The “Heart of Asia” foreign ministerial in Almaty, Kazakhstan April 26, 2013 continues a high-level dialogue focused on encouraging security, political, and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbors. This region-led dialogue was launched in November 2011 to expand practical coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners in facing common threats, including counterterrorism, counternarcotics, poverty, and extremism. The United States and over 20 other nations and organizations serve as “supporting nations” to the process.
As a supporting nation, the United States has taken steps to support the six confidence building measures (CBM) endorsed by the “Heart of Asia” group at the Kabul ministerial in June 2012. Some illustrative examples of U.S. government assistance are listed below:
1. COUNTERTERRORISM CBM
• Through its assistance programs, the United States seeks to enhance the capability of the Central Asian States, Afghanistan, and Pakistan to address transnational terrorism through inclusive technical assistance, training and mentoring, and equipment.
• The United States also funds many initiatives that aim to counter violent extremism and support moderate voices through programs in schools, sports organizations, and the media.
2. TRADE, COMMERCE, AND INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES CBM
• The United States is working with partners in the region to develop a better environment for trade and investment, through various programs that support and facilitate regional and international trade agreements, accession to the World Trade Organization, as well as the reform actions needed to enable private sector investment.
• The United States is committed to expanding economic opportunities and supporting entrepreneurs in the “Heart of Asia” region. Assistance programs provide technical training, credit facilitation, and platforms for networking that build the capacity of local entrepreneurs to grow their businesses and expand regional commercial linkages. U.S. commitment to local procurement and use of the Northern Distribution Network to supply troops in Afghanistan is creating economic opportunity in Central Asia.
3. EDUCATION CBM
• In Afghanistan, the United States teaches English to over 3,200 youth each year. To advance regional collaboration, the United States will convene 225 teachers of English from Central Asia, Afghanistan, and South Asia for the Central Asia Teachers of English Conference.
• The United States assists with quality assurance and accreditation systems to strengthen Afghan higher education and supports eight university partnerships. The United States funds 120 full scholarships for Afghan women to attend the American University of Afghanistan and the American University of Central Asia, and 68 Fulbright Fellowships for aspiring scholars and junior faculty to study at U.S. universities each year.
4. COUNTERNARCOTICS CBM
• U.S. assistance builds the capacity and provides the equipment necessary for “Heart of Asia” countries to effectively fight narcotics trafficking on their borders. The United States also provides mentoring and training to border professionals across the region, as well as equipment such as training facilities, re-locatable border shelters, scanners, and communication equipment.
• The United States also provides counternarcotics assistance through international organizations, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). U.S. funding supports such programs as the OSCE Border Management Staff College in Dushanbe and OSCE customs and border guard training. UNODC’s support to the drug control agencies of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan and its Container Control Program in Central Asia help with the development of sustainable enforcement structures at select ports of entry to minimize the risk that shipping containers are used for illicit activities.
5. DISASTER MANAGEMENT CBM
• The United States supports several initiatives that provide platforms for actors across Central Asia to work together to anticipate, monitor and respond to natural disasters. U.S. funded programs promote regional collaboration on seismology, seismic hazard assessment, earthquake engineering, and glacier mass balance monitoring. The United States also contributes annually to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance and supports multiple humanitarian NGOs for drought, flood, earthquake, winter response, and disaster risk reduction programs.
6. REGIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE CBM
• The United States is supporting projects across the “Heart of Asia” region that improve the capacity to produce and transport energy. Projects include the construction of transmission lines; expansion and improvement of the electric grid; facilitation of cross-border regional energy connections; and development of the nascent gas sector in Afghanistan.
• The United States supports many different transportation infrastructure projects across the region. Projects include the rehabilitation of the main transit routes between Afghanistan and Pakistan; the construction and rehabilitation of 650 km of roads in Pakistan’s border regions; supporting the establishment of an Afghan Rail Authority; and funding a feasibility study on the Salang Tunnel.