By Sonal Srivastava, Amity Law School, Lucknow.

The “Heart of Asia” provides a platform to discuss regional issues, particularly with a view to encourage security, and political and economic co-operation among Afghanistan and its neighbours. This region led dialogue was initiated on 2nd November, 2011, in the city of Istanbul of Turkey, to expand practical coordination between Afghanistan and its neighbours and regional partners in facing common threats, including counter terrorism, counter narcotics, poverty and extremism. The United States and over 20 other Nations and organizations play the role of “Supporting Nations” to the process. India, being one of the member countries to “Heart of Asia”, has declared, in the recent ‘Islamabad Declaration’, to host the sixth Ministerial Heart of Asia Conference in the later quarter of the year 2016.

HEART OF ASIA COUNTRIES

There were fourteen countries that came up together to form Heart of Asia in Istanbul Process in the year 2011 and these countries were-

  1. Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
  2. Republic of Azerbaijan
  3. People’s Republic of China
  4. Republic of India
  5. Islamic Republic of Iran
  6. Republic of Kazakhstan
  7. Kyrgyz Republic
  8. Islamic Republic of Pakistan
  9. Russian Federation
  10. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
  11. Republic of Turkey
  12. Republic of Turkmenistan
  13. United Arab Emirates
  14. Republic of Tajikistan

SUPPORTING COUNTRIES

  1. Australia
  2. Canada
  3. Denmark
  4. Egypt
  5. European Union
  6. France
  7. Finland
  8. Germany
  9. Iraq
  10. Italy
  11. Japan
  12. Norway
  13. Poland
  14. Spain
  15. Sweden
  16. United Kingdom
  17. United States

MINISTERIAL CONFERENCES CONVENED TILL DATE

  • ISTANBUL PROCESS– The Istanbul Process provided a new agenda for regional cooperation in the ‘Heart of Asia’ by placing Afghanistan at its center and engaging the ‘Heart of Asia’ countries in sincere and resultoriented co-operation for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, as well as a secure and prosperous region as a whole.

[sociallocker]

The countries participating in the Istanbul Process agreed to the following elements for the follow up to the Istanbul Process-

  • Political consultation involving Afghanistan and its near and extended neighbours.
  • A sustained incremental approach to implementation of the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) identified in the Istanbul Process document and,
  • Seeking to contribute and bring greater coherence to the work of various regional processes and organizations, particularly as they relate to Afghanistan.
  • The ‘Heart of Asia’ Ministerial Conference, KabulIt was convened on 14th June 2012 in Kabul, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, as the first follow-up ministerial meeting of the Istanbul Process. The Conference was inaugurated by His Excellency Mr. Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and co-chaired by His Excellency Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and His Excellency Mr Ahmet Davutoğlu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey. The conference was attended by 14 ministerial and high-level delegates from the ‘Heart of Asia’ countries, 14 ministerial and high-level delegates from the supporting countries, and 11 high-level delegates from regional and international organisations.
  • The third ‘Heart of Asia’ Ministerial Conference– It was convened on 26th April, 2013 in Almaty, the Republic of Kazakhstan. The President of the Republic of Kazakhstan, H.E. Mr Nursultan Nazarbayev inaugurated the Conference and was co-chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, H.E. Dr. Zalmai Rassoul, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan, H.E. Mr Erlan Idrissov. The Conference was attended by 14 ministerial and high-level delegations from the ‘Heart of Asia’ countries, 16 ministerial and high-level delegations from supporting countries of the Istanbul Process, as well as 12 high-level delegations from international and regional organizations.
  • The fourth ‘Heart of Asia’ Ministerial Conference– It convened on 31st October, 2014 in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. The Foreign Ministers and high-level representatives from 14 ‘Heart of Asia’ countries, joined by 16 supporting countries of the Istanbul Process, as well as high-level representatives from 12 international and regional organizations participated in this meeting. The conference was co-chaired by H.E. Mr. Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, and H.E. Mr. Zarar Ahmad Osmani, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
  • The fifth ‘Heart of Asia’ Conference– It was convened on 9th December, 2015 in Islamabad, Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  The conference was co-chaired by H.E. Sartaj Aziz, Adviser to the Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and H.E Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani, Foreign Minister of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

INDIA TO HOST THE SIXTH MINISTERIAL ‘HEART OF ASIA’ CONFERENCE IN THE YEAR 2016

India being one among the 14 member countries to Istanbul Process declared in the
‘Islamabad Declaration’, on 9th December, 2015, to host the sixth Ministerial ‘Heart of Asia’ Conference  in the year 2016.

On her arrival at Pakistan, the Indian External Affairs Minister Ms. Sushma Swaraj expressed her view on the importance of ‘Heart of Asia’ Conference for India and stated that the Conference is important for India because it is associated with Afghanistan and since the fifth Ministerial Conference was being held in Pakistan, so it was important for her to meet the Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Nawaz Sharif and hold talks with her counterpart Mr. Sartaj Aziz on improving the bilateral ties.

As per the Indian Official, the agenda for India in the fifth Ministerial Conference was to stand tough on the language of terrorism and to aim at denying sanctuaries for terrorists, crackdown on terror funding and related issues at the Conference.

The External Affairs Minister Ms Sushma Swaraj expressed strong commitment to help Afghanistan in fighting terrorism and strengthening the capabilities of Afghan security forces. She also emphasized that the government of India was keen in joining the Afghanistan Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) and they had formally shown willingness so that the Indian Markets can get access to Afghanistan. It is worth mentioning that at the moment Afghanistan’s goods can reach India through Pakistan but not the other way around. She also mentioned the progress on the construction of Chahbahar port in South Eastern Iran which will enhance the trade in the region.

CONCLUSION

The ‘Heart of Asia’ Conferences emphasize on strengthening the trust and co-operation in the region and thereby contributing to the prosperity and stability of Afghanistan and its surrounding regions. It envisages regional organizations support in strengthening their efforts to promote economic co-operation and integration in the region, improved security and greater people to people relations. It would be great to see the dialogue between India and other member countries especially Pakistan in the sixth Ministerial Conference on how would they counter terrorism, and related issues, in Afghanistan. Also the Conference of 2016 would be another step towards improving estranged relationships with Pakistan.

[/sociallocker]