/ 13 May 2009

Karzai: ‘Wildfire of terrorism’ hurting regional trade

Afghanistan and Pakistan have to work together to defeat a ”wildfire of terrorism” sweeping the region and frustrating economic development, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Wednesday.

Karzai, in Islamabad for a two-day regional economic conference, said many factors hampered cooperation such as inadequate physical infrastructure and inconsistent policies.

”But … perhaps by far the most menacing challenge to the region’s prosperity today is extremism and terrorism,” Karzai said in an opening address to the conference of regional countries, Western allies and international financial agencies.

Violence in Afghanistan has surged to its worst level since United States-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, despite increasing numbers of foreign troops.

Pakistan has also seen growing violence as militants allied with the Afghan Taliban step up attacks across the country. The Pakistani army launched a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban in a northwestern region last week.

Militants in Pakistan have also been attacking trucks carrying Western military supplies and Afghan trade goods on the main road into landlocked Afghanistan, through the Khyber Pass.

”Trucks have been burnt, drivers killed and merchandise has been looted and set on fire,” Karzai said. ”Such terrorist atrocities have had a serious effect on trade and commerce.”

In the latest attack, gunmen torched eight trucks on Wednesday at a depot on the outskirts of the Pakistani city of Peshawar, police said.

”The current situation has become intolerable for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is time to combine our energies and make sure the forces of mayhem and death are defeated once and for all,” Karzai said.

”It is time to take back our values and villages from terrorists. It time to get serious about keeping our roads open to trade.”

”Beyond conferences”
Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said dialogue and development were the most potent tools in the arsenal against terrorism and called for the conference to endorse a concrete set of projects for ”fast-tracking cooperation”.

”Through concerted efforts, we will establish integrated and interconnected corridors of trade and transport,” he told the gathering.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have improved since a civilian government came to power in Islamabad last year.

Ties between Karzai and former Pakistani president and army chief Pervez Musharraf were often tense, in particular over Afghan complaints Pakistan was not doing enough to tackle militants in enclaves on its side of the border.

Conference participants are focusing on five areas, including mining, energy and infrastructure, health, labour and overland trade.

United Nations envoy for Afghanistan Kai Eide said greater cooperation could significantly increase incomes across the region.

”There’s seriously underused potential in the neighbouring countries which we should try to mobilise,” Eide told Reuters on Tuesday.

Security was not a major problem in large parts of Afghanistan while vital sectors such as agriculture and infrastructure were underfunded, he said.

He also urged deeds, not words.

”We have to move beyond holding conferences,” Eide said.

”There is a vast number of projects … but we have to move form the exploratory phase into the phase of doing things. That’s what’s lacking.” — Reuters