The situation in Afghanistan took center-stage last week in the Caspian region, with the hosting of the seventh ministerial meeting of the Heart of Asia conference, also known as the Istanbul process, in Baku. The forum is meant to establish peace and security in the war-torn country and promote cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbors, near and far, to meet the challenges of terrorism and regional integration.
“Azerbaijan regards the Heart of Asia - Istanbul Conference as a valuable mechanism of dialogue and cooperation towards attaining peace, reconciliation, security and economic development of Afghanistan,” Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev said, opening the conference that was subtitled "Security and Economic Connectivity Towards A Strengthened Heart of Asia Region.”
“Since joining the process in 2012 we have been actively participating in this multilateral platform,” Aliyev said.
The Istanbul process began in 2011, and includes all five Caspian region countries (Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran) as well as China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey and the UAE. The United States and 12 regional and international organizations back the process.
In his remarks, Aliyev highlighted the principles upon which the Istanbul process is based, including the sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of the internationally recognized borders of states, respect for sovereign equality and non-interference in internal affairs.
Azerbaijan has been engaged in Afghanistan since November 2002, when it sent its first contingent of peacekeeping forces to the country under NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Currently 90 servicemen, including two medical officers and two combat engineers serve as part of NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
Azerbaijan will increase its military presence in Afghanistan “before the first quarter of next year,” according to the defense ministry and reported by Trend news agency.
Peacekeeping assistance is not Azerbaijan’s only contribution towards efforts to rebuild the war-torn nation. It is also a financial contributor to the Afghan National Army (ANA) Trust Fund, having contributed over $1.6 million, as of November 1.
Azerbaijan also allows NATO planes carrying non-combat supplies for missions in Afghanistan to fly through Azerbaijani airspace and to use its airports and infrastructure. About 40 percent of all cargo destined for the NATO mission in Afghanistan passes through Baku.
“Azerbaijan remains committed to sharing its experience with Afghanistan, also through bilateral channels and providing training assistance in the spheres of good governance, military, law-enforcement and demining,” Aliyev said at the Istanbul process forum on Friday.
“We are contributing to the post-ISAF ‘Resolute Support Mission’ by providing troops, multimodal transit, training and financial assistance,” Aliyev added.
One of Azerbaijan’s cutting-edge technological service platforms, called Azerbaijan Service and Assessment Network, or “ASAN” for short (meaning “easy” in Azerbaijani) is working to improve state services through the establishment of what amount to one-stop-shop centers that provide public and private services to Afghans. The centers provide services including birth and marriage registration, driver’s licenses, visas and real estate records.