Remarks as delivered by Geoffrey Pyatt
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
April 17, 2012
Thank you, Minister Mikl-Leitner, for the warm introduction.
It’s a real pleasure to be here today with such a distinguished group in this historic and beautiful city.
I count my service at the U.S. Mission to the UN in Vienna as a career highlight, and being back reminds me how central Vienna remains not only to international commerce and culture, but to the success of the entire European project.
Before I begin, I’d like to quickly acknowledge the invaluable work of the EU, UNDP, UNODC, OSCE, and other international organizations represented here today.
As we look at the tremendous amount of work still to be done on development, trade facilitation, conflict prevention, and border security in and around Central Asia, these partners will be essential.
I would also like to offer my deepest gratitude to the government of the Republic of Austria and, in particular, the Ministry of Interior for their strong CABSI leadership and significant contributions to Central Asian border security.
RECCA and Afghanistan
I would like to use my short intervention to elaborate on Secretary Clinton’s Silk Road vision for embedding Afghanistan in a secure and prosperous region. I should start with a few highlights from the recently concluded Regional Economic Conference on Cooperation in Afghanistan (or ‘RECCA-V’) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan.
Since the first RECCA in 2005, this meeting has provided an opportunity for constructive economic dialogue between Afghanistan and its neighbors and partners and we were especially impressed this year by the quality of preparation Afghans brought to this task.
This year, RECCA participants notably agreed to a broad-based series of regulatory reforms, cross-border economic initiatives, improved customs measures, and inter-regional transit agreements designed to promote regional economic integration.
Of equal importance, RECCA participants also agreed on the need to attract more private sector investment to the region.
The OSCE, alongside other donors and multilateral organizations represented here, played an important role in highlighting these efforts at RECCA, and I want to encourage your continued participation in seeing them to fruition.
New Silk Road
Following RECCA, a few of my colleagues visited the Tajik side of the Nizhniy Pyanj Bridge, which is about two and a half hours south of Dushanbe on the border with Afghanistan.
This bridge, as well as the customs facilities on each side of the border, was financed and built in large part by the U.S. government.
The pictures and reporting they brought back from that trip were striking.
What was once a remote river crossing is now a busy transit point, dotted with trucks transporting everything from mandarin oranges to cement.
These products, and the economic benefits created by their transport and trade, will increase the regional tax base, create jobs, and produce a positive spill-over effect for the communities through which they travel, making every-day life for the citizens of that region better. But just as this Afghan-Tajik bridge stands as a visible symbol of what is possible through regional linkages, it also offers an important reminder that cross-border trade and commerce in the region still leaves a lot to be desired.
Corruption, red tape, and security concerns on both sides of the border remain obstacles to maximizing its economic benefit.
An imperfect investment climate and weak rule of law also act as deterrents to the broader free flow of goods.
So regional governments and partners have a lot of work left to do in the region, and that’s where Secretary’s Clinton’s “New Silk Road” vision comes in. The need for greater regional cooperation and integration between South and Central Asia is stark.
Negligible trade occurs between the countries of Central Asia, and in South Asia only five percent of total trade occurs between SAARC member states.
But by encouraging trade, transit, energy and people-to-people linkages between these states, we can help transform the region into an active, prosperous participant in global markets – the same lesson that the European project teaches us. That is the essence of the New Silk Road, outlined by Secretary Clinton last summer during her landmark speech in Chennai; to strengthen regional economic integration and promote economic opportunity between South and Central Asia with Afghanistan at its center.
Regional governments can do this first through trade liberalization – which includes the reduction of non-tariff trade barriers, improved regulatory regimes, transparent border clearance procedures, and coordinated policies – we want to accelerate the flow of goods, services, and people throughout the region.
And second, through energy and infrastructure – which includes roads, bridges, electrical power grids, railways and pipelines – aiming to connect goods, services, and people. The idea is a simple one: an Afghanistan firmly embedded in the economic life of a thriving South and Central Asia can increasingly be a source of peace and stability throughout the region. By helping facilitate greater connectivity and economic growth, this New Silk Road vision recognizes that a secure, stable, and prosperous Afghanistan can only exist in the context of an equally secure, stable, and increasingly prosperous region. The economic potential of a more open and integrated region – home to over one-fifth of the world’s population – is virtually unlimited.
Indeed, the World Bank has estimated that reducing regulatory barriers would add up to two per cent per year to the growth rates of South and Central Asia.
As the New Silk Road vision advances, I can easily imagine a future in which textiles made in Bangladesh make their way north through Afghanistan to Central Asia, while Turkmen gas moves southward to light homes and businesses in Pakistan and India.
Securing the New Silk Road
But successful regional integration and economic growth is only possible on the basis of real domestic reform, anti-corruption efforts, and predictable business and regulatory environments.
Security, especially the integrity of borders and transit corridors necessary for trade, is another critical element of this vision.
Many of the organizations represented here today have played a crucial role in ensuring these borders don’t just remain open, but remain secure.
We are working to ensure that our vision is not compromised by the trafficking and criminal networks that seek to exploit instability and porous borders for their personal profit. Interagency cooperation and communication– especially between customs agencies, border officials, and drug control services – is critical to this effort.
But equally important are mechanisms, like CABSI, that encourage cross-border cooperation.
For example, the United States has long supported the UNODC’s Central Asia Regional Information Coordination Center (CARICC), based in Almaty, in its efforts to improve information-sharing and operational cooperation in the region.
We also have strongly supported the NATO-Russia Council’s counternarcotics training program, implemented by UNODC, which since 2006 has trained more than 1900 law enforcement officers from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Central Asian states. Since 2007, the OSCE in particular has played a steady, active role in this effort, supporting a number of projects focused on border security and transnational threats in Afghanistan and its neighbors.
These include flagship initiatives such as the Border Management Staff College (BMSC) in Dushanbe, and a Customs Training Facility in Bishkek, both of which effectively strengthen technical capacities and people-to-people linkages between Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asian states.
To date, nearly 400 Afghan border, customs, and law enforcement officials have been trained by these OSCE projects.
Underlining our commitment to these activities, the United States recently provided approximately $1.7 million to support nine OSCE projects related to Afghanistan. The OSCE has much to offer in assisting Central Asian participating States and Afghanistan to improve border management, counter corruption, and reduce illicit trafficking, while promoting legitimate trade and economic development.
And as we move to a time when Afghanistan and the region are assuming an increasingly large role in regional security efforts, we are committed to broadening this cooperation even further.
These organizations are providing technical expertise and equipment that will modernize and professionalize the region’s border security mechanisms.
To ensure that these capacity-building efforts hit their mark, we are working with Central Asian governments to combat the corruption and petty bribery that is endemic in the region.
For example, the Government of Uzbekistan, with assistance from the UNODC, recently drafted a National Anti-Corruption Action Plan. From the senior most government official to the border guard manning a remote patrol route, these officials have made a commitment not to fall prey to corruption, but rather to preserve the integrity of their border security operations.
The United States continues to look toward a future where the countries of Central and South Asia work together and with the international community to achieve greater economic integration, and the prosperity that will come with it.
Although the pace of change is often slow and the challenges substantial, U.S. involvement can and will focus on long-term, meaningful results.
We will all benefit greatly from your engagement as both partners and participants in this process. Thank you.