Tehran Reaffirms Support for Afghan Prosperity

Top officials at the Heart of Asia confab pose for a group photo in India’s Amritsar on Dec. 4. Top officials at the Heart of Asia confab pose for a group photo in India’s Amritsar on Dec. 4.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif underlined Iran's support for the "fraternal" Afghan people and government in their efforts to reach "a stable, safe and prosperous Afghanistan", saying it contributes to the stability and prosperity of Asia. 

In a speech to the Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia in India's Amritsar on Sunday, Zarif warned against the alarming surge in extremist violence and a dramatic increase in drug production in the region.

"Afghanistan is most affected by these problems," he said, adding that "2016 has been a very challenging year for the National Unity Government of Afghanistan," as extremist groups such as the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group are spreading terror inside Afghanistan, IRNA reported. 

The Iranian minister hoped that "an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process", with the assistance of regional countries, would move toward establishing lasting and comprehensive peace.

Zarif said the challenges facing Afghanistan and the region are interconnected, including the growth in narcotics production, a lifeline for terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan. 

"As a frontline country in the war against narcotics, we have offered alternative cultivation as well as alternative livelihood plans to dissuade Afghan farmers from opium cultivation," he said. 

  Need for Reversal 

"But to reverse the current alarming trend of increasing drug production, international cooperation with an integrated strategy for alternative development aiming to turn the war economy into a formal sustainable economy is inevitable," Zarif added.

The foreign minister also pointed to the trilateral transit agreement signed by Iran, India and Afghanistan on the development of Iran's southeastern port city of Chabahar, as one of the important steps in the direction of boosting prosperity in Afghanistan and the region.

"It makes it possible for Afghanistan to have access to world markets through open seas, making development of Afghanistan's vast and rich mineral resources economically attractive," he said. 

"We invite interested actors from the region and beyond to consider participating in the development and expansion of Chabahar." 

The Heart of Asia format, or Istanbul process, was established in 2011 to provide a platform for discussing peace, security issues, political and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbors. 

The conference, themed "Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity", was held on December 3-4, and ministers from as many as 40 countries are attending it.

The 14 members of the body include Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the UAE.

On the sidelines of the conference, the top Iranian diplomat discussed bilateral relations and international developments in separate meetings with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his Kyrgyz counterpart, Abdyldaev Erlan Bekeshovich.  Zarif arrived in New Delhi at the head of a 38-strong politico-economic delegation on Saturday, and after attending an economic forum of Iranian and Indian businesspeople and delivering a speech to a gathering of Indian intellectuals, he left for Amritsar in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.

After India, he was expected to proceed to China and Japan upon the invitations of his Chinese and Japanese counterparts, Wang Yi and Fumio Kishida respectively, to sit down for talks with them and take part in business forums.

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