Despite widespread problems and a dangerous epidemiological crisis, regional conflicts, terrorism, and political violence have not diminished. The last 50 years history shows that peaceful regional initiatives in resolving regional conflicts are more effective in settling problems. The Ninth Ministerial Conference "Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process" is a regional initiative that paves the way for constructive coexistence in the region, especially the reconstruction and revival of Afghanistan to peace and stability in the region. Ambassador and Resident Representative of the Aga Khan Development Network in Tajikistan (AKDN) Mr. Qozidavlat Qoimdodov presents to the readers his view about the coexistence of borders and diplomacy without borders, the settlement of the 45-year conflict in Afghanistan, the further development of border cooperation, the contribution of international organizations in this area.

Mr. Qozidavlat Qoimdodov, first, please provide brief information on border coexistence and the contribution of countries and international organizations.

It should be noted that after the collapse of the superpower Soviet Union, the border area in our beloved country has tripled. Thus, war and bloodshed, friendships, building and burning, living, and dying start from the border. Ever since I opened my eyes, I have been a border guard as my house is on the banks of the Panj River, on the Afghan border. On the other side of the border, our compatriots are suffering unbearably. Bloody clashes have been going on for the last 43 years. Perhaps if not the fateful decision of the 16th Session of the Supreme Council, we too would have been caught in a storm of conflict.  Common sense and humanitarian initiative of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon blocked the deadly flow of the river of violence. It was during this period of tension that regional initiatives, such as the Tajik peace talks, began. As a diplomat and head of the international organization, I have discovered that the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process roots from this initiative. The quiet life after the peace talks allowed us to start peace and stability across the border. For peace, along with disarmament, it is necessary to ensure the living and material conditions of the people. With the initiative of the President of Tajikistan, well-known international organizations have been invited for regional cooperation. The border has become a point of public diplomacy and a gateway to coexistence.

- You lead yourself to our next question. Could you provide more details on international organizations, including the AKDN's work on regional cooperation at the border?

- Beneficial cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan and AKDN has been going on for more than 25 years. Today, more than two hundred projects for social development, agriculture, economic, health and education are being implemented. Most of these programs operate in border areas. It should be noted that the experience of AKDN Tajikistan in trilateral cooperation between the Government, AKDN Agencies and Tajik civil society has contributed to the establishment of AKDN institutions in Afghanistan. While discussing this topic, one should not forget about the initiative of the President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon on the establishment of peace and ensuring national accord, cross-border relations, and cooperation. During the opening ceremony of the bridge, he has emphasized that "for the sake of stability and economic development of neighboring Afghanistan, we will not refrain from any assistance, and cooperation, because the stabilization of the situation in this neighboring country is in favor of our national interest."

In fact, over the past 26 years, five transport bridges and six border markets, four checkpoints have been built with the consent of the government and with the support of donors.

      At the same time, it should be noted that His Highness Mavlana Hazir Imam at the opening ceremony of the Tem bridge has stated that "modern infrastructure will help solve the problem of poverty on both sides of the border."

- Mr. Qozidavlat Qoimdodov, our readers are very interested in statistics and facts. Please, specify the project achievements.

- To promote and develop cross-border initiatives, AKDN Tajikistan is implementing two projects: the first, Support for Corporation and Opportunities for Regional Economic Development (SCORED) aimed at promotion of economic development and integration in the border areas of Tajikistan and Afghanistan which consist of two parts - access to financial, commercial and credit services.

Under this component, since 2017, AKF / MSDSP has allocated a total of 543,541 euros under the SCORЕD project - a microfinance organization "Mountain Development". About 40 enterprises are involved in cross-border trade between Tajikistan and Afghanistan in the border markets of Khorog and the Darvaz districts. The second part of the project is the construction of a cross-border bridge under the AKF Tajikistan SCORЕD project, funded by the AKF of United Kingdom and the European Union, and through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan Regional Integration Program (PATRIP) cross-border bridge construction and road connection in Kokul site and the village of Oykhanum Takhar in Afghanistan. When it comes to border bridges, today we should be fair to say that the opening of the border bridges during the Afghan war, the situation on the border after Tajikistan took full responsibility for the protection of the southern border of the CIS, drug trafficking, extremist, and armed groups the Afghan border was facing new catastrophic threats. However, the President of the Republic of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon gave priority to the lives of thousands of people living along the border. These bridges have opened the doors of opportunities to Afghan people to overcome poverty.

We feel the full support of the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as reliable social partners in the implementation of all AKDN programs. Considering the request of the Afghan Embassy in Tajikistan and the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) to allow the transit of humanitarian aid across the state border from Tajikistan to Afghanistan in order to support remote districts of Badakhshan, the relevant Government of Tajikistan Resolution was approved in 2000 to the FOCUS humanitarian assistance program for transportation of humanitarian aid across the state border.

 AKDN's cross-border programs aimed at developing and stabilizing social and economic processes in Afghanistan are also important for peace and stability in Afghanistan and for the security of Tajikistan and the region as a whole. Over the years, the AKDN has expanded its cross-border activities to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.

The AKDN began its cross-border operations in Afghanistan through only one agency, the FOCUS Humanitarian Program. Currently, the Aga Khan Foundation of Tajikistan (AKF), the Aga Khan Education Service (AKES), the Aga Khan Health Service (AKHS), the Pamir Energy Company, and the University of Central Asia are implementing distinctive programs to reduce poverty and develop Afghanistan.

AKDN closely works with the Head Office of Border Units of the State Committee for National Security of the Republic of Tajikistan on the implementation of this cross-border program. It should be noted that initially AKDN started its activity only in one border region of GBAO and currently also implementing its program activities in the border districts of Khatlon region.

Cross-border projects help attract labor from both countries (professionals and workers) and promote business and entrepreneurship development. These projects provide opportunities for the purchase of most goods and materials from the domestic market of Tajikistan (construction materials, cement, fuel, agricultural materials, machinery, seeds, fertilizers, medicines, food, clothing, household appliances) as well as rental of local transport facilities for the delivery of humanitarian aid. Most importantly, in the course of bilateral relations and of cooperation the people, the participants will appreciate more peace, stability and peaceful coexistence.

Since 2007, Pamir Energy has supplied electricity to more than 50,000 people (approximately 5% of the population) in Badakhshan Province (Afghanistan) through nine cross-border energy projects (with financial support from Germany, Norway, and the United States).

Recently, Mavlana Hazir Imam has guided his followers to act only within the framework of state programs to prevent the COVID-19. AKDN's health programs in Tajikistan are coordinated and developed in accordance with the action plan of the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of the Republic of Tajikistan. From the first day of COVID's infection, the AKDN proposed an assistance program  to the Ministry of Health for epidemiological security at the border.

In 2019, Tajik doctors provided medical care to 3,016 Afghan patients. 348 patients in Badakhshan, Afghanistan received emergency medical care and 225 patients underwent surgery. In general, our development partners, including Canada, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the World Bank contributed on the implementation of cross boarder programmes.  

- Usually when we talk about the border, only the Afghan border is mentioned. Does the AKDN implement programs on other borders?

-Yes, as the border with Afghanistan is a hot front, we are really forgetting the border with other neighbors. However, the AKDN has extensive cross-border programs with the Kyrgyz Republic.

Aga Khan Education Service (AKES) is the regional office of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, and its activities in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are based on close cooperation between the two countries.

Currently, close cooperation is established between the Aga Khan Lyceum in Khorog and the Aga Khan Lyceum in Ush. Teen-ages diplomacy is more real and sincere. Interesting projects will be implemented in the field of teacher training, including the development of long-term plans on education, exchange of experiences between Kyrgyz and Tajik teachers, seminars, and courses.

The University of Central Asia today brings together young people from three countries - Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In the framework of the University's activities, there are also short-term courses for young people in construction, sewing, design, folk crafts, which also includes young people from Afghanistan.

- Dear Qozidavlat Qoimdodov, what do you expect from the Ninth Ministerial Conference “Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process” and what are your thoughts?

-This conference will bring good outcomes. Because the summit will be held in a peaceful homeland. At the same time, the participants will get acquainted with the achievements of 30 years of Independence of Tajikistan and will pay tribute to the author of the Tajik peace, Leader of the Nation, Emomali Rahmon.

Tajikistan's achievements have a 24-year history. Six years of independence have been spent in conflict. And in resolving these conflicts, face-to-face talks with the opposition such international conferences have helped. Today, all are looking forward for peace in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the compass of war and peace has not yet been revealed. The superpowers must first identify the source of the conflict and the instigator of the war. The guarantee of peace and stability is mainly in the hands of the people of this country. Without the will of the people, no military force can bring peace. First, the spirit of the people must be changed to a peaceful life. Then the reconciliation process is first carried out on the one hand with amnesty. In this regard, the experience of national reconciliation of the Republic of Tajikistan should be carefully studied.  Of course, reconciliation requires sacrifice, damage to groups, parties, and individual groups. Only concession and compromise sustain peace.

The experience of the last century has shown that making peace is a hundred times easier than maintaining it. For lasting peace, the unity of the people, an all-encompassing government, and the rule of law are essential. The legal framework for peace and security alongside the people should be as well provided by all structures of government, civil society, including non-governmental organizations, political parties and religious scholars. People are encouraged to make peace by rebuilding a paralyzed economy, the devastation of war, and building businesses. Therefore, with the support of the international community, especially financial assistance, it is necessary to return to the negotiating table. Sponsored countries should consider a new rehabilitation project. At the same time, the efforts of such key countries as the United States, Russia, Pakistan, India, China, Iran and all neighboring countries, regardless of their political interests, should be concentrated.

At the end of the conversation, it is clear from the readiness, intentions, and efforts of the Conference hosts - the Government of the Republic of Tajikistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Tajikistan that the conference will be held at the highest level and will create new opportunities for peace and stability in Afghanistan. Today Dushanbe is the cultural capital of the CIS. Tomorrow, Dushanbe will become the capital of peace in the region.