Neither US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nor Pakistan's Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri will attend the second Regional Economic Cooperation Conference for Afghan Reconstruction being held in India on November 18 and 19, co-hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.
The RECC, coordinated by the Afghan Foreign Ministry and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, will be a follow up to the first such conference held last year in Kabul, undertaken by key stakeholders like neighbouring countries, G-8 partners, the United Nations and international financial institutions.
The Conference aims to focus on areas of interest, not only to Afghanistan, but also to the neighbours, as that will be crucial for the success of the regional cooperation initiative. In the past, and, officials said, as is apparent from the lower level of representation from immediate neighbour, Pakistan, regional countries have not shown sufficient interest in building on this initiative.
Pakistan's Minister of State for Economic Affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, is attending the RECC, while Rice's deputy, the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, Richard Boucher, will attend the conference in New Delhi in her stead.
Boucher, who is travelling in the region between November 4 and 20, will travel to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, before arriving in India.
The conference will build on the work flowing from the RECC (Kabul), in particular, following up on themes identified at Kabul.
These comprise; trade facilitation and transport, with a paper being updated by Asian Development Bank (ADB); investment trade and business potential, with a paper being prepared by GTZ (Germany); and electricity trade and energy development, for which the World Bank is updating papers. It will also take up a new theme; agriculture and agro-development, as mandated in the Kabul Declaration, the paper for which is being prepared by Afghan M/Agriculture.
Capacity building will be a crosscutting issue in all the themes, according to the MEA.
Countries that have been invited to the conference are Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, UAE, UK, the US and Uzbekistan. Invited organisations include the ADB, Aga Khan Development Network, European Commission, European Council, IMF, SAARC, UNDP, the UN and the World Bank.
The government hopes that the identification of practical projects, which would have commercial incentives for the regional countries as well, will spur the interest of neighbouring countries. Wider cooperation in aspects like border management; trade and transit agreements; power purchase agreements; skilled labour import agreements, will bring benefits to the region as a whole.