KABUL, Afghanistan — Officials from more than 30 nations and 40 international organizations gathered in the Afghan capital Thursday for a regional economic conference to explore ways of rebuilding the country after more than 40 years of war.
They met against the backdrop of tightened security across the city, with road closures, blast walls and checkpoints illustrating the country's lingering instability despite a 14-year NATO intervention and billions of dollars in foreign aid.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai opened the two-day Regional Economic Cooperation Conference, at which delegates were to discuss policy priorities, inter-regional trade, harmonization of customs and border routines, and market expansion. It is the 6th RECCA conference and the first since President Ashraf Ghani assumed office a year ago pledging to end the war with the Taliban and reform the economy.
Economists have forecast 2.5 percent growth this year, after Afghanistan averaged 9 percent annually from 2003 to 2012, according to World Bank figures.
The drawdown of international troops last year has vastly shrunk the war economy that had provided employment for thousands of Afghans. Unemployment is on the rise, pushing increasing numbers of Afghans into the arms of the insurgents.
Seven police officers were killed in the restive southern Helmand province late Wednesday. The provincial governor's spokesman Omar Zawak said the policemen, who were manning a checkpoint, were shot dead after their food was poisoned.
Helmand, a longtime Taliban stronghold and the source of much of the country's opium production, has seen a spike in insurgent attacks. The Taliban seized the district of Musa Qala last week, and were only driven back by Afghan forces days later, after 24 U.S. airstrikes.