Afghanistan and neighbors pledge closer cooperation in bid to boost

Kabul, December 5, 2005 (AP) - Afghanistan and its neighbors vowed Monday to work more closely together, ending what a British official called a groundbreaking conference to boost economic cooperation in a region reaching from China to Turkey and the Persian Gulf.

Following a two-day meeting billed as Afghanistan's debut as host of a major economic conference after decades of war, delegations from 12 nations pledged cooperation in areas including electricity trade, water resource management and counternarcotics.

They also vowed to seek investment by improving the regional business climate, an undertaking British Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells called "absolutely central" to its prosperity. Britain co-chaired the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference as current holder of the G-8 presidency. Howells called the conference "historic and groundbreaking" and said the declaration, which assigned the Kabul government a leading role in following up on its decisions, marked "the moment when Afghanistan has become a real player in bringing peace and stability to this region."

The meeting brought together officials from the six nations bordering Afghanistan -- Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Pakistan and China -- as well as India, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said that the ouster of the Taliban from power in 2001 ended a long period in which "Afghanistan was considered an obstacle and presented a threat" to its neighbors and the world. "The time has come for Afghanistan and the region to seize the opportunity" presented by its relative stability, Abdullah said. He said the delegations worked "in a climate of close cooperation."