Russia aims for leading role in boosting economies around war-torn Afghanistan
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday pushed for energy and transportation projects — in which Russia is likely to lead the way — to boost economic development in Afghanistan and surrounding countries.
Meeting with the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, Medevdev called building energy infrastructure a vital prerequisite for prosperity.
"Energy projects are what really help governments that need to strengthen their economy," he said. "Assistance must not just be a one-off, it should be aimed toward the future."
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari appeared to welcome the prospect of a greater Russian role in improving stability and enabling economic development.
"We are a region that is asking for help," he said. "The people of Pakistan, the people of Afghanistan are looking forward and looking up to the leadership in the region to help them come out of their problems."
Russia has already invested heavily in projects in the region. On Friday, Medvedev is to attend the unveiling of the Sangtuda-1 hydropower plant, in which Russia has a 75 percent stake and has invested almost $500 million.
While security issues lay at the heart of the meeting in Dushanbe, much attention was devoted to a project to export surplus electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Tajikistan, whose economy was ruined by civil war in the mid-1990s, has pinned its hopes of resurrecting its economy on new hydropower plants built with financial and technical assistance from Russia. The country currently suffers from chronic power shortages throughout the winter, but new plants could eventually enable Tajikistan to satisfy its own energy demands and also sell power to neighboring countries.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Tajik counterpart, Emomali Rakhmon, joined Zardari in vowing to work more closely in fighting terrorism amid growing fears that instability could fan across the region.
Concerns have mounted in recent months that the step-up in military operations against insurgents in Pakistan and Afghanistan may be contributing to worsening security in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic that has struggled to protect its 830-mile (1,300-kilometer) border with Afghanistan.
In recent weeks, Tajikistan has seen a spate of clashes between government troops and militants in areas near the Afghan border.
Zardari indicated his country was committed to ensuring stability beyond his country's borders.
"We stand together to confirm and inform the world that together we shall face all eventualities, whether they are a threat to our national interests through terrorism, or whether it is a hope for the future of the coming generation," Zardari said.
While not committing any troops to U.S.-led military operations to quell the insurgency in Afghanistan, Moscow has sought in recent months to take a more prominent role in regional security.
In July, Russia agreed to allow the United States to ship Afghanistan-bound weapons across its territory.
The normal supply route to landlocked Afghanistan via Pakistan has come under repeated Taliban attack, and the U.S. and NATO have been eager to have an alternate overland supply route through Russia and the Central Asian countries.
Moscow hopes to secure a second military base in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan, where the United State also has an important air base. Kremlin officials say the base would be used by a rapid-reaction force being formed by the Russian-dominated Collective Security Treaty Organization. Other organization members are Armenia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
The issue is due to be discussed this weekend, when Medvedev meets other Collective Security Treaty Organization leaders in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.
Source: AP News