Amritsar, bordering Pakistan, to host summit on Afghanistan

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Amritsar — famous for the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple, and the major city bordering Pakistan — will host a two-day multilateral global summit beginning on Saturday, with focus on stabilising the war-torn Afghanistan.

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.

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.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Foreign Policy Advisor Sartaj Aziz is scheduled to visit Amritsar to attend the ministerial conference of 14 Asian countries. Aziz will return on the same day.

Officials said any formal dialogue on the sidelines of the conference between India and Pakistan is unlikely.

“Pakistan has not requested for any bilateral meeting so far,” Gopal Baglay, who heads the Ministry of External Affairs division dealing with Pakistan, said.

Pakistani Foreign Office also ruled out any possibility of any dialogue, saying “for now, we don’t see any willingness” on India’s part.

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, will participate in the conference.

The last Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference was held in Islamabad in December 2015.

At that time both India and Pakistan agreed to start “Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue” to resolve all outstanding issues. But the Pathankot air base attack in January this year — less than a month after the Islamabad conference — thwarted the possibility.

Ahead of the Heart of Asia conference, Afghanistan Ambassador to India Shaida Mohammad Abdali said in Delhi that the focus of the summit will be on problems of terrorism in the South Asian region.

“As we all know and as Afghanistan has always stated, terrorism is a continuous threat, especially to India and Afghanistan and of course many others in the region,” Abdali said.

Without naming Pakistan, Abdali said that during the Heart of Asia process, “unless we take a collective measure to fight terrorism, to fight the breeding ground of terrorism, the safe sanctuaries, we will not be able to bring peace and stability either to Afghanistan or to anywhere else in the region or India”.

Afghanistan is the permanent chair for the Heart of Asia Process, while the conference host country holds the “co-chair” position.

India says during the conference a basket of six confidence building measures would be discussed.

With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj indisposed, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will represent India in the ministerial conference.

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