Takeaways from the Heart of Asia Conference

Sandarbha Desk
Sandarbha Desk
Source: The Indian Express

Background and Highlights

  • Launched in 2011, the Heart of Asia Conference has 14 members and 17 observers including the United States and other Western countries.
  • A major reason behind its creation was to help end the Afghan crisis by involving regional countries.
  • 6th Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia summit was held in Amritsar, India, on December 3 and December 4, 2016.
  • The meeting was inaugurated by president of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and co-chaired by Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister of India and Salahuddin Rabbani, minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan.
  • The key challenge identified was terrorism, particularly, state-sponsored terrorism and members agreed upon a concerted effort to dismantle all kinds of terrorism.
  • The regional meet unanimously named Terrorist groups in Pakistan and asked for action.

Afghan President’s Speech in brief

  • Afghanistan President Ghani expressed gratitude to India for helping their country with infrastructure and aid.
  • He said India’s unconditional support will help the country in helping it get back on its feet.
  • He said that India’s help is transparent and with no strings attached and Chahabar port is a major step for Afghanistan’s transformation and thanked PM Modi for the initiative.
  • He said that Afghanistan is facing serious terror threats. About 30 terrorist groups, as named by the UN, are trying to establish a base in Afghanistan.

PM Modi’s speech in brief

  • In a clear message to Pakistan, PM Modi called for “resolute action” not just against forces of terrorism but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them.
  • He said that silence and inaction against terrorism in Afghanistan and our region will only embolden terrorists and their masters.
  • He also forced on the fact that India’s bilateral and regional commitments of material assistance for Afghanistan’s development and humanitarian needs must continue and increase.The Prime Minister said there was a need to demonstrate strong and collective will to defeat terror networks that cause bloodshed and spread fear.
  • He also called for an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled peace process to bring stability to the country.

Heart of Asia Conference against Terrorism

  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani scolded Pakistan, accusing it of launching an “undeclared war” against his country by providing support and safe sanctuaries to terror groups including Taliban.
  • Terror was the centre of discussion at the Heart of Asia Conference (HoA)in Amritsar which was attended by Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz.
  • While most of the countries pitched for strong action against terrorism, some said India and Pakistan should join hands in helping Afghanistan.
  • The Heart of Asia Conference, has for the first time recognised terrorist groups including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Haqqani network based in Pakistan among the ones posing threat not only to India but also to the entire region.
  • Afghan President Ashraf Ghani demanded an Asian or international regime to verify Pakistan- sponsor terror operations.
  • In fact, he called for setting up of an international mechanism to verify the reality of such increasing attacks of late.
  • He literally embarrassed Pakistan’s foreign policy advisor Sartaz Aziz, who as the representative of his country had already pledged $500 million for the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
  • The declarations named Taliban, Islamic State/Daesh and its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters.
  • Quoting a Taliban leader, the Afghanistan President said, “As Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, one of the key figures in the Taliban movement, said, if they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month.”

Side Developments

  • India asserted financial aid to the tune of $1 billion to Afghanistan to improve infrastructure and fuel the socio-economic agendas of the later.
  • India and Afghanistan also went for a bilateral meeting and a roadmap for air corridor was agreed upon, which is likely boost trade between the two countries.
  • Afghanistan depends on the Pakistani port of Karachi for its foreign trade. It is allowed to send a limited amount of goods overland through Pakistan into India, but imports from India are not allowed along this route.
  • India’s choice of Amritsar as the venue for the conference was to underline this connectivity and the fact that at the moment, it lies in disuse because of Pakistan’s refusal to give India and Afghanistan overland access for trade.

Conclusion and Future Concerns

  • It is clear that India is no longer coy about its relationship with Afghanistan and sees the Central Asian nation as an important pivot.
  • Predictably, the Indian prime minister tried to use the Heart of Asia Conference, as he did the BRICS summit held in Goa some months ago, to castigate Pakistan.
  • It is part of his policy to discredit Islamabad, to make others see it as a ‘centre of gravity of terrorism’, and to isolate it internationally.
  • The Indian PM may not have succeeded in his attempt at BRICS, but at the Amritsar conference, he found a strong ally in the Afghan president.
  • India also needs to work more seriously on improving relations with Afghanistan.
  • It is true that building bridges is not the sole responsibility of Pakistan, but we need to review our policy of looking at Afghanistan from a purely security-based prism.
  • The Taliban insurgency is as dangerous for Pakistan as it is for Afghanistan. However, there is also a need for Kabul to change its attitude and cease to blame Pakistan for everything going bad in Afghanistan.
  • Significantly China, a member of the grouping, which has otherwise been blocking India’s efforts at other fora to name and shame Pakistan-based terrorist groups, was part of the HoA declaration.
  • China’s position on JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar in the United Nations, where its veto against getting the UN to designate Azhar as a terrorist expires this month, will, therefore, be closely watched.
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