Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutolglu (C) talks to his counterparts Zalmai Rassoul of Afghanistan (L) and Hina Rabbani Khar of Pakistan after a group photo session during the Istanbul Conference for Afghanistan at Ciragan Palace in Istanbul on Wednesday. – Photo by Reuters

ISTANBUL: A day-long conference attended by key regional countries and western players on Wednesday saw the international community agree to join hands to ensure peace, security, development and prosperity in the war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul inaugurated the Istanbul conference which was also addressed by his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, foreign ministers of neighbouring countries and representatives of international organisations which are playing an active role for ensuring peace and security in the region.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu announced that over a dozen countries had signed up to a package of ‘confidence-building measures’ for cooperation in fields, including security, reconstruction and health and the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

“This is the commitment of regional and international actors to work together and rebuild Afghanistan until peace and stability prevails,” Mr Davutoglu said at a press conference with Afghan counterpart Zalmai Rassoul.

The two foreign ministers said they were confident that Istanbul Declaration adopted at the conference would be implemented to ensure peace and security in Afghanistan and in the region.

The participants reaffirmed their desire for enhanced cooperation for fighting terrorism, including through exchange of information.

US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns hailed the agreement as “the first clear, region-wide statement of support for Afghanistan in this time of transition and reconciliation”.

The signatories included Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, according to a statement.

The regional players also vowed to “respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” it said.

The Istanbul talks were intended to chart the way ahead for Afghanistan, with the US-led Nato mission already locked into military drawdowns that are scheduled to bring all foreign combat troops home by 2014.

Addressing the conference, Mr Karzai warned there would be no hope for peace in Afghanistan without help from its neighbours, particularly Pakistan, to combat ‘terror groups’.

“Terrorist networks are by far the major threat to Afghanistan’s security,” he said. “They continue to have sanctuaries outside of our border from where they conduct their merciless campaign of destruction,” he said.

“Unless regional cooperation is assured to address the core and root of this issue peace in Afghanistan will remain elusive.”

“Our hope is that, with the help from our brothers in Pakistan, we will manage to wean away the Taliban leadership from some of the long-established networks of support they enjoy outside Afghanistan and integrate them into the peace process,” Mr Karzai said.

Pakistan denies that the Afghan Taliban’s top leaders are based on its territory. It has bristled at US and Afghan accusations it plays a double game, fighting some militant groups while supporting others it views as potential useful proxies in future conflicts with India.

The Istanbul Regional Conference — which brought together representatives from some two dozen countries as well as organisations such as Nato, the EU and the United Nations — was the first in a series of international conferences on Afghanistan to be held over the next six months. It will be followed by Bonn conference on Dec 5.

The conference was held a day after a trilateral summit hosted by President Gul brought together Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and his Afghan counterpart Karzai in a bid to ease tensions between the two neighbours.

Tuesday’s talks saw Afghanistan and Pakistan agree to cooperate with an investigation into the September assassination of former Afghan leader and peace negotiator Burhanuddin Rabbani.—Agencies

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