Abdullah Gül, President of Turkey, Hamid Karzai the President of Afghanistan, and Asif Ali Zardari, the President of Pakistan, held their seventh Trilateral Summit Meeting in Ankara on 11 and 12 December 2012. The meeting took this high level dialogue, security cooperation and economic development partnership between the three countries, under the ‘Trilateral Ankara Summit Process’, into its seventh year. The trilateral process was launched in April 2007 and subsequent trilateral summits have been hosted by Turkey in December 2008, April 2009, January 2010, December 2010 and November 2011.
Turkey, besides having close cultural relations with the two countries is also a part of the US-led NATO force in Afghanistan and has sought to raise its international standing in recent years by playing host to a series of high-level diplomatic events in the region. The country was even considered as a possible location for the Taliban political office but the Taliban preferred Qatar instead. President Abdullah Gul in a speech at the inauguration of the 63rd U.N. General Assembly had sought support for Turkey’s candidacy for a non-permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council saying “Turkey has not been represented at the Council for nearly half a century”.
The Joint Statement adopted at the conclusion of the seventh trilateral summit recognized the importance of the efforts of the High Peace Council of Afghanistan and its chairman Mr. Salahuddin Rabbani in bringing peace to Afghanistan, appreciated the progress achieved in the Istanbul Process for a secure and stable Afghanistan and reaffirmed their commitment to the decisions of the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA-V) held in Dushanbe on 27 March 2012, the Regional Conference on Countering Narcotics held in Islamabad on 12 November 2012 and the Economic Cooperation Organization held on 16 October 2012 in Baku. The three leaders also expressed their support for the Istanbul Forum mechanism, which comprises of the apex organizations of the private sectors of the three countries, and is a part of the trilateral summit process. The trilateral summit identified the need to improve cooperation in border management in order to address all cross-border challenges, including terrorism, narcotics and human trafficking,
Malala Yusufzai, too found a mention and was wished a speedy recovery. Incidentally, President Zardari arrived at Ankara for the trilateral summit from Paris where he pledged $10m (£8m) for girls’ education at a “Stand Up For Malala” advocacy event at the Paris headquarters of UNESCO in the name of Malala .
A hotline, operational since 09 Dec 2012, has also been established to facilitate communication among the presidents of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey “in times of crisis”.
Three points of significance can be identified with respect to the current trilateral summit. The first was the emphasis on improving the transport connectivity among the three partner countries, leading to enhanced inter-modal transport capacity amongst them. Afghanistan agreed to join a railway project that already connects Istanbul, Tehran and Islamabad. The rail link is called the Gül train after the Turkish President Abdullah Gül. The Gul train, formerly known as the ECO train, is an international freight train service between Islamabad and Istanbul via Tehran, Iran. The train which covers 6,500 kilometers in 16 days, was launched on 14th August 2009 on trial basis.
Transportation Minister of Turkey met with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts during the summit to discuss steps towards more effective use of available transportation links among the three countries. Members appreciated the efforts made by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey to ensure efficient and safe operation of the Istanbul–Tehran–Islamabad container train and the establishment of TOBB International Logistics Management Company for the purpose.
Second, was the signing of the Trilateral Memorandum of Understanding which provides for the establishment of a Trilateral Trade Council, for the promotion of foreign investment, enhancing and diversifying commercial ties and exploring possibilities for cooperation in services sector amongst the three countries. The Trilateral Trade Council will be convened annually or when the parties deem it necessary. Under the framework of the Council, the three governments have agreed to provide the necessary facilities to the businessmen of the three countries to increase trade. The entrepreneurs and organizations of the three countries would also be encouraged to participate in exhibitions, fairs and other promotional activities. The MOU, though signed for a period of one year, would be renewed automatically for successive periods of one year on consent of the three countries.
The third point relates to military cooperation. Military and intelligence chiefs of Afghanistan and Pakistan began attending the trilateral summit for the first time in April 2009. According to Turkish general staff, the three countries agreed to conduct joint military exercises during the tripartite summit meeting in December 2010. The joint military exercise is one of the tangible results of the trilateral summit process. In addition, the trilateral summit seeks to encourage joint military training programmes as a means to improving their inter operability and fostering good relations amongst the armed forces. A joint Special Forces and Natural Disaster Search and Rescue exercise was conducted as an associated event to the Seventh Trilateral from 5-9 November 2012, in Ankara.
Earlier in 2011, 128 soldiers from Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan employing helicopters, tanks and other weapons participated in a trilateral urban warfare exercise in southeastern Istanbul. The military exercise scheduled from March 19 to 26, was staged in an infantry brigade school command in the Tuzla district, about 100 km east from downtown Istanbul. At the 6th Trilateral Summit Pakistan had also got Kabul to agree to let Pakistan impart training to Afghan troops and police inside Afghanistan.
Prior to the start of the seventh Trilateral Summit there were two issues looming prominently over the event. First, was the Taliban attack on Asadullah Khalid, Director of National Security of Afghanistan in Kabul a week earlier. Speaking after the attack, Karzai had stopped short of directly blaming Pakistan but said he knew “for a fact” that the bomber came from Pakistan and that Kabul would seek clarification from Islamabad during meeting in Turkey. The attack was almost identical to the last year’s assassination of the country’s chief peace negotiator, Burhanuddin Rabbani. President Zardari said that the attack on the Afghan spy chief was an effort to prevent the two governments from cooperating. It was decided at the summit that a joint working group comprising relevant agencies of Afghanistan and Pakistan will look into the incident. The attack found mentioned in the summit joint statement.
The second issue was the Afghan sponsored “Peace Process Roadmap to 2015”, a five step plan offered to Pakistan in November this year. The roadmap includes an end to cross-border shelling and the transfer by Pakistan of Taliban prisoners to Afghanistan/ a third country.However, the situation has been complicated by the Taliban’s unwillingness to talk to the Karzai government and they also ruled out the role of Pakistan in solution unless an agreement with the US is first reached. Importantly Turkey, along with Saudi Arabia and Great Britain have a role to play in this roadmap. There indications that Afghanistan and Pakistan would advance the initiative in Turkey. However, the ‘roadmap’ it did not find mention in the summit joint statement nor did any other political solution to the war in Afghanistan.
This article appeared at the South Asia Monitor and reprinted with permission.