The 6th HEART OF ASIA Conference & The Future of Pak-Afghan Relations

Future of Pak-Afghan Relations

The 6th Heart of Asia—Istanbul Process (HoA—IP) Conference on Afghanistan concluded on December 04 in Indian city of Amritsar with the adoption of Amritsar Declaration. The Conference took place at a time when both India and Pakistan are locked in mistrust and hostilities between the two countries are on the rise. Although the principal aim of the Conference should have been the drawing up of policies to bring a long-lasting peace in the war-ravaged Afghanistan, both India and Afghanistan, unfortunately, used this multilateral forum to malign and spit venom against Pakistan. This scathing criticism was so repugnant that even the Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov came forward to reject the Indian and Afghan criticism on Pakistan by saying that “we should avoid the blame game and work together” and that “all parties involved in the war-torn country’s reconstruction must work together”. He further said that the Heart of Asia was not the platform for India and Pakistan to score brownie points.

If there was any doubt that this Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar has been co-opted by the Indian administration to satisfy their political needs, it has been shed. As expected, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Afghan President spent the majority of the conference time lashing out at Pakistan, to the detriment of the topic at hand. Mr Modi used this multilateral forum to accuse Pakistan of fomenting terrorism in Afghanistan and the region. Addressing the inaugural session, he said, “We must counter terrorists and their masters. We must demonstrate strong collective will to defeat terror networks that cause bloodshed and spread fear. Silence and inaction on terror in Afghanistan and region will only embolden terrorists and their masters and those who fund them.”

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani toed Modi’s line but with even more specific and harsh stance by saying, “We need to identify cross-border terrorism and a fund to combat terrorism … Pakistan has pledged $ 500 million for Afghanistan’s development. This amount can be spent to contain extremism. … This is unacceptable. Some still provide sanctuary for terrorists. Pakistan must verify cross-border activities.”

What both the leaders said indicates a strong nexus between India and Afghanistan to malign Pakistan and, as unequivocally and repeatedly said by Modi, to isolate her internationally. Despite the fact that major regional and global players in this moot gathered ostensibly to guide Afghanistan through its political and economic transition, in reality, the Heart of Asia platform was reduced to staging just another boxing bout of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with Russia trying to play the referee and media in breathless anticipation for resumption of talks.

Despite all that, what India did in Amritsar is yet another testimony to the fact that New Delhi has scant respect for regional peace processes or cooperation and instead pursues its own nefarious agenda of dictating terms to countries in the region. The Conference also proved that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is a puppet who is more than willing to dance on Modi’s tunes to camouflage his domestic failures. Mr Ghani blamed Pakistan for the “export of terror” to Afghanistan and asked Pakistan to “verify cross-border activities,” yet what he completely ignored is the fact that when Pakistan launched operation Zarb-e-Azb, it formally requested Afghan government to take care of the border so that the TTP operatives and their leaders could not escape to Afghanistan. But, what Pakistan got in return? Not only the level of expected cooperation never materialized but Afghan and Indian intelligence agencies—DNS and RAW, respectively—also started supporting TTP in carrying out terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This is evident from the arrest of a prominent TTP leader, Latifullah Mehsud, who was caught by NATO forces in Afghanistan in October 2013 when he was returning after a meeting with the high-level Afghan functionaries. He confessed the nexus between the two intelligence agencies and their support to TTP.

Pak-Afghan Relations

Although during the recent months, especially after Modi’s visits to Afghanistan, Mr Ghani has gone so harsh that he even outdoes Indian hawks in that he launched a vicious campaign against Pakistan remaining completely oblivious to the fact that he is undermining his own country’s interests. At the HoA conference, Ghani’s rhetoric was so aggressive that it was giving an impression as if Kabul desired a rupture in Pak-Afghan ties. This is not the right attitude and it is hoped that better sense will prevail.

Certainly, there is some history here. When Mr Ghani assumed office more than two years ago, he made it a priority to reach out to Pakistan through some bold verbal statements and diplomatic gestures toward Islamabad and Rawalpindi; it indicated that resetting ties with Pakistan was a core part of his agenda. The outreach was received warmly by both the political government and the military leadership of Pakistan but Mr Ghani soon became impatient with what was perceived in Afghanistan as Pakistan’s slow pace in addressing his country’s concerns.

Yet, Pakistan, too, has had genuine concerns vis-à-vis Afghanistan. As Mr Ghani and his National Unity Government became increasingly hawkish on Pakistan; they deliberately steered closer to India—a growing closeness that the security establishment here saw as one of the reasons behind the renewed security troubles in Balochistan. Moreover, with counter-insurgency operations in North Waziristan and other parts of Fata nearing their final stages, the problem of sanctuaries for anti-Pakistan militants in Afghanistan, particularly in the eastern region, has become a thorny issue. The combination of Afghan and Pakistani grievances against one another has led to a relationship that is now in a shockingly poor state. Still, there are compelling reasons for both sides to move the bilateral relationship back towards cooperation, and Mr Ghani surely knows this, even if he prefers to give voice to a one-sided interpretation of events at the moment.

There are at least three areas in which cooperation is merited—and can be achieved, if both sides are willing to accept the principle of reciprocity. First, the problem of cross-border militancy is a regional one, as the joint statement at the Amritsar Conference indicated. In the case of Afghanistan and Pakistan, border management and interdicting cross-border militant movement can be a joint priority. Second, the goal of a political reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban is one shared by all sides. Pakistan can continue to use its influence in a way that nudges the Taliban toward reconciliation, while Afghanistan can tamp down its hostile rhetoric towards Pakistan as it explores further ways to move dialogue ahead. Third, trade and commerce between Pakistan and Afghanistan can and should be expanded—Pakistan remains a vital trading partner for Afghanistan and the old business links, formal and informal, are an important platform. Cooperation needs to be the guiding principle of Pak-Afghan relations.

Amritsar Declaration: Top 15 Highlights

  1. We reaffirm the importance of the HoA-IP as an important regional platform for political dialogue and close regional cooperation.
  2. We stress the need for advancing regional cooperation as an effective means to address common challenges and to promote security, stability and socio-economic development in the Heart of Asia region.
  3. We recognize that terrorism is the biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in our region.
  4. We remain concerned by the gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan in particular and the region and the high level of violence caused by the Taliban, terrorist groups including ISIL / DAISH and its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, Al Qaida, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters.
  5. We call upon all states to take action against these terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter-terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006.
  6. We commend the government of Afghanistan in successfully pursuing peace talks with Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin Hekmatyar resulting in the signature of a peace agreement that sets a good precedent for future peace talks with all other armed groups.
  7. We commend countries in the region and beyond, particularly Iran and Pakistan, for their hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over three decades.
  8. We, therefore, believe efforts to eliminate the menace of terrorism and violent extremism will not succeed without a concerted and coherent regional approach involving all HoA countries.
  9. We also stress the urgent need to respond to the serious challenges posed by the nexus between revenue and its financial support for terrorist entities in Afghanistan, the Heart of Asia region and globally.
  10. We recognize that a politically negotiated settlement remains important for durable peace in Afghanistan.
  11. We urge all those countries in the region and beyond, who have leverages and influence, to help bring the Taliban to the negotiation table.
  12. We welcome the practical implementation of TAPI and completion of the first stage of the Asian International Railway Corridor between Imamnazar, Turkmenistan, and Aqina, Afghanistan—the initial stages of TAT linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Further, we encourage the early implementation of the multinational energy and connectivity projects of CASA-1000, TUTAP, Chabahar Agreement, the Five Nation Railway, TAT linking Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan by rail, all of which would play a central role in strengthening regional cooperation between Central Asia and South Asia and further forge economic connectivity and growth in the region.
  13. We welcome the MoU on Jointly Building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
  14. All these will lay the foundations for a successful Seventh Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) planned for November 2017 in Ashgabat.
  15. We appreciate the necessity to maximize the speed of movement of goods across the region, and in this context, we agree to collaborate more closely in removing the non-tariff barriers to trade, establishing and implementing bilateral and multilateral regional transit-trade framework agreements.

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