Afghanistan stands at a crossroads today. As the security responsibilities are handed over to Afghan authorities at an accelerated phase and significant changes are at the doorstep, great political, economic and security challenges remain.

Among these challenges, perhaps the most crucial one that needs to be addressed is psychological - the feeling of uncertainty on what tomorrow will bring, that seems to prevail among Afghans. This uncertainty has the risk of negatively affecting the policies of the regional countries and the international community towards Afghanistan. Unless we manage to reverse this feeling into a sense of security, prosperity and hope for the future, none of our political, economic, social and military efforts in Afghanistan in the past 11 years can be sustained.

The international community, through the London and Kabul Conferences in 2010 and their follow-ups as well as through the upcoming NATO Chicago Summit and the Tokyo Conference and via bilateral strategic partnership agreements is trying to specify its long-term commitments to Afghanistan, hoping to transform the feeling of uncertainty into one of sustainability. We, as Turkey, are glad to contribute to the well-intentioned efforts of the international community aiming to help build a better future for Afghanistan. However, no other country can help overcome the psychological challenge of creating a feeling of better tomorrow and a sense of trust regarding Afghanistan more than her immediate and extended regional partners.

In fact, Afghanistan’s regional partners share a common history and culture. While the international community needs to openly display to Afghanistan that they will remain committed after transition, the regional states will inevitably continue to live side-by-side with their Afghan brothers, sharing their past and future. Thus, our commitments will help foster a much stronger feeling of sustainability among Afghans. In addition, due to our geographical proximity, shared history and destiny, we are aware that whatever happens in Afghanistan will affect our region. As such, contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan is also our responsibility towards ourselves.

In short, the region has an important role, interest and responsibility in establishing and sustaining a secure, prosperous and peaceful Afghanistan. Thus, time has come for us to speed-up our collective endeavours aimed at finding creative, comprehensive and practical solutions for regional issues, with a focus on Afghanistan. The Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan, which took place in November last year and the launching of the Istanbul Process there has already become a milestone in this respect. The follow-up of the Istanbul Process is also well underway. Considerable progress has also been achieved in the trilateral process between Afghanistan-Pakistan-Turkey. We commend other trilateral and quadrilateral setups contributing to stability and security in Afghanistan.  The importance of the RECCA gatherings held in Kabul, New Delhi, Islamabad, Istanbul and now Dushanbe, lies in their objective to complement regional and international processes by bridging the concepts of regional integration and economic cooperation within a project-based and result-oriented framework.

Emphasizing specific regional economic projects, RECCA contributes to the vision of economic interdependency and peaceful coexistence developed around common interests, which are a prerequisite to sustainable peace and stability. The effective utilization of Afghanistan’s vast resources will help boost the Afghan economy, by attracting investments, creating jobs and fostering development. Strenghtening local and regional networks of transportation, energy and trade should be one of the first steps that should be taken towards this end. Efforts to enhance these networks will be crucial to transform Afghanistan from a perceived barrier into a revived “Silk Road” facilitating connectivity in the Heart of Asia. As such, we welcome the emphasis of RECCA V on projects that aim to register Afghanistan as a regional trade and transportation hub. These efforts also complement relevant confidence building measures identified in the scope of the Istanbul Process.

The completion of the local railroad routes will also constitute a key step towards economic stability and self-sustainability. The completion of the railroad that bridges Mezar-ı Sharif and Termez is an important first-step. Connecting this first rail line of Afghanistan via Shiberghan and Andkhoy, to Aqina and possibly Herat in the future will help further promote regional trade and investments. Similar regional projects to foster railroad connectivity, such as the Istanbul – Teheran – Islamabad route, developed within the context of ECO under President Gül’s initiative, is worth mentioning here.

The connection of various provinces in Afghanistan to the region and beyond through land routes is another step necessary in this respect. Many Turkish construction companies have worked towards building the Afghan ringroad; the last portion of which is now under construction. In addition to extending land routes, the importance of providing their maintenance should also be emphasized. As such, Turkey is ready to contribute to all capacity-building efforts directed at building and maintaining Afghanistan’s road network. My Ministry has already arranged courses for Afghan planning experts with a view to transferring the necessary know-how to plan, design and monitor such public works. This program will continue as requested.

One cannot fail to recognize the importance of enhancing civil aviation capabilities in a landlocked country. Since July last year, Turkish Airlines has added Kabul on its destination list and will soon be flying there 7 times a week. In addition, we contribute to capacity-building in this sector through numerous capacity-building and training programs. Further development of regional energy routes, through initiatives such as TAPI, will also be helpful. Efforts directed at the reutilization of the energy resources in Northern Afghanistan are equally essential.

Afghanistan, a country with a rich history and culture, possesses vast human resources that can become the bridge carrying the country from dark to light, from conflict to reconstruction, from war to peace. Education and training are key to harvest this human potential. Therefore, the focus of RECCA V on “developing human resources through the promotion of vocational education and training” is very much appreciated. Turkey will continue its efforts aiming to support the human capacity of Afghanistan.

The assistance programs and projects offered  by Governments can yield fruitful results only by the active participation of the private sector. The Business Forum taking place in the margins of RECCA will serve as a platform facilitating business networking and linkages, and pave the ground for fresh initiatives and joint investments for the benefit of Afghanistan and the Heart of Asia.

As we all have come to learn the hard way, natural disasters do not recognize national borders and are best dealt through regional cooperation and solidarity. This is why disaster management was selected as one of the initial confidence building measures to be developed in the scope of the Istanbul Process. The emergence of this topic as a common focus of attention in RECCA V helps to underline its importance once again. Turkey will continue to be a reliable partner in disaster relief efforts in the region and beyond, and will do its best to alleviate human suffering.

Finally, I would like to commemorate hereby our military personnel who lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Kabul on March 16th. While reminding us once more of the risks and challenges of serving in Afghanistan, this tragic incident has further strengthened our resolve to contribute to the well-being of this brotherly country. Our soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice striving for peace and stability in Afghanistan. We are determined to continue to do our best for the better future of Afghanistan, to ensure that their sacrifice has not been in vain.

The author, His Excellency Cevdet Yılmaz, is the Minister of Development of the Republic of Turkey.