The 6th Ministerial Meeting of Heart of Asia — Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) countries was held in Amritsar on 3-4 December, 2016.
The meeting was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and co-chaired by Arun Jaitley
, Finance Minister and Salahuddin Rabbani, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan. Ministerial deliberations were preceded by Senior Officials meeting on 3 December. Ministers and senior officials from fourteen member countries, seventeen ''supporting countries,'' predominantly from the West, and twelve international organisations participated in the conclave.
HoA-IP was launched by Turkey in November 2011, with the primary objective of providing a platform to discuss regional issues and promote security
, political and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbours. This region-led dialogue was launched to confront common threats including terrorism, narcotics, poverty, and extremism and to promote connectivity and economic development.
Major issues discussed in Amritsar included terrorism and connectivity. Terrorism, particularly state-sponsored terrorism, was identified as a key challenge. All countries agreed to make concerted efforts to dismantle all kinds of terrorism. For the first time several terror groups based in Pakistan which engineer acts of terrorism in India and Afghanistan like Jaish-e-Mohammad, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani Network, in addition to Taliban, Al Qaida, Islamic State and some others were explicitly spelt out in the Amritsar Declaration. What India was not able to achieve at the BRICS Summit in Goa, it was able to accomplish more than in full measure in Amritsar, notwithstanding the presence of both China and Pakistan.
Speaking at the meeting Prime Minister Modi said that bold and decisive action needs to be taken against not only terrorist groups, but also those countries which provide sanctuary, support, financing and training to these groups. He declared that time to merely speak against these groups is over. Now was the time for resolute and concrete measures. He added that inaction and silence will only embolden terrorists and their masters. Modi said that what was at stake was not just the future of Afghanistan, but the peace and stability of the entire region and the world. Referring to the India-Afghanistan-Iran cooperation on Chahbahar project, Modi averred that it would enable Afghanistan to link its economy with centres of strong economic growth in South Asia and beyond. Prime Minister Modi said India was planning to connect Afghanistan with India through an air-transport corridor. He said that the two countries are making progress in developing plans for utilisation of the additional one billion US Dollar earmarked by India for capacity and capability building in Afghanistan.
At the beginning of the conference, President Ashraf Ghani snubbed the offer of a $500 million pledge from Pakistan for development projects in Afghanistan saying that it would be more appropriate if Pakistan were to use that money to control terrorism from its territory against Afghanistan. Directly targeting Pakistan for promoting terrorism in Afghanistan, Ghani said that Mullah Rahmatullah Kakazada, one of the key figures in the Taliban movement had recently confirmed that ''if they did not have sanctuary in Pakistan, they would not last a month." Ghani said that Afghanistan had suffered the highest number of casualties last year which is unacceptable. In comparison, Ghani appreciated India's support to Afghanistan, which he said comes "with no strings attached."
A discordant note was struck by Russia's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, who said that allegations against Pakistan by India and Afghanistan are totally baseless. He added that the allegation game should be stopped and that criticising Pakistan is wrong. Kabulov appreciated the speech of Pakistan's Advisor on Foreign Affairs and termed it as constructive and friendly. He added that Heart of Asia was not the platform for India and Pakistan to score brownie points.
Downplaying Russia's military exercises with Pakistan two months ago, Kabulov referred to India's increasing cooperation with the US. He charged that Moscow does not complain at India's close ties with the US. India hence has no right to complain against the much lower level of cooperation between Russia and Pakistan.
Such voices and comments have started surfacing increasingly and with greater frequency from Moscow. India needs to take careful note of this. Firstly, India needs to find out what exactly Kabulov said and in what context. At times, media reports are less than accurate and can convey a sense that is entirely unintended.
In addition to the offensive substantive content of Kabulov's statements, the tone and tenor of his remarks is belligerent and objectionable, and hardly in conformity with the ''special and privileged strategic partnership between India and Russia.'' Kabulov needs to understand that any enhancement in Pakistan's military capability and strength through military exercises and supply of sophisticated equipment will be used against India. Undertaking military exercises and providing advanced military armaments will further embolden Pakistan to continue with its support to terrorist groups operating against Afghanistan and India. Instability and violence in Afghanistan and increasing strength of Taliban in Afghanistan is as much against the interests of Russia as it is against those of Afghanistan, India and the region. Such statements give rise to acute misgivings about the strength and sincerity of Russia's partnership with India. They raise doubts and suspicion in minds of the most ardent supporters of strong India-Russia partnership about the rise of a Russia-China-Pakistan nexus whose objectives cannot but be inimical to India's security, prosperity and geopolitical interests.
Kabulov also needs to appreciate that none of the defence equipment being procured by India from USA can ever be directed against Russia. Moreover, India's close ties with USA are not directed in any way against Russia. However most substantive engagements of Pakistan with external powers in the arena of military equipment and training are directed against India's stability, peace and economic growth.
India does not object to Russia's expanding ties with China although there are many challenges that India faces in managing relations with China. Pakistan however falls in a different category. It has emerged as the epicenter of terrorism. Its army and spy agency ISI have spawned terrorist groups which regularly carry out violent actions against India. Pakistan steadfastly pursues its ''policy of bleeding India by a thousand cuts'' through continuous and relentless covert operations. In the process, Pakistan has itself become a victim of its own policies of nurturing terrorist groups and using terrorism as an instrument of state policy. Russia will be doing Pakistan, itself and the region a favour if instead of supplying it with advanced military hardware, it would impress upon it to forsake its support to terrorism and instead invest in promoting education and healthcare to its impoverished masses.
Above developments have once again underscored the imperative need for India and Russia to have urgent and close consultations on the whole gamut of relations between the two countries and their future trajectory, particularly with respect to relations with USA and Pakistan. Election of Donald Trump in USA could throw up fresh opportunities in this regard. Russia needs to appreciate that its cosying upto Pakistan at the expense of its ties with India will be shortsighted and counterproductive. Merits of such a move will be even more dubious if Russia has embarked on such a path at the instance of China. If Russia feels that it can use Pakistan to strike a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, it should remember the treacherous and duplicitous behaviour of Pakistan since the early 1990s. Such developments have starkly brought forth the indispensable requirement for India to seriously engage Russia in a wide-ranging strategic conversation regarding recent developments relating to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
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