The Sixth Heart of Asia Conference or the Istanbul Process recently held in Amritsar, India on 3-4 December,2016, has proved insignificant in igniting the frozen state of bilateral relations between Pakistan and India. There was no scheduled informal talks between the two states on the sideline of the conference. In the backdrop of prevailing tensions, both sides refrained from making any formal request to meet each other. The Heart of Asia Conference gathered leaders from US, Russia, China, Iran and other countries. The conference focused on the theme of ‘enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the Heart of Asia’. The conference called for immediate elimination of terrorism to help political and economic transition of war ravaged Afghanistan.
At the conference, the convergence of political and economic interests between India and Afghanistan raised serious concerns for Pakistan. As far as Pakistan and India relations are concerned, after Uri attack, the Line of Control (LoC) violations have escalated and the relations had strained further between the two countries. Although the Heart of Asia moot came in the wake of cancellation of SAARC summit 2016, scheduled to be held in November at Islamabad and would have opened new prospects for improvement in Pakistan-India bilateral relations but India’s adamant behaviour and negativity had stopped Pakistan to take any steps forward. The issue of terrorism and Kashmir has become serious point of content between the two countries presently.
The attitude of President Ashraf Ghani indicated a U-turn from Pro-Pakistan to Pro-Indian policy at the Heart of Asia Conference. Ashraf Ghani showed frustration with Pakistan and accused Pakistan of harbouring Taliban minds, thus ratifying New Delhi line against Pakistan on cross-border terrorism. Afghanistan refused to accept $500 million to rebuild Afghanistan from Pakistan and asked Pakistan to spend it for containing extremism. Ghani accused Pakistan for betrayal of trust and selectively displacing terror networks in North Waziristan. He even blamed Pakistan for inflicting war on Afghan soil that has intensified in 2016 and resulted in highest civilian casualties and military personnel deaths in 2016. Ghani praised India for its political and economic support. Both countries agreed for defence co-operation by New Delhi supply of lethal military hardware.
Though Pakistan has long felt insecure about an India-Afghanistan nexus but this clear bonhomie in their bilateral relations are detrimental for Pakistan’s security and strategic interests. The Conference also exposed that India wants to enhance relations with Afghanistan because the unique strategic location of Afghanistan offers gateway to Central Asia and Europe. Modi’s new policy is to strengthen India’s relations with Central Asia and Moscow without forgoing its antagonistic stance on Pakistan and policy to isolate Pakistan at regional and global levels.
It is the high time that Pakistan should review its policy towards regional countries such as China, Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistan should not let India isolate it at regional level and instead work to cement ties with its neighbourhood through enhanced connectivity, removal of trust deficit and increase in political and economic co-operation. The completion of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and participation by countries like Russia, Iran and Afghanistan etc. in the project can help Pakistan to build strong economic linkages with them, bolster Pak-China ties and to counter India’s hegemony in the region.
Similarly, while Pakistan address the security concerns of Ghani, the Afghan government should also consider Pakistan’s genuine concerns vis-à-vis India’s involvement in Afghanistan because of insurgency in Balochistan and unrest in Karachi. Being immediate neighbours and in the context of deep historical and cultural ties, Afghanistan must work with Pakistan to address their mutual grievances and to fight the menace of terrorism that is common threat to both the countries.
The article was carried by Pakistan Observer, December 12,2016.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy