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Published on - 8/4/2008

Terrorism a Sinister Threat to South Asia's Security - Afghan President

THE SPEECH by Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the SAARC Heads of State Summit on Saturday in Colombo.

I present the warm wishes of the Afghan people to each and all of you in this august gathering. Addressing, in particular, my friend Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, I once again share my deep sense of shock and pain for the loss of precious Indian and Afghan lives at the bombing of Indian Embassy in Kabul on 7 July.

You will agree with me that no amount of outrage and condemnation can suffice to express the anger and frustration we all feel when faced with such mindless brutality and violence.

I am sure you realize that these terrorist attacks, callous and destructive as they are, point to a rapidly growing threat that we face, not just in Afghanistan or India, but throughout the entire SAARC region.

As we gather today at the 15th SAARC Summit, we are more cognizant than ever before of the immediate nature of the challenges facing the region we live in. Indeed, over the past twenty three years of SAARC's existence, I cannot think of a period when the need for collective action against challenges that affect us all was more pressing than it is today.

While the region has to deal with a myriad of serious problems such as chronic poverty, food and energy shortages, environmental degradation and the like, terrorism is by far the greatest and most menacing of all. These challenges do not just prevent the realization of our great potentials for growth and prosperity; they put our future gravely at risk.

On terrorism, while the people of Afghanistan today are bearing the brunt of international terrorism on a daily basis, it is with tremendous trepidation that we are watching the wildfire of terrorism spreading across the region.

In Pakistan, terrorism and its sanctuaries are gaining a deeper grip, as demonstrated by the tragic assassination of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto.

The indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Colombo earlier this year, the recent terrorist bombings in the Indian cities of Bangalore and Ahmedabad, and attacks in Kabul were yet other grim reminders of the growing reach of terrorists across the wider region.

In a region prone to many challenges, terrorism may well prove to be the most destabilizing.

Terrorism in our region feeds on a residual tradition of narrow-minded politics, and of pursuing outmoded geopolitical interests. While existing on the absolute fringes of our tolerant and peace-loving societies, terrorists in our region receive institutional nurturing and support.

It is this embedded nature of terrorism that makes it a much more sinister threat to our common security, and to the future of our children. It is for the sake of our common security and for the future of our children that we must counter the spread of terrorism, urgently and decisively.

It is time we focus, together, on fighting extremism and terrorism, as the enemies that we have in common. It is time we all realize that the pursuit of narrow geopolitical interests and the use of militant radicalism as an instrument of policy cannot succeed or serve any long term purpose.

I must re-emphasise that the challenge of terrorism must be overcome in order for us to realize the potential of greater regional economic integration. Through greater economic integration, we can work towards shared prosperity and improve the welfare of our people.

We must identify what resources, potential and comparative advantages our respective countries offer and work towards the common framework offered by SAARC to maximize these advantages for our people as a whole.

The food crisis in our region is a particularly serious challenge. High food prices are putting reforms, growth strategies, and most importantly, lives at risk. It brings to sharp perspective the urgency for more rapid progress to be made on the establishment of the SAARC Food Bank.

To mitigate future shocks, we must also make rapid progress on the development of a regional food security strategy that includes early warning systems on food vulnerabilities. Preparedness must be the cornerstone of our regional response to food shortages.

Important as it is to be focused on the needs of the people put at risk by the current crisis, it is equally important for us to ensure food security in the longer term. To this end, the SAARC members must dramatically increase investments in agriculture and rural development.

My government has identified agriculture, irrigation and energy as priority sectors under Afghanistan's National Development Strategy.

We are looking to enhance our agricultural products and productivity by investing across the value chain: land use; water management and irrigation; infrastructures and logistics; and credit for farmers.

We warmly welcome opportunities to benefit from our SAARC partners' knowledge, experience, and best practices in agriculture and rural development. Access to reliable and continued energy sources will define the pace of our economic growth.

We believe that Afghanistan can play a critical role in addressing the growing demand for energy in the southern parts of our region and respond to the alarming increase in the price of crude oil by facilitating the transfer of energy from Central to South Asia. It has been estimated that energy needs of South Asia will increase threefold in the next fifteen to twenty years.

Afghanistan can serve as the shortest and least expensive route of transferring energy from Central to South Asia, where the demand for energy is growing constantly. We have already made some progress in the transfer of power from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan through Afghanistan to Pakistan.

With further support, this process can be expedited.Afghanistan has the potential to generate a significant amount of hydro electric power. Investing in hydro power plants in Afghanistan and taking action on the transfer of energy from Central Asia, through Afghanistan, to South Asia is one of the most efficient ways of meeting the challenge of energy shortages in the SAARC region.

The construction of the pipeline to transfer natural gas from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan to Pakistan and India is also of vital importance to our region and deserves to be given serious attention and urgency.

Trade, flow of people and ideas will strengthen economic integration and progress in South Asia. Afghanistan is rightly placed to play a key role towards connecting people and expanding markets with and across the wider region. We have undertaken a number of measures towards strengthening our capacity to serve as an effective route by opening new corridors and improving border facilities.

We have liberalized our air transportation policies and simplified transit and custom procedures. We have also taken concrete measures in building our national highway system towards improving the transport of goods and people in the region and closing the distance between our countries.

As part of the contract with a Chinese consortium for the exploration of the Aynak copper deposit, a railway line will be constructed which will connect Central Asia to South Asia, thereby expediting the transport of people and goods within the region and beyond.

I repeat Afghanistan's commitment to regional cooperation, and our conviction that SAARC's success, and our ability to compete globally, will depend on strengthening and integrating our economies and on working collectively to defeat terrorism in the region. We are at a critical juncture and much hangs in the balance.

It is time we open our hearts and minds to the prospects of a new, better and more peaceful future for our countries.

This is only possible through peaceful co-existence, recognition of our interdependence and enhanced economic cooperation. We will prevail if we recognize that our common interests are greater than our differences and if we marshal the political will to address the challenges we face as a region through concerted action. This is the way forward. (Courtesy: Daily News)