ASIAOPINION

Examining Heart of Asia Conference: Another opportunity lost

By Javid Ahmad Ahanger and Javeed Bin Nabi

The 6th ‘Heart of Asia’ Conference which was held in the holy city of Amritsar, Punjab was attended by fourteen countries of the world. The world known ‘Heart Of Asia’ Conference dialogue process was initially started first in Istanbul, Turkey in the November month of 2011, with the core and basic principles and objectives to develop peace and prosperity in the war – torn Afghanistan and to construct a mutual cooperation and regional integration and security developments between Afghanistan and its neighboring countries of South Asian region. Throughout recorded history, Afghanistan has fought bravely against foreign invaders and proved as disastrous for them as they were for Afghanistan-hence the country’s nickname as the “Graveyards of Empires.”

In fact, Afghanistan was just simply not the co-chair. It is the heart of the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference. This is because the principal goal of the Heart of Asia, which was launched in November 2011 in Turkey, is to galvanize regional cooperation for peace, security and development in Afghanistan. That in the process it will also contribute to the stability and prosperity to Afghanistan’s extended neighborhood in South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia is equally important, but Afghanistan remains the heart of the Istanbul process. And in this process of promoting peace and prosperity, the previous five Ministerial Conferences in Istanbul (2011), Kabul (2012), Almaty (2013), Beijing (2014), and Islamabad (2015) have facilitated both bilaterally and multilateral aid and developmental assistance worth billions of dollars. So there were serious questions about Heart of Asia conference 2016. How can it be helpful in peacemaking when the members continue to adopt double standards?

However , before the starting of this bilateral and trilateral international Conference there was a common talk and anticipating in the political corridors of New Delhi and Islamabad including mainstream and off stream stakeholders of Kashmir that: Will India – Pakistan hostilities dominate the agenda of Conference? Or will this International Conference bring both Countries close or not? It was highly expected that the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference would yield a great and grand breakthrough between prevailing India – Pakistan relations, people were hopeful about this grand opportunity to demote and defuse tensions between India and Pakistan and bring both on track but unfortunately that doesn’t happen, rather we witnessed how Pakistan’s elderly statesman and a foreign relations adviser to PM Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz was brutally lashed and diplomatically humiliated by both President Ghani of Afghanistan and Prime Minister India at the “Heart of Asia” conference hall.

Aftermath of the Uri and Nogrota terror attack which claimed many lives of Indian soldiers, the India – Pakistan relations and diplomatic ties widely blows – down. It was the third time after “BRICS” international summit that was held in Goa and the United Nations General Assembly session 2016 when India repeatedly tried to isolate Pakistan diplomatically in International relations, created offensive diplomacy against the country both regionally and globally. But Addressing the Heart of Asia conference in Amritsar, Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov said that Sartaj Aziz’s speech at the conference was friendly and constructive. He also said that Afghanistan is pivot of Heart of Asia conference and the agenda of the conference was not been hijacked. Besides diplomatic humiliation and poor hospitality of India at the holy city Amritsar , the De – facto Sartaj Aziz who was representing Pakistan in the international “Heart of Asia” Conference was not even allowed to visit the famous  golden temple and was also barred from meeting the media simultaneously.

The ‘ Heart of Asia ‘ conference was an opportunity particularly for India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan and the whole Sub – Continent in general to overcome and defuse the hostilities with each other but again the another opportunity was largely missed by neighboring countries to break ice, rather the lines of conflict were drawn clearly between longtime adversaries India and Pakistan at the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference. The previous rounds of the Heart of Asia failed to achieve any of the objectives that the Istanbul Ministerial Process had set for itself. Experts say that Pakistan’s powerful military still considers the Taliban an important strategic ally and believes the group should be part of the Afghan government. Siegfried O. Wolf, a political science expert at Heidelberg University, is of the same view. He told DW he is convinced that several elements within Pakistan’s security apparatus still believe the Taliban could be used as a strategic tool to counter India’s influence in Afghanistan. And second 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 pressurizing 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. The shoddy treatment and poor hostess of India to Sartaj Aziz was highly condemned by former Pakistan ambassador to the UN and a noted Dawn Columnist Munir Akram in his column, (Gluttons for Punishment, Dawn on 11th December this month). “Following Amritsar, Pakistan should strictly limit the activities and access of Indian diplomats in Pakistan; designate the Bhartiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) as ‘terrorist’ organizations; provide finance to the Kashmiri Hurriyat Conference for humanitarian and material support to the Kashmiri victims of Indian repression.

Pakistan should also formally approach the Security Council to: investigate and condemn India’s human rights violations in Kashmir; call for a halt to Indian violations of the LoC ceasefire; and agree on steps to implement the Security Council resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir “. As the citizen of Sub – Continent we firmly believe and viewed the “Heart of Asia” conference was an missed opportunity of India and Pakistan which would have mitigated and defused tensions but unfortunately the irresponsible and irrational treatment and hospitality provided to Sartaj Aziz was the arrogant creature and nature of India state ; and will not yield anything good between the two longtime adversaries ; But besides India’s denial behavior , Pakistan’s participation in the conference has already sent out a clear message throughout the world that a country is desirous and ready to solve all differences and bilateral issues peacefully. Being students of politics we believe that it was a pragmatic, optimistic and diplomatic move of Pakistan to attend ‘ Heart of Asia ‘ conference because diplomacy is all about the engagements and talks even during the worst and volatile situations which Pakistan had showed recently.

The sixth “Heart of Asia” Conference was a great opportunity to melt the ice of relations between India and Pakistan. It was a high chance for both countries to reaffirm and construct its role and commitments about regional cooperation, large developments and prosperity. Viewed this Amritsar conference as an opportunity, the senior congress politician and a former Union Minister Prof Saifuddin Soz in his column (The Amritsar Opportunity, Greater Kashmir, and December 03, 2016) said, “I know better as a Kashmiri, that any breakthrough in talks with Pakistan will have a salutary effect in strife-torn Kashmir. If all of us agree, as we should, that war between the two countries is neither desirable nor possible, then, we must give mutual understanding and peace a chance”.  The participation of the Pakistan delegation in the conference and their interaction with senates of other countries and international agencies, helped in explaining the reasons behind the current conflict-ridden relations between India and Pakistan as well as exposing Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir to suppress the freedom movement.

Last but not least, peace and salubrious India – Pakistan relations can create more opportunities for the greater goodwill and greater purpose and can provide a space for win – win situations between the two neighboring countries, more importantly to boiling and festering Kashmir Valley where many generations have lost due to the continuous hostile and aggressive developments between India and Pakistan. Thus, in the present prevailing atmosphere of Sub – Continent there is an immediate necessity of realistic diplomacy and sincere diplomatic moves from both India and Pakistan. Let India and Pakistan forget their past mistakes, aggression and differences and work collectively and courageously for peace and prosperity of South Asian region. As former Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee correctly said that “You can change your friends but not your neighbors “.

Javid Ahmad Ahanger is a PhD Research Scholar at the Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University. Javeed Bin Nabi is the General Secretary of All J&K Students Union and studies International Relations at IUST, Awantipora.

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