Heart of South Asia

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Pakistan has decided to attend the Heart of Asia Conference in India on December 3 and suggested the visit could be used to "defuse the tension" between the nuclear-armed neighbours. The country's foreign policy advisor Sartaj Aziz will be travelling to Amritsar to attend the conference.  This, Aziz said, he would do despite the fact that Indian forces killed seven Pakistani soldiers along the Line of Control on Monday.  Aziz´s trip to India would be the first by a senior Pakistani functionary since militants raided an army base in Uri and killed 19 soldiers in September, an attack India blamed on Pakistan-sponsored militant groups. The Heart of Asia conference will focus on the cooperation among the regional powers to bring stability to Afghanistan. However, with Pakistan deciding to participate, the conference has assumed an added significance so far as the relations between India and Pakistan are concerned. Aziz has left no one in doubt that Pakistan seeks to mend the ties with India. But New Delhi has shown no such inclination. It is also doubtful whether Aziz will meet his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on the sidelines of the conference. New Delhi has also stayed short of welcoming Pakistan’s announcement to attend the conference. 

 

However, the conference being of an international nature and thus, in a sense, transcending its location and the ties between the participating countries, New Delhi is not obliged to respond Islamabad’s decision to participate. But this is an opportunity for both the countries to put their relations back on the rails. Besides, their cooperation is important to the success of the conference too. Pakistan remains critical to the efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.  Similarly, the cooperation between India and Pakistan is a must for peace in Kabul. In fact, the lingering animosity between the two nations has been one of major causes of the instability in Afghanistan. The reason being that their interests diametrically diverge in the country. Both want a government in Kabul which is friendly to one of them and then use it against the interests of the other country. So, Pakistan sees the current Afghan dispensation more slanted towards India and blames it for fomenting terror attacks inside Pakistan. Afghanistan holds Pakistan responsible for arming Taliban in Afghanistan.  India hurls similar charges against Pakistan. This has created a debilitating geo-political situation which has marred the chances of peace in Kabul.

 

As it is, both India and Pakistan are faced with an unsettling geo-strategic transformation in the region after  USwithdrawal. There is not even a distant sign that Afghanistan is stabilizing and in a position to deal effectively with its internal security situation. The scenario that looks set to unfold in the country is a scary one.  Taliban, as it is, remains undefeated – albeit some elements of it may be currently in engagement with US and Afghan government for a role in theAfghan dispensation. This situation calls for India and Pakistan to step up. It is only to be hoped that theIslamabad and New Delhi will work to not only steer the region through this fraught transition but also take concrete steps to mend their lingering differences which alone will be the guarantee for a sustainably peaceful South Asia.


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