The Afghan government is hosting a one-day "Heart of Asia" ministerial conference in Kabul today that is bringing together Afghanistan and the surrounding region in a non-binding process that reflects the collective will to engage in sincere, result-oriented cooperation at all levels.
This conference is a follow-up to the regional summit conference held in Istanbul last November in which all parties agreed to the Istanbul Process on Regional Security and Cooperation for a Secure and Stable Afghanistan. It's also a prelude to the Tokyo conference in July on Afghan development and transition after 2014.
The Afghan government aims to prop up confidence-building among countries belonging to the Istanbul process and draw attention to priority areas such as counter-terrorism, natural disaster management, counter-narcotics and cooperation in trade and transit. The stated objective of this gathering is to discuss ways and means to enhance coordination and implement benchmarks set in Istanbul. In addition to Afghanistan's six neighbors, representatives from eight other regional countries, major supporting nations and regional and international organizations, will also attend.
The Afghan government aims to invest in regional cooperation as the 2014 NATO withdrawal approaches. However, that cooperation track has been weak, partly because of conflicting agendas, but also because they lack real commitment and enforcement mechanisms.
As a first step, Afghanistan is keen on focusing attention on tangible cooperation in counter-terrorism, and trans-border militant activity and sanctuaries. A spokesman for the Afghan Foreign Ministry this week said "our expectation and wish from all regional countries, especially Pakistan, is that they adopt sincere and pragmatic cooperation in the fight against terrorism with Afghanistan and the international community."
Rhetoric aside, Pakistan and Iran are reluctant to address those issues within the regional framework. At the end, the "Heart of Asia" gathering will undoubtedly express a collective formal view on combating terrorism and other agenda items, but there will be little to show in terms of result-oriented engagement.