Pakistan isolated at the Heart of Asia summit in Amritsar; Sartaj Aziz says concerted action, not blame game, will achieve peace; expresses concern over violence in Afghanistan by Daish, Haqqani Network, LeT, JeM
AMRITSAR — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined hands to lash out at Pakistan on terrorism as the subject took center stage at the inauguration of the sixth Heart of Asia Conference on Sunday in Amritsar. The theme of the conference was ‘Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Connectivity in the Heart of Asia region’, and speculation was rife that India and Afghanistan would seek to pin Pakistan on terrorism.
Ashraf Ghani opened the conference by snubbing a $500 million pledge from Pakistan for development projects in Afghanistan, saying Afghanistan ‘needs aid to fight terrorism’, the Times of India reported.
“We need to identify cross-border terrorism and a fund to combat terrorism. Pakistan has pledged $500m for Afghanistan’s development. This amount can be spent to contain extremism,” Ghani said, directly addressing Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz, who was in attendance at the moot.
“Afghanistan suffered the highest number of casualties last year. This is unacceptable… Some still provide sanctuary for terrorists. As a Taliban figure said recently, if they had no sanctuary in Pakistan, they wouldn’t last a month,” the Afghan president thundered.
“I don’t want a blame game, I want clarifications on what is being done to prevent the export of terror,” Ghani said. He emphasised the need to “confront the fifth spectrum in the room, which is terrorism” and called on Pakistan to “verify cross-border activities”.
The Afghan president appreciated India’s support to Afghanistan, which he said comes “with no strings attached”. “The relationship is based on shared values and beliefs,” Ghani said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his opening remarks termed terrorism “the biggest threat to Afghanistan’s peace and the region.”
Although the Indian premier did not refer explicitly to Pakistan in his speech at the Heart of Asia Conference, Modi has vowed to step up a drive toisolate Pakistan diplomatically following the Uri army base attack in September, which it blames on Pakistan — an allegation Islamabad denies. Hours after the Uri attack occurred, Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh had termed Pakistan a ‘terrorist state’ and accused Pakistan of involvement.
Addressing the moot, Modi said, “We must counter terrorists and their masters. We must demonstrate strong collective will to defeat terror network that cause bloodshed and spread fear.”
“Silence and inaction on terror in Afghanistan and the region will only embolden terrorists and masters and those who fund them,” he said. Modi said India is committed to ‘durable peace’ in Afghanistan, and announced plans to connect India and Afghanistan via an air link, as well as discussed the possibility of trilateral cooperation over Iran’s Chahbahar Port.
“India-Afghanistan-Iran cooperation on the Chahbahar Port will help Afghanistan to connect its economy to the rest of the world,” Modi said.
Meanwhile, Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said concerted action was needed for peaceful resolution of regional conflicts and “blame game” will not help towards achieving peace.
Addressing the Heart of Asia Conference, Sartaj Aziz said peaceful resolution of unresolved conflicts would boost regional cooperation and communication.
Alluding to Ashraf Ghani’s allegations that Pakistan was giving “sanctuary” to terrorists, Sartaj Aziz said concerted policy and action, not blame games, are needed to establish peace in Afghanistan. Such blame games will not bring peace to Afghanistan, he said. The adviser said that Pakistan’s attendance at the conference, despite escalating tensions with India, shows Pakistan’s resolve to establish peace in Afghanistan and the overall region.
The adviser said a serious review of peace efforts in Afghanistan was needed. Despite Ashraf Ghani’s comments about Pakistan, Sartaj Aziz praised the efforts of the Afghan president and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah in development of Afghanistan. “The Afghan forces have combated terrorism bravely,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Heart of Asia Conference, in a joint declaration, called for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism in its all forms and manifestations and stressed on early finalisation of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism with consensus.
The declaration paid gratitude to Pakistan for hosting the Afghan refugees for the last 30 years and urged the international community to continue assistance of Afghanistan.
The Amritsar Declaration, issued at the conclusion of the 6th Ministerial Conference of Heart of Asia, also called for dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism. The conference recognised terrorism as the biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in the region.
The declaration named terror groups Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Haqqani Network as the fountain heads of terror.
The declaration read, “We remain concerned by high level of violence in Afghanistan caused by Taliban, terrorist groups including ISIL/Daish and its affiliates LeT, JeM, etc.” For the 44 nations at the conference, eliminating terrorism is the core issue.
The resolution, which demanded end to all forms of terror activities, read: “Acknowledging support that terrorism derives in our region; demand immediate end to all forms of terrorism, as well as support and financing to it. Strongly call for concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism in all its forms including dismantling of terrorist safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial and logistical support for terrorism.”
The Amritsar Declaration further read, “We recognise the necessity of taking serious measures to address recruitment of youth to extremist and terrorist networks. We realise radicalisation of youth can only be prevented by effective de-radicalisation strategies involving all Heart of Asia countries.”
The participants of the meeting called upon all the states to take action against the terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006. The participants recalled the five ministerial conferences in Istanbul (2011), Kabul (2012), Almaty (2013), Beijing (2014) and Islamabad (2015) and reaffirmed commitment to the principles, objectives and outcomes enshrined in the declarations of HoA aimed at promoting regional peace and prosperity.
The meeting commended countries in the region and beyond, particularly Iran and Pakistan, for their hospitality in hosting millions of Afghan refugees for over three decades and called upon them to continue hosting the Afghan refugees until their sustainable repatriation and reintegration in Afghanistan can take place in a voluntary, safe, gradual and dignified fashion in accordance with the solution strategy for Afghan refugees to support voluntary repatriation, sustainable reintegration and assistance to host communities.
The conference urged the international community to provide generous support and targeted assistance for Afghan refugees’ returnees and host communities in the region with emphasis on youth education and livelihoods. It welcomed the Afghanistan-Pakistan-UNHCR and Afghanistan-Iran-UNHCR Tripartite Commissions on Voluntary Repatriation of Afghan Refugees from Iran and Pakistan as vital steps in the solutions strategy and supported the final statement of the UNHCR executive committee high level segment refocusing the international community’s attention on the Afghan refugees situation in this critical period.