Afghanistan, its neighbors, and international partners face a stark choice today: Either promote Afghan economic development and stability by clinging to a continued – yet unsustainable – dependency on foreign aid and military assistance, or transform the country into a financially sustainable trade and transit hub that benefits its citizens and region through new economic opportunities and a durable peace. Given the regional nature of Afghanistan’s myriad economic, political and security challenges, the choice is clear.

Since November 2011, the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan, also known as “The Heart of Asia Istanbul Process”, has sought to combine a focus on regional political dialogue, security, and economic integration to address several of the most fundamental threats and challenges facing Afghanistan and its wider region. With the introduction of two confidence-building measures (CBMs) on Trade, Commerce & Investment and Regional Infrastructure in 2012, the Istanbul Process has built directly on progress achieved by the series of Regional Economic Cooperation Conferences on Afghanistan (RECCA), initiated in December 2005 in Kabul.

“Binding Afghanistan’s economic future ever closer to its Eurasian neighbors might be the best chance for a political breakthrough in the country’s decades-long conflict.”

In considering the way forward for advancing regional economic integration with Afghanistan, my paper examines the economic dimensions of Afghanistan’s decades-long conflict, reviews the respective strengths of the Istanbul Process and RECCA since 2011 in improving the conditions for peacebuilding and reconciliation and considers the level and effectiveness of collaboration between these two regional forums. Finally, it offers concrete recommendations for improving Istanbul Process-RECCA coordination, implementation and further strengthening of the regional economic and governance dimensions for achieving a durable peace in Afghanistan.