ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you very much. Let me say what a pleasure it is for me to be here in Balkh and Mazar-e Sharif. As it was said I am in charge of South and Central Asian Affairs and one of my most important jobs is to help support the transition here in Afghanistan, particularly the economic transition but also the political and security transitions. And I am particularly focused on the economic side because we try to do everything we can to help develop a private sector-led and a trade-led transition here as that proceeds. So to help build trade and to help develop a private sector we are very active in working with Central Asia and with India to develop the rail lines, to develop roads, to develop electricity transmission lines and other projects to help integrate Afghanistan into its neighborhood. And I came to Balkh because we see that there are a number of opportunities here to help encourage more private sector development. Security is good; you have proximity to important neighbors through the ports of Hairatan and also through Sherkhan. So I was very pleased to have a meeting with the Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Industries as well as some other diplomatic representatives who are here in this region. And I look forward to meeting with some of Governor Atta’s team later today. So I would be pleased to take a few questions.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. My name is Mohammad Jawid. I am from Aina TV. You spoke about the expansion of railroads and roads to ensure smooth transition of goods through Mazar-e Sharif, and that is a positive thing but there was this trade pact signed with Pakistan, which did not take effect. Pakistan did not make good on their promises. What guarantees are there, what are the steps that the U.S. State Department is going to take to ensure that the pact is respected and what are the guarantees that similar action will not be taken by other countries if a pact is to be signed?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Thank you for that question. First of all it is a priority for us to encourage the implementation of the Afghanistan – Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement. In the future we hope that that same agreement can be extended to the countries of Central Asia and that eventually as well trade can be opened up with India. So these will remain very important priorities for the United States.
QUESTION: Through translator] My name is Aref Mousavi from Tolo TV. I have two questions, one for you Sir and one for Mr. Barat [Vice Chairman of the Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Industries]. The question for you sir is that you spoke of transition and the decade of transformation. And that also includes reconstruction efforts and infrastructure efforts in northern Afghanistan. What are the plans for building infrastructure projects in northern Afghanistan? Are there any specific projects that will be implemented? And do you have an estimate of how much the budget for these projects will be?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BLAKE: Well I am not a real expert. You should really talk to some of the people who work here and Mr. Mines, our Senior Civilian Representative. But one of the important infrastructure projects that we are working on is helping with the Sheberghan gas fields. Not only to help to exploit that gas but also to develop a power plant to better provide for the energy needs of the north. And all of this assistance is part of a much larger package, almost 300 million dollars that we have provided over the last ten years to this part of Afghanistan. But increasingly, as I said, our focus will be on encouraging private sector led growth that will provide a source of sustainable jobs for Afghans.
QUESTION: Did you have any specific plans for them and what did you ask for?
MR. BARAT: Yes, we had many plans for Mr. Blake, the Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia. Our suggestions for them were that they should help and cooperate with businessmen in Northern Afghanistan and especially in Balkh Province. Regarding the railroad that lies between Hairatan city and Mazar-e Sharif city, unfortunately we do not have wagons of our own or the machine that can transport the wagons from Hairatan to Mazar-e Sharif. And the establishment of power plants is a very essential for the government and people of Afghanistan, especially for businessmen. We have many [potential] power plants that can provide electricity to provinces in Northern Afghanistan and Balkh Province but unfortunately no one has paid attention to it. And other transport challenges that we had between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have caused many problems for our businessmen. They cannot export their goods to other countries through Pakistan. Another suggestion was that they should have better cooperation with our businessmen so that American businessmen can come to Balkh province and Mazar-e Sharif and have joint businesses with businessmen here.