Thank you, President Nazarbayev and Foreign Minister Idrissov, for welcoming us to Almaty. On behalf of Secretary Kerry, I want to express my deep gratitude to you and the government of Kazakhstan for hosting this ministerial and for your exemplary contributions to the Istanbul Process.
I also want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Foreign Minister Rassoul and Deputy Foreign Minister Ludin, for their extraordinary leadership and devotion to their country and its future.
Eighteen months since the inauguration of the Istanbul Process, we can point to some important milestones in Afghanistan. Afghans are taking the lead for security across their country. They are working to advance a national dialogue on peace and reconciliation and to prepare for next year’s important elections. They are moving toward greater economic dynamism and private sector led growth. And today, Afghanistan is participating as a sovereign partner in discussions about the future of its region, and the region is uniting in support of Afghanistan.
Regional engagement, coordination, and integration are essential prerequisites for sustainable stability across South and Central Asia. I would like to speak very briefly about what each of us can - and must - continue to do to support the security, political, and economic transitions underway in Afghanistan and restore the region to its historical role as a hub of global commerce, ideas, and culture.
First, on the security transition, the international coalition has laid out a clear plan of support. The Afghan National Security Forces now lead nearly 90 percent of all combat operations in Afghanistan. Later this spring, they will be in the lead 100 percent of the time. And as members of the coalition reaffirmed in the Chicago Summit Declaration on Afghanistan just over a year ago, we stand ready to continue to train, advise, and assist Afghan forces beyond the end of the ISAF mission in 2014.
Afghanistan’s neighbors and partners have an important role to play in supporting a successful security transition.
You can do this by helping to train, finance, and equip the Afghan army and police. And you can do this by expanding your coordination with Afghanistan to stem the movement of dangerous material, people, and finances across borders. The counternarcotics and counterterrorism roadmaps presented today are a welcome and important first step.
Second, sustainable security will require a successful political transition. In less than a year, Afghans will choose what kind of country they want to live in, what kind of leaders they want to empower, and, ultimately, how they will bring to an end the conflict that has divided their country for over three decades. It is our hope that the elections next April will be a unifying moment for Afghanistan, one that advances a reconciliation process that ends the violence and brings peace to the region.
President Karzai and the Afghan High Peace Council have set a clear roadmap for reconciliation. All of us have a role in helping to get this process underway. We must all make clear to the Taliban that if they seize this chance, they could one day enjoy the benefits of peace, legitimacy, and political participation. But if they reject peace and choose to maintain their alliance with al-Qaida, they will prolong a conflict that has already brought far too much misery to their country.
Last but certainly not least is Afghanistan’s economic transition away from donor dependency and toward increased self-sufficiency and private sector-led development. The framework of mutual commitments and mutual accountability agreed to in Tokyo last year is essential for this transition to deliver. And so is the growing regional consensus and ownership of what we call the New Silk Road Vision.
We all remain committed to advancing that vision, and to our belief that regional interconnectedness is vitally important, both as a driver of economic development and as an anchor of security. From increasing infrastructure links to progress on potentially transformative energy projects such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India pipeline, and increasing regional embrace of the importance of transparent and inclusive trade regimes like the WTO, the countries of the region are realizing that the promise of regional connectivity and integration are tremendous.
Afghanistan and its neighbors share many common threats that will require solutions developed and carried out by Afghanistan and its neighbors, and supported by the international community. We applaud the important progress made on implementing the confidence building measures agreed to in February 2012 and we will continue to do our part to support this process.
There is no escaping the simple fact that Afghanistan’s fortunes are tied to its neighborhood, just as the neighborhood’s fortunes are tied to Afghanistan. We look forward to continuing to work with all of you to ensure that Afghanistan and the Heart of Asia realize their shared aspiration for a stable, secure, and prosperous future.