ISLAMABAD: The Third Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) was held in Islamabad on 13-14 May 2009. The Conference was co-hosted by the Governments of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. The RECCA was inaugurated on 13 May by the President of Afghanistan, His Excellency Mr. Hamid Karzai and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani. The Conference was attended by 24 countries and 18 regional and international organizations, institutions and bodies.
During the Conference, besides the plenary sessions, the delegates exchanged views in five technical working groups on Mining, Labour Movement and Human Resource Development, Health, Energy and Infrastructure and Transit Trade. The Heads of Delegation participating in the Conference also held a separate session to discuss a broad range of issues to chart out a regional approach concerning Afghanistan.
The two-day Conference adopted the Islamabad Declaration which recognizing Afghanistan’s centrality for peace and stability in Asia and for the prosperity and stability of surrounding states and region, endorsed the need for a comprehensive approach and participation of the international community in economic development of Afghanistan. The Kabul Declaration on Good Neighbourly Relations and the Declaration on Counter Narcotics were endorsed as firm foundations to strengthen linkages among Afghanistan and its neighbours. It was also decided to fast-track and further institutionalize linkages among Afghanistan and its neighbours within the framework of that Declaration. The Islamabad Declaration also endorsed various recent regional initiatives and trilateral summit processes concerning Afghanistan.
The Conference welcomed the signing of Declaration on Directions of Bilateral Cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan in January 2009, and an MoU to improve trade and accession facilitation in Washington this month. The Islamabad Declaration also welcomed the revival of Jirga Process for dialogue and development by Pakistan and Afghanistan, and appreciated Pakistan’s announcement to award 1000 scholarships to Afghan students in Pakistani institutions for higher learning.
The Islamabad Declaration noted the significance of the positive role played by regional organizations such as ECO, SAARC, SCO, OIC and CAREC in extending the scope of regional cooperation. The Declaration affirmed the importance of regional and international commitment to Afghanistan’s economic development. The Conference agreed that transport, trade, energy cooperation, Agricultural cooperation, capacity building and education, border management, counter narcotics and refugee return and re-integration are areas with considerable scope for mutually beneficial regional cooperation.
The Third RECCA successfully endorsed a number of concrete, long-term impact, regional projects including Rail Link from Chaman to Kandahar, CASA 1000, Hairatan-Mazar-e-Sharif Rail Link, establishment of a Customs Academy in Kabul, early conclusion of Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement and development of Border Economic Zones around Afghanistan. It was decided to set up model returnee villages and vocational centers to act as pull factors for the voluntary and sustainable return of Afghan refugees to their homeland with dignity and honor.
The RECCA process for the first time crystallized a regional consensus on key trans-regional cooperation projects. It is hoped that the international community, regional and international organizations, institutions and bodies would now come forward with their strong and sustained support to take these initiatives successfully forward. NNI