, even in transit countries, is corrosive in terms of its infest, as corruption, as organized crime, and it is a threat to the whole region. Not only do we need to fight it here in Afghanistan at the current source of much of the poppy, but we need to fight the transit and make sure that all these new linkages do not just become new routes for the narcotics trade. Finally, I think the other foundation I would emphasize is the rule of law, both for investors, for relations between states, for transits and trade. Things need to be based on very solid and clear rule of law, and that is something we are trying to work in all of the countries of the region, and I think the countries themselves are moving strong in that direction. Bottom-line for us is that the United States is ready to do its part, we hope to help maximize the options, the opportunities, for the nations of the region, and the people of the region as individuals, and groups, as companies, as investors, as members of healthy strong, prosperous, safe, secure societies. All of that is important. I am just thrilled to be here, I am thrilled to be working with all of you, and I look forward to working with all of you as we try to attain these goals.

Thank you very much!








Primary Funder:
The Smith-Richardson Foundation