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RECCA and SOM Conferences: Its impacts on Afghanistan and the Region

Published Date: September 13, 2015

The important conferences of RECCA and SOM were held in Kabul on September 3, 4 & 5, 2015. The first conference was about regional economic cooperation for Afghanistan and economic integration of the region. This was the 6th conference of RECCA that is being held by the Foreign Ministry of Afghanistan in the countries of the region since 2005. High-level officials from these regional countries participated in this conference, also. The conference lasted for two days.  

The second conference was SOM, which observes the fulfillment of promises given in Tokyo Conference (2012) every year. Representative of 41 countries, 11 international organizations and the ministers and high-level officials of the Afghan government participated in this conference. Its main goal was having an overview on the activities of the Afghan government in the past one year, presenting the efforts of the Afghan government on human rights and struggle against corruption to the international donors and attracting the assistance of the international community. This was the first meeting after the London Conference (2014) in which the Unity Government had presented its plans regarding the reforms; this conference is considered as preparedness for the Brussels Conference (2016), also.     

Although, a lot of conferences are held about Afghanistan, however, these two conferences germinated hopes once again. The short, mid and long-term probable impacts of these conferences on Afghanistan’s economic and political situation and its future perspective are discussed below. 

Efforts about Regional Economic Integration

The Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) was established in Iran in 1985, Turkey, Pakistan and Iran were its members at that time; but, after the Red Army withdraw from Afghanistan and the Soviet Union collapsed, seven newly established Central Asian countries were given membership, also. Thus, the efforts on economic integration in the region speeded up and rivalry of Unocal and Bridas started on the TAPI Project, also. Besides that, Pakistan, China, India and Iran also tried to reach to the markets and natural resources of the Central Asia.     

The Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program is an Asian Development Bank (ADB) supported initiative which was established in 1997 to encourage economic cooperation among countries in the Central Asian region. The ADB supports it in the fields of transport, trade and energy and has a plan for 2020 in this regard. The Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) founded in 1999, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization founded in 2001 and the Asian Cooperation Dialogue was established in 2002. However, Afghanistan was in a very bad situation at the times, its transport and infrastructures were destroyed during 10 years of war between Soviet Union and Afghans, it was hit by civil war and was in isolation in international relations. Therefore, Afghanistan could not participate in the mentioned organizations at that time.   

In Hamid Karzai’s interim government, Afghanistan made some efforts on becoming member and participating in regional economic cooperation organizations and became a member of SAARC in 2007 and Observer in SCO in 2012. 

Regional Economic Cooperation Conferences for Afghanistan (RECCA)

The first Regional Economic Cooperation Conference for Afghanistan (RECCA) was held in Kabul on December 5, 2005 and six of these conferences are held yet. Overall, the main points of the declarations of these six conferences are as follow:  

  • Caring and promoting agriculture and agricultural industry;
  • Benefiting jointly from water;
  • Trading energy and promoting it[1];
  • The TAPI Project;
  • Taking serious steps on removing distrust in order for the ground to be facilitated for economic cooperation;
  • The ADB should study the economic integration and share its findings in the upcoming conference;
  • The regional countries should remove obstacles in front of trade and transit;
  • The regional countries should cooperate with Afghanistan in order to become the regional energy center[2];
  • A comprehensive plan should be prepared for Afghan refugees that repatriate to their country and camps should be made for repatriated Afghan refugees;
  • ECO should start open trade in the region up to 2015;
  • A Railway should be built from Chaman to Kandahar[3];

Also, Fourth Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA IV) was held in Istanbul 2010, November 2-3. RECCA participants recommended to improve the a) Infrastructure (Regional Roads, Railways, Extractive Mine Industry, Public-private partnerships and investment to enable commercially viable), b) Trade, Transit and border management (Regional Transit and Trade Agreements, Trade Facilitation, Customs and Transport Infrastructure Harmonization and Upgrade, Enhancement of Border Cooperation), c) Education and vocational training, d) Agriculture, f) Small and medium enterprises and others. And, the fifth conference (RECCA V) that was held in Tajikistan 2012 targeted the similar projects in these fields. At all, we can say that the projects mentioned in the declarations of these conferences, to a large extent, are yet to be implemented.

RECCA Conference and their impact on Afghanistan’s Economy

If the promises given in RECCA are implemented, it would have profound impact on the country’s economy; from a hand, the infrastructure of Afghanistan would be built and from another hand, Afghanistan would become the regional center in the fields of transit, trade and energy. However, Afghanistan yet to be achieved this goal due to lack of fulfillment of these promises on the way they should be.  

Afghanistan could receive membership and observer position in some of organizations due to these conferences. A lot of promises regarding TAPI, CASA-1000 and other projects have been made, however, the practical work on TAPI and CASA-1000 projects is yet to be started.  

Of course, the main difference of the RECCA VI Conference with the previous conferences is that, this time, Afghanistan has reviewed the economic integration and the projects in the region well. This was the reason that the Chabahar Port, the Lajward Road and the China new Silk Road was discussed in this conference and Afghanistan, due for regional economic integration, did not emphasized on Afghanistan-focused issues, but, it used the term of regional hub instead.[4]

Why the Region does not move towards Economic Reintegration?

The presence of roads, security, peace and political stability are the most important factors for integration in the regional economy; but unfortunately, Afghanistan is lack of all of them. Besides that, there are series of historical problematic cases present in the region that are considered as obstacles toward regional integration; like:  

  • Dispute over Kashmir between Pakistan and India;
  • Historical dispute over border between Afghanistan and Paksitan;
  • Disputes over water in the Central Asia;
  • Lack of water-sharing treaties in the region;
  • Border case of China and India;
  • Interests of other countries in Central Asia;
  • Balance of Power in the region (India-Japan-US Coalition and China-Russia-Pakistan Coalition)

And there are several other reasons that do not let the region to move toward economic integration and that’s why these conferences have not got any significant achievement yet.

SOM Conference and the future of Assistance with Afghanistan

The representatives of donor countries were participated in the SOM Conference, also. The Afghan government presented its performance of the past eleven months and reviewed the promises given in the London Conference (2014) and made other promises for the future, also. 

This conference is a preparedness to next year’s Brussels Conference and a struggle for attracting international assistance. The National Unity Government by reopening the case of Kabul Bank and introducing some of the corrupt officials of the Urban Development and Housing Ministry to the Court shows that it is serious in struggle against corruption.

Beside that, the government of Afghanistan gave promises on issues the international community is interested in including human rights and women and children rights, some of them are as following:

First: Afghanistan would prepare a trustworthy budget in the upcoming Brussels Conference;

Second: The situation of human rights would become better until the upcoming Brussels Conference and the government would present a better picture of women rights, then. A new law on children rights would be ratified and the law on preventing violence against women would be implemented well, also;

Third: The peace talks would be improved and the government would take serious steps toward eliminating war until the Brussels Conference.[5]

Recommendations

  • A RECCA-related Secretariat should be established in Kabul in order to ensure these promises are fulfilled well;
  • A special team should be appointed in order to work just on the implementation of promises given in the conferences.
  • Building infrastructures is very important for Afghanistan before it becomes the center of economic integration and transit, trade and energy in the region and the government should take care of this field well;
  • Corruption had spreaded its roots in the every sector of Afghanistan and is turned into a culture and a habit, therefore, corruption would not be eliminated with solving the Kabul Bank case only. It needs a comprehensive policy which would contain reforms, implement the law and eliminate the Mafia of corruption.
  • The government should bring reforms in the field of customs and increase the revenue of government through taking series steps;
  • The government should take care of agriculture, mines and water in the country in order to decrease the trade deficit and increase the revenues of government through this mean.

The End

 

[1]The declaration of RECCA I held in Kabul, 2005.

[2] The declaration of RECCA II held in New Delhi, 2006.

[3] The declaration of RECCA III held in Islamabad, 2009

[4] Tolo News, RECCA Summit An Opportunity for Regional Cooperation, 3 Sep 2015, see it online:< http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/21223-recca-summit-an-opportunity-for-regional-cooperation>

[5] Tolo News, Positive Reports emerge as Ghani opens SOM, 5 Sep 2015, see it online:< http://www.tolonews.com/en/afghanistan/21240-positive-reports-emerge-as-ghani-opens-som>

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