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India-Pak tensions could cast shadow on meet on Afghan in Amritsar

india Updated: Oct 21, 2016 18:26 IST
Jayanth Jacob
Heart of Asia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counter part Nawaz Sharif at the 18th Saarc summit in November 2014. (Reuters )

The chill in India-Pakistan ties is likely to throw a wrench in another regional meet, the Heart of Asia ministerial on Afghanistan, scheduled for  December.

To be held in Amritsar on December 3 and 4, the conference will discuss terrorism and connectivity and other issues. 

Coinciding with it, India plans to host a meeting of Islamic Sufi scholars from neighbouring countries to showcase the common religious thread running through the region.

Sources said there is no intimation from Pakistan yet on the level of its participation at the meeting, which will be attended by Afghanistan president, Ashraf Ghani. 

The last two Heart of Asia meets -- December 2015 in Islamabad and April 2016 in New Delhi -- had foreign ministers and foreign secretaries of both India and Pakistan holding discussions on the sidelines. 

Read | Will talk to Pak but time, place to be of India’s choice: Foreign secy

External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and her Pakistan counterpart Sartaj Aziz had agreed on a road-map for talks this December. But a terrorist attack on the airbase in Pathankot in January 2016 led to the postponement of the talks between the two foreign secretaries. 

However, the foreign secretaries did meet during the April 2016 conference, at least keeping channels of communication open. 

But yet another attack on an Uri army camp in September intensified hostilities, with India blaming Pakistan for sheltering the militants who carried out the offensive. New Delhi embarked on a mission to isolate Pakistan diplomatically, efforts which led to the SAARC summit being indefinitely held off. Islamabad was to host the 19th summit in November.

Read | India used BRICS Summit to outmanoeuvre Pakistan: Chinese media

“We don’t know who is representing Pakistan. India had sent its foreign minister to the ministerial in Islamabad last December. We will be focusing on the issues of security, connectivity and greater regional integration at the meet,” an Indian official said.

India will talk about how terrorism comes in the way of regional integration as the Heart of Asia grouping seeks cooperation for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan, as well as a secure and prosperous region.

The countries in the grouping include Russia, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE, Turkey and Central Asian neighbours of Afghanistan.

The issue of connectivity and Afghanistan getting access to regional markets will be a key area for discussion. The India-Pakistan tussle ensured Afghanistan doesn’t get transit through Pakistan to send its goods to India.

The Sufi scholars meet will further be an opportunity for India to showcase the “common Islamic influence in the region”, which promotes peace and prosperity. 

Also read | India’s Afghanistan policy is on the right track