Remarks by the SCO Secretary-General V.I. Norov at the webinar "The Afghan Peace Process and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization"

My dear friend, Foreign Minister, Your Excellency, Mr. Shah Mahmoud Qureshi,

Dear Mr. Raashid Wali Janjua, Acting President, IPRI,

Director SCO-RATS, Mr. Jumakhon Giyosov,

Director, Institute for Strategic and Regional Studies,

Uzbekistan, Mr. Eldor Aripov,

Excellencies and dear Colleagues,

I express my gratitude to the Islamabad Institute of Political Studies for inviting me to today's event.

I would also like to thank the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of Uzbekistan for facilitating the webinar.

I think the topic —"The Afghan Peace Process and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization" is relevant and timely.

The SCO Member States have always regarded early settlement of the situation in Afghanistan as one of the most important factors of maintaining and consolidating security and stability in the entire region.

The year 2020 has undoubtedly proved to be important in terms of taking the first practical steps toward sustainable peace in Afghanistan.

Some steps have been taken to build confidence between the warring parties and reduce violence, including prisoner exchanges and temporary ceasefires.

The SCO welcomed the launching of the inter-Afghan negotiations in Doha last year, as we are convinced that there is no alternative to resolving the conflict in Afghanistan through political dialogue and an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.

In this regard, we call for increased cooperation by all interested states and international organizations, with a central coordinating role for the UN, to stabilize and develop this country.

We hope that the second round of Doha negotiations, which began this month, will promote the gradual and constructive development of inter-Afghan dialogue, considering the interests of all social, political, ethnic, and religious groups in the country.

We regard this process as one of the most important factors in strengthening security and stability in the SCO area, which will give a positive impetus to the multifaceted interaction of our Organization with Afghanistan.

In this context, the words of strong support for the Afghan peace process expressed by Pakistani Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Imran Khan at the SCO Moscow Summit on November 10, 2020, as well as Pakistan's efforts and relevant mediation for Afghanistan Peace Process are highly commendable and deserve special attention.

The Moscow Format established in 2017 and the International High-Level Conference on Afghanistan in March 2018 in Tashkent also played a positive role in launching the inter-Afghan dialogue.

As the process of reducing the foreign military presence in the country has begun, the importance of SCO, as the largest regional organization in terms of territory and population coverage, in the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Afghanistan is objectively increasing.

The SCO countries have always sought to provide all possible assistance in peaceful conflict resolution and reconstruction of the country.
Afghanistan has been an observer state of the SCO since 2012.

The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group at the level of deputy foreign ministers intensified its activities in 2017 and approved a Roadmap for further action in 2019.

During the Moscow Summit of SCO, the President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani praised the efforts of the SCO Member States to provide ongoing political, economic, and technical assistance to our Afghan friends, including in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the conclusion of the Moscow SCO Summit chaired by Russia, our heads of state noted the need to intensify joint work to implement the roadmap to support the efforts of the people and Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to achieve peace, economic development of the country, countering terrorism, extremism, and drug-related crime.

Combating the main challenges and threats to regional security remains a priority while implementing this document with our Afghan partners.
Unfortunately, attacks on the Afghan military are still going on, which can slow down the constructive development of the inter-Afghan negotiations.

In addition, we remain concerned about the deteriorating situation in the border regions of Afghanistan.

According to the SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure, against the background of the growing number of fighters arriving in the north of the country, including from the Syrian-Iraqi conflict zone, a build-up of combat capabilities and expansion of the presence of a branch of ISIS — the terrorist group Islamic State — Vilayat Khorasan has been recorded.

Its leaders are actively cooperating with the leaders of such terrorist organizations, to name a few, such the Islamic Movement of Eastern Turkistan and Jamaat Ansarullah.

The threats they pose are not only attempts to create a bridgehead in Afghan territory for expansion into the SCO space, but also the use of information and communication technologies to promote terrorist ideology, recruitment and propaganda activities and the management of "sleeper cells" abroad.

In this regard, it is important to establish a regular exchange of information between the SCO-RATS and the competent authorities of Afghanistan on preventing and suppressing the activities of international terrorist organizations.

An additional source of concern is the traditionally high level of drug production in the country, which not only finances local and international terrorists but also leads to social degradation.

That is why last year's SCO Council of Heads of State statement on countering the drug threat called for the implementation of effective measures to combat the illegal cultivation of drug crops, the production of opium and cannabis group drugs and synthetic drugs, and their transit through the countries of Central, South-East and South Asia.

In this context we are also ready to assist in developing and implementing capacity-building programs for Afghan law-enforcement agencies on preventing and combating narcotic drugs.

Dear colleagues,

Afghanistan's return to the trajectory of peaceful development should be accompanied by its systematic involvement in regional trade and economic processes.
Without the participation of the Afghan side, it is impossible to implement high-quality infrastructure projects aimed at strengthening regional connectivity in the SCO.

As the distinguished minister, Mr. Qureshi, rightly noted at the recent High-Level Conference on the Implementation of the UN Secretary-General's Peacebuilding Fund that the main obstacle for developing countries in mobilizing international investment is their inability to prepare commercially viable development projects, including those supported by the multilateral development institutions.

This problem is even more relevant to Afghanistan.
In this regard, the recent initiative of President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev to develop and adopt a Plan of Practical Measures on Assistance to Social and Economic Rehabilitation of Afghanistan within the framework of SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group deserves special attention and full support. In addition to that, He announced holding an International Conference "Central and South Asia: Regional Interconnectedness. Challenges and Opportunities" in Tashkent this year.

We also welcome Tajikistan's co-chairmanship of the Istanbul Process — Heart of Asia as a Member State and current SCO Chairmanship, which aims to enhance regional cooperation on Afghanistan, as well as the planned 9th Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process to be held in Dushanbe this spring.

Besides, a regular meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the Organization's Member States and the leadership of the Afghan Foreign Ministry is planned to be held, within the framework of Tajikistan's Presidency of the SCO, this year in July in Dushanbe.

In this context, we consider it particularly important within the framework of the mentioned measures to focus priority attention on the development of railway transport in Afghanistan, which not only showed the greatest resistance to the restrictive measures introduced in the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic but is also able to provide short time direct access of geographically closed countries of the region to the southern seaports.

For example, the construction of the Mazar-e-Sharif — Kabul — Peshawar and Mazar-e-Sharif — Herat railroads will enable the transition to the formation of a common system of freight transportation between Central Asia and South Asia with its further integration into the "North-South" and "West-East" transport corridors.

Optimization of trans-regional logistic processes will not only intensify multilateral trade and economic ties, but also accelerate the recovery of the Afghan economy, including the effective development of the mineral sector in the central and southern provinces of the country and, consequently, the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs.

In this regard, it is equally important to expand the export potential of Afghanistan's agricultural sector, including in the context of the implementation of innovative alternative development programs that are aimed at countering the illegal cultivation of narcotic plants by economic methods.

Along with the development of railway infrastructure, the Surhan-Puli Khumri and CASA-1000 power transmission line projects should be implemented to improve access to electricity, integrate and expand markets for trade development, and find sustainable solutions in water management in the country and the region.

The construction of the Surkhan-Puli-Khumri transmission line as part of CASA-1000 will increase Afghanistan's electricity supply by 6 billion Kwh per year and ensure uninterrupted operation of the projected railway networks.
Active cultural and humanitarian cooperation has been an important support in strengthening Afghanistan's trade and economic ties with the SCO countries.

Our Road Map provides for facilitating the training of Afghan citizens, including women, through the SCO University. Universities, and specialized educational centers of the SCO Member States in various fields and specialties are in demand by the students, including supporting and expanding distance learning programmes aimed at unlocking the creative and business potential of the younger generation. This is especially relevant in the conditions of the current pandemic.

The youth play a great role in strengthening regional and global security and stability; therefore, there is an immense need to contribute to the capacity building and development of the youth in Afghanistan.

The SCO Member States continue putting much effort into tapping the potential of the young people living in the 18 SCO countries. In this regard, the SCO Secretariat has already laid down a firm foundation supporting the youth under SCO SCOLAR platform, and it is worth mentioning that the Kabul team using this platform organized a successful webinar titled "United Entrepreneur Webinar" in December last year, which I believe, is the reflection of the success of the SCOLAR platform.

Dear Colleagues,

I am sure that proposals made by the participants of the webinar on ensuring the peace process in Afghanistan will be useful in preparing and making appropriate decisions.
To conclude, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the participants of this webinar a successful, fruitful, constructive, and meaningful work.

Thank you for your attention.