ALMATY – Foreign ministers participating in the Istanbul Process in support of Afghanistan gathered in Almaty on April 26 to discuss the future of the country and the region.
The third Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference within the framework of the Istanbul Process, which was launched in November 2011, aimed to increase the level of regional cooperation and coordination ahead of the transfer of security control in Afghanistan from international to Afghan security forces in 2014.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan launched the event, which was co-chaired by Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Erlan Idrissov and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Zalmai Rassoul. The conference was attended by more than 50 delegations from Heart of Asia countries, supporting countries of the Istanbul Process and leaders of international and regional organisations.
“The withdrawal of international forces should not be considered a sign of weakening international attention to Afghanistan. It should be seen as a signal to all the healthy forces in the country about the transition to a new phase of peaceful development,” President Nazarbayev said in his welcoming remarks.
He highlighted that the main goal of Afghanistan is to achieve agreement inside the nation and form a basis for long-term peace. Economic rehabilitation is also essential. “We need to expand economic cooperation in the region and actively integrate Afghanistan into these processes. Kazakhstan is a strong supporter of regional integration,” Nazarbayev said.
The president said the possibilities of Almaty as an important transport hub should be used to assist Afghanistan’s development: “Almaty is a venue for many international agencies, including the U.N. system. In this regard, the proposal for establishing an international U.N. centre in Almaty remains relevant. The centre will aim, in particular, at the post-conflict rehabilitation of Afghanistan.”
Nazarbayev outlined Kazakhstan’s contribution and consistent role in the international community’s plans for Afghanistan. He noted Kazakhstan had been providing political, economic and humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan since the 1990s. “Kazakhstan will continue to contribute to the restoration of peace in Afghanistan,” the president said.
The conference concluded with the adoption of the Almaty Declaration, in which the parties confirmed their willingness to give their full support to Afghanistan, Foreign Minister Idrissov said at a press conference after the meeting.
Through the declaration, the parties reaffirmed their commitment to building greater confidence, trust and cooperation within the region. “Our shared interests are best served by cooperation, rather than competition, in the heart of Asia. We will therefore use the Istanbul Process to build a common platform of shared regional interests, as well as a secure and prosperous ‘Heart of Asia’ region where Afghanistan has a crucial role as a land-bridge, connecting South Asia, Central Asia, Eurasia and the Middle East,” the declaration said.
According to Foreign Minister Idrissov, the Istanbul Process completed its first step as the participants adopted implementation plans for each of the six packages of confidence-building measures at the Almaty Conference. These six packages cover fields such as cooperation in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, developing regional infrastructure, trade and investment cooperation, and supporting education and crisis prevention.
“The participation of Kazakhstan’s president in the conference confirms the fact that Afghanistan is a priority issue in our foreign policy. Today’s meeting of foreign ministers of the Istanbul Process has allowed regional countries to adjust common positions on current issues around the Afghan problem,” Idrissov said.
Conference participants reconfirmed their resolve to work closely with international and regional organisations such as the Central Asian Regional Economic Programme (CAREC), the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the U.N. and others.
A number of side events took place during the conference. These included a presentation by the mayor of Almaty, Akhmetzhan Yessimov, on the opportunity to turn the city into a regional hub of multilateral diplomacy, an international seminar on Kazakhstan’s potential as a transit and transport corridor and an exhibition of Kazakhstan’s goods and products for export to Afghanistan.
In addition to conference events, President Nazarbayev received heads of several delegations. Kazakhstan’s foreign minister also held a series of bilateral meetings that covered topical issues of bilateral and multilateral concern.
In accordance with the Almaty Declaration, the next Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference within the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan will be held in China in 2014.