The Heart of Asia Conference and Afghan Peace Process

Decades of conflict have fractured Afghanistan politically, economically, and socially as the conflict has drawn the civilian population into cycles of devastation that have wholly changed the country’s political, economic, and social structures. The 9th Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA-IP), which has been held recently, is a concrete step in the right direction as the regional countries gathered to work on their shared responsibility in the conference to advance the goal of ending the decades’ long conflict in Afghanistan which will not only benefit Afghanistan and its people but will also ensure the peace and stability in the region. 

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process is a regional initiative of Afghanistan and the Republic of Turkey, which was launched on 2 November 2011 in Istanbul, with the motto “Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan”.  Since its inception, the process has become a paramount factor for regional cooperation amongst 15 regional countries and has created a platform for Afghanistan’s near and extended neighbors, international supporters, and organizations to engage in constructive dialogue and to address the existing and emerging regional challenges through regional cooperation with Afghanistan at its core. The process has three main pillars stated as Political Consultation, Confidence Building Measures (CBMs), and Cooperation with Regional Organizations.  

The recent Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HoA-IP), took place from 29-30 March 2021 in Dushanbe with the theme of “Strengthening Consensus for Peace and Development”, concluded with the adoption of a comprehensive Dushanbe Declaration on 30th March 2021. The member countries of HoA-IP hailed the ongoing efforts for the peace process and the continuation of the negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Also, they welcomed the diplomatic efforts by all countries and the negotiations in Doha, the Moscow “Troika plus” meeting, and also the preparations for a high-level meeting in Turkey.

The declaration further stated, “We acknowledge that long-term stability and prosperity in the region require peace and security in Afghanistan, and therefore the region, as well as the international community, has a shared responsibility and common interest to work together for promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region as a whole”. It is worth mentioning that for a long time after the US-led military intervention in Afghanistan under the shadow of the so-called war on terror, the regional role for the resolution of conflict had been missing but now the regional states are taking the responsibility which would significantly contribute to the success of Afghan Peace Process.  

While speaking at the conference, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan Mr. Shah Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process is an important platform bringing participating countries together to advance shared goals of peace, stability, and prosperity in Afghanistan”.  He stated that for Pakistan, Afghanistan was an important neighbor and a brotherly country with strong historical links. “No other nation could claim to have such immutable bonds with Afghanistan, and thus [be] more desirous of peace in Afghanistan, than Pakistan.” 

In addition to it, Mr. Qureshi also highlighted the formidable challenges which can damage the progress in Afghan Peace Process. While commenting on these challenges, he said that Pakistan has always cautioned against the “spoilers” within and outside Afghanistan and Pakistan is deeply concerned about the continuation of violence across Afghanistan. Pakistan fears that any space gained by ISIS and Al Qaeda could accentuate the threat of terrorism. He also urged the international community to effectively facilitate the peace process. 

There is no denying the fact that the road to peace in Afghanistan is a challenging and demanding task that needs the strong will of all the stakeholders. The leaders of Afghanistan, whether they are in the government or part of opposition forces, and the regional states whose stakes are at risk due to worsening instability in Afghanistan need to work together aggressively for the success of the peace process to bring perpetual peace in Afghanistan which would eventually result into peace and stability in the entire region. The spoilers of the peace cannot be overlooked, therefore, all the domestic and regional stakeholders should be cautious. 

The vested interests of “few” cannot be entertained by putting the peace and stability of the entire region at risk. The proponents of peace should keep a close eye on the developments and do not allow anyone to disrupt the peace efforts. An innovative idea of Biden’s administration to take the United Nations, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and India on board as a multi-stakeholder approach for peace in Afghanistan may or may not be a successful approach but what next in Afghanistan needs to be analyzed by examining the following realities. 

First, the Afghan Taliban and the US signed an agreement in February 2020 but the Afghan Taliban and the Kabul government are yet to reach an agreement. President Ashraf Ghani proposed to hold early presidential elections which have been rejected by the Afghan Taliban because such an arrangement will further complicate the crisis. The leaders of Afghanistan, whether they are in the government or part of opposition forces, need to be visionary and should be sincere in their efforts to save the people of Afghanistan whose socio-economic conditions have been deteriorated due to the ongoing conflict in their country. 

Secondly, when hardly six weeks have been left for the pull-out deadline of the American forces in Afghanistan, the Biden’s administration is coming up with a new mantra. On one end, the new administration in the US is signaling the possibility of reviewing the May 1 withdrawal deadline and on the other end, it still wants to adhere to the deadline as per the agreement. The US’ stay in Afghanistan can serve American vested interests as it has the objectives to disrupt China’s BRI initiative and keep a check on Pakistan. The US presence would help the CIA to exploit the ethnic tensions amongst Uyghurs in Xinjiang as an effective way to destabilize China. The US cannot be allowed to play another dirty game in the region. Instead of talk and rhetoric, the US administration should practically work for “responsible measures” for peace in Afghanistan if it is “serious” about peace.   

Thirdly, the inclusion of India in the peace process can be counterproductive. The peace in Afghanistan mismatches with the Indian interests in Afghanistan. India has no border with Afghanistan but it has used the instability in the 1980s, and since 2001 it has been using the unstable Afghan soil to sponsor terrorism in Pakistan. India is a joker in the back to sabotage the gains that have been made in the ongoing Afghan Peace Process, so far. Pakistan has played a decisive role to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table. The interest of Pakistan lies in the success of the peace process and it does not want political chaos or a civil war in Afghanistan. 

The chaos and instability in Afghanistan are in the favor of “few” but it is not for benefit of “many” especially the people of Afghanistan who have been facing socio-economic crises for many years. Therefore, it is the responsibility of regional states and major powers of the globe to closely cooperate with a strong will for the success of the Afghan Peace Process which will end the decades-old conflict in Afghanistan and bring peace for the people of Afghanistan and the region as a whole. 

Afghanistan is the heart of Asia, and without peace in Afghanistan, peace in the region is not possible. It is interesting to mention here that one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, Allama Muhammad Iqbal said;

“Asia is a body built of clay and water

Afghanistan is the heart in this body!

If Afghanistan is in turmoil, the whole of Asia would be in turmoil

If Afghanistan is in peace, the whole of Asia would be in peace”



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