President Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at 19th Ministerial Meeting Conference of Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) – People-Centered Regional Cooperation in the Post-COVID Environment

President Ashraf Ghani’s Remarks at 19th Ministerial Meeting Conference of Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) – People-Centered Regional Cooperation in the Post-COVID Environment

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Mr. Lynch,

Minister Arghandiwal,

Distinguished ministers,

Heads of delegation and representatives of partner organizations;

It is a pleasure to welcome you to this virtual meeting. The deepest sympathies and solidarity of the Afghan people and government with all countries and all the fellow citizens of CAREC countries that have suffered and are continuing to suffer from the adverse impacts of Covid. Equally, we wish success in containing the contagion to the United States, Brazil and India that are adversely affected as well as the other top countries. The second wave is upon us and this wave we have been forced to a virtual meeting but we are delighted to be part of the convening process of a vision that has sustained us all.

CAREC was an act of writing the history of future in 1997. A modest beginning of under 250 million with six projects, laid the foundation to be part of fundamental transformation of Asia into a continental economy. It is a tribute to Asian Development Bank’s leadership, vision, persistence and building trust with partners to serve as an analyst, convener, facilitator, investor and partner.

On behalf of the Afghan people and government, I thank president Asakawa [of ADB] and the past presidents, VP Chen [of ADB] and past vice presidents, all the managers and experts of ADB that have tirelessly worked with us and are continuing to work with us and particularly single out Director Singru [of ADB] for an immense sense of vocation, commitment to a vision of Asian integration and deep sense of mutual respect and partnership.

I would like to thank ADB for over 4. 5 billion [dollars] investments since 2005 in CAREC projects and recently for 40 million dollars of help in containing Covid and just announced 100 million dollars to overcome the social and economic impacts of this pandemic.

I would like to thank each of the countries of Covid for their investment in infrastructure, in trade, in trade facilitation, in energy because each mile of railway, each hundred megawatts of power, each strengthening of the value chains and supply chains has been a step in integration of Afghanistan. Particularly, I would like to thank Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia for ensuring that the Lapis Lazuli Corridor has taken off.

I would like to thank Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan for Casa 1000 and for related transport things, and to China. Our access to China has been reduced from three months, now, to two weeks and its fast time and space are changing; equally, we have engaged.

Kazakhstan has become the source of food security. The supply chains from Kazakhstan are now on wheat are reaching nearly every district of Afghanistan. And our dialogue with Pakistan with the recent visit of His Excellency Prime Minster Imran Khan is focused on freedom of movement, facilitation of trade and investment and regional cooperation.

The northern corridor that Azerbaijan championed was a fundamental change in 2012. And I cannot go on praising all of you for the work that has been done.

Let me briefly just focus for a minute on the context. 17 Asian countries accounted for 50 percent of global investment in electricity, road, telecoms, rail, water, port and airports between 2007 and 2015. The investment rose from 1.8 trillion in 2007 to 2.3 trillion in 2015 showing an annual increase of 2.9 percent.

Oxford economics estimates that China which had accounted for 50 percent of the previously mentioned investment would invest 26 trillion dollars between 2016 and 2040. And the other, sixteen Asian countries will invest 22.4 billion. And according to them, out of all regions of the world, the Asian region faced the shortest gap between the needed infrastructural investment and what is mobilized.

So we are truly in the midst of the second greatest spatial transformation. The first was netting the United States, North America into a continental economy, but that was also open spaces.

Here, Asia is being transformed and I would like to single out CAREC’s role and other initiatives on sub-regional integration by the Asian development Bank as an enormously important catalyst in this process.

CAREC 2020 focused on good neighbors, good partners and good prospects. We have adhered to this approach in Afghanistan particularly the last six years.

We are extremely proud that we have reclaimed our historical place in Central Asia, and we are delighted that Caucuses and Central Asia are looking northward while Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and the rest of South Asia looks northward. Equally China is looking westward and Iran is looking eastward.

Afghanistan in this process is becoming conceptualized not just as a land bridge or land-linked but as a roundabout. The difference is that a land bridge is passive, one passes over a bridge. It is essential but it doesn’t give us spirit. The concept of roundabout is that people, goods, civilizations, ideas move freely; they don’t get stuck. And the beauty of the current transformation of Asia and CAREC is that each of the countries is a roundabout, and the more we increase our interactions, the more we move forward.

We are also delighted that our Asian partners have endorsed the vision of an end state for the peace process in Afghanistan that is a sovereign, united, democratic Afghanistan capable of preserving and expanding the gains of the last twenty years. But particularly we are delighted that all our partners now are seeing that regional connectivity is key to regional stability, to peace and to mutual prosperity.

Poverty has increased as a result of Covid. The gains are at risk but the agenda of regional connectivity is… and at this moment, I would also like to thank all the participant organizations particular ADB and all our partner countries that are present for your contribution and support in the Geneva Conference 2020. The region does not bring aid; it brings trade; it brings investment; it brings a shared sense of prosperity; so we are partners and facilitators.

I would also like to very much welcome the CAREC 2030 document connecting the region for shared and sustainable development. All the priorities that have been singled out in the 2030 document are important to us. I would frame it in a different sense. The world has undergone four industrial revolutions and Afghanistan unfortunately was deprived of all four. So the transport and energy agenda, the backbone of the first industrial revolution and the second industrial revolution are crucial to us and we very much support Asian Development Bank’s work on railways as the most effective, cheapest and most reliable.

Afghanistan has a trillion-dollar worth of mineral resources alone, without oil and gas. Without railways, reliable supply chains and value chains become very difficult. The proof of the putting is the Hairatan to Mazar-e Sharif railway that ADB funded. During Covid, this was of a lifeline and as a result of it there was no food shortage in Afghanistan. We would like very much Asian Development Bank’s support for our joint vision with Uzbekistan on the one hand, Turkmenistan, Iran and Pakistan on the other to become a hub for the railway.

On energy, Afghanistan has an amazing potential on renewable energy. 240,000 megawatts of sun; 70,000 megawatts of wind; and estimated 25,000 megawatts of water/hydro, and about 6,000 megawatts from geothermal. We are delighted that we have signed a memorandum of understanding with Fortescue, the largest energy and metal company in southern Australia for generating 20,000 megawatts of power from hydro to be converted into green energy for green industry.

With your help and support, I think Afghanistan could pass several decades forward, but of course this goes back to human capital on the one hand, and to systems of trade and trade facilitation. It is crucial that ADB’s facilitating role in adhering to WTO rules, to TIR rules and other conventions becomes the norm.

When one looks at the Global Logistics Index, all of us, some exceptionally will, are doing wel,l but the software, the rules, the regulations, customs, tariffs, facilities require a lot of work. And again Afghanistan is ready to engage in a massive and constructive dialogue with all our neighbors and partners within CAREC and those who are outside here.

The developmental goals, the sustainable developmental goals cannot be achieved without coming with a model of growth that would allow Afghanistan to attain 9 percent rate of growth. Our population rate of growth unfortunately is very rapid and we will be tackling it. 74 percent of the population is under 40 and amazing over 47 percent is under 15. That young population marks us out as an area for investment in human capital, but it is also a fundamental challenge and we will need to integrate with peace, hopefully breaking in, 2-4 million of our population that are living in diaspora otherwise refer to as refugees, old-fashioned way, in Pakistan and Iran.

So prioritizing along the lines of CAREC vision 2030 is extremely important. Of course what needs to be taken account now is the great disruption on all of us by Covid. How we re-energize our efforts regarding CAREC 2030 is urgent. We must inject a sense of urgency to those priorities, and prioritize within those priorities so that the people of the region can have hope and in this regard supply chains and value chains…

All predictions are that global economy is going to become more regional. Until the global economy regains the momentum again towards the prevalent view of globalization, regionalization is in. In this regard model of development that would enable us learning from experiences and being helped to innovate where we can move forward and there our absolute priority in Afghanistan is digitalization. Digitalization is the future with telecom, with tele-education and particularly telecommerce, so I want to thank you for this opportunity.

And let me conclude with saying a great setback has been forced upon us by Covid-19. Let us show everyone that Asia in general and CAREC countries in particular are capable of engendering a reset that would be much more equitable, much more based on the advantages of cooperation and that all of us will be winners and would not only deal with Covid but with a climate change that again is one of the persistent threats to Asia. Thank you for this opportunity. I wish you great deliberations and success in articulating the further agenda of cooperation.