In line with the New Delhi-Kabul consensus that Pakistan remains a safe haven for and a source of terror, the declaration adopted Sunday at the Sixth Heart of Asia Conference-Istanbul Process mentions two groups targeting India, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, in addition to the Haqqani network, among the organisations causing a “high level of violence” in Afghanistan and the region.
Echoing the tone set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ashraf Ghani in their inaugural speeches — Modi said “silence and inaction against terrorism in Afghanistan and our region will only embolden terrorists and their masters” — the declaration calls for “concerted regional and international cooperation to ensure elimination of terrorism, in all its forms and manifestations, including dismantling of terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens in the Heart of Asia region, as well as disrupting all financial, tactical and logistical support for terrorism”.
Describing terrorism as the biggest threat to peace, stability and cooperation in the region, it calls upon all states to “take action against these terrorist entities in accordance with their respective national counter-terrorism policies, their international obligations and the UN Global Counter Terrorism Strategy 2006”. The declaration asks for “early finalisation of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism with consensus”.
But in an indication of the hard bargaining that went into the document, the declaration also lists Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a TTP offshoot, which Pakistan has often hinted are “foreign” funded. Jundullah, the anti-Iran group based in Balochistan, is also mentioned along with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and East Turkistan Islamic Movement, apart from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
“For the first time, a Heart of Asia declaration has expressed concern at the violence caused in Afghanistan and the region by groups like al-Qaeda and Daesh, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad etc,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who co-chaired the meeting with his Afghan counterpart, said.
Previous HOA-IP declarations have mentioned only al-Qaeda and Daesh/IS. An official, who participated in the negotiations on the document, said the Pakistani side strongly opposed the inclusion of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in the declaration, and eventually settled for a compromise with the inclusion of TTP.
“The TTP is also a terrorist group, so its inclusion in this list is a good move,” the official said.
Although the declaration mentions the Taliban, it has been so worded to not describe it as a terrorist group. The official said this is because attempts are underway to get a peace process going with them.
The declaration reads: “We remain concerned by the gravity of the security situation in Afghanistan in particular and the region and the high level of violence caused by the Taliban, terrorist groups including ISIL/Daesh and its affiliates, the Haqqani Network, al-Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, East Turkistan Islamic Movement, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, Jundullah and other foreign terrorist fighters.”
The declaration also demands “an immediate end” to all forms of terrorism, “as well as all support to it, including financing of terrorism”.
An Afghan initiative for a regional counter-terror strategy yielded a draft framework, which was shared with other members, and is to be discussed by a group of experts to take it forward towards finalisation.
The conference also supported a “concerted and coherent” regional approach that includes tapping the capacities of political and religious leaders, civil society, mass media and social networks in the fight against terror.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Modi said terrorism posed the gravest threat to Afghanistan’s peace, stability and prosperity. Making a veiled reference to Pakistan, he called for “resolute action” not just against terrorists but those backing them.
“The growing arc of terrorist violence endangers our entire region. As such, support for voices of peace in Afghanistan alone is not enough. It must be backed by resolute action. Not just against forces of terrorism, but also against those who support, shelter, train and finance them,” he said.
Seeking to emphasise the regional character of the terror, Modi stressed that what was at stake was not just the future of Afghanistan but the peace and stability of “the entire region, and beyond”.
In another reference to Pakistan’s role as facilitator of the Quadrilateral Coordination Group for the peace process with Taliban, Modi also called for “an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and Afghan-controlled process”. He said only Afghanistan could be the “guarantor of durability of solutions”.
Modi laid out India’s vision of Afghanistan as a “hub” — it is a departure from the usual formulation that projects the country as a transit route or corridor — “for strengthening links of connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia”.
India’s choice of Amritsar as the venue for the conference was to underline this connectivity, and the fact that at the moment, it lies in disuse because of Pakistan’s refusal to give India and Afghanistan overland access for trade.
Modi spoke at length about the “old and steadfast connection of warmth and affection with Afghanistan”, and how Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru, had preached in Kabul.
“The flow of trade, people and ideas through our region has often intersected in Amritsar on one of Asia’s oldest and longest surface arteries, the Grand Trunk Road. Amritsar reinforces the value of restoring connectivity which is so crucial for the overall growth, stability and economic prosperity of Afghanistan,” he said.
The Prime Minister called for increasing material assistance to Afghanistan’s development and humanitarian needs, and said this must contribute to building infrastructure and institutional capacity as well as “self-propelling engines of growth”.