At the ‘Heart of Asia’ conference in Islamabad, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made the announcement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Pakistan for the SAARC Summit in 2016. This will PM Modi the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Pakistan in 12 years.
On Wednesday, Sushma extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan, saying it was time the two countries displayed “maturity and self-confidence” to do business with each other.
“Let me take this opportunity to extend our hand to Pakistan as well. It is time that we display the maturity and self-confidence to do business with each other and strengthen regional trade and cooperation. The entire world is waiting and rooting for a change. Let us not disappoint them…For its part, India is prepared to move our cooperation at a pace which Pakistan is comfortable with. But today, let us at least resolve to help Afghanistan in the best traditions of good neighbourliness through more effective transit arrangements,” Swaraj said at the summit which focuses on Afghanistan.
Swaraj also spoke on the issue of terrorism. She called for international cooperation to ensure that the forces of terrorism and extremism do not find sanctuaries and safe havens in “any name, form or manifestation” in the region.
India also extended its hand to cooperate with Afghanistan so that the war-torn country can strengthen its defensive capabilities to counter terrorism.
“They need the continued support of the international community to defend Afghanistan’s unity and security. For its part, India is ready to work with Afghanistan to strengthen its defensive capability,” Swaraj said.
“We, in Afghanistan’s proximity, have a particular responsibility in this regard,” she added.
She also spelt out India’s vision of the Istanbul-process. It is one of interlinked trade, transit, energy and communication routes, with Afghanistan as an important hub, she said. She also added that the ‘Heart of Asia’ cannot function if its arteries are clogged.
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the conference, Swaraj met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for nearly 30 minutes. Swaraj was accompanied by Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar, India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan TCA Raghavan and envoy to Afghanistan Amar Sinha.
The two leaders discussed terror threats, peace and reconciliation process, connectivity and India’s willingness to join Afghanistan-Pakistan trade and transit agreement.
“A Strong Bond of Friendship. EAM Sushma Swaraj calls on President Ashraf Ghani for a bilateral on sidelines of HoA…They reviewed bilateral ties including transit. Discussed terror threat in Afghanistan and status of peace and reconciliation process” said the External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup in a series of tweets.
Swaraj also held similar bilateral talks with her counterparts from Kyrgyzstan and Iran.
Earlier in the day, President Ghani jointly inaugurated the regional conference along with Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif.
Sharif, in his inaugural address, said, “Afghanistan is the heart of Asia and if there is trouble in the heart, the entire region will be turbulent.”
He also called for a collective approach to combat the menace of extremism and terrorism.
“Working for the achievement of a peaceful neighbourhood is a cardinal principal of Pakistan’s foreign policy. We firmly believe that peace is vital for development, and development is vital for durable peace.” Sharif said.
He also said that the massive cross-border movement of refugees was “a security risk” which is exploited by the miscreants.
Ghani, in his speech, acknowledged the presence of terror on his soil.
“Our children have been killed, our hospitals attacked, and terrorism has now become a regional, national and global phenomenon…Al-Qaeda, Daesh, terrorists from Russia, Uzbekistan, the Middle East and beyond; are all present on our soil,” Ghani said.
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 and includes Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates.
(With inputs from PTI)