The Delhi Policy Group, an independent, non-partisan think tank that seeks to build consensus on issues of critical national interest, released two reports on Afghanistan on April 9, 2014, titled Afghanistan 2014: Weathering Transition and Afghanistan and Its Neighbours: Regional Views. Speaking at the release, the Foreign Secretary of India, H.E. Sujatha Singh, emphasized that India was and would remain with Afghanistan for the long haul; she reiterated that India has no exit strategy.
The panel discussion that followed the release was chaired by HE Shaida Abdali, Ambassador of Afghanistan to India. Panelists included HE Gholamreza Ansari, Ambassador of Iran to India; HE Abdul Basit, High Commissioner of Pakistan to India; HE Burak Akçapar, Ambassador of Turkey to India, and Minister Yao Jing, DCM of China to India.
The Afghanistan 2014: Weathering Transition Report is the outcome of two regional conferences and a series of bilaterals, planning visits and interviews held by the Delhi Policy Group over the past year. More than 12 regional countries were represented in these meetings: Afghanistan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Afghanistan and Its Neighbours: Regional Views is a collection of articles by participants in the Delhi Policy Group’s regional conferences. The authors in this volume are members of government and think tank analysts from the Heart of Asia countries.
Both publications focus on the need for the region to urgently step up cooperation with Afghanistan in view of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdrawal by the end of this year. The ongoing Presidential elections in Afghanistan mark a milestone in Afghanistan’s democratic development and speedy regional support for the new government will cement its legitimacy and create significant opportunities for South and Central Asia. India, Pakistan, Iran and other Heart of Asia countries require a cooperative neighbourhood for their own growth and security. The Istanbul Process offers the best options for the region to build connectivity, especially trade, energy and tourism infrastructure, and to recapture its ancient cultural, spiritual and entrepreneurial space.
The Afghanistan 2014: Weathering Transition Report highlights the following steps that Heart of Asia countries could adopt:
Immediate support to the newly elected President and his government will help ensure a stable political transition and improve security and the economy;
The Heart of Asia countries could work with the new government for a Regional Compact based on sovereignty and non-interference; It is especially important for regional countries to cooperate with the Afghan security forces and to undertake more responsibilities in the Counter-Terrorism CBM;
The bigger regional powers, China, India and Russia should take a lead in peace and stabilisation initiatives for Afghanistan; and As the most seriously impacted countries, Iran and Pakistan have large stakes in helping the new Afghan government.
Opening the panel discussion, Afghan Ambassador Shaida Abdali, said, “The successful holding of our elections, in which more than 7 million Afghans participated, is a clear message of defiance against radicalism and terrorism. We must discard zero-sum postures and adopt win-win strategies to secure Afghanistan against the same threats that undermine the security of every nation in South Asia and Central Asia and the countries that neighbour these resourceful regions in Asia.” Commenting on the Reports, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit added, “What is good for Afghanistan is also good for Pakistan. Pakistan is, therefore, open-minded to any effort that takes us closer to a stable and peaceful Afghanistan through an Afghan-led process.”
However, the window of opportunity is small. If the regional countries do not take steps to implement and operationalise plan for connectivity within the next two years, by 2016-17, the window will close. The ball is now in their court.
Addressing this issue, Minister Yao Jing, DCM of China to India, held out hope: “The two reports released by the Delhi Policy Group are both of great insight and of great help. China is going to host the 4th Ministerial Conference of the Istanbul Process later this year and would surely benefit from the recommendations and suggestions in the reports for us to make the Conference useful and helpful for the peace and development of Afghanistan.”
In a last comment, Turkish ambassador Burak Akçapar summed up: “South Asia in the bigger picture of today is infinitely more important than it was ever before in this or last century. The region as a transit zone between the world’s major economic basins holds tremendous potential for wealth and prosperity for its citizens. The keyword for success in the region is not control but access. Afghanistan and the Istanbul Process are at the center of this benign and ultimately viable vision. Politics as an art of the possible must catch up.”
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