ISLAMABAD: Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are jointly hosting the fifth Heart of Asia process ministerial meeting, have laid emphasis on regional cooperation for defeating terrorism.

The call for increased cooperation against security threats came as senior officials of the countries participating in the Heart of Asia process and those supporting it met at a preparatory session on Tuesday for the ministerial meeting being held here on Wednesday.

“In our view, closer regional cooperation can play an effective role in eliminating the scourge of terrorism,” Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz said while opening the meeting of the senior officials.

He said terrorism posed a major threat to global and regional peace.

Afghanistan’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai also called for united action against the evil forces of militancy in the region. “In view of these challenges, we strongly believe that today, like never before, regional and international circumstances require a united and collective approach in the fight against the scourge of terrorism and extremism,” he maintained.

Tensions between Pakistan and Afghanistan were reflected during the inaugural session as Khalil Karzai, without naming Pakistan, called for an end to support for Taliban.

“Vision of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan, which is in the best interest of the region, is far from becoming reality unless we put an end to financial, logistical and ideological support enjoyed by militants in our region,” he said.

In the past, Afghan officials openly accused Pakistan of backing Taliban insurgents. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has on a number of occasions pointed fingers at Pakistan for not ending Taliban sanctuaries on its soil.

Mr Aziz, who spoke before Mr Karzai at the meeting, denied the continuing allegations about Pakistan being behind Afghan woes.

“Pakistan wants durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. Instability in Afghanistan is not in our interest. We will, therefore, continue to support all endeavours aiming at strengthening peace and security in Afghanistan,” Mr Aziz said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ghani would jointly inaugurate the ministerial meeting on Wednesday. The theme of the meeting is ‘Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Connectivity in the Heart of Asia Region’.

Foreign ministers of seven of the 14 countries that are part of the process are attending the event. They include foreign ministers of Iran, China, India, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, in addition to hosts Afghanistan and Pakistan. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have sent their deputy foreign ministers. US Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Russian Special Presidential Representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov will also attend the conference.

RECONCILIATION: Despite their persisting differences, Pakistan and Afghanistan seem to be close to making an attempt to revive the reconciliation dialogue between the Afghan government and Taliban.

The issue is likely to be discussed during Mr Ghani’s meetings on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia meeting. He will meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif.

After a meeting between PM Sharif and President Ghani in Paris last week, the Pakistan government had expressed optimism that progress towards resumption of the reconciliation process was expected.

PM Sharif had said in a statement that Mr Ghani’s visit for the Heart of Asia ministerial meeting would provide an “opportunity to evolve a common roadmap for result-oriented reconciliation in Afghanistan”.

INTERNAL DISCUSSIONS: On Tuesday, Mr Sharif consulted his top security and foreign policy aides to chart out a strategy for discussions with President Ghani on the reconciliation process and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on ties with India.

The meeting was attended by Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif, National Security Adviser retired Lt Gen Nasser Khan Janjua, Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan and Sartaj Aziz.

Gen Janjua briefed the meeting on the recent talks with his Indian counterpart in Bangkok in which the foreign secretaries of both countries were also present.

The PM Office said the meeting had deliberated on the agenda of Heart of Asia conference and the visit of the Afghan president.

The prime minister and the army chief also met separately and discussed “national and regional security”, according to the PM Office.

Published in Dawn, December 9th, 2015

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