NEW DELHI: Countries attending next week’s Heart of Asia (HoA) ministerial meeting hosted by India are expected to discuss a draft regional counter-terrorism strategy, which provides “practical and binding” responsibilities on member nations to address the challenge of terrorism emanating from the region.
Afghanistan, the permanent chair of HoA, has circulated a draft among member states as agreed upon in the last ministerial meeting in Pakistan in December 2015, two people familiar with the developments separately confirmed.
India has chosen Amritsar as the venue for the December 4 HoA conference, which is to be attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif and the adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan prime minister Sartaj Aziz. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India will attend the event.
The draft of the counter-terrorism strategy, to be discussed at the meet, “provides practical and effective binding responsibilities, actions and solutions to address the menace of terrorism,” said a statement on the HoA website.
In other words, if the strategy is adopted, it is expected to obligate Pakistan to act against terrorist groups operating from its soil that target Afghanistan and India.
In September, both India and Afghanistan pulled out of the regional South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) meeting in Pakistan which was to be held on November 9-10, protesting against terrorism emanating from Pakistan and directed against them. The two countries were joined by Bhutan and Bangladesh, forcing Pakistan to postpone the summit.
India has long held that Pakistan uses terrorism as an instrument of state policy against it, supporting and training terrorists to carry out subversive activities in Kashmir and other parts of the country. Afghanistan, on its part, says Pakistan supports the Taliban, which carries out attacks to destabilize the Ghani government in Kabul. Pakistan has denied supporting any terrorist group targeting India or Afghanistan.
“It is good that Afghanistan is taking the lead in formulating this counter-terrorism strategy,” said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal. “Clearly, they have Pakistan in mind. If India had taken the lead, it might have had lesser impact. Since it is Afghanistan, there is greater political value and puts Pakistan on the mat. Unless Pakistan changes its fundamental thinking and approach, things are unlikely to change,” he added.
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates are the 14 countries that are part of the HoA process, founded on November 2, 2011, in Istanbul, Turkey.
The process is aimed at providing a platform for regional cooperation by placing Afghanistan at its center, in recognition of the fact that a secure and stable Afghanistan is vital to the prosperity of all countries in the region.
Besides the 14 member states, there are 17 supporting countries which include Australia, Japan and the United States. There are also 13 international organizations such as the United Nations and North Atlantic Treaty Organization that are supporting the process.
According to a discussion by ambassadors of the HoA group held in Kabul in October, Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai noted how terrorism originating in the region has posed “a grave and serious challenge to the region. Karzai said “these threats overshadow cooperation in the economic sector and thus hinders implementation of important projects in the region,” according to a statement on the HoA website.
Karzai also said that “terrorist groups in the region are affiliated with each other and provide operational and financial support for one another and realization of these threats has led to the… adoption of a collaborative security and counter terrorism strategy in order to tackle the menace of terrorism in the region.”