By Siddharth Singh
his unique platform of “Heart of Asia” brings together the countries and organisations of the region and beyond in their efforts to consolidate Afghanistan as a modern and growing democracy. It has been India’s endeavour to promote political consultations and regional cooperation through this platform for a strong, independent and prosperous Afghanistan. The theme for the Heart of Asia Process this year was ‘Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity.” As Afghanistan faces the challenges related to its multiple transitions, India has always taken a stand that a focused and sustained support will be required from all friends of Afghanistan in the international community for overcoming these challenges and achieving durable peace and prosperity.
A key focus during India’s co-chairmanship of conference this year was to centre-stage the importance of connectivity for Afghanistan. Promoting it remains at the very core of India’s cooperation with Afghanistan and also in the region. For India, the issue of connectivity for Afghanistan is not a mere talking-point. India has always said that the lack of connectivity directly impacts the economic, security and political situation in Afghanistan. A well connected Afghanistan will be economically vibrant and prosperous and also politically stable. It will be able to engage the energies of its youth and attract its talents back from the foreign lands.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA) was founded on November 2nd, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Heart of Asia provides a platform for sincere and results-oriented regional cooperation by placing Afghanistan at its center, in recognition of the fact that a secure and stable Afghanistan is vital to the prosperity of the Heart of Asia region.This platform was established to address the shared challenges and interests of Afghanistan and its neighbours and regional partners. The Heart of Asia is comprised of 14 participating countries, 17 supporting countries, and 12 supporting regional and international organizations.
India chose Amritsar— a city bordering Pakistan—as the venue for the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference on Afghanistan.The choice of Amritsar was in line with the Narendra Modi government’s policy to move international conferences out of the national capital and showcase other cities in India. Apart from that, the choice of Amritsar also lends to the theme of connectivity, which is central to the Heart of Asia conference this year, having been a stop on the old Grand Trunk (GT) Road that once seamlessly connected Bangladesh to Peshawar in Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan. And New Delhi’s choice was aimed at sending out a message to Pakistan which has been seen as the main deal breaker when it comes to integrating South Asia.
In recent past, India has highlighted Pakistan’s role in propagating terrorism at various fora which includes the G20 meeting in September in China and a gathering of the world’s largest emerging economies in Goa in October during BRICS Summit. In Amritsar during Heart of Asia Conference also, India conveyed a firm message to Pakistan that India, Afghanistan and other nations in the region would continue their pursuit for greater connectivity and regional integration, even if Pakistan is opposed to the concept.
The Sixth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia Process ended with the adoption of the annual Ministerial Declaration, which sets the course for the upcoming year of the Process. The Amritsar Declaration reiterates the commitment of the participating countries, supporting countries, and supporting regional and international organizations to the Heart of Asia Process. It also recognizes the central role of this platform in enhancing regional cooperation to address shared challenges and to promote security, stability and socioeconomic development in the Heart of Asia region. The three big issues of the conference were countering terrorism to create stability in Afghanistan, providing Afghanistan connectivity to strengthen economic activities and the development which is essential for its progress.
The Amritsar declaration recognised terrorism as the biggest threat to peace and security and demanded immediate end to all forms of terrorism and end to all financial support and safe havens providing sanctuary to it. In a rap on Pakistan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in his address accused Pakistan of launching an “undeclared war” on Afghanistan by covertly supporting several terror networks including the Taliban. Similarly PM Modi also called for “resolute action” not just against forces of terrorism but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them.
The Amritsar declaration states the urgency to respond to the nexus between drugs and its financial support for terrorist entities in Afghanistan. To disrupt these links, the Heart of Asia countries intended to increase dialogue between their relevant ministries and agencies to tackle this menace. The Amritsar declaration also calls for early finalization of the draft comprehensive convention on international terrorism. It also looks at the early meeting of experts to discuss a draft regional counter terrorism framework strategy.
The declaration states the welcoming of the agreements between the international community and Afghanistan for continued financial support to the Afghanistan National Defence and Security Forces (ANDSF) until 2020. Furthermore, discussions and the Declaration reiterated strong support from Heart of Asia countries for use of Afghanistan’s location to enhance wider and regional economic cooperation. Specific initiatives in this regard including IranIndia-Afghanistan trilateral agreement on developing Chabahar has been acknowledged in the declaration. Earlier this year, India, Iran and Afghanistan had achieved a milestone by signing the trilateral transit and transport agreement for provision of yearround and reliable connectivity to Afghanistan via Chahbahar in Iran. This endeavour will overcome the lack of direct overland access for Afghanistan through Indian markets. Afghanistan will further benefit from the zero duty available to Afghanistan’s exports to India. Benefits to Afghanistan will accrue if Afghan trucks could carry Indian products to markets in Afghanistan, Central Asia and beyond and indeed vice-versa.
All countries recognized that terrorism, violent extremism, radicalization, separatism, and sectarianism and linkages among them are the gravest challenges that the Heart of Asia region and the rest of the international community is facing in contemporary times and these problems would continue to pose a severe threat to the sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic development and bilateral and regional cooperation, accordingly all countries unanimously decided to renew their strong commitment to strengthening comprehensive cooperation among the Heart of Asia countries and intensify the efforts to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations through solidarity and collective action.
(Siddharth Singh is a student of International Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)