HoA conference: Outcome suits India and China

By Shastri Ramachandaran
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, December 12, 2016
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Although the topic of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul conference is Afghanistan, its ministerial summits are India-Pakistan affairs, with close eyes on China also. Inevitably, every HoA conference is dominated by India-Pakistan tensions and the discordant notes that mark their relations.

The 6th conference in Amritsar, close to Pakistan's border and home to the holiest Sikh shrine, the Golden Temple, on December 3 and 4, was somewhat different – with the absence of high-decibel India-Pakistan acrimony. The conference endorsed the HoA Declaration which set the tone and direction for 2017 without the differences and disagreements over detail derailing unanimity.

As a result, China, as much as India and Pakistan, has reason to be pleased with the outcome. Inaugurated jointly by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the event – on the theme of "Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity" – was attended by high representatives of all 14 countries (including Afghanistan's neighbors); and, supporting nations (17) and international and regional organizations (12) from the UN and NATO to SCO and SAARC.

It is in recognition that Afghanistan is at the Heart of Asia, where its neighbors as well as big powers have high stakes in securing peace. The HoA-Istanbul Process was initiated in 2011 as a forum for dealing with regional issues, especially conflicts and threats such as terrorism, extremism and radicalization; and for building economic and security cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors. The core issue is to defeat terrorism and provide for peace in Afghanistan.

The conference was held at a time when: besides Afghanistan, its South and Central Asian neighbors are also affected by terrorism; India-Pakistan tensions are high in the wake of recent terrorist attacks (from Uri in September to Nagrota on November 29); a resurgent Taliban, boosted by the ISAF withdrawal, has unleashed attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the Ghani regime's writ being restricted to Kabul gives the Taliban a run of the countryside. All these factors endanger regional peace and reconciliation.

While terrorism is common to the region, the different views on the issue heard during the HoA underscore that Asian countries are far from agreeing on the causes and conditions of terrorism.

India and Afghanistan agreed at least on the link between terrorism and Pakistan. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif struck a different note. He attributed terrorism, radicalization and extremism to two main factors. First is the "logic of occupation" – U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Second, "the failure of the nations of our region to address the fundamental needs of the people." This failure, Zarif said, is "deep-rooted in our region and demagogues exploit it to incite the youth."

Regardless of the differing views on terrorism, the participants were united in their resolve as reflected in the Amritsar Declaration: "We recognize that terrorism is the biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in our region." It called for concerted cooperation to eliminate terrorism, including the dismantling of safe havens in the region.

In the battleground that is Afghanistan, the U.S., India, Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran are high-stake players, and finding common ground can be a challenge. At Amritsar, host India has reason to be pleased: The Declaration, for the first time, named Pakistan-based terror outfits –Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).

China has even more reason to welcome the Declaration, as it mentions the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) as a terrorist outfit.

In the conference itself China emerged as a major player, actively backing the effort to promote peace, security and prosperity in Afghanistan. Of late, particularly in 2016, China has stepped up its Afghan engagement. For instance, there is a Quadrilateral Coordination Group (GCQ) of China, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. for pushing the peace process; and Beijing and Kabul are working closely on anti-terrorism and security issues.

China, which recently delivered its first batch of military aid to Afghanistan, had a prominent role in Amritsar, and Chinese officials reiterated the commitment to extend all possible support to Afghanistan.

Shastri Ramachandaran is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


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