It aimed at enhancing security around Afghanistan and promoting economic development in that country. Apart from the immediate neighbours, the process has drawn in major countries that hem the region, including China and Russia, Turkey where the Istanbul Process originated, Iran and the major Arab states, twenty-five participants in all.
Afghanistan has never been an easy place to deal with, for itself and for its close neighbours, having experienced much turbulence through the attentions of powerful, aggrandizing countries in its vicinity, and through its own restless stirrings that have driven it to spread its wings abroad. The constant unrest within and warlike attention from without led it to be described in the colonial discourse as ‘the Cockpit of Asia’, forever wrapped in strife and rivalry. The term that now seems to have gained favour -‘Heart of Asia’ -is certainly more appropriate and makes due acknowledgement of the geographical significance of its location at the centre of the continent.
India-Afghanistan: Lack of a shared border after 1947 affected what used to be a flourishing traditional trade between the two countries but in the last few years they have collaborated with Iran in finding alternative access through Chah Bahar on the Gulf, so the trading prospects are much improved.
India is now in a position to play a fuller part in international efforts like the Istanbul Process without running up, as it has so often in the past, against the barrier of Pakistan. It can also have easier access to Central Asia and thereby contribute to the development of the region as a whole, so it is poised for a bigger role in the Istanbul Process.
The security-related aspect of the ‘Heart of Asia’ meeting is of direct interest to India, which is always eager to widen the international net against terror. This is an important unifying theme for the participants, for many of them have been subjected to terror attacks and would be ready to back better regional coordination in confronting the menace. India will no doubt have a leading role in this endeavour.
The impending ‘Istanbul Process’ provides an unexpected opportunity for putting the derailed Indo-Pak dialogue back on track; the conference has its own dynamic but what happens on the sidelines may well resonate louder than any other part of the deliberations so far as these two countries are concerned. At the same time, the conference provides an important forum for participants to agree on practical measures on their shared regional interests, especially the matter of terrorism. Region-wide cooperation on this is long identified as one of the key themes of the Istanbul Process, and should receive a considerable boost from the forthcoming meeting.