Calling upon the international community to strengthen “concerted international and regional cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in its all forms and manifestations”, the Sixth Ministerial Conference on Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process (HoA-IP) was concluded in India on December 4. The theme for this year’s conference was “Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity”. So the participants of the conference readily recognised terrorism, violent extremism and radicalisation the gravest challenges faced by the Heart of Asia region. The international community was asked to assist the Government of Afghanistan to eliminate terrorism which is the “biggest threat to peace and stability of this region”. Therefore, within one year, the HoA-IP has significantly shifted its focus from the regional connectivity and economic cooperation to the counter-terrorism in the Heart of Asia region.

In the particular context of terrorism, Pakistan was, directly and indirectly, targeted and criticised during this conference. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani openly accused Pakistan of launching an ‘undeclared war’ on Afghanistan by covertly supporting various terror networks. Making a mockery of $500 million promised by Pakistan for Afghan reconstruction, he advised Pakistan to spend this amount to contain domestic extremism. Similarly, Indian PM Modi also called for taking strict measures “against those who support, shelter and finance terrorists”. “Silence and inaction against terrorism in Afghanistan and our region will only embolden terrorists and their masters”, he blasted Pakistan without naming it. Later, citing ‘security reasons’, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz was also denied access to the journalists to hold a scheduled press conference.

Observably, both countries’ hatred and antagonism for Pakistan have gone to such an extent that now they hardly bother about the things like diplomatic protocols, niceties and etiquette. Undeniably, it is the prerogative of Afghan government to either accept to reject the monetary support offered by Pakistan. However, it has no right to ridicule Pakistan’s sincere concerns about Afghanistan on a formal multilateral forum. The contemptuous method adopted by Afghan President at the Amritsar moot to humiliate Pakistan has been very rarely observed in international diplomat intercourses. Both countries miss no opportunity to malign Pakistan on any international forum. So they also readily chose to pursue their foreign policy agenda at the recent HoA Amritsar moot.

The HoA-IP was an important diplomatic initiative taken by some Asian countries a few years ago to bring durable peace in the Heart of Asia region. However, this peace process has not successfully achieved its target so far. In fact, India in collaboration with Afghanistan, the permanent chair of HoA-IP, has hijacked this important multilateral forum. Now it alone sets the agenda for the HoA-IP meetings. It has already succeeded in holding two crucial meetings in one year on its soil. Now India is also actively exploiting HoA-IP forum to achieve its important foreign policy goal to isolate Pakistan internationally. So we observed the spectacular display of this Indian policy at the recent Amritsar moot. Therefore, it is very likely that HoA-IP will also meet the same fate as the other Afghan peace initiatives, namely the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG) and the so-called Murree Process.

Owing to its geographical location and strategic significance in the Asia, Afghanistan is called the ‘heart of Asia’. This landlocked country is situated at the cross-roads of the North-South and East-West corridors in the Asia. It essentially acts as a land bridge between the Central Asia and the South Asia, the Eastern Asia and the Western Asia. Therefore, the territory of Afghanistan is central to the connectivity and economic integration of a number of Asian countries. The future of the mega energy and connectivity projects like Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan (TAT) railway, CASA-1000, TUTAP energy project and Chabahar-Afghanistan trade corridor also depends on the internal security situation in Afghanistan. This is the reasons most of the Asian countries are very concerned about the stability and security of Afghanistan. They have been also endeavouring to bring durable peace in Afghanistan. Presently some 14 Asian counties are active members of the HoA-IP. Moreover, 17 important countries in the world, including the US, are supporting this peace process.

At present, comprising the US, India and Afghanistan, there exists a triangular power structure which is calling the shots in Afghanistan. This de-facto power structure is making the crucial decisions regarding the future of Afghanistan. Now it is the sole determinant of the peace trajectory in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, instead of sincerely endeavouring to stabilise Afghanistan, this ‘triad’ is actively pursuing some crucial geo-strategic objectives in this region. Consequently, the so-called Heart of Asia has somehow become a recurrent headache of Asia, giving rise to numerous troubles and hardships for many Asian countries, especially the immediate neighbouring countries of Afghanistan. Currently, the Anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan are not only posing a threat to the peace and stability of Pakistan, but also trying to sabotage the mega-project CPEC to the disadvantage of both Pakistan and China.

Having concluded UN-mandated Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014, the US launched the Operation Resolute Support Mission to justify its further stay in Afghanistan. Now, under Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), the US troops will remain in Afghanistan until the end of 2024. Similarly, over a period of time, India, the ‘strategic partner’ of Afghanistan and the ‘strategic ally’ of the US has consolidated its position in Afghanistan. It is primarily interested in executing its ‘strategic encirclement’ strategy against its arch-foe Pakistan. Similarly, the US has to stay in this region to accomplish certain objectives under its so-called Greater Middle East Initiatives as well as recently-evolved ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy. Apparently Afghanistan is conveniently helping the US pursue its well-known ‘China containment policy’.

Following the US invasion in Afghanistan in 2001, the US-India binary gradually strengthened its position after installing a puppet Kabul regime in Afghanistan. Moreover, Afghanistan’s all neighbouring Countries, including Pakistan and China, were barred from playing any crucial role in Afghan affairs. These countries have close ethnic, cultural and religious affinities with the multi-ethnic Afghanistan. Historically, they have always been playing a key role in stabilising the war-torn Afghanistan. The 1990’s Six Plus Two Contact Group on Afghanistan and the QCG are the two important instances. In fact, the US-India model, which is quite an unnatural and non-traditional strategic alliance vis-à-vis Afghanistan, is very unlikely to succeed in bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan without the active support of other neighbouring countries, especially the Pakistan.

During his presidential election campaign, the President-elect Donald Trump has constantly been criticising Obama’s Pivot to Asia strategy. He also hinted at abandoning the post 9/11 US policies devised by the Bush-era Neocons which excessively favoured the unilateral military actions across the world. Now he has pledged to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is an important component of US’s pivot to Asia Strategy. If the US does so, the volatile Heart of Asia region will certainly have a respite. On the other hand, presently the Modi regime looks in no serious mood of revisiting India’s current Afghan Policy by minimising its influence and role in the Afghan affairs. However, once the US completely withdraws from Afghanistan, India would hardly manage to control Afghanistan alone.

No country should be allowed to unilaterally articulate and purse its selfish strategic interests in the Heart of Asia region. Certainly, this region should no longer be a proxy playground. The cliche like ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ peace process will hardly help setting things right unless there are some sincere efforts to bring genuine and durable peace in Afghanistan. Some inclusive and multilateral endeavours are required to stabilise the volatile Heart of Asia Region. Therefore, instead of resorting to some quick-fix quackery remedies, the chronic headache of Asia should be treated with an effective analgesic.