Pakistan on Tuesday sought greater cooperation to counter regional security threats and to promote connectivity as senior officials from 14 countries began preparations for a conference on building a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.
Sartaj Aziz, the adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, said the fifth “Heart of Asia” ministerial conference will focus on collaboration to combat the “formidable challenges confronting the region” and to promote regional economic interaction.
“Our region is mired in dire security challenges which are hampering our socio-economic development. The theme of this Heart of Asia-Istanbul Conference – enhanced cooperation for countering security threats and promoting connectivity in the Heart of Asia region – is, therefore, pertinent to the needs of our region,” Aziz said in his opening remarks at the meeting of senior officials.
Aziz and Afghan deputy foreign minister Khalil Hekmat Karzai jointly inaugurated the meeting, which will prepare for Wednesday’s ministerial meeting. The meeting is being jointly hosted by Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Karzai and Aziz expressed hope the conference will help evolve a strategy to counter terrorism and extremism.
“Terrorism continues to be a major threat to global and regional peace...In our view, closer regional cooperation can play an effective role in eliminating the scourge of terrorism,” Aziz said.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will jointly inaugurate Wednesday’s meeting.
Foreign ministers of 10 countries, including India, China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Iran, have confirmed their participation, the foreign ministry said. External affairs minister Sushma Swaraj will on arrive in Islamabad on Tuesday evening.
Swaraj’s visit marks the first substantive engagement between India and Pakistan since Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi met in the Russian city of Ufa in July.
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates are members of the Heart of Asia initiative that was launched in 2011.
Aziz told the meeting of senior officials that Pakistan wants durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. “Instability in Afghanistan is not in our interest. We will, therefore, continue to support all endeavours aiming at strengthening peace and security in Afghanistan,” he said.
The current process has brought “greater coherence to the work of other regional organisations and projects” focused in Afghanistan, such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and the CASA-1000 electricity transmission project, he said.
Karzai sought a united approach to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The timing of the conference is critical as the region faces many challenges and the activities of militant groups demand a joint effort to fight militancy, he added.