ASHGABAT, TURKMENISTAN - The leaders of several Asian countries called for boosting their economic ties and pledged to provide assistance to Afghanistan during a summit in Turkmenistan on Sunday.
The countries, which are part of the 10-member Economic Cooperation Organization that includes Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and six ex-Soviet nations, called for removing trade barriers and developing new transport corridors across the region. They also voiced concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, which has been taken over by the Taliban, and promised to help stabilize the country.
Speaking at the summit, Pakistan's President Arif Alvi pointed at the threat of Afghanistan's economic and financial collapse, saying the Islamic world needs to pool efforts to help avert a 'catastrophe that could foment chaos and conflict.' He said countries in the region need to move quickly to help rebuild the Afghan economy, shore up the country's health care and education systems and offer humanitarian assistance.
He noted that the stabilization of Afghanistan would allow the implementation of long-stalled infrastructure projects, including a gas pipeline, railways and power grids linking countries in the region.
Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov emphasized that those projects would help offer 'colossal cooperation prospects and help attract foreign investment,' strongly benefiting Afghanistan and its neighbors.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan noted the importance of rebuilding Afghanistan's economy, saying that the country's meltdown could trigger a massive refugee exodus that would affect the entire region. He said Turkish humanitarian groups have stepped up efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to the Afghan people.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi also offered help, saying that Afghanistan desperately needs food, fuel and financial assistance as the winter looms.
On the sidelines of the summit, officials from Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan signed a trilateral deal on natural gas deliveries from gas-rich Turkmenistan to Iran and onto Azerbaijan.