Heart of Asia meet to focus on terror, Afghan economy
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New Delhi: Terrorism emanating from Pakistan, stabilizing Afghanistan economically and connectivity will be the main themes to be discussed at the sixth Heart of Asia (HoA) ministerial meeting in Amritsar over this weekend.
The conference, slated for 3-4 December, will see representatives from 40 countries and organizations like the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) attend.
Afghanistan is the chair of the conference and host India is co-chair. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be inaugurating the ministerial conference on Sunday morning. India will be represented by finance minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday.
Briefing reporters ahead of the conference, Shaida Abdali, the Afghan ambassador to India said that terrorism emanating from Pakistan would be a key theme. Without naming Pakistan, Abdali said, “Terrorism is a creation of this region and the solution lies in this region. Therefore, the upcoming HoA is very well timed and very well placed to discuss how we can find solution to the theme of addressing challenges and finding prosperity.”
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the UAE are the 14 countries that are part of the HoA process started in 2011.
As permanent chair of the Heart of Asia conference, Afghanistan has circulated a draft regional counterterrorism strategy, which provides “practical and binding” responsibilities on members to address the challenge of terrorism emanating from the region.
This is as per the agreement reached at last year’s HoA conference held in Pakistan in December 2015, Abdali said. “We expect the upcoming HoA to approve the regional counter terrorism framework,” he said.
Asked how the strategy would make it binding on Pakistan to act against terrorist groups on its soil and used by it against India and Afghanistan, Abdali said: “We hope and believe that the counter terrorism framework that we have drafted this time, will help us move forward and be in a better position to assure of a binding commitment by all countries. We are making sure that we have a mechanism that brings that change ...let’s hope that this brings a change.”
Asked how Pakistan’s presence in HoA was helping bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan, Abadali said: “We can only find solutions in place where the problems are coming from.”
In September, both India and Afghanistan pulled out of the regional South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting in Pakistan which was to be held on 9-10 November, protesting against terrorism emanating from Pakistan and directed against them. The two were joined by Bhutan and Bangladesh, forcing Pakistan to postpone the summit.
In a sign that India too would lend its voice in support of Afghanistan’s position on terrorism, Gopal Baglay, joint secretary heading the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran division in India’s foreign ministry said: “Terrorism is the biggest challenge that has beset the whole region. It is responsible for the situation in Afghanistan right now. Therefore, we have to discuss this question and face it squarely.”
Referring to the other themes of the conference—prosperity and connectivity—Abdali said landlocked Afghanistan was now in the middle of several plans to make it into a regional economic hub.
“We no longer seek but we offer this connectivity that we have to those who have been left out,” Abdali said referring to projects like the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade (CASA-1000) project that aims to harness the hydro electric potential of Central Asian countries and export it to energy deficient South Asia; the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline; and railway connectivity projects among Central Asia countries and Afghanistan.
All these projects aim to increase trade and movement of goods through Afghanistan to other regions of Asia.
These represented some of the progress achieved since the first HoA in Istanbul in 2011, Abdali said.