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Afghanistan Joins South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

President Hamid Karzai departed Afghanistan for New Delhi, India on April 2 to attend the 14th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Before leaving Kabul, President Karzai awarded outgoing US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ronald Neumann with the Alama Sayed Jamalludin Afghan medal at a ceremony held in the Presidential Palace. Ambassador Neumann was recognized for services in pursuing peace and strengthening relations between Afghanistan and the United States.

In a historic ceremony on April 3, Afghanistan became the eighth member of SAARC. “Afghanistan's isolation must never be repeated,” said President Hamid Karzai at the ceremony. “Today will be remembered as a landmark event as Afghanistan assumes its place in the South Asian family. I wish to thank SAARC’s member states and the SAARC Secretariat for supporting Afghanistan’s accession.”

President Karzai informed the audience dignitaries that the Afghan people were eager to learn from the experiences of their neighbors and expressed his interest in emulating the success of micro-finance in Bangladesh and rural development in India. He insisted that enhanced economic cooperation must be pursued for the sake of regional economic and political stability. President Karzai said that Afghanistan’s ascension to SAARC will allow member states greater access to the Central and South Asian markets. He identified the regions’ natural resources which are crucial drivers of economic growth, and expressed hope in developing a regional oil and gas pipeline. “Afghanistan today presents a largely untapped market for business and investing…Our vision for Afghanistan and its people is one where we act as a conduit for growing regional trade,” he said.

Upon his arrival, the President met with Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh to discuss bilateral relations and Afghanistan's role in strengthening relations between SAARC's member states. The President also met with Head of Bangladesh's Transitional Administration Dr. Fakhruddin, President of Sri Lanka Raja Paksa, and Prime Minister of Pakistan Shuakat Aziz to discuss bilateral relations and regional cooperation.

Dr. Spanta addressed a group of SAARC foreign ministers on April 2. He told the dignitaries that Afghanistan will seek foreign investment from SAARC members, offer transit facilities between the South and Central Asian countries, and entreat SAARC member countries to join a constructive dialogue about counterterrorism. “Our accession to SAARC will certainly open new opportunities for all…Afghanistan, lying at the heart of the region, is proud to be your partner in this collective effort to achieve regional prosperity,” he said.

The President was accompanied by Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, National Security Advisor Zalmai Rasoul, Advisor to the President on International Affairs Sharifa Sharif, Chief of Staff Umer Daudzai, and Spokesman Karim Rahimi.

SAARC is the most populous regional grouping in the world, with some 1.47 billion people represented. Founded in 1985 at the initiative of Bangladeshi President Ziaur Rahman, it comprises India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, the Maldives, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan. China, the European Union, Japan, North Korea and the United States are observers of this organization.

 


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