All about the Heart of Asia Conclave in Amritsar

<b><i>The 2-day Heart of Asia conclave, Amritsar</i></b><b><i> grapples with reviving trade on the </i></b><b><i>Grand Trunk Road, and </i></b><b><i>countering distrust and terrorism</i></b>



Photo courtesy: Twitter/@narendramodi
Photo courtesy: Twitter/@narendramodi
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NH National Bureau

The Grand Trunk Road was built by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century and connected Chittagong in Bangladesh to Peshawar in Pakistan and beyond to Kabul. The two-day Heart of Asia conclave underway this weekend on the Grand Trunk Road at Amritsar, which also stands on this historic highway, grapples with reviving the traditional trade route, and countering distrust and terrorism.


Back in January 2007, the then Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had famously said that he dreamt of a time when, “...while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.”


But although Kabul lies 620 km from Amritsar and the Khyber Pass is just 450 km away, the frosty relationship between India and Pakistan has restricted access of people and goods from India to not just Afghanistan but also to Central Asian countries and to Europe.


While India’s pact with Iran to develop the Chabahar port and a rail link up to the Afghan border will provide an alternative route, the road link remains the shortest and the fastest.

14 countries—including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Russia, the UAE and Turkey, besides India, Pakistan and Afghanistan—are part of the Heart of Asia initiative that aims at encouraging trade, connectivity and security cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours, and to address common problems of terrorism, extremism and poverty. The initiative is supported by 17 other countries including the US, and groupings like the European Union


But such concerns are unlikely to be resolved at the conference with both India and Pakistan seemingly determined to ‘expose’ each other. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ironically, had stopped at Kabul on December 25 last year while returning from Russia and had unexpectedly flown to Lahore to attend the wedding of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter, before returning to Delhi.


The euphoria generated by the overture did not last long, with terrorists from Pakistan targeting Pathankot Air Base close to Amritsar on January 2 this year. Since then India has refused to hold talks with Pakistan till the latter addressed the question of terrorism.


Afghanistan also blames terrorists based in Pakistan of bleeding the country. Ironically again, terrorists have targeted buses, parks, courts and even hospitals in Pakistan itself.


As the meeting of officials began in Amritsar on Saturday and the diplomats give the final touches to the official Declaration expected on Sunday, here is all that you need to know to make sense of the international initiative.

10 Points about Heart of Asia Conclave, Amritsar


*The sixth ministerial meeting of the ‘Heart of Asia’ initiative is scheduled to be held on Sunday at Amritsar.


*The ‘Heart of Asia’ conference is also known as the Istanbul Process because the first meeting was held in Istanbul in 2011. Last year it was held in Islamabad.


*14 countries are part of the initiative that aims at encouraging trade, connectivity and security cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours and to address common problems of terrorism, extremism and poverty. The countries include China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Russia, UAE and Turkey, besides India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. The initiative is supported by 17 other countries including the US, and groupings like the European Union.


*The six key areas identified for confidence building measures are disaster management, terrorism, drug trafficking, trade, education, investment and infrastructure.


*Following a transit trade agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2010, Afghan trucks are allowed to carry goods back to Afghanistan from Pakistani ports at Karachi and Gwadar.


*Afghan trucks are also allowed to export a restricted list of goods that includes dry fruit, carpets and marble to India through the Wagah border.


*However Afghanistan is not allowed to carry Indian goods back to Afghanistan.


*While both Afghanistan and India blame Pakistan for not allowing Indian goods access to Afghanistan and beyond to Central Asia, Pakistan has maintained that it could happen only if Pakistani goods are also allowed similar access.


*Besides, Pakistan blames India for isolating it in the region and cites the boycott of the SAARC summit earlier this year by India and other SAARC members allegedly at the instigation of India.


*Pakistan also blames Afghanistan for increasing duty on Pakistani goods entering Afghanistan.

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Published: 03 Dec 2016, 5:26 PM