Modi and Ghani have left no stone unturned to hold Islamabad responsible for poor connectivity in every sector across the South Asian region through Heart of Asia Summit
Over two months after India’s decision to stay away from SAARC Summit in Islamabad, Pakistan was virtually sidelined in the South Asian regional group; the Heart of Asia Summit on 3 and 4 December has further reinforced that when representatives from 14 countries gathered in Amritsar to enhance the south-south dialogue for regional cooperation.
Afghanistan is the permanent chair and India as a co-chair successfully used the summit to yet again focus spotlight on Pakistan’s explicit connection with terror groups in fomenting trouble in both the countries. President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, a firm believer that Pakistan does not support establishment of peace in his country has, set the tone of the conference.
The draft declaration on counter-terrorism circulated by Afghanistan has called upon Pakistan (without naming it) to stop harbouring and supporting terror groups on its soil. Both India and Afghanistan have joined hands to nail Pakistan on this issue once again at an international conference. Modi and Ghani have left no stone unturned to hold Islamabad responsible for poor connectivity in every sector across the South Asian region.
Pakistan’s government under domestic pressure from sending a delegation to Amritsar Summit has decided to send just a two-member team headed by advisor to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, former foreign secretary Sartaj Aziz.
Nawaz Sharif decided to send Aziz given the fact that ‘Heart of Asia’ is an international conference on bringing stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan believes it has an important say in that landlocked country’s future. Aziz days before the summit publicly announced that Pakistan was in touch with “anti-India elements” to keep New Delhi under pressure on the Kashmir issue.
The Pakistani team arrived in India on December 4 for a few hours and as expected Sartaj Aziz raked up the issue of tension with India and blamed Indian Prime Minister Modi and his government for spiking tensions in the region.
After Arriving in India on December 3, President Ghani hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi later in the day in Amritsar, carefully selected to remind everyone that a city that stands on the historic Grand Trunk Road route that once linked Kolkata to Kabul via Delhi and Lahore, provides an opportunity to break connectivity barriers.
It will remind the world that as they gather in Amritsar, a city that sits on the now infamous GT Road, Pakistan remains a major obstacle in their dream to reconnect and rebuild Afghanistan with rest of South Asia.
Soon after his arrival, President Ghani lost no opportunity to emphasise Pakistan’s continued support to terror groups operating in Afghanistan, the role of its military and ISI in their steadfast refusal to help connect his country with India across Pakistan.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was founded in 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. The Heart of Asia, the official website claims, “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”.
The Heart of Asia has 14 participating countries, 17 supporting countries, and 12 supporting regional and international organizations.
On the eve of the summit the Afghan ambassador in India set the tone when he told journalists in Delhi that “as we all know, terrorism is a creation of this region and the solution lies within this region only”. Therefore the upcoming Heart of Asia is very well timed and very well placed to discuss how we should find solutions to the theme that we have already put forward, he remarked.
Afghanistan is angry at Pakistan’s continued refusal to allow India overland access to their country. At the last summit in Islamabad foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had asked for India’s admission to Afghanistan Pakistan Trade and Transit Agreement but, that was turned down, as expected.
The Chahbahar Port agreement between India-Iran-Afghanistan is seen as a serious initiative to help landlocked Afghanistan to get access to global market by connecting Persian Gulf with Kabul and beyond to Central Asia through a road network.
Given its geography Pakistan has held Afghanistan to ransom, by controlling land access to and from the country and using unstable security situation over the decades to help and sustain terror groups in that country.
Afghanistan heavily leans on India today for its moral, diplomatic, political and material support as it seeks to fight Afghan Taliban, Islamic State groups and Pakistan’s military establishment to rebuild a war-torn nation.