Pakistan may attend a key regional conference on Afghanistan in India in a calculated move to offset efforts by the Indian government to isolate the country following the Uri teror attack, media reported on Monday. The Heart of Asia-Istanbul ministerial meeting is scheduled to take place in the first week of December in Amritsar in Punjab. Pakistan’s participation was doubtful due to ongoing tensions and Indian boycott of the summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) scheduled to be held in Pakistan in November.
Citing continuous cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, India had announced that “in the present circumstances” it was unable to participate in the SAARC summit in Islamabad. The Express Tribune reported that officials familiar with the development said that Pakistan has no intention of following the footsteps of India by staying away from the Heart of Asia-Istanbul conference.
“There is a growing sense among the stakeholders that Pakistan should attend the Heart of Asia-Istanbul conference,” said a senior government official on condition of anonymity.
The official pointed out that there was no point of boycotting the conference since it was about Afghanistan.
“As we have stated repeatedly that Pakistan will support every endeavour that contributes towards peace and stability in Afghanistan,” he added.
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However, it is unclear whether Pakistan will send Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz or downgrade its participation at the conference.
The official said Pakistan’s participation in the meeting “would convey a ‘loud and clear’ message to the world that unlike India, it was in favour of reaching out to its neighbours for bringing peace and stability in Afghanistan”.
Foreign ministers from 14-member countries, including Russia, China and Turkey, are expected to attend the day-long conference meant to discuss the current Afghan situation and possible initiatives the immediate and extended neighbours of Afghanistan could undertake to restore long-term peace and stability in the war-torn country.
Senior officials from 17 supporting countries, including the United States, will also participate in the meeting to be jointly presided over by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was established in 2011 at the initiative of Afghanistan and Turkey. Its main objective is to foster efforts for regional cooperation and connectivity with a view to promoting long-term peace and stability as well as progress and development in Afghanistan.
Pakistan hosted the last Ministerial Conference in December last year which was also attended by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Notably, the Afghan regional conference last year had helped Pakistan and India to revive their stalled peace process after the meeting between Aziz and Swaraj on the sidelines.