Heart of Asia` Conference begins in Amritsar amid India-Pakistan tensions; terror in focus

4Amritsar: The two-day multilateral global summit `Heart of Asia` began in Amritsar on Saturday, with a focus on tackling the threat of terrorism in the region.
The annual conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process is also deliberating on various challenges facing Afghanistan, including the revival of a peace process in the conflict-ridden country.
Today, senior officials of 14 Asian countries, including India, China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, and representatives of 17 supporting nations were discussing a vast range of issues facing the region including its complex security scenario and dealing with the threat of terrorism, radicalisation, and extremism.
Issues like enhancing Afghanistan’s connectivity with South and Central Asian countries to boost trade were being discussed at the senior officials’ meeting which was co-chaired by India’s Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar and Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Hikmat Khaleel Karzai.
The meeting is finalising the text for tomorrow’s Ministerial Conference and is also deliberating on its Declaration which will have a substantial portion on terrorism.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani will jointly inaugurate the ministerial deliberations on Sunday, the sixth in series and held once a year.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will lead the Indian delegation at the conference in the place of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is unwell.
The ministerial deliberations will be co-chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani. Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Policy Advisor Sartaj Aziz is scheduled to visit Amritsar on Sunday to attend the ministerial conference of 14 Asian countries. Aziz will return on the same day.
The annual conference is taking place amid heightened tension between India and Pakistan in the wake of the audacious terror attack on Nagrota Army base.
Pakistan and India will not hold any bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia Conference.
At the senior officials’ meeting, Afghanistan, which has also been facing increased attacks from terror groups operating from Pakistan, pushed for a regional counter-terror framework.
Ahead of the conference, both India and Afghanistan had called terror emanating from Pakistan as the “greatest threat” to regional peace and stability, and both the countries are set to press hard for adopting the counter-terror framework at tomorrow’s deliberations.
The conference, whose theme is security and prosperity, will also deliberate on major connectivity initiatives including Chabahar project, a five-nation railway project.
There may be deliberations on TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project.
Organisers of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, founded in Istanbul in November 2011, said the aim was to strengthen confidence-building measures and initiate steps to counter narcotics and terrorism and to expand trade, commerce and investment opportunities in Afghanistan.
The last Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference was held in Islamabad in December 2015.
Over 40 foreign ministers and dignitaries of the participating countries, including Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Iran, supporting countries like the US, Canada and France and international organisations like the European Union, are participating in the conference.
Also Read: Heart of Asia conference – What is its agenda this year
India says during the conference a basket of six confidence-building measures would be discussed.
Afghanistan is the permanent chair for the Heart of Asia Process, while the conference host country holds the “co-chair” position.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 and the participating countries include Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.
The platform was floated to encourage security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours.
The countries which support the initiative are Australia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, France, Finland, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Japan, Norway, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the US.
Amritsar, which is not very far from the Indo-Pak border, has been brought under a heavy security cover in view of the conference, a major international event being hosted by the city for the first time in many years.

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