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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Afghanistan's neighbours join hands
People walk past the bombed buildings of Afghanistan's capital, Kabul.
Afghanistan's shattered economy needs outside help
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By Jim Muir
Tehran Correspondent
line
Afghanistan's most powerful neighbours, Pakistan and Iran, have often been accused of fishing in the country's troubled waters, pursuing their regional rivalry directly or by proxy.

But now they've come together for the first time to pledge co-operation in helping Afghanistan get back on its feet.


This is an important start on a bigger, longer foreign investment trail

UNDP chief Mark Malloch Brown
With that goal in mind, finance ministers from all three countries are holding a two-day conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran, chaired by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

The idea of Iran and Pakistan working together to help Afghanistan towards stability first arose during a visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Islamabad before the emergence of the interim administration in Kabul.

Now it is starting to come to fruition.

Wading in

The conference in Tehran brings together the finance and economy ministers as well as business leaders of all three countries.

Market in Kabul
Foreigners are eying Afghan markets
Their aim is to set up a joint commission, composed of both public and private sector economic leaders.

The commission is to clear the way for much greater trade and economic co-operation between the three and stimulate development in Afghanistan.

"There's a lot of big talk from the major global economic powers but it's the neighbours who are the first to put their feet in the water," says UNDP Administrator Mark Malloch Brown.

"This is an important start on a bigger, longer foreign investment trail that we want to take Afghanistan down," he added.

Ambitious plans

Afghanistan is, of course, a land-locked country which has historically straddled major trade routes, both between East and West, and between North and South.

Relief for Afghanistan
Afghanistan is heavily dependent on food aid
Afghan Minister Hedayat Amin-Arsala said Kabul was determined to regain that vital role as a bridge, with the private sector being designated as the main engine of development and growth.

Legal frameworks were already being finalised, he said, to provide incentives and security for potential investors.

One of the top priorities of the joint commission will be to look at the high tariff barriers erected by both Pakistan and Iran, which have led to a huge volume of smuggling in the region.

The ministers from both Iran and Pakistan expressed the hope that enhanced trade between all three countries could not only stabilise Afghanistan but also give a boost to wider economic co-operation in the region.

The UNDP chief even saw the move as the potential nucleus of a new central Asian market.

So, lots of ambitious talk and good intentions, but as always the proof will depend on concrete steps being taken to translate them into reality.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Business
'Rapid recovery' for Afghanistan
21 Mar 02 | Business
Afghanistan's new economic start
22 Jan 02 | South Asia
Spending the billions
09 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan's opium industry
19 Sep 01 | Business
Afghan economy fights for survival
15 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Afghanistan
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