Heart of Asia melts ice; eases tensions with India, Afghanistan

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ISLAMABAD Dec 9 (APP): The Heart of Asia Conference on Wednesday not only eased tensions between Pakistan and India, but also helped break the ice with Afghanistan.
Instead of the rattle of guns along the Line of Control and piling bodies of martyrs, this time it was an exchange of smiles,warm handshakes and pleasantries.

Sushma called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who warmly received her and discussed the need to move ahead for the progress and prosperity of their people and peace in the region.

She also met Maryam Nawaz and the two noted the desire of their peoples for closer contacts and peace. The surprise however came at the end of her visit as Indian Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj after a round of talks with Advisor to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz announced holding of a Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue.

The brief huddle between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the Climate conference in Paris, seemed to have done the impossible.

The Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue would include dialogue on Peace and Security, CBMs, and the contentious issue of Jammu and Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul Navigation Project.

It was also agreed to discuss economic and commercial cooperation, counterterrorism, narcotics control and humanitarian issues, people-to-people exchanges and religious tourism.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was at the Nur Khan Airbase to greet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. With a warm handshake, full State Visit protocol, including a 21-gun salute, a guard of honour and tri-services salute, the foggy mistrust began to melt.

Afghan President in his speech particularly mentioned that he was touched with the warm hospitality shown to him and his delegation.

Prime Minister Sharif termed it an honour for him to especially welcome “brother Ashraf Ghani” who graciously agreed to visit Islamabad and jointly inaugurate this conference.

Nawaz Sharif mentioned that more than a century ago, the Poet of the East and Pakistan’s national poet, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, described Afghanistan as the Heart of Asia and a pivot for peace, stability and prosperity for the entire region.

He quoted Iqbal:

“Asia is a body of water and flowers. Afghanistan is its heart. If there is instability in Afghanistan, Asia is unstable. If there is peace in Afghanistan, Asia is peaceful.”

The Prime Minister said in keeping with this vision, Pakistan attaches great importance to the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process as a forum for sustainable peace, progress and development in Afghanistan, the region and beyond.

Ghani later met the Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif and both agreed on the need of enhancing bilateral relations between both countries, vowed to work together to eliminate common threat of terrorism.

The Prime Minister House on Wednesday remained the hub of intense activity as it hosted a series of back-to-back bilateral, trilateral and quadrilateral meetings, aimed at bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and the region.

The rare scene was the outcome of the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference that was attended by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and participants from 14 participating states, 17 supporting countries, 12 international and regional organizations and foreign ministers.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was the co-host of the conference along with President Ashraf Ghani earlier in the day, later held bilateral meeting with the Afghan President, joined in by their aides.

The PM House was also the venue of a trilateral meeting of Pakistan, the United States and Afghanistan and a quadrilateral meeting between Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the United States of America.

During the talks, the Afghan side was led by President Ashraf Ghani, Pakistan led by Adviser to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, China by Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the US by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The meetings focussed on ways to foster efforts for regional cooperation and connectivity to promote long-term peace, stability and development in Afghanistan, and the region.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also hosted a luncheon in honour of the Afghan President and the delegates of the conference.Foreign ministers of Iran, Turkey, China and India held
separate meetings with the Prime Minister. He also had a meeting with German Defence Minister and the US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.