DUSHANBE: President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday called for trans-border cooperation which would not only transform the economic landscape of the South and Central Asian region, but would also be an effective bulwark against extremism and militancy.“We believe that the crusade against poverty and deprivation must be waged in tandem with war against terrorism. Pakistan's consistent position is that more than military might, it is a battle for hearts and minds,” the president said while addressing a Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan.
Hosted by Tajikistan, the conference is being attended by over 70 countries and international organisations.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Tajik President Emomali Rahmon also addressed the conference.
President Zardari said that an economically strong and politically stable Afghanistan would be a catalyst for peace and prosperity in the region.
For Pakistan, he said, Afghanistan had always been of great significance.
“The two countries are now involved in a multi-track engagement. Through intensive interaction we are developing deeper trust and greater understanding,” the president said.
Mr Zardari said the presence of Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan and other countries at the conference reflected their collective commitment of all countries for Afghanistan's development.
“My presence specially demonstrates Pakistan's commitment to Afghan peace, development and prosperity and Pakistan's strong belief that Afghanistan and Pakistan's destinies are interlinked,” the president said.
“When I support development for Afghanistan, I am in essence supporting the development for Pakistan.”
He said he had always raised the drug issue in Afghanistan at all international forums and urged the world to help the country address it.
He said the Declaration on Future Directions of Bilateral Cooperation signed by Pakistan and Afghanistan envisaged a future partnership in a regional context.
Despite resource constraints, the president said, Pakistan was making a significant contribution to the reconstruction process in Afghanistan.
“From our pledged amount of over $300 million, we have undertaken a number of reconstruction projects in fields of education, healthcare and infrastructure in different parts of Afghanistan,” he said.
In the field of education, the president said, Pakistan was providing 2,000 fully funded graduate and post-graduate scholarships for Afghan students in its institutions of higher studies.
“Moreover, today over 7,000 Afghan students are enrolled in Pakistan's colleges and universities. This represents about 60 per cent of all Afghans studying in institutions of higher education abroad. In addition, about half a million Afghan refugee children attend schools in Pakistan,” the president said.
In the health sector, the president said, over 90 per cent of Afghans who seek medical treatment abroad visit Pakistan. Most of the Afghan patients opt for free treatment at government or philanthropic healthcare facilities, he said.
Earlier, talking separately to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the president discussed bilateral relations, regional situation and global issues.
President's spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the president urged the two leaders to gear up efforts for closer interaction to effectively address the issue of drug trafficking.
In his meeting with the Afghan President, the two leaders reviewed development projects being funded by Pakistan.
Mr Zardari said the two countries must work together to attain the shared goal of peace and prosperity in the region.
Talking to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr Zardari said the existing border control regime between the two countries needed to be revisited and further strengthened.
The two leaders discussed the whole gamut of issues and expressed satisfaction over the growing bilateral cooperation between the two countries in diverse fields and agreed to further strengthen their mutually beneficial ties.
The president noted with satisfaction at the growing cooperation between national security agencies of Pakistan and Iran and stressed the need for further expanding the cooperation.
Mr Zardari said that the two countries needed to prioritise economic and trade relations and ensure speedy implementation of bilateral projects, especially the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project.
He stressed the need for more efforts to increase the trade volume between the two countries to $10 billion.
The president appreciated fresh commitments made by Iran's Deputy President Ali Saeedlou during a recent visit for funding the Noushki-Dalbandin sector of the Quetta-Taftan National Highway and upgradation of the Quetta-Taftan railway line.
The president said that Pakistan and Iran needed to coordinate closely on the regional and international issues of mutual concern.—APP