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The Advisor to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Mr. Sartaj Aziz delivered a comprehensive Statement to the National Assembly today, on the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia Istanbul Process hosted by Pakistan on 9 December 2015, the meetings held by the Prime Minister on the sidelines of the Conference and the latest developments in relations between Pakistan and India including the Joint Statement issued after bilateral meeting between the Advisor and Minister for External Affairs of India, held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 9 December 2015.

The Text of the Advisor’s Statement to the National Assembly is given below:

“The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process is a joint initiative of Afghanistan and Turkey that began in November 2011 to provide a platform to discuss regional security and economic cooperation among Afghanistan and its neighbours. It was emphasized from the start that regional economic cooperation could enhance security in Afghanistan and the region. There are 14 participating countries 17 supporting countries and 12 regional and international organizations that are a part of the process. Pakistan hosted the Fifth Ministerial Conference of the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process in Islamabad on 9 December 2015. The theme of this Conference was “Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Connectivity in the Heart of Asia Region.”

2. Prime Minister in his meeting with President Ashraf Ghani in Paris on 30 November 2015 invited President Ashraf Ghani to visit Islamabad and jointly inaugurate the Heart of Asia Ministerial Conference in Islamabad. President Ashraf Ghani accepted the invitation.

3. In his inaugural address, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated Pakistan’s firm commitment to Afghanistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He expressed Pakistan’s full support to enable an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned political process that promotes the dialogue between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.

4. President Ashraf Ghani recognized Pakistan’s important role for peace in Afghanistan and emphasized the need for closer bilateral and regional collaboration to address the security and terrorism challenges being faced by Afghanistan.

5. I co-chaired the Conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan being the permanent co-chair of the Process. The Foreign Ministers of China, India, Iran, Turkey, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Latvia attended the Ministerial Conference. The US was represented by Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Another 07 countries were represented by Deputy Ministers.

6. The outcome of the Conference was the unanimously adopted “Islamabad Declaration,” reaffirming commitment of the Heart of Asia countries for long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. Towards this end, the Declaration stipulated measures for deepening cooperation and collaboration in political, security, economic development and regional connectivity areas, within the Heart of Asia region. Full text of the declaration is available on the Ministry’s website.

7. Recognizing that emerging security challenges have the potential of expanding to the entire region, if timely measures are not taken, the Conference agreed on the need to evolve a collective approach to deal with these challenges. It was agreed that relevant Senior Officials will hold a meeting in the first half of 2016.

8. The Heart of Asia process also agreed to continue cooperation in the following Confidence Building Measures (CBMs):

i. Disaster Management (lead countries: Kazakhstan, Pakistan)
ii. Counter-Terrorism (lead countries: Afghanistan, Turkey, UAE)
iii. Counter-Narcotics (lead countries: Russia and Azerbaijan)
iv. Trade, Commercial and Investment opportunities (lead country: India)
v. Regional Infrastructure (lead country: Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan)
vi. Education (lead country: Iran)

Sideline Meetings

9. Heart of Asia Ministerial meeting also provided an opportunity to hold important bilateral meetings. The Prime Minister met the Foreign Ministers of China, Iran, Turkey and India. I also held bilateral meetings with the Foreign Ministers of China, Iran, Latvia and the US Deputy Secretary of State.

10. The most important subject in these sideline meetings was to explore ways and means of improving Afghanistan – Pakistan relations and facilitating the resumption of stalled Afghan reconciliation process. These were:

i. Bilateral meeting between the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Ashraf Ghani;
ii. Pakistan-Afghanistan-US trilateral meeting among the Prime Minister, the Afghan President and the US Deputy Secretary of State;
iii. China-Afghanistan-Pakistan trilateral meeting among the Prime Minister, the Afghan President and Chinese Foreign Minister; and
iv. A 2+2 Quadrilateral meeting among the Prime Minister, the Afghan President, Chinese Foreign Minister and the US Deputy Secretary of State.

11. These meetings helped in reaching a consensus between these four countries which had participated in the July 7 Murree talks on moving forward for promoting long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan. Key elements of this consensus are:

i. Peace in Afghanistan is vital for the peace in the region and beyond. Therefore, focus has to be on serious regional and international efforts for peace and stability in Afghanistan;
ii. Closer collaboration and coordination between Pakistan and Afghanistan is essential for promoting peace in Afghanistan and for effectively combating terrorism; and
iii. Reconciliation through a politically negotiated settlement is the only viable option for promoting long-term peace in Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s role and commitment for facilitating peace talks was recognized.

12. All four countries involved in this process – Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, and the US – have also agreed to devise a mechanism to resume the reconciliation process on priority basis. For this purpose, it has been proposed to constitute a Joint Steering Committee to oversee the process.

13. In the coming weeks we will be working for implementing these decisions for the resumption of the Afghan reconciliation process. It is too early to assess when Murree II can take place but at least the process of consultation will begin soon.


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