By Sajjad Shaukat for VT
The sixth Heart of Asia Conference which was held in the Indian city of Amritsar on December 3 and 4, this year is likely to prove fruitless in achieving its goals due to secret diplomacy.
Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates are part of the Heart of Asia initiative which was launched in 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey for encouraging economic and security cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors for dealing with the common problems of terrorism, extremism and poverty. The process is supported by 17 other, predominantly Western, countries, and 12 international organizations which are also sending senior representatives.
The Heart of Asia ministerial conference concluded with the member nations adopting the ‘Amritsar Declaration’, recognizing the need to work together and comprehensibly to address the menace of terrorism. For the first time, the moot expressed concern for the violence caused in Afghanistan and the region by terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, Daish (ISIS), Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jasih-e-Mohammad.
The three big issues of the Conference were: one, countering terrorism to create stability and security in Afghanistan; two, providing Afghanistan connectivity to strengthen economic activities; and three, development which is essential for the progress of Afghanistan. The declaration also called for early finalizations of the draft for Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) and the early meeting of experts to discuss a draft on regional counter-terrorism framework strategy which was recently prepared by Afghanistan for its early finalization.
However, overtly member states of the Heart of Asia Conference emphasized upon regional peace and stability, especially in Afghanistan, but, covertly US-led secret diplomacy prevailed over the moot. It was owing to such a strategy and American influence that the member delegates appreciated India’s constructive role in supporting Afghanistan and its people for the past decade and half.
During his opening remarks, following American secret strategy in Asia, in his frenzy and ferocious speech, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi lashed out at Pakistan on terrorism as the central subject of the moot.
Hinting towards Pakistan, Modi said, “We must counter terrorists and their masters. We must demonstrate strong collective will to defeat terror network that cause bloodshed and spread fear…silence and inaction on terror in Afghanistan and the region will only embolden terrorists and masters and those fund them.”
Modi stated that India is committed to durable peace in Afghanistan, and announced plans to connect India and Afghanistan via an air link, as well as discussed the possibility of trilateral cooperation over Iran’s Chahbahar port.
Speaking in the Indian tone, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani accused Pakistan of providing sanctuary to terrorists and cross-border terrorism in Afghanistan. By snubbing a $500 million pledge from Pakistan for development projects in Afghanistan, he said, “This amount can be spent to contain extremism…Afghanistan suffered the highest number of casualties last year.”
Pakistan’s Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz who also participated in the conference slammed baseless accusations of Modi and Ghani on Islamabad and called for evolving a joint and purposeful strategy for lasting peace in Afghanistan and to combat terrorism in the region. He elaborated, “It is simplistic to blame only one country for the recent upsurge in violence. We need to have an objective and holistic view…peaceful resolution to all the longstanding issues is the only way forward for regional cooperation and connectivity…Pakistan is ready to extend every kind of cooperation for lasting peace in Afghanistan.”
The adviser added that peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban had not produced positive results, adding that Pakistan was making a serious effort to facilitate peace talks through the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG). He urged all QCG members to continue their efforts for talks between the Afghan government and Taliban.
Addressing the conference, Russian envoy Zamir Kabulov rejected the Indian and Afghan allegations against Pakistan. He stated that Afghanistan is the pivot of the conference and the agenda of the conference should not be hijacked. He added that being friends and supporters, we should avoid the blame game and work together. He also said that Sartaj Aziz’s speech at the conference was friendly and constructive.
Downplaying Russia’s military exercise with Pakistan held two months ago, Zamir Kabulov, who oversees Russia’s engagement in Afghanistan also referred to India’s increasing cooperation with the US, by pointing out, “India has close cooperation with the US, does Moscow complain?”
Indian extremist policy against Islamabad can be judged from the fact that the Indian government did not allow the Advisor on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz to hold a scheduled press conference on the sidelines of Heart of Asia Conference. In sheer violation of diplomatic norms, the adviser was also barred from leaving the hotel premises and the media persons were not allowed to meet him in the hotel. The Indian authorities also stopped Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India Abdul Basit to enter the Media Centre set up at the conference venue.
After returning from Amritsar, Aziz addressed a press conference in Islamabad and remarked, “Pakistan does not need to be pressurized in terms of counter-terrorism efforts…we have done more in terms of counter-terrorism efforts in the last three years than any other country in the world…we are now sharing our experiences of counter terrorism with the rest of the world…Pakistan attended the conference to show solidarity with Afghanistan and the country’s commitment to peace and security in Afghanistan.”
In fact, Indian and Afghan prime ministers have only revived the old blame game of the US top civil and military officials who had been accusing Pakistan’s army and primary intelligence agency ISI of supporting insurgency in Afghanistan in order to divert the attention of NATO’s defeatism in Afghanistan, and to pacify their public by ignoring the fact that Afghan Taliban are fighting for independence of their country.
Because of the ideal strategic location of its province Balochistan and being the lonely nuclear country in the Islamic World, Pakistan has become special target of the foreign entities like US, India, Israel and some western countries whose secret agencies have been destabilizing it through various kinds of terror attacks, as witnessed in the recent years.
While waging a prolonged war in Afghanistan, the US and other NATO countries have realized that after the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghanistan would be thrown in an era of uncertainly and civil war. They realize the fact that there is a co-relationship of terrorism or stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore, US-led developed nations which also spent billions of dollars for the development of Afghanistan have repeatedly agreed that without Islamabad’s help, stability cannot be achieved there.
But, it is regrettable that the US-led countries like Israel and especially India are sabotaging Pak-Afghan relations. In this regard, America which prefers New Delhi over Islamabad has been acting upon a secret diplomacy in collaboration with India, Israeli and some western powers.
In the recent past, a reliable online report revealed that Afghan security officials and Governor of Helmand have stated that investigations are in progress against the officials of the Afghan Nation Security Forces (ANSF), who left their weapons and vehicles deliberately for Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA) in Badakhshan/Helmand province. From the report, it can be inferred that the Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS), duly assisted by Indian secret agency RAW and CIA is involved in high level corruption in Afghanistan.
From time to time, controversy arises between Afghanistan and Pakistan when Afghan officials refused to recognize the Durand Line which is the 2640 kilometer long and porous border, situated between both the countries.
The issue again came to the limelight on June 12, 2016 when Afghan security forces started unprovoked firing at Torkham border crossing (Located between Pakistan and Afghanistan), resulting in injuries to more than 16 Pakistani citizens, including the martyrdom of some Pakistani security personnel. The aim was to stop Pakistan from construction of a gate.
Durand Line has not been drawn by Pakistan, but it was declared border line by British representative Sir Durand and Afghan Ameer Ghazi Amanullah Khan in 1919. People of Pakistan’s province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA (Tribal Areas) opted to join Pakistan in 1947. So, it is a declared border line and Afghan government has no right to object on any construction along with the Durand line.
It is mentionable that that on direction of India, and like the former regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s present rulers have also started accusing Pakistan of cross-border terrorism. In this connection, after hours of the Taliban captured Kunduz city, on September 28, 2015, during his address to the UNO General Assembly, Afghanistan’s Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah blamed Islamabad for carrying out cross-border attacks and destabilizing Afghanistan.
In this context, Afghan government’s instructions to ban Pak-currency in Afghanistan on behest of New Delhi would amount to nothing more than damaging the economic activities, taking place in Afghanistan, particularly in the areas and provinces bordering Pakistan. This decision is causing huge loss to no one else, but the Afghan business community and Afghan people.
As a matter of fact, based in Afghanistan, operatives of CIA, Mossad and RAW which are well-penetrated in the terrorist outfits like ISIS, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their affiliated Taliban groups are using their terrorists to destabilize Tibetan regions of China, Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan and Pakistan’s Balochistan by arranging the subversive activities. In this respect, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is their special target.
Notably, at least 65 people were killed and more than 100 others were injured when a blast struck at the shrine of the Sufi saint Shah Noorani in Balochistan’s Hub Tehsil on November 12, this year. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack via Amaq, its affiliated news agency.
ISIS had also claimed responsibility for a terror attack on the Police Training College in Quetta-the provincial capital of Pakistan which left at least 60 individuals dead on October 24, 2016.
Earlier, an affiliated faction of the TTP, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (TTP-JA) took responsibility for a deadly suicide bombing in Quetta, which killed at least 74 people on August 8, 2016 in an attack at the government-run Civil Hospital. The Middle East-based movement of the ISIS also accepted responsibly for that blast.
Nevertheless, it was part of ploy that two terrorist groups accepted responsibility for the terror assaults in Quetta to divert the attention from the US-led India and Israel. Especially, Washington and New Delhi are playing double game with Pakistan to obtain the clandestine aims, particularly by trying to sabotage the CPEC project.
Especially, the blast at the shrine of the Shah Noorani exploded, one day before the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif inaugurated the Gwadar port which is a warm-water, deep-sea port on the Arabian Sea in Balochistan, and is the center of $46 billion Pak-China project of the CPEC.
Following the inauguration ceremony, the port has formally been operationalized for trade activities through the western route of CPEC. In this regard, Prime Minister Sharif said, “I want to make it clear that CPEC is not only for a particular province but for entire Pakistan…the enemy of CPEC is enemy of Pakistan…Pakistan will leave no stone unturned to materialize the CPEC in time.”
Pakistan’s former Army Chief General Raheel Sharif who also participated in inauguration event has repeatedly stated that Pakistan will complete the CPEC project at every cost.
Regarding the terror attack on the Police Training College, IG FC Major General Sher Afgun had informed the press that the attackers acted on directions from Afghanistan and the initial investigation suggests that the terrorists were affiliated with the outlawed Lashkar-e- Jhangvi Al Almi militant group. He elaborated, “We came to know from the communication intercepts that there were three militants who were getting instructions from Afghanistan.”
Undoubtedly, as part of the secret game, CIA, RAW and Mossad are in collaboration with the NDS and other terrorist groups. With latest capture of six NDS supported terrorists in Balochistan, the number of NDS backed terrorists arrested and killed by Pakistani Intelligence agencies has crossed over 126. These external secret agencies are especially supporting the TTP which is hiding in Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan. Reportedly, Mullah Fazlullah led TTP is being prepared to carry out a fresh wave of terror activities inside Pakistan, as the latter has become center of the Great Game owing to the ideal location of Balochistan.
It is also of particular attention that in its joint declaration, Asia the Heart Conference did not mention the name of the TTP, because CIA, RAW and Mossad are particularly assisting it to weaken Pakistan.
Nonetheless, located on the southwestern coast of Pakistan, Balochistan’s Gwadar seaport is close to the Strait of Hormuz from where more than 17 million barrels of oil passes every day. Its location among South Asia, the oil-rich Middle East, and oil and gas-resourced Central Asia has further increased its strategic significance. Besides, Balochistan’s abundant mineral resources irritate the eyes of the US, India and Israel which intend to weaken Pakistan for their collective aims.
As regards Balochistan, every Pakistani knows that the militant outfits like ISIS and separatist groups like the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) and their affiliated groups, including Jundollah (God’s soldiers) and Lashkar-i-Janghvi which have been creating unrest in the Balochistan get logistic support from RAW and Mossad with the tactical assistance of America. In the recent years, these terrorist outfits massacred many persons through suicide attacks, bomb blasts, targeted killings and sectarian violence. These externally-supported insurgent groups had kidnapped and killed many Chinese and Iranian nationals in Pakistan including Iranian diplomats. They have claimed responsibility for a number of terror assaults, including those on Shias in Balochsitan and Iranian Sistan-Baluchistan.
Notably, the arrest of the Indian spy Kulbushan Yadav in Balochistan on March 29, 2016 has exposed Indian undeclared war against Pakistan. During investigation, Yadav disclosed that he served as a scrap dealer and had a jewelry business in Chahbahar, Iran, after he joined RAW in 2013. Yadav admitted that he was assigned with the task to create unrest in Karachi and Balolchitan by stating, “I supported the individuals who worked to destabilize Pakistan…I promoted the criminal mindset that was there in Balochistan.” RAW agent Yadav also confessed that another task assigned to him was to execute the task to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project.
Besides, Pakistan’s secret agencies uncovered another ring of Indian spies in the country, working as under covert agents, found involved in subversive activities to destabilize Pakistan. In this connection, on November 2, this year, Islamabad disclosed that five Indian diplomats who were serving at the Indian High Commission in Islamabad found to be part of the RAW spy network and were involved in subversive activities by facilitating and funding terrorism. They were declared as persona non grata and expelled from the country.
Almost all the terrorists or terrorist groups and insurgency in Pakistan, especially Balochistan have their connections in Afghanistan. The porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan is frequently used by human and drug traffickers, criminals and terrorists. Their easy access through unguarded porous border provides opportunity to miscreants to cause havoc inside Pakistan and Afghanistan. For effective counter terrorism measures, strong border-control management is vital at Pak-Afghan border. But, Afghan rulers are using delaying tactics in this respect by rejecting Islamabad’s positive proposals.
There is no doubt that escalation of tension at Pak- Afghan border is deliberately engineered by the elements opposed to peace talks and improvement of bilateral relations between Islamabad and Kabul.
Moreover, Afghan peace and reconciliation process is a reality despite of its slow pace and continual interruptions. The positive trajectory of constructive relations between Islamabad and Kabul raised alarm-bells amongst the US-led adversaries who are attempting to affect the progressive Pak-Afghan relations through smear and sinister scheming.
It is noteworthy that the armed forces of Pakistan have broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the successful military operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has also been extended to other parts of the country, including Balochistan. And Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI has broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants, while thwarting a number of terror attempts.
Since the government of the Balochistan province announced general pardon and protection to the Baloch militants as part of reconciliation process, many insurgents and their leaders have surrendered their arms and decided to work for the development of Pakistan and the province, peace has been restored in Balochistan.
But, recent blasts in Balochistan show that the US-led India and Israel have again started acts of sabotage in the province to weaken Pakistan and to sabotage the CPEC.
Reliable sources of Pakistan and media of the country pointed out in the end of November, this year that Islamabad has approved Russia’s request to use Gwadar Port, which means Moscow could also join the CPEC project.
In response to the Pak-China project of CPEC, Washington broadly supported New Delhi and Kabul in signing a deal with Iran for a transport corridor, opening up a new route to Afghanistan via the Iranian port of Chabahar. In this context, during his visit to Tehran, on May 23, 2016, the Indian Prime Minister Modi signed 12 agreements with Tehran, including a deal to develop Iran’s Chabahar port. India will spend $500 million on the project, with a plan to invest an additional $ 16 billion in the Chabahar free trade zone. Chabahar—located about 1,800 kilometres south of Tehran—is more than just a port with an adjoining free trade zone. But, CPEC is much bigger and viable project than Chahbahar.
Meanwhile, the US pro-Israeli and pro-Indian President-elect Donald Trump has stated that he would abandon the Iran nuclear deal. Therefore, it is expected that Tehran which is very close friend of Russia will also use the Gwadar Port or join the CPEC project.
Russians and Iranians know that Gwadar seaport would connect the landlocked Central Asian states with rest of the world. Being the commercial hub, the port is likely to increase volume of trade, bringing multiple economic and financial benefits to Pakistan, Iran, Russia and China. It will enable high-volume cargo vessels to move in the major oceans.
It is worth-mentioning that besides other similar attacks in Afghanistan; ISIS claimed responsibility for a joint suicide bombing of July 23, 2016 in Kabul, which targeted the peaceful rally of the Shiite minority of Hazaras who were protesting against the government’s decision of denying their region essential infrastructure through their plans of rerouting a power line. The twin suicide blasts killed more than 80 persons. In these terms, India and Israel which also want that NATO forces should remain entangled in Afghanistan are also using ISIS and TTP militants as part of Indo-Israeli collective interests.
Pakistan considers that peace in Afghanistan is a guarantee of peace in Pakistan, hence, has been striving for the same in utter sincerity. But, the US and India do not want to see the peace and prosperity in the region. Sadly, Pakistan’s dominant role in Afghanistan’s peace process under the QCG has, deliberately, been disrupted by killing of the Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur in CIA-operated drone attack in Balochistan, which badly derailed Afghan dialogue process, as Afghan Taliban leaders refused to participate in the US-sponsored talks with the Afghan government. While, in the recent past, with the help of Pakistan, a series of meetings were held in Islamabad and Kabul among the representatives of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and the US to develop an understanding for the earliest possible resumption of stalled talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban with a view to ending nearly 15 years of bloodshed in Afghanistan.
It seems that the US-led secret diplomacy is on to pressurize Pakistan to bring Afghan Taliban either for the dialogue or to take action against them. US, India and Israel have built a hostile nexus for the Great Game and are pressurizing Pakistan by limiting its choices.
Hence, trust deficit has deepened between Pakistan and America. Therefore, on June 10, 2016, a high-level delegation of the US visited Islamabad and met Pakistan’s former Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Raheel Sharif and Adviser to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz Adviser separately.
During the meeting, expressing his serious concern on the US drone strike in Balochistan as a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, Gen. Raheel Sharif highlighted as to how it had impacted the mutual trust and was counterproductive in consolidating the gains of the military Operation Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists. He explained, “All stakeholders need to understand Pakistan’s challenges-inter-tribal linkages and decades-old presence of over three million refugees—blaming Pakistan for instability in Afghanistan is unfortunate—target TTP and its chief Mullah Fazlullah in their bases in Afghanistan—Indian RAW and NDS are fomenting terrorism in Pakistan.”
US covert policy about Islamabad could also be judged from some other development. In this regard, another delegation of US Senators including Senator Lindsey Graham led by Senator John McCain, Chairman of US Senate Arms Services committee visited Islamabad and North Waziristan Agency (NWA) on July 3, 2016. The US Senators visited areas cleared of terrorists during Operation Zarb-e-Azb. American delegation appreciated the Pakistan Army’s accomplishment of cleansing the entire area of NWA right up to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, after witnessing the terrorists’ hideouts and communication infrastructure dismantled by the Pakistan Army.
Outwardly, American top officials have been appreciating the capabilities of Pakistan’s security agencies against terrorism, but inwardly, they are not pleased in relation to the successes, achieved by the armed forces of Pakistan against the militants, because America is acting upon a secret strategy in relation to Islamabad.
While, Pakistan rendered numerous sacrifices for Afghanistan during the last few decades, but ironically Afghanistan is still playing in the hands of their foreign masters especially Washington and New Delhi.
Pakistan shares common geographical, historical, religious and cultural bonds with Afghanistan. America and its Western partners have repeatedly recognized that Pak-Afghan stability is inter-related, which is essential for their global and regional interests. They know that without Islamabad’s help, stability cannot be achieved there. But, by following the conflicting interests, the US-led countries are deteriorating Pak-Afghan relations to obtain their covert aims, and are encouraging New Delhi to continue anti-Pakistan moves. Thus, the US-Western countries are destabilizing South Asian security which is equally essential for them.
Returning to our earlier discussion, in one way or the other, the hidden theme of the Heart of Asia Conference was to malign Pakistan in connection with terrorism and Afghanistan, as secret diplomacy of the US-led entities against the interests of China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and even Afghanistan continue under the cover of peace and stability in that war-torn country.
Sajjad Shaukat writes on international affairs and is author of the book: US vs Islamic Militants, Invisible Balance of Power: Dangerous Shift in International Relations