The Istanbul Process Ministerial: Results and Prospects for the Future

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Almaty, Kazakhstan
April 26, 2013

Assistant Secretary Blake: Ambassador [Orzayev] is a hard person to follow, but I’ll do my best.

First of all I want to thank the Rector of Nazarbayev Kazakh National University for hosting us today and putting on this wonderful conference. I want to thank my friend, the dynamic Martha Olcott who does in fact know me quite well. And of course I want to thank Ambassador [Orzayev] and my good friend Director General Waissi, we’ve worked very closely together for many years, for being with us today.

I would also like to extend a very warm welcome to the viewers in Washington as well as to the viewers in India. I think this is probably the first time in Central Asia that I’ve ever participated in a trilateral video conference like this. I think it’s a wonderful innovation. It also is a great manifestation of the spirit of today’s conference, trying to bring all of these countries together. So again, I really congratulate on you that.

I also want to congratulate Kazakhstan and Afghanistan for the whole idea of bringing in scholars, bringing in the business community into this conference which I think is a very very important part going forward there. Their advice can really help inform the way forward.

Ambassador [Orzayev] has already done a great job of laying out all the basic accomplishments of what’s gone on today and I do first want to congratulate Kazakhstan for the terrific job that Kazakhstan did in organizing and hosting this and working very closely with the government of Afghanistan. These are incredibly difficult things to put on and it was really conducted flawlessly, not only logistically, but also in terms of getting real concrete action plans out on the table and now approved, and of course now the hard part comes to actually implement these.

I won’t go through what Ambassador [Orzayev] has already said. Let me just try to give some more concrete examples of some of the work that is being done. And given our audience today is mostly in Kazakhstan and India, let me focus mainly on them and maybe talk a little bit about Turkmenistan as well.

First of all with respect to Kazakhstan, obviously in addition to hosting this conference, Kazakhstan has been a wonderful supporter of international efforts in Afghanistan. It was the host along with Pakistan of the disaster management confidence building measure. It has been very active in promoting business to business cooperation between Kazakhstan and Afghanistan. It is one of the few countries in this region that has contributed to the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces. And it has also been funding infrastructure projects in Afghanistan. And perhaps most importantly it has extended its $50 million program to educate Afghan students here in Kazakhstan. So a bravo to Kazakhstan for all of its terrific work.

Likewise India I think has played a really instrumental role. They chaired the very important working group and confidence building measure on commercial and business to business relations and all of you know they’ve been very active for a very long time in this area. India already accounts for roughly one-quarter of Afghanistan’s exports and India-Afghanistan trade is probably going to double to about $1 billion by 2013, despite the fact that there’s not yet direct transit trade between India and Afghanistan. So I think that’s quite an important milestone that’s been achieved already, and much more to come.

India has also chaired several investment conferences before the Tokyo conference, and the India-led SAIL consortium is now leading this very important effort to begin to extract high quality iron ore in the Hajigak mine in central Afghanistan. Again, one of the very first but very very important projects to go forward not only to help develop the minerals of Afghanistan but also to help develop the infrastructure that will be needed to get those minerals to market.

Lastly, I just wanted to talk a little bit about Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has chaired the very important infrastructure confidence building measure and of course infrastructure is one of the key things that needs to happen to help provide the basis for more private sector led growth in Afghanistan and in the region. And so they have been very very active. Many of you know that they have just announced, Turkmenistan has just announced that they are going to help construct a railway line that will go from Turkmenistan to Afghanistan to Tajikistan. That will supplement a separate line that Kazakhstan is about to inaugurate going from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan. So very soon you will have a very long and integrated network in that part of the country.

I’d like to just give a couple of examples about why it’s so important to make some concrete progress on some of the transit and other issues that we’ve been talking about and give some examples of how the benefits of regional trade can really be fully implemented.

One is the cross-border transport agreement that Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Afghanistan are working on under the auspices of the Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program of the Asian Development Bank. This is going to help facilitate the transport of goods and people through that region, and again, I want to commend the governments for that.

A second obvious one that is very very important is the Afghanistan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement which again has led to quite a substantial increase already in trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I think there is more to go and there is now the intent to extend that to Central Asia as well, which again would be a very welcome and important initiative.

Likewise, there’s the Black Sea Corridor Initiative which is running from Afghanistan across Turkmenistan and over the Caspian to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Turkey I should say has been a really important leader in this whole process. They started the Istanbul Process with Afghanistan. They remain a very active and helpful driver of this whole initiative to encourage regional integration.

I mentioned very briefly the CAREC program that’s led by the Asian Development Bank. They have a goal now of mobilizing $20 billion in financing to develop these six transport corridors that will go across Central Asia. They have been real leaders in developing all of the infrastructure and helping to develop Central Asia in particular.

I mentioned Turkmenistan. I know their signature project is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline. There are still a lot of hurdles to overcome there, but already the four countries of the region have taken very very important steps, for example on the gas sales purchase agreement, and now a lot of important work is already underway. So they’ve made more progress in a year than in the last 20 years. I think that’s quite notable.

There’s still so much more that can be done. Pakistan, for example, has a 30 percent electricity deficit; Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have significant potential to export surplus [summer] power. That’s the underlying rationale behind the CASA 1000 Project.

India has huge energy needs. Gas, electricity, and that of course is the driving force behind the TAPI Pipeline.

I don’t want to go on for too long because there’s a lot that everybody wants to talk about, but the bottom line I’d like to say is, I think what’s happened today shows that there is now not only regional buy-in into the concept of regional integration but there is also now concrete progress being made in many many different spheres that show that these countries are putting their own resources into this effort and really believe it. I really want to commend them again, and particularly Kazakhstan and Afghanistan for really driving this progress and process.

Again, thank you so much for the opportunity to participate, and of course I’ll be glad to answer any questions later.


Moderator: I’d like to make two comments, then I will introduce my colleague in DC, and then I will stand on the side so I can do questions from here and questions from DC.

I was privileged to be able to sit in on the ministerial conference today and I really thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan for granting Carnegie that privilege, which it really was.

I think the two things I came away from were first, there was a strong message in virtually all of the speeches that it’s a regional effort. Recovery of Afghanistan is a regional effort and without the region itself beginning to cooperate or coordinate better there won’t be the kind of growth in the region as a whole. So Afghanistan can’t recover without the region; the region can’t recover without Afghanistan; and the region can’t thrive unless it finds a way to work together through these kinds of measures.

The second thing that I heard that I thought was really important was the interconnectedness of all these various confidence building measures, that they don’t stand alone, that it’s an integrated approach to enhanced regional cooperation, and as several speakers have mentioned, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad project, which is a signature project, but even before this project comes, as it enters the planning stage, is going to lead to new electric lines across Afghanistan and new gas lines across Afghanistan and that’s really critical. So the whole idea is that you don’t wait for a vision to be completely developed to go forward with it, but it’s integrated steps being taken at the same time, which I see as something that really shows maturity on the part of the international organizations and all the ministries in the region, that there’s a realization that there has to be coordination and simultaneous movement forward which I thought was really critical.

Question: Dick Miles, former Ambassador in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and Chargé in Turkmenistan.

I was interested in Assistant Secretary Blake’s comment about the Black Sea Corridor Initiative. Actually it’s the first I’ve heard of that. I wonder if he would speak a little bit more about it.

If I heard correctly, you said the cost for all of this, I can imagine what’s in it, but you said the cost would be something like $20 billion, which is a large amount of money. Is this an air/sea/land initiative? Or what exactly does it involve?

Assistant Secretary Blake: Sorry, I think that got conflated. The Black Sea Corridor is not $20 billion. The $20 billion is what CAREC, the ADB’s Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation Program has mobilized for six different transport corridors. The Black Sea Corridor is different. In fact I should say there are actually several Black Sea initiatives. There are efforts to work out of the Port of Turkmenbashi, to work out of the Port of Aktau in Kazakhstan, and leverage a lot of the rail lines that are being developed in Azerbaijan, in Kars, in Tbilisi, Baku, those kinds of lines that are now being developed.

That would be one of the very important trade routes that will go effectively all the way from China through Kazakhstan, down through Aktau or through Turkmenistan and then across the Black Sea.

So there will be, again, a very important opportunity to move trade to Turkey and not have to go around by sea and therefore cut substantially the shipping times, and of course cut the costs.

Question: [Inaudible], ATLC Energy here in Washington, DC.

I was wondering if you could address the issue of Uzbekistan’s role. Because you touched on Uzbekistan and the relationship between Uzbekistan and [Afghanistan].

Assistant Secretary Blake: Uzbekistan played a very helpful bilateral role with Afghanistan in working to develop the rail line that’s gone from Haratan to Mazar-e-Sharif. They’ve also been very active in developing the electricity lines that now go all the way to Kabul. A lot of Uzbek energy is now lighting Kabul. And I think that Uzbeks are quite interested in working in other ways to support further these developments.

Uzbekistan traditionally has not been as willing to work multilaterally and regionally. We certainly hope that Uzbekistan will do that. Obviously they’re centrally located. They have borders with every single other Central Asian country, and it would be of enormous benefit to further integrate let’s say the electricity transmission lines, the rail lines and so forth. But I can tell you either from our own experience working on the Northern Distribution Network, there’s already quite a lot of important lines going in various directions. So it is a matter of building on those and again working with our friends in Uzbekistan to help them understand the huge benefits that they will derive from regional integration.

Question: I do have a question to Ambassador Blake, which is you mentioned [inaudible] the pipeline project, TAPI, that has been available the past 20 years. Can you elaborate a bit on the fact? The fact that if it was so, this is the [inaudible] of major [inaudible] as well as political achievements.

Assistant Secretary Blake: I think one of the main changes, of course, has been the huge growth in the Indian economy. So that now India has giant demands for energy that need to be met from all different sources. That was one of the reasons that animated the U.S. civil nuclear deal. But there are still enormous unmet energy needs. So TAPI is a very important opportunity that India has strongly supported.

Again, Indian economic growth really began to sort of shift into high gear in the early 2000’s, about ten years ago when the reforms that were initiated by then Finance Minister Singh really took hold and propelled growth of about eight or nine percent a year. That in turn has propelled energy demands and I think has given a lot of impetus to programs like the TAPI Pipeline.

But I should also say that as India has grown economically, it has widened its strategic horizons and its weight in diplomatic circles has increased dramatically so that they’re able now to leverage that, to take projects, difficult projects like this and help them move forward.


Question: [Inaudible] Kazakhstan and my question is to Assistant Secretary Blake.

How the U.S. government can make human rights and regional stability, and what is your government commitment to support democracy and human rights in the region in the post-Afghanistan era? And what is the most remarkable [inaudible] on USAID [inaudible] is the right thing to do in this situation? Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Blake: I gave a talk in Uzbekistan two days ago and I got that exact same question so that’s obviously on people’s minds.

I’d like to just say that I think human rights promotion is going to continue to be one of the most important priorities for the United States going forward. It already is a very very high priority. And the point we always make to governments in the region is having open, responsive, democratic and accountable governments, is going to make for more stable and prosperous societies, and we really believe that based on experience around the world. So we have a lot of diplomatic effort that goes into this, but we also have programming and we particularly think it’s important to support civil society. Civil society is facing very restricted and constrained space in Central Asia. It’s very very important to support civil society now.

With respect to assistance, I actually would tell you that your facts are not entirely accurate. Our programs in Central Asia continue to be very very well funded. As you know, the overall budget in the United States and the State Department budget has gone down for FY14, our fiscal year ’14 request by about six percent. For South and Central Asia it’s only down about three percent. So we’re actually, others are going to have to take a greater cut than ours because everybody understands the importance of Central Asia.

Question: [inaudible]

Assistant Secretary Blake: First of all I want to say thank you for reading my transcripts of what I say in other countries. I’ve very impressed. [Laughter].

In terms of relations between non-state actors, first of all this conference itself, what we’re doing today, right now, is a very good example of what we need to do much more of. A lot of what comes now or up to the last several years mostly was, you’re right, state to state kinds of engagement. What we’re really trying to do through the Istanbul Process is to expand the scope of engagement to include not only governments but the business sector, civil society of all kinds, critically important is our business community because business and their economic interests are really going to drive a lot of the progress in this region. We see that in projects like TAPI, like CASA 1000, where it’s economic interests that are going to help to drive integration. That’s certainly happening now.

I think we need to do better in incorporating the business community into a lot of what we’re doing. I had a meeting in Uzbekistan two days ago where it was quite interesting, we had members of the business community, members of the multilateral development banks, and government altogether. That’s the kind of model we want.


Moderator: I want to thank everybody in Washington and everybody here. I think we’ve had a very successful effort and I wish the Istanbul Process and every forum generated by it lots of success as we go forward. Thank you all.