The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process (HOA) is an international governmental organization that was founded on November 2nd, 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Heart of Asia provides a platform for sincere and results-oriented regional cooperation by placing Afghanistan at its center, in recognition of the fact that a secure and stable Afghanistan is vital to the prosperity of the Heart of Asia region.
This platform was established to address the shared challenges and interests of Afghanistan and its neighbors and regional partners. The Heart of Asia is comprised of 14 participating countries, 17 supporting countries (all western countries), and 12 supporting regional and international organizations (UN, SAARC, SCO etc.).
Participating Countries (14)
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan,Kyrgyz,Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan,United Arab Emirates.
Heart of Asia Conference (Dec 4, 2016)
Theme - “Addressing Challenges, Achieving Prosperity”
Ahead of the conference
1. India and Afghanistan called terror emanating from Pakistan as the “greatest threat” to regional peace and stability and they were set to press hard for adopting the counter-terror framework on the day of the conference.
2. Deliberations were expected on major connectivity initiatives including Chabahar project, a five-nation railway project and on TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project.
While all the previous conferences were held in the capital of respecting countries that hosted the conference; India’s decision to host it in Amritsar is in line with one of the themes of the conference- trying to achieve connectivity (economic prosperity).
Amritsar is a stop on the old Grand Trunk (GT) Road that once seamlessly connected Bangladesh to Peshawar in Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan.
The Atari-Wagah border between India and Pakistan is less than 30 kilometers away from Amritsar. An agreement between Afghanistan and Pakistan on trade first signed in 2010, does not allow for Afghan trucks that bring goods from Afghanistan to the Wagah border in Pakistan, to carry back products from India to Afghanistan.
India was expected to use the Heart of Asia conference to press Islamabad to allow trucks, carrying goods from Afghanistan that transit through Pakistan, all the way to India and other south Asian markets.
Likewise, after the conference, Delegates from the 45 countries who were present in the Heart of Asia conference were taken tothe Integrated Check Post (ICP) in Atari and were apprised about India's plan to enhance trade activities, especially with Afghanistan, through the Atari border.
Outcomes of the Conference
Terrorism was declared as the biggest threat to peace at the conference and there was a call for immediate end to it. India pressed for collective efforts to ensure resurgent forces of terrorism and extremism do not find sanctuaries and safe havens in any name, form or manifestation. (Cornering Pakistan).
India and Afghanistan have envisaged land trade from the Chabahar port and a dedicated air corridor between Delhi and Kabul (avoidance of Pakistan in trade).
The criticism of Pakistan might yield some pressure on its leadership to act, as it did briefly after the Pathankot attack. However, this approach in the long run may deplete the two countries of their limited leverage as Pakistan’s neighbors driving more obstacles to trade between India and Afghanistan. In the past year, the cornering of Pakistan by its South Asian neighbors has only yielded deeper ties for Islamabad with Beijing and Moscow, pushed Kabul closer to Central Asia, and moved New Delhi towards multilateral groupings to the east and south.
The measures India and Afghanistan have taken in order to avoid Pakistan, such as land trade from the Chabahar port (in Iran) and a dedicated air corridor between Delhi and Kabul, might prove to be insufficient by the time they are put in place as Afghanistan is connected more closely via a rail line from Yiwu (in China) and Tehran(in Iran).
Thus, The Heart of Asia process remains critical in forging cooperation to realize Afghanistan’s potential to be a vibrant Asian “hub”.