I thank the People’s Republic of China for hosting the fourth Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process at such an important moment of transition for Afghanistan and the broader ‘Heart of Asia’ region.
With the conclusion of the Presidential election and the drawdown of international military forces, Afghanistan enters its “transformation decade”. There is a clear need for regional commitment, engagement and hard work in advancing cooperation in a coherent and effective way.
The opening of this Conference by their Excellencies President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China highlights both the pivotal role of Afghanistan in the ‘Heart of Asia’ region and how far the Istanbul Process itself has come in attracting high-level political support.
The importance of regional economic growth cannot be over-estimated. The significant resources and enormous potential of the ‘Heart of Asia’ countries will be the foundation on which future prosperity in Afghanistan and its neighbours is built. Greater integration and a common interest in regional stability are well served by the Istanbul Process.
The past three years have demonstrated that it is in the shared interest of the entire region to strengthen the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan. I welcome the progress across the six sectoral confidence-building measures that has been achieved since the Ministerial Conference in Almaty last year. I also commend the continued focus on confidence-building measures that seek to expand dialogue and practical opportunities. We must never lose our focus on people, and never stop pursuing improvements in the fundamental services and economic prospects available to them.
The fight against terrorism and transnational crime, including the narcotics trade, remains of regional and global importance. The severe flooding and flood-related disasters that affected Afghanistan earlier this year further highlight the continued susceptibility of the region to disasters, both natural and man-made. No country alone can successfully meet the challenges posed by these disasters. Building regional institutional response capacity and promoting cross-border cooperation is vital.
It is important to recognize that regional cooperation in the ‘Heart of Asia’ region is being bolstered by the growing linkages that are being promoted through the Istanbul Process with other regional forums, providing a growing, more coherent and more interconnected foundation for regional cooperation. While recognizing the remarkable achievements made by the Istanbul Process since its inception in 2011, it is still a nascent process. We will need to continue to draw together to ensure we nurture it as it grows, and ensure it remains forward leaning in nature.
The United Nations remains ready to support the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in any way we can, while respecting that it remains a regionally owned and driven process. Please accept my best wishes for a successful conference.