Amid heightened tension with Pakistan
following yet another brazen terror attack on an army base, India
is likely to step up efforts to corner it diplomatically and mobilise support for concrete action against state-sponsored terrorism
at the two-day Heart of Asia
(HoA) conference beginning here on Saturday.
Afghanistan, which has also been witnessing increased attacks from terror groups operating from Pakistani soil, is set to push hard for a regional counter-terror framework with "binding" commitment at the annual meeting of Heart of Asia
- Istanbul Process, a platform set up in 2011 to assist the war-battered country in its transition.
Top officials of the 14 member countries will meet on Saturday to discuss key challenges facing the region including from terror groups and explore ways to bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the main conference will be jointly inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi
and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani where both India
are likely to corner Pakistan
Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Advisor Sartaj Aziz will represent Islamabad at the conference and all eyes will be on whether an Indo-Pak bilateral meeting takes place on the sidelines. Ahead of Aziz's visit here, India
had yesterday said it will never accept continuing cross-border terrorism
as the "new normal" in bilateral ties with Pakistan
while making it clear that talks cannot take place in an atmosphere of "continued terror".
had called for isolating Pakistan
diplomatically after the Uri attack on an army establishment and it is likely to continue efforts in that direction at the Heart of Asia
conference. At the BRICS summit in Goa in October, India
had called Pakistan
the "mother ship" of terrorism
Aziz is scheduled to arrive here on Sunday and is expected to return the same day.
The entire holy city, which is not far from Indo-Pak border, has been decked up, while multiple layers of security have been put in place. The Strong vigil is being kept along the Indo-Pak border in Punjab.
It was clear that dealing with terrorism
will be a major focus at the conference as both India
earlier this week called terror emanating from Pakistan
the "greatest threat" to regional peace and stability.
has been pushing for an effective counter- terror framework and the matter will be discussed at length at the conference being attended by representatives from over 30 countries including China, the US, Russia and Iran.
The Indian delegation will be led by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in the absence of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is ill.
is the greatest threat to the region and we
expect the HoA to approve the regional counter terrorism
framework that has been drafted by Afghanistan
and circulated to HoA countries. We hope the conference will adopt it," said Afghan Ambassador Shaida M Abdali.
A declaration will be issued at the conclusion of the conference and is expected to focus on ways to deal with terror.
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.
Ghani is schedule to arrive on Saturday and he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi
will have a bilateral meeting where the Afghan President is likely to push for the supply of military hardware by India
to his country.
has already provided nearly $2 billion to Afghanistan
for reconstruction activities but has been adopting a cautious approach in providing weapons.
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.
Swaraj had attended last year's conference in Islamabad.
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. Four countries Uzbekistan, Latvia, Bulgaria and Austria are attending the conference as guest nations.