ATR Consulting analyzed the opportunities and challenges facing the Heart of Asia – Istanbul Process1 using various research techniques including expert interviews in fourteen countries, desk review, on-line survey of regional experts, and media monitoring. Accordingly, ATR has developed recommendations for advancing the Process. Due in part to the diversity of the different countries’ perspectives, expert analysis of the current threats in the region varies greatly.
Yet, they reach a consensus in identifying violent radicalization as the principal threat. They also agree on the risks caused by geopolitical tensions, and they comment at length on how it impacts their own country. While not all countries see Afghanistan as the only, or even the main, source of these threats, many stress Afghanistan›s inability to control the spread of terrorism and violent extremism or accuse the country of flooding the region with narcotics. Throughout the Heart of Asia Region, the need to support Afghanistan in attaining peace and stability is recognized as a critical pillar to building a secure and prosperous region, as articulated in the Heart of Asia Process’s goals.
Experts were not optimistic about the role of the existing regional security mechanisms in addressing the current regional security challenges in the Heart of Asia Region. They unanimously agreed that the existing security cooperation instruments should be strengthened further in the region, as they have done little in countering the region’s security challenges. The Heart of Asia Process, with its broad-based membership and clear objectives, thus provides an opportunity to bring greater coherence to the efforts of the various regional processes and organizations and utilize their security and political leverages in support of a safe and stable Afghanistan and Heart of Asia Region. The Heart of Asia Process can harness the role of powerful Heart of Asia countries on security and economic matters in the region (and specifically their interests in Afghanistan) by supporting or complementing efforts made under the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and other regional mechanism and processes. The Heart of Asia Process can also strengthen the economic cooperation agreements (under Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) or Central Asian Regional Economic Cooperation (CAREC) Program) and military cooperation (under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) that thus far only cover Central Asian states.