New Delhi, Dec.1 : Finance minister Arun Jaitley will lead the Indian delegation at the two-day Sixth Heart of Asia (HoA) conference to be held in Amritsar, Punjab, from Saturday, an external affairs ministry official said. The conference, which will be held in India’s northern Amritsar city, will see the participation of representatives from over 30 countries, including China, United States, Russia, Iran and Pakistan to discuss peace, cooperation and economic development in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the permanent chair of the Heart of Asia (HoA) conference, while India is its co-chair, and this year is its host.
A senior foreign ministry official told reporters on Wednesday (November 30) that Indian finance minister will co-chair the conference with Afghan foreign minister. “This year, the ministerial conference will be co-chaired by Afghan foreign minister (Salahuddin Rabbani) and on our side it will be the finance minister,” said Gopal Baglay, Joint Secretary of PAI (Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) division in the ministry.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, who is undergoing treatment for kidney failure, will not attend the meeting. Pakistan’s Adviser on Foreign Policy, Sartaj Aziz, will also attend the conference despite strained relations between the two nations. However, it is not clear whether Pakistan will hold any bilateral meeting with India on the sidelines of the summit. “We have not received any request from Pakistan for a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of Heart of Asia ministerial conference,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup. Relations between Pakistan and India have been strained for several months, while cross-frontier shelling has intensified leading to deaths of civilians and soldiers stationed along the disputed frontier.
The latest round of problem between the nuclear-armed neighbours began with civil unrest in Indian Kashmir and Pakistan’s global lobbying against New Delhi’s crackdown on the Kashmiri activists. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, Shaida Mohammad Abdali, who was part of the press briefing in New Delhi, condemned the recent militant attack on an army unit in Jammu and Kashmir. “Let me express my heartfelt condolences to the people of India for the tragic terrorist attack on an Indian army base in Nagrota yesterday morning which caused the loss of seven brave Indian soldiers.
We condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” said Abdali. The raid in Nagrota town was the deadliest since a September 18 assault on an army base in the state that killed at least 19 Indian soldiers – the worst such assault in 14 years – triggering an escalation in tensions between the two countries. The ‘Heart of Asia’ platform was floated with an aim to encourage security, political and economic cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours. The main ministerial conference will be inaugurated jointly by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on December 4