Reportedly, the sixth ministerial meeting of the Heart Of Asia Conference, also known as Istanbul process, is scheduled to be held in Amritsar, India on December 4. This dialogue process was launched in Istanbul in November 2011 with the prime objective of ensuring peace and security in Afghanistan, fomenting cooperation between Afghanistan and its near and extended neighbours for meeting the common challenge of terrorism as well as promoting regional integration. The participating member countries include: Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and UAE. This process is also supported by a number of developed countries including US and EU,
The decision by the Pakistan government to participate in the ministerial meeting of the conference, notwithstanding the litany of hostile actions by India including sabotaging the SAARC meeting in Islamabad, its incessant attempts to malign Pakistan and continued firing along the LOC, is a very pragmatic diplomatic move. Diplomacy is all about engagement even in the worst circumstances. Pakistan has very high stakes in peace in Afghanistan and economic integration of the region, which conforms to the objectives of the Istanbul process. It is a very significant forum to discuss regional issues pertaining to security, terrorism and economic cooperation between the member states to achieve the objectives of the initiative. It supports the construction of TAPI pipeline, CASA-1000 electricity project and the expansion of the transit corridors being constructed by the Central Asia Regional Economic Corridor (CAREC) funded by Asian Development Bank (ADB) and five other multilateral donors.
Pakistan is also member of CAREC and the six corridors being built by it will connect Gwadar and Karachi with ports with Central Asia and Europe via Russia. Ishaq Dar is the current Chairman of CAREC. A meeting of the organisation and the donors was recently held in Islamabad. Since its inception CAREC has invested $27.9 billion on 166 projects for establishing road and rail networks and trade facilitation between Central and European countries. The organisation also initiated 108 projects in the area of transport and trade facilitation and energy in 2012 with an estimated cost of $38.8 billion and $45.8 billion respectively, which are likely to be completed by 2020. During the two-day deliberations the CAREC ministerial meeting will consider future plans in the key deliverables in the four priority sectors i.e. transport, energy, trade facilitation and trade and the CAREC corridor.
The foregoing facts amply demonstrate the importance of the forum of Heart of Asia conference for Pakistan in regards to the implementation of its new narrative to build regional connectivity for shared economic prosperity. Its participation in the CPEC is indeed a trend setter which along with other initiatives has the potential of completely transforming the regional economic profile leading eventually to economic integration, which might act as a catalyst to promoting regional peace and security.
As far India is concerned Pakistan has always stood for a dialogue with her to resolve all disputes between them including the festering issue of Kashmir which has bedeviled relations between the two countries. The PML-N government under the stewardship Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a number of overtures towards India in this regard including amity through trade and revival of the suspended dialogue. These efforts were rooted in the belief that peace, security and economic prosperity of the region as well as of the two neighbours was inextricably linked to normalisation of relations between them. That is an ultimate reality and there is no escape from it. But unfortunately these initiatives have not been reciprocated positively. India under Modi has adopted a very hostile posture towards Pakistan and it is trying its level best to isolate her. Her boycott of the SAARC conference in Islamabad and pressurising other countries including Afghanistan to boycott the moot is a ranting testimony of the Indian designs. Pakistan needs to counter the Indian strategy effectively through a well orchestrated diplomatic offensive. Therefore its active participation in all the regional processes aimed at promoting peace, security and economic integration, especially anything connected with promoting Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process in that war ravaged country, is absolutely essential to remain relevant to the emerging geo-strategic situation and seen as an honest broker and promoter of peace in the region.
The participation of Pakistan in the Heart of Asia Conference at Amritsar would not only scuttle Indian attempts to isolate Pakistan but would send a very positive message to the international community that Pakistan in spite of the bellicose stance of India was committed to and believed in diplomatic engagement to resolve mutual issues. The initiative has also put Pakistan on a higher moral ground in this regard. Pakistan’s desire and willingness to start a dialogue with India on the sidelines of the Conference surely reinforces that image.
The presence of Sartaj Aziz at the conference would also provide an opportunity to Pakistan to counter any negative propaganda by India concerning achievement of the objectives of the organisation. There are already media reports that India was contemplating to portray Pakistan as a stumbling block in the promotion of regional trade citing refusal by Pakistan to allow trucks carrying goods from Afghanistan to enter India through Wahga border. There are host of reasons for Pakistan not to allow trade between Afghanistan and India which stem from political considerations and lack of reciprocity on the part of other players like Afghanistan which has already increased taxes levied on goods entering Afghanistan from Pakistan by 50%.
The participation of the Pakistan delegation in the conference and their interaction with representatives of other countries and international agencies, would also help in explaining the reasons behind the current conflict-ridden relations between India and Pakistan as well as exposing Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir to quell the freedom movement. Seen in the backdrop of the foregoing facts and developments, the move by Pakistan to ensure its presence at the Conference has advantages of its own in regards to refurbishing Pakistan’s image in the comity of nations and in strengthening its credentials as a peacemaker.