Alwaght- Turkey’s Istanbul hosted on Monday the ministerial conference of the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Process. One year after the Afghanistan peace talks and possible agreement between the negotiating sides the 8th conference of the Istanbul Process was of special significance for the participating states.
Hear of Asia conference
The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was launched in 2011 to provide a platform for discussing regional cases. The main aim was to encourage security, political, and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and the neighbors. Extremism, drugs, and terrorist threats make up the main themes of the talks. The participating sides gather for political consultations, trust-building measures, and cooperation with the regional organizations.
The members of the group are mainly neighbors of Afghanistan, including Iran, Russia, China, and Turkey. There are also trans-regional countries, like the US, Britain, and Germany, and Australia that annually join the conference as supporters of the process. The first meeting was held in Istanbul in 2011 as Turkey put efforts into an intention to expand the regional cooperation concerning Afghanistan. Foreign ministers of 14 countries attended the first meeting. To draw further backing and positive influence from the Afghanistan neighbors, the conference is held in a different neighboring country every year.
Istanbul Process’s importance
The West Asia region always has been a setting for the competition of the global and regional powers due to its rich energy resources and geostrategic significance. However, the vulnerability of such regional states as Afghanistan in politics and security poses serious challenges to the political and economic relations. After all, such a vulnerability, along with poverty and political incoherence paves the way for the growth of radical groups with hardline ideologies. For instance, the takfiri terrorist groups that rose in Syria and Iraq and devastated the two Arab states through home conflicts had roots in Afghanistan. Their initial nuclei grew, with Western help, in Afghanistan in the 1980s when the Soviet Red Army occupied Afghanistan.
Istanbul Process is important also because the global conferences which its main members are not Afghanistan’s neighbors cannot effectively make a difference in favor of stability and security in the Central Asian nation.
Since the third conference that was hosted by Kazakhstan’s capital Almaty, the participating nations concentrated extensively on boosting Afghanistan’s infrastructures. The meetings since then, for example, emphasized on producing and exporting power to Afghanistan, building railroads, expanding highways, developing industries and bolstering mining in the Central Asian country. China is an import at partner to this process and has special economic and security concerns pertinent to Afghanistan. It offers financial support and investment to Afghanistan and seeks to put the country within its Road and Belt Initiative all to eradicate the roots producing extremism in the country. The 4th conference was held in Beijing whose government vowed to pay Kabul $81.43 million in financial aids.
The 6th meeting was hosted by Amritsar in northwestern India. The participants supported the United Nations Security Council’s 1325 resolution and the role of women in security and peace. New Delhi agreed to pay $1 billion in aids to the Afghanistan government. Other countries promised to remove non-tariff obstacles in trade to promote the Afghan economy. These were tangible economic results of the Istanbul Process.
The challenges to the process
One of the main challenges to the Istanbul Process after seven rounds is the lack of a clear and practical program and the failure by the member states to show full commitment to their promises. The majority of the meetings only stop at final general statements without subsequent actions. Furthermore, the members have failed to arrange for a special mechanism to implement the UN programs for fighting discrimination and religious intolerance in Afghanistan. Some influential participants like India, Pakistan, and China are serious at odds over how to integrate Afghanistan into the regional trade system. Sayed Fazel Mahjoob, an Afghanistan affairs’ expert, touching on the results of the Istanbul conference said the Hear of Asia countries since the start failed to practicality adopt their plans in just one member state. “The statements issued by these sides remain ink on paper”, he went on.
A severe political divergence in Afghanistan drives the partners to the process to prefer to focus on economic programs and financial aids to the country. But the important issue is that injection of cash to the Afghanistan economy can yield fruits and help fight poverty and eradicate the social roots of terrorism and radicalism only when the political factions in the country agree on a legal and political framework. Otherwise, due to lack of grounds, foreign aids only will increase corruption, empower specific groups, and develop discrimination.
From another aspect, due to the possibility of a final agreement after the 9th round of Afghanistan peace talks, the 8th Istanbul Process conference can more than other processes push ahead political convergence in the country. As the US talks about withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban militant group’s leaders increasingly express their interest in involvement in the regional cooperation, Afghanistan’s neighbors now have bigger maneuvering power.