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‘The Heart of Asia Meet’ begins in Islamabad

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Islamabad:  The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process meeting commenced on Tuesday to finalize an agenda for a ministerial conference to be held on Wednesday.

The Pakistan prime minister’s foreign affairs adviser, Sartaj Aziz, and Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister Khalil Hekmat Karzai jointly inaugurated the day-long meeting of senior officials.

Karzai emphasized on a united and collective approach to counter the menace of terrorism and violent extremism at the meeting, and further said at the opening session, “The Heart of Asia conference is taking place at a critical juncture when the region is confronted by many challenges including terrorism.”

He said the activities of terror outfits including the ISIS has reminded the related parties of the gravity of the problem and demanded a collective approach to tackling this international phenomenon.

“Afghanistan is determined to continue to fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he remarked, adding that a peaceful and stable Afghanistan was in the best interest of the region.

Aziz said that Pakistan desired durable peace in Afghanistan as instability there was not in the interest of the country and “Pakistan will continue to support all endeavors aiming at strengthening peace and security in Afghanistan.”

He said that since the launching of Heart of Asia conference in 2011, the forum has made good progress towards the realisation of its core objective of promoting durable peace and stability in Afghanistan. The key achievements include political consultation involving Afghanistan and its neighbours and the regional countries with a view to promoting mutual trust in the areas of security and economic interaction.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani will jointly inaugurate the Fifth Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process Ministerial Conference in Islamabad on Wednesday.The theme is “Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process: Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Connectivity in the Heart of Asia Region”.

Foreign Ministers of ten countries including India, China, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Iran have confirmed participation.

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was scheduled to arrive in Islamabad on Tuesday to attend the meeting. She will also meet Sharif and Aziz on the sidelines of the Heart of Asia meeting.

The Heart of Asia-Istanbul Process was established in 2011 at the initiative of Afghanistan and Turkey, mainly focusing on promoting efforts for regional cooperation and connectivity with a view to fostering long-term peace and stability as well as progress and development in Afghanistan and the region.

The Fifth Ministerial Conference is expected to adopt a forward-looking Islamabad Declaration entitled “Enhanced Cooperation for Countering Security Threats and Promoting Connectivity in the Heart of Asia Region”.

(IANS)

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Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran Hold Meeting To Counter Trafficking of Opiate

The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts.

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Opium
An Afghan man works on a poppy field in Jalalabad province. VOA

Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran have pledged to increase cooperation and information-sharing for effectively combating the trafficking of Afghan opiates.

War-shattered Afghanistan remains the world’s largest producer of opium, though the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime noted in its latest survey the opium cultivation decreased by 20 percent in 2018 due to a severe drought and reduced prices.

The illegal opiates are largely smuggled to international markets through Pakistan and Iran.

Need for more initiatives 

Afghan, Pakistan and Iranian counternarcotics officials concluded their two-day UNODC-facilitated interaction Wednesday in Islamabad, where delegates underscored the need for more efforts against the massive flow of illicit drugs.

Participants at the “Triangular Initiative” meeting called for timely sharing of information and conducting simultaneously interdiction operations along their shared largely porous borders.

oPIUM CULTIVATION
In this April 11, 2016, photo, farmers harvest raw opium at a poppy field in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, Afghanistan. VOA

The forum was established in 2007 with a mission to promote regional cooperation to reduce the poppy cultivation, trafficking, and consumption of drugs in the region and beyond.

Officials acknowledged that despite Afghanistan’s political tensions with Pakistan and Iran anti-drugs cooperation largely continues.

Renewed attitude 

Cesar Guedes, UNODC representative in Pakistan, noted the three countries attended the Islamabad meeting with “a revived attitude and role”, raising prospects for more effective counternarcotics efforts in 2019.

“More needs to be done because the level of [Afghan opium] production has also increased. They need really to coordinate closer in their joint efforts,” he told VOA

Guedes also called for increased international assistance, saying Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran alone cannot curb the menace of drugs.

opium
FILE – Afghan farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad east of Kabul, Afghanistan, May 10, 2013. VOA

“This has to be done in the framework of shared responsibility. All the countries, producers, consumers and transit need to join the effort,” he said.

Despite many challenges facing the government, the head of the Afghan delegation said authorities have taken significant steps to eradicate drug trafficking.

US assistance 
Director General for Policy Planing at the Afghan Ministry of Narcotics, Mohammad Osman Frotan, said 89 percent of poppy cultivation this year has taken place in the Afghan provinces most hit by insurgent activities. He said counternarcotics authorities during 2018 have seized more than 433 tons of different types of drugs, and arrested and prosecuted almost 4,000 suspects.

Also Read: Pakistan In U.S. Blacklist For Religious Freedom Violations

The United States has spent more than $8 billion in the past 17 years to assist Afghanistan in eradication efforts. But the effort has failed to stop opium production, which increased to record highs and stood at an estimated 9,000 tons in 2017. Critics blamed insecurity, rampant corruption and patronage by influential Afghans for the unprecedented growth. (VOA)