Modi, Ghani reach Amritsar; will open Afghan peace meet on Sunday

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Amritsar, Dec 3 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here on Saturday evening and is scheduled to meet Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani for talks on bilateral issues before the Sunday inauguration of ministerial deliberations of a peace meet on Afghanistan, an official said.

Ghani also arrived in the holy city in Punjab later in the evening for participation in the international endeavour for peace and stability in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s de facto foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz also reached Amritsar on Saturday evening.

Modi and Ghani will on Sunday jointly inaugurate the ministerial deliberations at the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process conference, which will see participation of over eight foreign ministers and other dignitaries of 14 participating countries, a Ministry of External Affairs official told IANS.

Modi and Ghani will hold bilateral talks before the joint inauguration.

The Prime Minister was received on his arrival in the holy city by Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, the Chief Minister’s daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur and Union Minister of State V.K. Singh.

Modi, Ghani and other world dignitaries attending the conference later paid obeisance at the holiest of Sikh shrines, the Golden Temple.

“This evening, I will have the honour of praying at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. It is always special to visit the Golden Temple,” Modi said earlier in a tweet.

In a last minute change in schedule, Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz arrived in Amritsar on Saturday evening. An official in Islamabad earlier attributed the change in his travel schedule to “uncertain weather forecast for Sunday”.

The Pakistan top diplomat was originally scheduled to arrive here on Sunday for the conference and was supposed to return home the same day.

Officials said any formal dialogue on the sidelines of the conference between India and Pakistan was unlikely.

The Heart of Asia conference began in Amritsar on Saturday amid heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, triggering speculation on whether the two countries will engage in bilateral talks on the event’s sidelines.

Aziz is leading the Pakistani delegation to the meeting that focuses on regional cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours to improve connectivity and tackle security threats in the war-torn country.

Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates are part of the Heart of Asia initiative launched in 2011 for encouraging economic and security cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours for dealing with the common problems of terrorism, extremism and poverty.

Organisers of the summit, founded in Istanbul in November 2011, said the aim was to strengthen confidence-building measures and initiate steps to counter narcotics and terrorism and to expand trade, commerce and investment opportunities in Afghanistan.

India is hosting the Heart of Asia conference, sixth in the series, for the first time.

Modi and Ghani also attended the dinner hosted by Chief Minister Badal for visiting dignitaries at the state government’s ambitious heritage village project ‘Sadda Pind’, or our village, on the outskirts of the holy city.

Afghanistan is the permanent chair for the Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process, while the host country is the co-chair.

India says a basket of six confidence-building measures would be discussed during the conference.

With External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj indisposed, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will represent India at the ministerial conference.

(Vishal Gulati is covering Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process conference. He can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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