How India can isolate Pakistan at Heart of Asia

With the conference taking place just days after Nagrota terror attack, it is well-timed for a diplomatic offensive on Islamabad.

 |  5-minute read |   03-12-2016
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The holy city of Amritsar is all set to host the sixth Heart of Asia ministerial conference over this weekend, where representatives from over 40 countries are congregating to discuss and deliberate upon issues of peace, prosperity and progress of the nation which lies at the "heart" of Asia – Afghanistan.

Launched in 2011, the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was established as a platform to address regional issues, encouraging security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours.

The countries in the grouping include India, Russia, China, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Turkey, and the Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan. Those playing a supportive role in the initiative include US, Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Egypt, Australia, among others.

The previous ministerial conference was held in 2015 in Islamabad which was attended by India's external affairs ministerSushma Swaraj. This time around, as Swaraj is not keeping well, India would be represented by finance minister Arun Jaitley, who would also be the co-chair of the conference, along with Afghan foreign minister Salahuddin Rabbani.

Prime Minister Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani would inaugurate the ministerial conference on Sunday, December 4, a day after the bilateral meeting that is scheduled for Saturday.

The theme of the event, “Addressing challenges and achieving prosperity” is indicative and alludes to the kind of issues that would be at the forefront of the deliberations – terrorism and development.

The long drawn war that the Afghan forces are fighting against the Taliban needs support wherever it can come from.

Emanating out of the Pakistani deep state – the military and ISI nexus – and executed on the ground by its subsidiaries such as the Taliban, terrorism continues to derail the Afghan development and rebuilding efforts.

Despite calls from neighbours to mend its ways, Pakistan is unwilling to let go of its "strategic assets" – in the form of various terrorist groups – any time soon, despite all the rhetoric that they support a stable Afghanistan. Violence continues to wreck people’s lives and Afghan blood is spilt every single day.

Terrorism has not only crippled Afghanistan and destabilised the region, but has also consistently displayed disdain for external players. The attack on German Consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif last month and the American University in Kabul in August 2016 are two recent examples.

Speaking a joint press conference with the MEA on Novermber 30, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, said that terrorism is the "greatest threat to this region".

He expressed hope that the Heart of Asia conference will adopt the Regional Counter Terrorism framework, drafted by Afghanistan and circulated among the members.

This would be a useful step towards increasing the heat on Pakistan and hold it accountable for state-sponsored terrorism.

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Sartaj Aziz must be delivered the message loud and clear that Pakistan’s use of terrorism as state policy will only lead to its diplomatic isolation.

India must make full use of the opportunity and expose Pakistan’s terrorist designs.

Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s de-facto minister of foreign affairs who will be attending the meet, must be delivered the message loud and clear that Pakistan’s use of terrorism as state policy will only lead to its diplomatic isolation. With the conference taking place just days after the Nagrota terror attack, it is well timed for a diplomatic offensive on Pakistan.

But terrorism is not the only way by which Pakistan is undermining Afghan interests. Economic development of Afghanistan is heavily dependent on connectivity. Here again, Pakistan has been exploiting its location and has left no stone unturned to create hurdles for its neighbour.

Pakistan refuses to allow Afghan trucks, which carry goods from Afghanistan to the Wagah border in Pakistan, to carry back products from India to Afghanistan. Even the goods that the Afghan trucks bring have to be offloaded at Wagah and reloaded again on other vehicles, to be brought into India.

By denying transit, Pakistan is severely hurting the economic interests of ordinary Afghans. Any talk about Afghanistan’s development cannot ignore this tragedy, perpetuated by the Pakistani establishment.

The Chahbahar route, facilitated by the India-Afghanistan-Iran trilateral, thankfully overcomes this land challenge. It is being called the "game-changer" of the fortunes of the region and rightly so. It establishes a permanent alternative to the land route, boosting prospects for greater trade and connectivity between Afghanistan and India.

Afghan Ambassador has further spoken of "offering" this opportunity for well-meaning countries, inviting them to come forward and connect with Afghanistan.

Connectivity, therefore, is going to be a matter of great importance as countries deliberate on economic cooperation with Afghanistan.

The location of the Heart of Asia conference couldn’t have been more pertinent. Amritsar, which has historically been a stop on the old Grand Trunk road that uninterruptedly connected Bengal to Kabul and beyond, is symbolic of the potential of connectivity that exists in this part of the world.

It actually sends out a message to Pakistan, which has been the main roadblock and deal breaker when it comes to regional integration.

Also read: Nagrota attack - India must make Pakistan cry

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Writer

Kamal Madishetty Kamal Madishetty @kamalmadishetty

The writer is a research associate at Vision India Foundation, New Delhi.

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