Heart of Asia conference: With ties strained, all eyes on Pakistan at Amritsar meet

Though the engagement would take place in a multilateral setting, it is expected to be significant in the backdrop of the strained ties between India and Pakistan.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Updated: October 27, 2016 2:55 am
india pakistan, sartaj aziz, heart of asia, amritsar meeting, amritsar conference, india pakistan ties, asia conference, latest news, indian express, india news Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz. (Source Reuters)

Pakistan’s decision to attend the Heart of Asia conference in December in Amritsar is likely to lead to the first engagement of Islamabad with India after the surgical strikes in the wake of the Uri attack. Though the engagement would take place in a multilateral setting, it is expected to be significant in the backdrop of the strained ties between the two countries. While Pakistan’s foreign minister Sartaj Aziz confirmed early this week about Pakistan’s decision to attend the conference — which is focused on the future of Afghanistan — it has not yet spelt out the “level of representation”.

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Sources said that, as things stand, the Pakistan High Commission will be attending the conference on behalf of the Pakistan government. But a political call will be taken closer to the date on whether officials or ministers from Pakistan will attend, Pakistan diplomatic sources said.

From the Indian side, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj is expected to host the conference in Amritsar. While the decision by Islamabad comes in the wake of the Indian diplomatic offensive to isolate Pakistan, New Delhi feels that Pakistan would have found it difficult to stay out of the Heart of Asia conference since it has political stakes in Afghanistan.

“It doesn’t want to be left out,” Indian government sources said. Pakistan has always nurtured apprehension about India’s role in Afghanistan, and the fears have deepened in recent years with Delhi stepping up defence and security cooperation with Kabul.

And, with Afghanistan joining India in pulling out of the SAARC summit, as it is quite disappointed with Islamabad over the Taliban reconciliation process, Islamabad appears even more wary.

Early this week, Aziz, the adviser on foreign affairs to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, said Pakistan will participate in the regional meet to be held in Amritsar during December 3-4. “Pakistan will continue to attend all international forums,” he was quoted as saying by Geo News channel.

India launched a move to isolate Pakistan over the terrorism issue after the attack on an Army camp at Uri in Kashmir in September that was blamed on the Jaish-e-Mohammed. Troops of the two countries have traded fire on the Line of Control and India carried out surgical strikes that it says resulted in “significant casualties”. Pakistan has denied the strikes and raised alleged rights violations by Indian security forces in J&K.