<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Taliban are returning to Afghanistan along with refugee families which are being pushed out from the border areas of Pakistan under operation Zarb-e-Azb purportedly to fight terrorism.In 2015, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, confirmed this to DNA.In 2016, the Afghan Analyst Network reported that these Taliban spent time in Spin Ghar range on AfPak border and formed Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP). ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of the recent lethal attacks on Afghan soil but it is unclear if ISKP is connected structurally to ISIS or is just using ISIS’s brand name. Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani told DNA last year that ISIS is already in Afghanistan and that is because the group believes a prophecy which says “the mahdi will emerge with black flags from the Khorasan”. Some Afghan watchers have a different take, like the director of the Afghan journalist centre in London Zabihullah Noori. He says “ISKP isn’t linked to ISIS but to the ISI”.In short, the arteries of the heart of Asia are facing new blockages at a faster pace than the clogged ones heal. The background is driving the current situation as it is the failure of Saarc to take off because of Pakistan’s reluctance on a collective developmental agenda.Regional visionAs India hosts the 6th ministerial conference of the ‘Heart of Asia’ summit, the question many Afghans are asking is a rather basic one — What is India’s vision for the region? Davood Moradian, the director-general of the Afghan Institute for Strategic Studies says “China’s vision is one belt one road, Russia’s is Eurasia, Pakistan’s idea is to promote terrorism. But what is India’s vision?”.Afghanistan was one of the first nations to support India when Delhi decided to opt out of the Saarcsummit that was to be held in Islamabad. India managed to diplomatically isolate Pakistan in the South Asia group but didn’t offer an impressive alternative. Sub regional groups such as BBIN and BIMSTEC were already in existence and have been facing several obstacles.Will India utilise the Heart of Asia summit to define its regional goals? Countries like Afghanistan have found India helpful but reluctant. The timing for India to come out of its shell, Moradian says, has never been better, “Pakistan is a common problem that we should deal with together”.Modi and Ghani’s peace overtures towards Pakistan have proved futile, the two are now changing their strategy and synchronising it. Moeen Marastial, a former Afghan Parliamentarian says, “Pakistan should be confronted, the region must declare it a terror state. Talking with Pakistan is not an option, Afghanistan has been talking to them for a decade and a half and gained nothing”. Delhi and Kabul though would have to make a tough decision on how much to corner Islamabad, that thankfully still enjoys an elected government. At Habib hair salon in Delhi’s posh Khan market, everyday a bunch of Afghan girls learn hair styling. Afghan restaurants are a hit and from scholarships to Afghan students or training to Afghan soldiers, India is determined to support Afghanistan. But, in the Afghan mind this makes India a well-wisher not a loyal friend. Unless India backs Kabul against its enemy Pakistan in matters like defence, Afghanistan finds it difficult to depend on Delhi. India’s former PM Dr Manmohan Singh was excessively shy as the United States feared Washington might upset “ally” Islamabad. That has now changed. The Modi government decided to give four lethal choppers to Ghani after US’s nod and recently Commander of the resolute support mission John W Nicholson has asked Delhi to help arm Afghan forces. Afghan journalist Qais Mowafaq says, “We welcome Trump’s statement on increasing cooperation with India to deal with Pakistan”. Perhaps, it’s time for an “India-Afghan Defence Treaty” which moves the cooperation from the currently ad hoc basis to a more institutionalised form. The author is a senior journalist

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Mending Asia’s heart: Tackling terror together