Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi jointly opened the 6th Heart of Asia ministerial conference on Sunday in Amritsar city in the northwestern Indian state of Punjab.
In his address to delegates, Ghani said the summit takes place during an extremely important time and that it will hopefully help to prepare for 2017 and beyond.
Ghani said that last year, Afghanistan suffered its highest number of casualties to date and that “this is unacceptable”.
He said the undeclared war against Afghanistan had significantly increased in 2016 – especially after the Brussels Summit, in October.
He said that close to 30 terrorist groups, as named by the United Nations, were trying to establish a base in Afghanistan.
He also warned that the response of states to the threat of terrorism has been fragmented and some still provide sanctuary or support to these groups.
Ghani suggested a regional counter-terrorism fund be established to fight the threat but also said that there is a need to identify cross-border activities.
“Such a fund could be very well used to fight terrorism,” he said.
He went on to say this could help secure not only Afghanistan but also Asia and that it should be done without the “blame game”.
Ghani stated that “criminal networks provide the platform for criminal activity,” and cited drug smuggling and human trafficking as two such examples.
In his speech Ghani also talked on the issue of connectivity and the importance of Afghanistan’s geographical location in this respect.
He thanked India for all its assistance regarding this and said the “independent states in central Asia have demonstrated the importance of connectivity.”
He said the first consignment from China, via rail to Hairatan in September, was an example of what is still to come.
He said with such links, including that of the new Aqina link from Turkmenistan, reduction in the cost of transport will enable Afghanistan to bring visible changes to the lives of the people.
Ghani said the soon to be launched air-cargo link between Afghanistan and India will open new markets for traders.
He said: “This connectivity can lift our people out of poverty.”
Meanwhile, Modi said in turn that India’s focus remains on helping Afghanistan.
He said his country was committed to securing Afghanistan’s terrority and its citizens from threats and insuring it has a prosperous future.
He said that despite the successes, there is still much that needs to be done and “we must build on the gains of the last 15 years”.
Modi said an Afghan-led-and Afghan-owned peace process was the only way forward and that silence and inaction against terrorism in the country and the region will only embolden terrorists.
He also spoke of the importance of connectivity for Afghanistan to regional countries and said “we see Afghanistan as the hub to strengthening connectivity links between South Asia and Central Asia.”
In conclusion he said: “Let us dedicate ourselves to making Afghanistan a geography of peace.”
At least 40 countries are represented along with the European Union and international organizations at the summit.
The Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process was established to provide a platform to discuss regional issues, particularly encouraging security, political, and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbors.